Fandango’s Provocative Question #215

Before we get into this, let me start by saying that I think Elon Musk is a very wealthy moron. The two things, as we have seen with our former Prez #45, are not contradictory. You can be famous, rich and even in some ways a genius — and still be a moron.

And now, the question:

If you are not yet retired, do you regularly work from home? If not currently, have you ever telecommuted on a regular basis? If so, did (or do) you prefer working from home? Why or why not? And finally, how do you feel about Musk calling working from home “morally wrong”? Do you agree or disagree? And why do you feel that way?

I think I was one of the very first few people to commute from home. Here’s how it went. This is a real story, so hang in here with me.

Garry and I had just decided to get married and of course, he was working all the time. “Designing” the wedding was up to me. Except the location. Garry absolutely positively wanted to get married at his church in West Hempstead.

We lived in Boston and planning a wedding in New York from Boston was going to be a bit of a problem. My mother had passed away eight years earlier and my father was not going to be any help. Owen was just 18. I didn’t really have anyone to count on, so I had to enlist old friends from the radio station to select the food, find a cake, buy the flowers.

We decided to have a small wedding in the lower level of the church. It would only hold 120 people and they didn’t allow any booze. Which, remarkably, Garry thought was fine. “Who,” he said “Needs a lot of drunks at your wedding?” Instead of “real” champagne, we bought alcohol-free champagne. People got high anyway which probably proves something but I’m not sure exactly what.

Meanwhile, I was working full-time, 9 to 5. With all this stuff going on, there was no way I would be able to set up a wedding and also hold down my job. I suggested we have the Mayor, who was a friend, marry us on the steps of Old City Hall — the one that dates back to the early 1700s — after which we could have a great party at some local eatery and fly away to Ireland.

At exactly the right moment, a friend of mine said he could get me a great gig writing manuals for EBMUD, the East Bay Municipal Utility District. I could do the entire job from home using something I’d never even heard of — a MODEM. No problem about that because EBMUD would supply the modem and would in fact pay my plane fare to go out there to discuss what they needed. They were ready to pay $45,000 for the manual which was, in 1989, a good wage. It was actually more than I was earning at my full-time job.

I flew out to Oakland, explained what I thought they would need. They disagreed and wanted something that explained each part of the job separately. I said no one would be able to use the book for reference. It would be useless for many employees. EBMUD is a big organization. They needed something that would go the distance and be useful to everyone, no matter what they did.

This was the third manual, which was an update of the second one. The first was abandoned.

They disagreed, so I made them sign a paper saying I advised them against the manual for which they were paying. If they didn’t like it — and I knew they wouldn’t like it — they were going to have to pay me again. No free re-do.

This was right before the big earthquake that took place on the first day of the World Series. I was supposed to stay longer, but I came down with the flu and went home early, missing dying under the collapsed highway by hours. I also came home with a contract for what I was pretty sure would take me maybe 4 months. It took three and for the rest of the year, I planned a wedding, got married, had a honeymoon — and was rehired to rewrite the revised manual.

The modem was the fastest on the market: 2400 Bps! Today, it’s closer to 600,000 Bps or 600 Mbps.

In its day, the 2400 BPS modem was hot! It took forever to get connected. We still had copper wires and most people didn’t have a home computer. Cell phones existed, but it was years before the iPhone. Even the Blackberry was in the future.

I wrote the manual in Boston and a couple of times flew back to California for additional information. It was GREAT. I had plenty of time to set up house and enjoy the honeymoon. And move. We needed a bigger place with at least two bathrooms.

I earned a good living and was free to have a life. I was never happy in a cubicle or even an office again. Freedom is wonderful. If you get used to it, it’s hard to let it go.

My theory has always been that I was paid for what I did, not how many hours I took to do it. I worked very fast — probably twice as fast as most writers. Half my office time had always been pretending I was busy, so it was glorious to not have to pretend. In America, your reward for doing the job better and faster is getting more work without a raise.

Imagine, also if you will, the ecological benefits of having millions fewer people driving back and forth to the office. Towards the end of my career, I had some jobs that took me as many hours to commute as I spent in the office. One place was 140 miles — one way — from home. I only had to go to the office two days a week, but the amount of driving was insane. I didn’t deal well with those huge commutes. I wore out and retired early on disability.

Telecommuting could save the world. There are jobs where you have to physically be there, but if your work is primarily done on a computer at a desk and you aren’t interacting with customers, there’s no reason to drive workers to exhaustion, wear out cars, destroy the woods and pollute the air when you can use your home computer to do exactly the same thing.

