Kimberly-Clark has left the building. Long live the new building, the east wing of the former Goody’s glass headquarters in West Knoxville. By the time you read this, we’ll be relocated, with a view of Th’Katch sign.
It’s been a quiet exodus to our new digs down the interstate. It’s new and strange—NCIS lab sets compared to our urban gray cubes. We have balconies, and unfocused dread. I wish we were more cat-like, adopting a new normal after one and a half repetitions. Some folks will adjust quicker than others, but we’ll all probably adapt quicker than we believed, driving out of shady Summer Place Garage for the last time. One constant: Everyone I’ve spoken with—those whose commutes have evaporated completely, the most wide-eyed change-embracers, and telecommuters who I’d never seen in the office anyway—drop an octave when they talk about leaving downtown. You don’t know what you have, etc.
K-Cers were into downtown before downtown was cool. Kimberly-Clark came to Knoxville in late 1989, brought a bunch of local folks downtown, and hauled another batch of employees here from Wisconsin and points north. Many of the cheeseheads ended up settling in West Knoxville. Realtors didn’t pimp urban neighborhoods to corporate transferees in the early ’90s; downtown still had that scary vibe to West Knoxvillians in those days. A vendor got mugged at gunpoint. The transplants will miss downtown as much as any of us.
I met more West Knox friends working downtown at K-C than I did in 13 years of living and working in West Knoxville. I would never have moved to Old North if not for K-C, so I can’t complain that they’re moving out west. I’m not moving back. I’ll take “15-mile commutes” for a good job, Alex. Our colleagues in Chicago and Atlanta don’t even recognize this distance as a commute.
It’s been a month of lasts. I took my last walk from my office to the Union Avenue Barber Shop. My buff colleagues power-walked to the downtown YMCA for the last time, saying tearful farewells to workout friends they’ve known for years. I slouched into my sado-ergonomic desk chair for the final time last Tuesday. My friends and I made a point of lunching on Market Square our last day in the Summit Hill building, even in the pouring rain.
Sometime around June 20, the last K-C conference call was interrupted by the wail of sirens from the fire station next door. Callers on six continents have paused their mission-critical discussions for that soundtrack. “Jah, Knoxville, the town of sirens.” I recorded an audio file of the familiar din. We’ll have post-relocation conference calls that scream for an unscheduled break, or desperately need a laugh.
There are new folks in “our” building already, and there will be more. Some will travel downtown for new jobs, like I did, unfamiliar with the territory. I hope they learn faster than I did. The new folks will buy the lunches and haircuts and triple Patron shots we won’t be here to buy during our workdays. They’ll take our languid late-lunch walks, and know downtown’s progress before we do. We’ll learn Parkside Drive traffic patterns. Dry-cleaning/child-care/hair-care/auto-service/dinner/happy-hour process flows will be edited.
I fantasized throwing my cruel chair off the roof, homage to the fax-machine-smashing scene in Office Space. But the 12th floor has been closed for months, and I didn’t want to lug it to the top of the parking garage. The foot-race with security could get sweaty.
The gold K-C “bug” has been installed at its new, superbly landscaped location on Goodys Lane. (Yes, there is no apostrophe.) The bigger logo near the top of the building was out of scale for the former Goody’s HQ, so it’s going to K-C’s mill in Loudon. Downtown won’t remember us in any official way; no faded fake-flower memorial on Summit Hill will mark our passing. We’ll hire new co-workers, and the arbitrary dividing line between the pre- and post-downtowners will race backwards into our new normal, where we still have great jobs, now with more natural light and, finally, more comfortable chairs.
With our new digs we get boosted workplace flexibility, so if I need a haircut, a bento box on Market Square, or that triple shot of Patron for lunch, I can work from home (or anywhere with Wi-Fi) and wander over. But we’ll never all be here together again. We’ll miss it. Some blue-birdy spring Friday around lunchtime, we’ll look glumly across our parking lagoon. Nothing will need to be said; there’ll be a sad old song we all know. From across the slab, my Scripps pals will text me something about Taste of Thai.
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