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Commuting to Facebook
Much ado has been made about the tech industry's private transit system. As a passenger, it probably isn't anything like you imagine.
It used to take me two hours to get to work. The drive from San Francisco to Facebook's Building 20 in Menlo Park winds needlessly through the city, before crawling down highway 101. It's slow going. To get to work by 9am, I needed to be stationed at the bus stop by 6:50am. Which meant I needed to wake up at 6am, to make it in time for coffee before my first meeting at 10am. A dreary morning calculus.
As I was the first stop on my route, I always had my pick of where to sit. I worked for Facebook for 3.5 years, so I had plenty of time to determine the best seat on the bus: top row, in the back, one seat off the window. The actual window seat was the best until a tree branch pierced the back window of another bus. So I moved over; branch javelins aside, the top row of the bus was still the safest. The seats in front of me would provide enough cushion should we ever tip over – which I imagined in vivid detail every morning as we tilted over the various overpasses on 101. If we didn't explode on impact, I knew I'd survive the fall based on my position in the bus. I planned to use the glass hammer I carried in my laptop bag to escape. Everyone else would perish, except for me and my glass hammer.
My glass hammer was eventually confiscated by the TSA on a work trip to London.
Every once in a while, our bus would match the speed of another company's bus, in an adjacent lane. Through the layers of tinted glass you could see the product managers, researchers, designers, and engineers of Apple, LinkedIn, Google, and Genentech – checking their email or watching Netflix. They looked like us: young and bored. Sometimes I'd get on their wifi. Or point a laser pointer at a Google Doc.
My laser pointer was also confiscated by the TSA.
If you looked down, way down, you'd see regular commuters in their tiny cars. In standstill traffic they'd look up at us through their sunroofs, scowl, and flip us off. People hated the Facebook Bus long before they hated Facebook. They hated the bus so much, they'd light furniture on fire in the street to obstruct our route. They'd throw rocks at our windows. They'd heckle us at the bus stop or vomit on the windshield.
On the bus, it was understood that conversation was prohibited. No one spoke. I wore headphones at all times just in case; I hate talking to strangers. Thankfully, it was exceedingly rare for people to break this rule. There was one repeat-offender on my route: a high-level policy executive who was always on the phone. He was an angry man who didn't know, or more likely didn't care, about the no talking rule. He'd yell at someone new every morning. There wasn't much to yell about at work; I could never figure out what he was so upset about.
I followed the angry man home once. He lives in a giant cube at the top of a hill – I'd be happy if I lived there. I still drive by his cube on my new commute and noticed he recently put in solar panels. I know a lot more about this angry man than I want to.
Two hours is a long time to sit in one place, and an even longer time not to use the bathroom. Sometimes I didn't have a choice. The bus bathroom was as small as an airplane's and as wobbly as a boat's. I could never bring myself to sit down, so I'd use my legs, free arm, and head to inflate myself into the walls. This worked fine in slow traffic. If a lane cleared, and the bus sped up...well…there was a little container of Purell inside which was always empty, for obvious reasons.
Most of my ride was spent at war on Workplace (FB's internal discussion board). Every morning, someone would post something senseless, and I'd spend the ride dismantling their position. Interns, rotational product managers, researchers – they were usually the first into battle. Desperate to make a name for themselves, they'd snipe at some aspect of some strategy, somewhere in the company. If their bullets ever flew close to my world, I'd defend my domain. I'd destroy them. It was performative linguistic combat and I loved it.
As an aside, this is why I find coverage of internal Facebook discussion so cringeworthy. Reporters document Workplace battles like diligent Civil War historians, and don't realize – or don't want to accept – it's all just kayfabe at a Medieval Times restaurant.
When we'd arrive on campus, I'd unfold myself and Google the health effects of sitting for an extended time as I walked to my standing desk where I'd sit until the 7:12pm bus home.
The ride home was the same as the ride there, except you couldn’t see anyone out the window, which was probably for the best.