08
Jan
09

There’s a Party in my Pantry, and Everybody’s Coming

Apparently it’s a trend in corporate interior design to trade a kitchen or break room for what is being called a “pantry.” In the house where I grew up, the pantry was where we kept the food. At work, the pantry is where the Splenda and coffee stirs are stored. There’s a microwave, a refrigerator, a TV, a Pepsi machine, a coffee maker. A kitchen sink. In fact, it’s a kitchen. But whatever.

I must make one correction: It’s not actually a coffee maker. It’s a “drink station.” It’s Flavia — a space-age, whiz-bang whirligig that whips up a variety of personalized hot beverages with the insertion of a flavor packet and the swift, light touch of a button.

To paraphrase the sagacious Edina Monsoon, I don’t want more choices, I just want better things. Really what is the difference between Flavia’s Colombia, French, Sumatra, and “Intense” roasts? And it’s incredibly wasteful, chucking out dozens of empty plastic packets that go directly into the trash.

The primary benefit of this machine is that our coffee at work is now drinkable. The regular coffee maker at the old office &#8212, the one with the filter, the ground coffee, hot water, and bulbous glass decanters — where the universal symbol for “regular” was an orange plastic handle, and for “decaf” a green one. It produced a dull, brown liquid that tasted like dish water steeped in cigarette butts and filtered through a used vacuum cleaner bag.

Also, the Starbucks on our block takes a notoriously long time. Plus I hate Starbucks.

The drink station has captivated the attention of a band of new neighbors from another division of the company who just moved onto our floor from across the street. They stand around in the pantry in groups of five or six and rave about it, talking loudly about what flavor do I want, do I want the creamy topping or not, is there a training manual for this, and so on. They must be reading from a script. The sequence is repeated at least once a day.

A rant note about the creamy topping. Supposedly, you can create a cappuccino or a frothy hot chocolate. There’s a Milky Way-flavored drink that uses the creamy topping packet, too. It’s a white powder that the machine pops out of the packet into your cup. The machine then hits the powder with a jet of hot water to produce a foamy imitation of steamed milk. Then you add a second packet (coffee, cocoa, or Milky Way), and the machine adds the other half of the beverage. And then it squirts in some more hot water for good measure. It all looks very dramatic, with steam rising up from the cup and water splashing out at the sides, but ultimately what you get is a watered-down, chalky instant coffee.

All the activity, apparently, is meant to distract us from the fact that it’s really just running hot water through miniature coffee filters and squirting water into flavored powders. For my money, I’ll take a Diet Pepsi if I’m just looking for the caffeine.

The new folks will realize this soon, and they’ll turn tail on Flavia (like everyone else), and the chatter will die down, and I can stop using my headphones so much. But for now, that pantry is a tin cup on a string leading directly to my ear. I sit in the adjacent cubicle settlement, and I hear all the beeps, human chatter, and various mechanical utterances channeled through that echo chamber.

I know we’re supposed to like the open spaces. We have room to breathe. We’re all united, one family, no secrets, etcetera. That pantry is the first room you enter through the doors from the elevator. It’s our hearth, the warm center of life at the office. We’re supposed to bump into each other and force interactions with people we don’t work with and exchange ideas — potentially ideas that could change the world!

In reality, when we bump into each other, we’re more likely to spill our cute little coffees.

At least the Pepsi machine offers 25-cent cans and 50-cent 20-oz. bottles. There’s always a silver lining.

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