Categories: #Commuting, #FPQ, #Work, Anecdote, Disabilities, Provocative Questions

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24 replies

  1. Hi Marilyn. I can relate to you about ” I worked very fast — probably twice as fast as most writers. Half my office time had always been pretending I was busy, so it was glorious to not have to pretend.” I do wish companies see that speed should be given extra reward as well. haha I mean, it can be unfair if you finish fast and more than others.


    • But you never get rewarded. Well, twice I did, over the years, but it was verbal, not money and while a verbal “thanks” is swell, money is more useful. All they usually do is realize how fast you are and dump MORE work on you while the rest of the slow workers take longer lunches. So I tried hard to never let them know how fast I was — but eventually, they noticed. Some things are hard to hide.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Firstly, let me joyfully agree with you about Elon Musk – perfectly put, Marilyn! He is, indeed, a moron. Anyone who says people should be having more babies when the planet is already groaning under the weight of parasitic humans has to be a moron. Or insane. Or both.

    And again, I fully endorse your thoughts on working from home. Those who could really should. Stuart lost his job in 2020 during the economic crisis of the pandemic, and since then he’s been working for himself, predominantly from home. Not only has he saved himself the cost of fuel and wear and tear on the car doing 90+ miles per day, he’s not doing the damage you rightly mention to the environment that the travelling entailed. And you’re spot on about the freedom. Like you, Stuart works fast and achieves a great deal in a shorter day, and that gives him flexibility and freedom. He always says now he doesn’t think he could ever go back to working in an office. I also know from my own experience that once you have that freedom, you couldn’t bear to let it go. Great points, Marilyn, well made! 🙂


    • I had to go back to an office once in a while, but I was always restless and mentally had both feet out the door. I also couldn’t understand why I needed to be supervised. I was at least a decade older than the people who were “supervising” me. But some of them were sure that the important thing was to get a full day’s work out of everyone, even if they could do the work in half the time — producing results that were the same OR better. I actually think I did my best work at home because I could go back anytime to fix or add or edit something, even if it was the middle of the night.

      The freedom was the ultimate issue. Towards the end of my career, I did whatever work I could get, especially when I was either “obsolete” (I wrote in whole sentences and used punctuation) or was officially “over qualified.” . How can you be over qualified? What does that even mean? That they want someone who doesn’t know much to work for the smallest wages they can offer? Or someone who will be appropriately servile rather than having an opinion?

      There are so many good reasons to not stress workers, the planet or the economy while endlessly building office buildings on woodlands. Forcing people to drive long distances when they could easily work from home. The current design of the workforce was invented long before working at home was a choice. It still isn’t for some people, but it is the best choice for many others.

      Liked by 1 person

      • All you say is true, Marilyn. There’s so much we should be doing, if only the powers that be were as forward-thinking as you.

        Like you, Stuart has to go in occasionally to his clients offices to do audits for a day or so, but he’s always hugely relieved when he’s finished! I know neither of us will ever stomach an office job again.

        As for being over qualified, I think it’s a fairly recent phenomenon, but goodness knows what it means. It may well be any of the points you make, or all of them together. The only other possible factor might be that if the firms worry that if someone is qualified more than they need to be for a role, they might not stay in it very long and then they’ll have to go through the recruitment process all over again. The whole concept still seems daft to me though.


        • I’m pretty sure “over-qualified” means you are experienced and expect a real salary. So rather than pay you what you are worth (and they always know what that is), they hire people who don’t know anything, pay them as little as possible and wonder what happened to quality.

          Obsolete means they have decided they don’t want to bother with documentation. Need help? Call the hotline. Except they moved all that hotline work to some countries where labor is cheap and they don’t bother to train anyone.

          I’m glad I finished working when I did. There were some hard years, but we seem to have moved passed them and life is pretty good. Short of money, but I’d rather be short of money than in some office somewhere yearning to be free.

          The only thing better than working at home is NOT working.


  3. I’m retired now but spent most of my career working in situ. My first couple of working decades were as a librarian in public libraries so of course you have to be there in the building to serve customers! Even when I moved into management I had to be present although the internet was just taking off and might have allowed for some home working – but I don’t think anyone even considered the possibility. When I moved into a central government job we were allowed to take the odd day working from home, IF we had an urgent report to write and IF we had no meetings – there was no Zoom or similar back then. But once I went freelance I found the joys of a blended approach, working mainly from home but with regular client meetings, site working etc. That suited me well, and like you I relished being paid for the work I delivered not the hours I spent doing it.


    • The more experienced you get, the more ridiculous it is to be forced to come to “the office.” Lots of micro managers who can’t imagine having worker who don’t “obey” them. If you need to stand over your workers and give them orders all day long, you should have hired someone who doesn’t need that much supervision.

