One of my favorite traditions at my first job was after work drinks. We’d go once a week, maybe twice. We were 22-28 years old and thought we ran the City. The scary part for most New Yorkers was that, in a very small way, we did. It was a bunch of smart, motivated, and energetic post undergrads, the vast majority of us white and educated. We worked for the City at the service of Mayor Giuliani; we’d fight the lifeguard unions in the summer, talk Council Members, Borough Presidents, and other representatives into appropriating their funds to projects we’d been put on, attend neighbor hood citizen bitching sessions, you name it. We worked on average 12-16 hour days, many times 6 to 7 days a week, and we still made time once or twice a week to go out for drinks.
Even though we’d spend the day arguing the precise language that the Commissioner would use to refute the charge that Central Park is disproportionately funded in comparison to other parks in the city, particularly those in disenfranchised neighborhoods, saw each other more than we saw our family or friends, worked to the point of exhaustion, carried beepers and cell phones that went off once every 3 to 5 minutes (even at night, because God forbid something might happen) and were in each others faces from 8AM to 9 or 10PM, we still met at bars.
I knew these people as people. That was the effect of the bar time. We’d ask each other questions, tell funny stories, become familiar with the names of significants we cared for. We knew each other. I’ve actually kept in touch with these people, and I’m shit at keeping in touch with most anyone else. Perhaps it was the pressure of the positions, the tiny secrets we all held. The drinks were a time to bitch in camaraderie about our work environment, joke semi-seriously about our bosses, mock some of the people we ran into, and, because that’s what bars are for, just drink.
In terms of hours, and perhaps pressure (though certainly of a much different nature), my current job is scheduled similarly as that one was. Yet we've gone to after work beers as colleagues exactly three times. Once was for my former boss when he got a new job. Sometimes, after a rough day or week, my thoughts will drift foggily to that first job. I’ll wonder what I’m doing, why I’m not in the thick of things, and why the hell we don’t go to drinks together. It has something to do with a level of exhaustion, and something to do with other variables. But the drinks were a morale thing. One of the smallest traditions that I didn’t realize was one until I no longer took part. I miss it. In an odd way, I miss working in politics, though I don’t miss dealing with politicians. But if I left this industry, I’d miss it more, and not only that, as my life neared 50 (though I still can’t really imagine hitting that age) I would look back on that decision as the worst in my life. Regret is a son of a bitch, and she’s a nasty one at that. (I don’t know why I just gave regret a female persona, but instead of editing it out, I’ll just leave it be and dismiss it as mommy abandonment issues, or something.)
But at times I do miss politics. And more than anything, I miss after work drinks. I am friends with the people I work with, good friends with one or two of them, and far better than acquaintances with the others. On the whole, just as the other one, we are a bunch of smart, motivated, and energetic post grads. But when you wear a suit to work all day, when you meet about money, and police barricades, and how to handle protests, and how to negotiate the relationships between DOT, Sanitation, Parks, and the Police on specific construction projects, you are reminded that your job is a serious, adult thing—blowing off steam is a necessity. When you wear jeans, argue about which upcoming starlet is not just more legitimate, but more capable of career longevity versus capturing the zeitgeist; which band represents the cooler scene, and which politician or athlete is not just going to be great, but will capture the imaginations of our readers; what word or description could best replace the original opening of the third paragraph, well then you are dealing with a different set of variables. Perhaps because we spend our days talking about the things most people talk about when they meet for drinks after work—“Have you guys heard that album or seen that video?”, “Did you read that book? I saw the author on the Today Show this morning. Looks interesting.”, and “I really want to see that movie.”—the problem is you’ve read the book, seen the movie, thought about the upcoming gay marriage rally, and, yes, heard that song that everyone has been talking about, oh, and probably months before any of them ever came out.
But still, I miss the drinks. I loved it. It’s strange the things you realize meant something to you that you didn’t think about at the time.