A Metro article yesterday about the pace of work in the holiday season incorrectly reported Craig Kellermann's position at the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton. He is the firm's D.C. office manager. (Published 12/29/1999)
The normally choked freeways are free again, if only for a little while. The office parking lots stand half-empty, offering a prime spot to anyone who wants it. And lines? Except for the shopping malls, there seem to be no lines at all.
Consider it the longest weekend of the year, this glorious lull between the storms of Christmas and New Year's. It's a time to shop for bargains, to sneak an afternoon nap, to catch a matinee.
It is not, for many people, a time to work.
Some businesses close down entirely. Others limp along with half a staff. Normally crowded government offices seem downright tranquil; placid public libraries are overflowing. The world has been set on its end.
And the pace may not pick up much until later in the week, when hoards of computer technicians, utility workers and emergency personnel are called in to handle any Y2K troubles.
"It's been mediocre," said Jeff Duka, a barista at Kiari's Coffee, a normally busy espresso shop in Fairfax City. "There was almost nobody here this morning. We didn't have any of our regulars going to work."
At the Fairfax County Courthouse, most judges are on vacation. Most criminal cases have been wiped from the docket. And because of Y2K-related duties, police officers are unavailable for hearings.
"Between Christmas and New Year's, it's very slow, because everyone is out of town," said Frank Jafari, whose House of Gyro sandwich shop depends on court workers for its business. "Most offices around here are lawyers, but they're on vacation, and the courthouse is very slow."
Business was also tepid at the Fairfax County Government Center. Gina McQuinn, a reporter for Virginia Newsletters, said few planning and zoning cases that her publication covers are filed during this period. "I'm in suspended animation," she said.
In Maryland, half the firms in Columbia's Park Square office building were shuttered. At the others, business was a bit slower than usual.
At Working Concepts, a software consulting firm, about 35 of the 50 employees were in the office or out visiting clients. "You know when we'll start goofing off?" asked receptionist Laura Carter. "On Thursday."
Downstairs, at CGU Insurance, there was casual dress and slightly more laughter than usual in the underwriting department. But claims were being processed and policyholders were coming into the office for help.
After all, this week is just as busy as any other, with Christmas Day fires, last-minute Y2K insurance policies, and the average Joe who does get the week off finally having time to call the insurance company.
"Sure, we'd love to slack off," said claims representative Steve Strub. "But you can't let the phone calls go. You have a responsibility to the customer." Besides, he said, "if you don't work, the time goes slower."
Because other people had the week off, CGU receptionist Johanna Torres had even more time at work. The roads were so empty that her 45-minute commute from Pasadena up Route 100 took only a half-hour.
"I got here at 7:30," she said as she waited for the phone to ring. "I didn't know what to do with myself."
In traffic-obsessed Washington, the roads speak for themselves. Joan Morris, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation, said the week between Christmas and New Year's provides the lowest average traffic volumes of the year--especially as summer becomes nearly as gridlocked as other seasons.
"It's the perfect rush hour," said Morris, who whisked into work yesterday with little trouble. "It's the rush hour you dream of: You just keep moving. . . . Everybody will feel it again next week."
At the National Capital YMCA downtown, members focused less on work than on working out.
"I gained 15 1/2 pounds since Thanksgiving, and I'm going to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands in two weeks, and those 15 pounds can't show," said Chris Alvear, 26, an interior designer.
Alvear, speaking after a jogging-and-weight-lifting session, was finding ways to fill his time since his two-year-old firm finished a project before the holidays. "I'm trying the kick-boxing class--which was excellent," he reported.
But Washington being Washington, even late in the day the fitness rooms were filled by those merely ducking out for a breather before heading back to the office. Craig Kellermann, 50, managing lawyer at securities litigation firm Debevoise & Plimpton, said the holiday quiet was the perfect time to get more done.
"If clients are trying to complete a deal by year-end, you can work around the clock, but folks tend to be mellower," Kellermann said after a 4:30 p.m. workout, after which he planned to work until 8. "I like to be around the office then. . . . I like to take my vacation when everyone gets back."
Many others were also at work by necessity. At the Dulles headquarters of America Online Inc., spokesman Andrew Weinstein said staffing was average or higher because of all the new computers given as Christmas gifts.
And at the Pohick Regional Library in Burke yesterday, 900 people came through the doors during the first four hours of business.
"It's a virtual sea of humanity here," said Elizabeth Waller, the library's manager. "The pattern of business flip-flops and becomes more like the summer. . . . Families are looking for things to do together."
Staff writers William Branigin, Spencer S. Hsu and Linda Perlstein contributed to this report.