Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Common Sensibilities Redux - The cookout
The cookout
Anyone who works in an office will love this story.
A couple of weeks ago, the other division of our company was putting on a conference in Indianapolis. Lots of co-workers from both divisions were scheduled to attend...but not me, nor several of my friends.
We were only slightly bitter about this--not so much because we were so anxious to participate in the conference, but because the facility at which it was held was close to the Fashion Mall, Cheesecake Factory, and Trader Joe's, places were DO like to participate in.
I happened into our HR office at the same time my friend M. was there, chatting with HR person T., and an idea came upon me. An idea fraught with potential disaster, as it unfolded, although I was innocent of what the future held at this point.
"Hey, do you have to be an offical group to use the grill?" I asked. A large Weber gas grill had been added to our courtyard last year, and different departments hosted cookouts all summer long. "Maybe a few of us could have a cookout next Friday."
"Nay," said T. "I think it's free. I'll reserve it if you invite me!"
M. thought this was fine, although as it turned out, she was taking a vacation day then.
I sent an email on Monday to the folks on our floor, a small group, about three departments, many of whom would be out on Friday anyway, either because of the conference or because of summer-Friday vacation days. Basing my menu on a successful cookout we had last year, I gave everyone a choice of hotdog, hamburger, or chicken or beef shish kabob. I asked for a $2 donation (after calling Kroger, determining that the kababs were on sale, and being assured by a soon-to-be revealed nincompoop that a pack of two would be "about $4"), and that everyone bring a liter of pop, a side dish, or a dessert. Hotdogs and hamburgers were on sale, and I figured that with the small amounts I'd be buying, donations would cover everything.
Reservations trickled in, and a reminder sent on Wednesday brought more requests.
Our boss heard us talking about the cookout, and commented that he "would rather be eating with us than going to this conference!"
Wednesday afternoon, he left the office, but not before sending an email to our ENTIRE DIVISION. In addition to letting everyone know how long he would be gone, and who to contact for questions, he mentions..."Cathy Dee's cookout on Friday"!
Questions from the formerly non-invited came pouring in, and it was evident they needed to be formally included. By the middle of Wednesday afternoon, our cookout had doubled in size.
Our company quit having Friday casual days a few years ago, but for special occasions, we'll do one as a fundraiser. People began asking me if Friday--cookout day--was a jeans day. I said I'd see what I could do.
Thursday morning found me in HR talking to another employee--R.--who confirmed that he too had had such a request, he had to ask the department head, but that he thought it would work out well. A family's home had burned, and donations could be made to them.
Not long after, another email did go around announced the Jeans Day for the office. This one went to everyone in both divisions. And, again by accident, this one accomplished the same thing my boss's email mentioned the cookout to EVERYONE.
Questions form the formerly non-invited in the other division came pouring in, and before I knew it, the cookout AGAIN doubled in size. I was taking orders and money from both divisions.
I was in a state of disbelief that one little cookout could blossom into something a total office function, and was taking money and orders like mad.
What else could go wrong? How did I end up being the organizer of a total office cookout?
Never ask questions like that.
Later Thursday morning, I got an email from a supervisor in the plant...confirming that those folks, too, were invited! And letting me know that she had 21 orders and counting!
After some confusion as to how this could occur (the email had gone to the plant management, who assumed it was a total company function), our little cookout morphed from a small, 2nd-floor affair, to a division-wide party, to a two-division (office) function, to total company envolvement.
As someone noted, it was like a game of Telephone gone mad. Except as I realized how much money I was taking in, how many orders for food I had, and how many people were expecting to be fed, I started stressing out!
I called Kroger and upped my order for shishs...I recruited friends to grill, help set up, clean up, and monitor...I made sure the plant people knew that they had to bring a dish, too...I upped the number of tables being set up for food.
Still, going on Thursday after work, I was just shocked at what had transpired.
Two bad news items when I got to Kroger to pick up my order. One, the shishes weren't on sale, as I'd been told--instead of being about $4 a package, they were between $6 and $7 a package! Two, I needed even more of them than were available.
A stronger person would have argued with the nincompoop at Kroger, but I had no strenghth left for that. I ate the extra cost myself (I was confident I'd be repaid) and ordered more shishes for Friday morning. Thank goodness, hotdogs and hamburgers were on a great sale.
By the next morning, I was no longer stressed...just mad I had ended up in this situation. I picked up the food and headed to work.
Luckily, take-charge T. was back in HR, and a talk with her helped me make sure we had enough food and that the cookout itself would go well.
By 10 a.m., tables were in place, and I could begin putting tableclothes on, getting the tableware out, and by 10:15, the grilling volunteers had the Weber warming up. We'd determined that due to the number of shishes ordered, we'd have to start cooking at 10:30!
We'd let everyone know to bring their side dishes, etc. down at 11, and indeed the food tables in the cafeteria started filling up then. Pop, pies, chips, veggies, cookies, salads, fruit, and more appeared and I began to relax that we'd have enough food for the entire company.
By 11:30, our announced time for eating, most of the meat was done and the runners began serving it up. A line had formed already, so everyone was ready to eat.
For the next half-hour, a steady stream of co-workers worked the buffet line as we got the last of the meat cooked up and served. Finally...I could eat, too.
I had bought 40 hotdogs (less than 10 left), two dozen hamburgers (none left) and I think about 40 shish kababs (a couple left). We had three tables of food, two of pop, and one of pie.
We'd put out 75 of the tray-like styrofoam plates, and every single one was gone by the time all were served.
I went out to the sunny courtyard and scarfed my lunch, contemplating cleanup. I even let myself have both pie AND ice cream!
Luckily lots of folks pitched in, and by 1 or so most everything was cleaned up. People retreived their dishes and leftovers, the tables were taken down, the extra pop was consumed, and leftover chips were donated to a cancer walk the next day.
Was I ever happy to see 4 p.m. come. I'd spent the better part of two days trying to manage a Cookout Gone Wild. I asked my coworkers, please don't mention the words "cookout," "shish kabab" or "company-wide" email to me for a long, long time!

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