Monday, July 25, 2005

An Half-Day in the life

Following is from my jounal dated sometime in Jan 2005. Those were the days I was traveling ORD - LAX almost every week and hating every minute of it. Looks like I wrote this for some comic relief during one of those long 4-hour flights. Things have gotten better since then and I do not travel anymore; so never got a chance to finish this piece. Here's Part 1 of 'A Day in my Life'; Part 2 will probably never see the light of day.

Over dinner a couple of weeks ago, Dan, my project manager was talking about how he was so sick of all the lawyer and doctor shows on TV and how it might be interesting if someone were to make a series on us-consultant types. ‘It won’t work’ was my first reaction but then I don’t watch TV and thankfully for all the TV producers, the world isn’t full of people like me. And right now, as I sit here on my boring, 4-hour flight back to Chicago, this consultant show seems more and more exciting. Why would people who watch a movie like ‘Hitch’ four times a month (as United gives them no other choice) not watch a show about themselves? So I decide to spend my flight time on a day in the life of a consultant to see if there’s any show value in it.

Monday morning 5 A.M.: Another manic Monday at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. I am in line at the Premier security checkpoint with scores of other grumpy people, most of whom I recognize as we all stand in this same queue every Monday. This particular queue is a great leveler – it doesn’t matter if you are a partner, manager or a lowly associate; it doesn’t matter if you work for McKinsey, Deloitte or the body shopper down the road; you have to stand here and watch all those who woke up before you disappear through the only security checkpoint that’s open at this time. I must say here though, that since the writing of this piece, I (being a smart person) have discovered that at 5 A.M. on a Monday morning (yes, I know that’s a redundancy, its deliberate) at O’Hare, the regular security queue at the North end of terminal 1 is much faster than the Premier queue as most of the people who take the 6 A.M. flights are Premier Execs; once I discovered this I am getting to sleep 15 minutes more than all those losers on the Premier line.

Once I get out of security, I rush to the Bagel Factory to get my breakfast. I never had much of a breakfast until I became a consultant and started traveling. There’s a pretty long line at the bagel place – there is something about expensing your meals that leads people to have five sumptuous meals a day. I get a bagel and then back to my gate to join my fellow travelers; we all wait to see which lucky bastard is getting an upgrade today so that we can all give him a dirty look. More often than not, its one of our own managers. They call seating area 1 and we all rush in, say Hi to the flight attendants, grab some blankets from other seats, stow away our luggage and settle down to watch the fun. It happens when seating area 3 is called; all these losers come in to find that there’s no place to store their rollerblade suitcases and now they have to walk all the way up the aisle dodging everyone to check in their luggage.

Once this tamasha is over, we get out of the gate onto the runway but as every traveler who has passed through O’Hare knows, we end up sitting on the runway for at least another 40 minutes before the flight actually takes off. Another on-time departure for United since we got out of the gate on time. Who cares if we are on the tarmac for another hour? At 6 A.M, we are usually 8 in line for takeoff. This all very normal, trust me. Once the flight takes off, the vast majority of us drift off to sleep. But there are some notable exceptions – certain self-important people power up their laptops and start typing away. These are the same people who end up buying those exorbitant ‘restaurant quality, buy-on-board’ meals.

LAX 8 A.M. Pacific Time – The flight touches down right after 8; usually we have clear blue skies and a temperature of about 70 degrees. When we get out of the aircraft, people usually stare at out winter jackets and gloves; we just let it pass. I walk straight down to the rental car shuttle which takes me to the Hertz location. Another place where everyone’s watching everyone else to see which one of us is getting that convertible this week. I get a Mazda 6, no complaints; I merge onto 405 N seamlessly but the traffic slows down to a standstill right after. NPR and the famed California landscape keeps me sane for the next 90 minutes as I somehow wade through the winding roads of the Santa Monica mountain range. Ordinary mortals who don’t have the pleasure of working in consulting tend to have romantic notions of all the traveling we consultants do; they have this picture of these jet-setting consultants gallivanting from NY to LA, from Greenwich Village to Beverly Hills; from Broadway shows to movie premieres thus getting to enjoy the pleasures of all the beautiful cities of the world. We consultants, for obvious reasons, never bother to correct anyone who thinks that way. The reality is that during the week, we usually end up in places like Corning, NY, Harrisburg, PA and Thousand Oaks, CA (the last mentioned is a 90 minute drive from LAX in the wrong direction.)

I reach my destination only to find that by now, no parking is available anywhere close to the building I work. Once I park in some Godforsaken lot and trudge up to my office, there’s a whole bunch of emails and voicemails waiting for moi. Its 10 A.M. in California but I have been up for 9 hours now and so it already feels like the end of the day but there’s really no hope of getting out anytime soon.

A word about our work quarters here: In most client sites, we consultants have separate rooms to ourselves. It’s usually an old storage room which nobody knew existed until a new client recruit found it and came up with the bright idea of giving the consultants some privacy. The ratio of the number of people in this room at any particular point of time to the number of people who are supposed to be here is comparable to the ratio in some of the rooms one would have seen at Dachau in Germany in the early 1940s. Of course, there are some who think we deserve no less and our community usually doesn’t complain as long as we are allowed to bill over budget.

I get started on the formatting changes that I need to do on the PowerPoint presentation (as everyone is well aware, we consultants spend 20% of our time on Excel, 50% on formatting slides in PowerPoint, 20% on writing emails and the rest 10% on filling expense sheets, the only exception to this if you are a manger in which case you would spend the Excel time on writing proposals) when one of my client colleagues rush into the room. “We need to run those models again. Something is amiss”. If one is relatively new to the job, one would start running those painful simulations n times until the client says that it looks okay. If one is on the enlightened side, one would just ask the colleague in question the exact numbers he wants and then fudge the model to give him his numbers. Needless to say, there would be a neat slide in the deck which would talk about all the ‘judgements’ (read ‘fudge factors’) that have been applied. I do the latter and get back to my formatting. By now, consultants from all offices have arrived and everyone is catching up on office gossip. To an outsider, this would look like a complicated discussion as it involves the frequent use of words like ‘granularity’, ‘gain traction’, ‘buy-in’, ‘critical path’, ‘deliverables’ – I could go on and on but you get the idea.

Its lunchtime! Though there are about 18 cafeterias spread over the 52 buildings this company owns, we consultants like to eat somewhere else where we can expense a little more, not to mention the idea of having something other than cafeteria food. But alas, this is Thousand Oaks, CA, not exactly the culinary capital of the world.


Sunil said...

So...part two is never going to make it here?

Veena said...

Hey Sunil,

The only way I see part 2 happening is if I get back to my crazy travel schedule again!

And thanks for visiting.