Musings from a Smokingpipes.com Novice
I’m the summer intern here at smokingpipes.com. This means I have managed to infiltrate a close-knit community at the heart of the pipe industry. But, really, this means I measure pipes and make coffee. I have quickly learned that both the pipes and the coffee at the offices of smokingpipes are of exceptional quality. Of course, I knew nothing about pipes before I started working here Monday, so I'm not sure if I'm in any sort of position to judge yet, but they do seem pretty...and I'm quite certain of my assessment on the coffee.
I have learned that the tasks of measuring pipes, entering data, and identifying shape from a chart, while tedious matters of minutiae, are fundamental to the product updating process. So I have tried to be very careful. My inner monologue for most of the day runs a little something like this… “ok, bowl diameter is 1.51 or was that the chamber depth? or are they just the same… just measure both again… ok enter the last of that data… click submit load, load...hmm, wait I think I just need some coffee first… ah yes… it’s all under control now… measure, measure, next, next… ok shapes…
And, to quote the inestimable Vonnegut, 'so it goes'...
But, the shapes are particularly challenging. They seem thoroughly and completely arbitrary. Really, why is a long, oval-shanked pipe with a tapered stem called a Canadian? Did the shape strike someone back in the early days of pipe naming as just particularly inoffensive, pleasant, and welcoming? And Billiard? To be smoked only during a session of a refined version of pool? By far the most strikingly, well, just silly name I’ve seen is “Oom Paul”. I first saw this in the list of shape options while entering pipe info, and, nonplussed, I immediately thought of Willy Wonka’s oompa-loompas. Later when I came across an Oom Paul with an odd cap on a thin chain, I thought that I could definitely see an oompa-loompa smoking it [I've since learned that Oom Paul refers to Paul Kruger, president of the Transvaal Republic from 1883 to 1900, but that's not nearly as funny]. The names of pipe shapes seem to reflect the unconventionality of this area of art. I’ve been told that everyone has trouble with determining shapes at first, and this is not hard to believe. It is hard to believe that I’ll ever get the hang of the less usual shapes.
As I said, I have infiltrated a close-knit community here, and as an outsider I think I have a fresh perspective to share. I am very much taken with the eccentricities of this work environment, which, while very apparent to me, have become commonplace to the permanent team members, much as you overlook the oddities and quirks of your own family.
I am reporting directly to Alyson. She and Pam have been guiding me through the complex updating process. The first thing Alyson showed me was how to make coffee in an intimidating, industrial machine. Next, we turned to pipes. I noted the priorities here: coffee, and then the pipes. A little unexpected, maybe, but I accepted it willingly. Alyson showed me the pipe 'library', the largest room on the 2nd floor of the main building. I understood why the coffee step preceded the pipe step.
Adam’s desk, along with shelves of pipes, is in this pipe library room. Adam immediately struck me as a cool kind of guy. This is probably because he wears a cool-kind-of-guy hat. This week I discovered Adam is also the hub of the eccentricity here, surpassing even Sykes (though Sykes’ tendency to talk about papal history makes him a close second). Adam manages, sometimes quite literally, to spread his idiosyncrasy all over the second floor offices. He draws out the idiosyncrasies of others. For example, Adam causes Sykes to laugh his (I’ve learned) characteristic, very loud and appreciative guffaw; and he draws out Eric’s characteristic, dry and deadpan comments. Another way Adam eccentrically engages his second-floor colleagues is by cooking something delicious and walking around the office, bowl in hand, to visit and let everyone know just how insanely good his food is. Most importantly, though, is his music. Because Adam’s desk is in the center of much activity, and his door is always open, his music choices permeate the second floor. Adam plays a playlist that reduces the word “eclectic” to the foreign cousin of “monotonous”. Kung Fu Fighting is a daily favorite, and when I was retrieving and organizing pipes from the shelves, I was graced with sonorous voice of Jack Black stringing expletives together for several minutes; later in the day, I heard Bach’s cello suites— and later still, Lady Gaga. The musical diversity is truly remarkable, and (I think) much-appreciated entertainment.
This week I have been struck by just how much of a caring team community this place has: Pam kindly and forgivingly correcting my mistakes (usually the shapes); Alyson and Susan brightening the afternoon with milkshakes; Melissa patiently helping everyone with their computers; friendly hellos and goodbyes…it has all combined to create a great first few days. I took this internship because I wanted to work at a small, tech-oriented company (the '.com' in the name clinched it). I discovered that this isn't really a tech company. It's more of an old family store, filled with eccentric characters, who also happen to have massive tech resources at their disposal. That and thousands of pipes. I'm not sure if that's a good or a bad combination yet, having not yet figured out exactly how they do what they do, but it's definitely been an eye opening experience so far.