      Once you discover it IS possible to work AND have a life, it’s really hard to go back to your cubicle. Although I did sometimes have to work in an office, I hated it. I was restless and a lot LESS productive than I would have been given my freedom.


      • Different ways of working suit different people. Take my nephew and his wife. During the pandemic, like many people, they both worked from home. Once it was allowed to go back to the office he was reluctant to do so as he’d found home working much to his taste. He’s agreed with his company that he works from home some days but goes in once or twice a week. She on the other hand couldn’t wait to get back as she missed the social side of office work and being around lots of people. She’s since changed her job and now does customer relations for a micro-brewery where she’s in their small office everyday – she loves it!


        • I wouldn’t have minded if there had been some flexibility — as in you finish early and then, you get to go home rather than getting more work dumped on you. And if there WAS some kind of social life in the office. There was a nice kind of thing at Doubleday and at a couple of places here, but being friendly was frowned upon. Conversation unrelated to work was discouraged — and if you kept on, they’d fire you for “distracting other people,” their point was that although YOU may work fast, others don’t. It was for me a lose-lose.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I was lucky – I never worked in an office where a bit of social chat was discouraged. In fact I would say it was beneficial – people work better when they’re happy in their environment, and especially at a senior level I think creative ideas can emerge from these more casual work conversations. I often got the germ of an idea for an initiative from something said in the kitchen or while waiting for the lifts (elevator)!


  4. I agree, Marilyn. Working from home, when possible, is the way forward, especially now you can have conference calls. Just like actually being there!


  5. I certainly don’t believe that Elon Musk has any interest in making the lives of his employees better and he probably reasons that if other companies allow WFH then he will be expected to do the same.
    You only have to look at the company he keeps to see what kind of person he is. He is what my friend Gillian often refers to as a RWNJ.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t care HOW much money he has. I has absolutely no grip on reality or on other human beings. This is a guy who will be the ultimate micro manager, even if he has not idea what the job entails. They are the worst. He really thought just being rich was enough. If you are very VERY rich, you don’t need to know anything.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Marilyn, this is my view: Elon Musk is a greedy, selfish man who personifies the worse of all human characteristics. He doen’t care about what is best for the employees or the environment. He cares about empty commercial properties that no longer serve any practical use. Why else have countries like the UK tried to force people back into offices although it runs them ragged to do the commute and wastes a lot of time and resources? They are protecting their property market. Rant over – smile!

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are jobs that require your physical presence, but writing is definitely NOT one of them. In a couple of jobs over the years, there actually WAS no office. We only all showed up for meetings for to talk to people and collect data.

      Musk is a loser and being very rich doesn’t in any way improve his character. There seem to be an awful lot of really horrible people who have tons of money. Does the money make them like that? You have to wonder.


  7. Great story of your WFH experience with EMBUD, which is my current water utility provider. It sounds like it really worked out great for you. I just want to point out that, contrary to what you wrote, even if your job requires interacting with customers, you can still work from home. In my job I had to travel a lot to meet with both clients and prospective clients. But at some point, virtual web-based meetings (my company used WebEx, a business-oriented, enterprise-wide tool for video conferencing, webinars, and online meetings and that was a precursor to Zoom) enabled me to minimize my time on the road and meet with my customers in real-time rather than always having to fly out and meet with them on-site. Of course, these were business customers. If you’re talking about retail customers, that’s a whole different story and you’re absolutely right.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Firefighters, cops, on-the-ground TV and radio reporters, teachers, nurses, surgeons and of course anyone whose work is hands on need to be on-site. But the rest of us? We need to be there sometimes, but we don’t need to be there every day and we certainly don’t need to drive an extra 50,000 (or more) miles a year to go sit in a cubicle and do the same work we could easily do at home. The cost of maintaining all those building and the damage to our environment caused by more and more building is staggering.

      I wondered if you’d pick up on EBMUD. Yup, that’s what they do. Water and sewers and maintenance. They seemed to be a pretty well-run company even if they didn’t have a grip on what kind of manual they needed.

      I was very lucky I left when I did. Had I stayed, I would have been one of the people crushed under the collapsing highway.


    • Times have changed. There WAS no zoom or anything like it in regular offices. When I started working, we had typewriters, not computers. All of this developed over decades. I started working in the very early 1970s, probably just about 1971 when Owen was 2. It WAS another universe. Before that, it was part-time work and not exactly knowing what I was going to do. It was when Jeff came down with kidney cancer that I suddenly got REALLY serious about finding meaningful employment. And, of course, Owen was old enough for day care — remembering that there basically WAS no day care back then.

      Liked by 1 person

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