Friday, February 18, 2005

Wilmington Diary, Day Two

On the job: Boss took me in for a chat first thing today. Said I'd come on a bit too strong with some co-workers--"you're flamboyant, and this is a more conservative culture," or something like that. (No, I haven't come out to any of my co-workers yet. But if any of them read my resume, I've got the Philadelphia Gay News listed among my freelance outlets.) I allowed as to how I often come across as a know-it-all and said I'd tone things down 20 decibels or so. Then the person I'm working with directly told me she was upset, because the boss said she was upset with me when she wasn't. (We've hit it off quite well.) Only the second day, and already I get a taste of office politics. Sheesh.

Today's observation: What is the difference between MBNA headquarters and an Atlantic City casino?

No, I'm not talking about money. I'm approaching this from the urbanist perspective.

Here's the difference: MBNA headquarters has more windows and is more tastefully decorated.

Otherwise, the two are quite similar in that they are total environments--it's not necessary for those inside them to venture outside for anything from the time they enter until the time they're ready to go.

The casinos have restaurants, shops, and services all under one roof. So does MBNA headquarters. And the top brass had at one time toyed with the idea of turning the old New Castle County Court House (now part of the MBNA HQ complex) into a hotel, or so I was told, furthering the parallel.

I understand why the casinos do this--they want to keep as much of their patrons' money in their own hands as possible. I can appreciate why a large company does this--it helps employee morale.

But for a large company in a big-city location, or even a small-city one like this one, this strikes me as a bit redundant.

Supposedly, one of the benefits a company enjoys from having its offices in the middle of an urban business district is that, unlike in the suburbs, ancillary services--diners/restaurants, dry cleaners, barber shops, hair salons, gift shops, small grocery stores, and so on--are nearby, within an easy walk of the offices. The city benefits from having the company's workers patronizing all those shops during the day, and the activity adds life to the streets.

Wilmington's main shopping strip has seen better days, but there's still lots of places to shop or run errands within a stone's throw of Rodney Square. You won't see too many MBNA employees taking care of personal business in these places, though--they can do everything within the headquarters complex. For all the complex interacts with its surrounding area, it may as well be the suburban office campus it is in spirit.

(I do need to be fair here: the company doesn't mind at all if you decide to have lunch across Rodney Square in the Hotel DuPont or somewhere along Market Street instead of in their (excellent) employee cafeteria. And the fact that it is possible to do this by just walking up the block does distinguish the in-city complex from the suburban one.)

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