Recently I went back to work after being off for six months to have knee replacement surgery. I had a lot of misgivings about going back to work and I just wasn't that sure I was ready. But since I no longer work full-time, I thought I would be okay. And, for the most part, I am just fine. The knees are still a little achy and made more so by the length and hassle of the commute. But more than anything, I am amazed by how much is the same now that I am back on the job. Frankly, I thought more would have changed. There were a few changes in the team that I work with but, for the most part, it is as if time has had little or no effect on the job or the people except for me, of course. I have two new scars on my knees and the experience of having gone through this surgery. But could everyone and everything else possibly be the same? Could it be the "same ole, same ole"?
Right away I noticed that the same guy sits at the metro station handing out the free newspapers where apparently every one who rides the subway gets their daily dose of the news. And near him, the same homeless woman leans tiredly on her walker hoping that a kind soul will drop a few coins into her cup. Her walker has a basket attached and she seems to collect all the newspapers that do not get handed off to the busy commuters. I find myself wondering what she does with those newspapers and other bits of flotsam she collects and guards jealously in that basket on her walker. But my thoughts of her are cut short and I hurry for the train. And there's the same security guards and metro police idling their time away watching listly as the steady stream of commuters move quickly through the turnstiles. I head to the escalators hoping they are not broken again because my knees just do not want to climb those steep stairs and waiting for the elevator has caused many a commuter to swear under his or her breath as he/she helplessly watches the train glide away. And I am in luck - today the escalators work and I ride effortlessly to the platform above.
My luck continues as I see a near-empty train roll into the station. The trains come in with most cars empty in the mornings and roll out jam-packed. In the afternoon, the scene is reversed as the trains roll in packed to the gills and depart with a few reverse-commuters who spend their days going against traffic. The dream of every commuter is to get a job where you get to ride empty trains or drive on empty roads. The doors open on the train and the crowd flows in and the commuters glide through the cars finding their favorite seats and then, as the car fills, finds any seat available. And finally, they find places to stand so that you can hold on with one hand or by leaning against the parts of the car so that you can read that paper with the other. My luck holds and I get a good window seat this morning - a seat on the western side sitting forward so the sun doesn't shine directly in my face. But I put on my sunglasses anyway. We all do. We can hide from curious eyes that way and maybe doing a little voyeuristic peeping ourselves...or, close those eyes tired from getting up too early and catch a few more napping moments while the train moves slowly out the station rocking side to side. Others pull out their smart phones or their electronic pads or their music players and begin to check emails or play games or watch videos or listen to music or audio books. Some still pull out old-fashioned books - who knew reading from an actual book would become old-fashioned? More and more electronic devices for reading are showing up on the trains and becoming an integral part of the commuter's day. I wonder if some people do not just mindlessly search the internet looking for anything to salve their boredom on the ride downtown. Nothing really has changed; the same people doing the same things as we head into our jobs and hope that there are no delays on the system that would cause the ride to be longer or would cause us to be late for our jobs.
The train glides into my station and I head back into the hustle and bustle to get through the three block walk to work. As I pass, I see the same long line at Starbuck's and a similarly long line at the Corner Bakery. The same man stands with hat in hand and a sign that says that he is a US Army veteran. As usual, I wonder if he really is a veteran. It's easy to say you are a veteran or homeless or down on your luck and you could use a few bucks - just a little help here and there. And I am always torn. I would like to help and I do help sometimes. And my co-workers remind me that I might be throwing the money away - that many will only use the money to buy liquor or drugs. I always respond that I have my own personal credo on this - "What I give is between me and God; what they do with the money is between them and God". I try not to judge and try to be compassionate but I do have to admit that I have seen the inconsistencies - the veteran who knew nothing about the military when a fellow veteran stopped to talk, the supposedly homeless man who I happened to overhear talking about remodeling his apartment, and the man wearing the Air Jordans that I suppose he got brand new at the Thrift Store. I zigzag my way through the obstacle course made of hundreds of other commuters just like me as I head to my building, trying not to judge, trying not to trip, and dropping a dollar in a cup here/there. I remind myself of my credo and am glad that this too has not changed over the past months while I have been away.
And then I am at work. My badge is still good and the keycard still opens the door although it did take a few moments to "recognize" me as someone who is supposed to be there. The work is waiting for me and I turn on the computer and pick up the phone to call IT Support to activate my user ID. Too soon, I am back into it all - pulling up documents and catching up with the projects and what's still in the pending files and what new tasks and projects are coming down the pike. My cubicle buddy welcomes me back and then un-mutes the phone and returns to the weekly status teleconference meeting. I head for the break room for coffee and stop on the way to ask Anna to add me back as a member of the water club. All too soon, I am back into the thick of things marveling that I can take six months off and walk right back in, sit down, and start back to work as if there had never been a break. And just like always, I am already wondering how long the day will be while longing for 5 o'clock to come soon and hoping maybe it will not be too much longer before I can take a couple weeks off for vacation.
Same Ole Same Ole.