If you’ve ever met me on the job or at a conference, you probably noticed the stainless steel water bottle I carry and assumed it had been surgically attached. In a way, it has. After the gastric bypass, it’s difficult to chug down liquids in quantity. To get my daily requirement, I need to drink smaller amounts, pretty much throughout the day. I hate using plastic bottles and avoid them like the plague. Instead, I assembled the premium water bottle set consisting of a decent stainless steel bottle, an insulated slinger, and a carabiner. These travel with me everywhere I go.
What I actually drink is green iced tea made from those single-serving, sugar-free mixes that come in a tube. The most important ingredient though is ice. I’ll settle for water instead of tea if I have to, but ice is mandatory. (Except in Europe where they seem to have lost the recipe.) In my never-ending quest for ice, I have mapped the locations of every airport lounge, every airport restaurant with a self-serve ice dispenser, and in case of emergency most of the airport restaurants that will sell me ice for a price.
The least reliable place to find ice is in client offices. On one particularly long engagement, the cafeteria was 1/4 mile away (it was a REALLY big building) and closed in the afternoon. They did have a pantry with an upright refrigerator/freezer but it had no ice maker. There was one broken down tray and it was always either empty or welded to the freezer compartment by water that leaked out the cracks. Not the ideal situation but, hey I’m a consultant, this should be an easy problem to solve compared to my actual assignment, and free from the controversy or political land mines usually encountered on a high-visibility engagement such as this.
The next morning on the way to work I stopped off at the grocery store. There I bought an ice bucket, a couple 2-packs of brand new ice trays, a sponge and some dish soap to clean everything out with. I arrived early so I’d have time to wash, dry and fill the trays before the day started. All of this was at my own expense, but I figured over the few months I’d be on the assignment it would be more than worth it. By the time I checked back at lunch the trays had already frozen, so I dumped the ice in the bucket and started a new batch. My bottle takes almost an entire tray of ice so I was anxious to get the bucket filled to make sure there would be plenty of ice for me in the event others discovered a ready supply and began to use it. I wasn’t averse to this idea and in fact had counted on it when I purchased so many trays. If I could get to the pantry a couple times a day, I’d be able to create an oversupply of ice, make some of my office mates happy and keep my tea reliably cold.
I didn’t tell anyone about this, partly because I was curious how long it would take people to notice the new supplies and to whom they would attribute the generosity. Despite having a pantry with running water and appliances, the company was notorious for not maintaining anything and several pantries had fallen into disrepair, then abandoned or used for storage. This was one of the few that remained in which everything mostly worked, but it too was nearing retirement age. A shiny new set of ice trays and bucket would surely be noticed. I mixed a bottle of iced tea and returned to work.
It was a busy day and I didn’t make it back to the pantry until nearly 6pm. I had another hour or so to go, the cafeteria was long closed and my bottle was empty. I put some water in the bottom, added a pack of tea and shook it up. Then I went for the ice. The bucket and top tray were empty, the next tray was filled with water but the two bottom trays had ice. Wow. I’m really glad I bought so many trays. I’m also really glad I bought a bucket and dumped the first batch of cubes at lunch time. I was happy someone filled the one tray with water but wished they’d dumped all the trays and refilled them. I have to admit to a bit of annoyance over that one empty tray, though.
As I returned to the counter with my ice tray, I realized there were two people waiting for access to the coffee maker. Between the sink and the refrigerator is a counter less than a foot wide, at the back of which sulks a disgruntled coffee maker. There’s enough counter space in front for a coffee cup or two and it was currently occupied by my water bottle and an ice tray. Coffee was the only thing between these guys and whatever work they had to finish before they went home, and I was the only thing between them and the coffee. In the spirit of friendship and cooperation I aborted my ice tray maintenance mission. Most of one tray went into the bottle and the two or three remaining cubes went in the bucket. I replaced the empty tray in the freezer, wiped the counter dry and turned to leave. I would return later when things were quiet to empty the remaining ice and refill the trays for the morning.
As I passed, the guy behind me in line grabbed my shoulder.
“Hey,” he said sharply. I turned and he cast a critical glare in my direction.
“You know…” He indicated the freezer with his chin. “If you empty the ice tray, you’re supposed to refill it.”
I checked my jaw before responding to make sure it hadn’t come unhinged. “I saw you guys waiting and figured I’d give you the counter. I need to make a pit stop, and you should be gone by the time I get back. Believe me, I wasn’t planning to leave without dumping and refilling all the trays.” I didn’t think I’d be able to keep a straight face, so I beat a hasty retreat.
“See that you do,” he barked. His final comment rounded the corner and chased me down the hall. “Fucking consultants.”