Today our company instituted their new no smoking policy. That in itself isn’t something to be sad about. I’m not a smoker. Haven’t smoked in ages. And smoking has been prohibited in public buildings in California for so many years I can barely remember when it was still legal. But what that prohibition created was the all-too-common phenomenon of smokers huddling together right outside their place of business. I’m sure you’ve all had to pass through their cloud on your way into a building, right? As an asthmatic who is sensitive to cigarette smoke, I’ve always resented the clusters of cigarette smokers lost in their own smoky little world of carcinogens.
When my division moved to a new fancy campus a couple of years ago, the smokers were given their own little smoking section away from the building entrance. I laughed when I first saw it and quickly dubbed it the “Smokers’ Circle of Shame” (technically it was a semi-circle, but everyone got my point). Situated amidst the beautifully manicured lawn, right outside the windows of the cafeteria, was a dirt-covered area that was the smoker’s ghetto. Despite the ample open space on the campus, that the only place they could go to smoke. Being located right outside of the cafeteria, it was almost as if they were on display for us. And being that there isn’t much else on the campus that is entertaining, watching and identifying the cliques of smokers amused me.
Rarely was a smoker there by him or herself. Well, there was Al, but he always brought his work along as a companion. But otherwise, it was mostly groups of smokers. They seem to cluster according to nationality and gender. Often you find a group of Indian men (never women), which is not surprising as I would guesstimate that at least 30-40% of the employees and contractors are Indian. I never really noticed if it was the same guys every time, but when they were there, there was always at least 3 or 4 at a time. And then there were that one application team, mixed race, but native born Americans, that were always together, whether it was smoking, grabbing some coffee in the break room, or eating lunch.
But, the reigning queens of the Smokers’ Circle of Shame were the Russian women. They not only had the largest group of smokers, but they occupied the space for the most time. They are a very imposing group. Truth be told, they scare me. Obviously, they fear nothing, especially not being fired. “Verk? No, ve vill smoke and you geeve us paycheck, yes?” Nor do they fear the Fashion Police. It’s really difficult to describe their fashion sense. It’s somewhere between the Studio 54 and Nashville. I’m also guessing that the clothing sizes in Russian are a mere size or two different from ours as their clothes seem at least one size too small, and there is always a hint of flesh that is trying to burst free. But, the worst part is getting stuck in an elevator with them after one of their smoking breaks. Whether talking on their matching pink Razor phones or to each other in that small space, the heavy smell of smoke is overwhelming.
So, with the new company policy of no smoking ANYWHERE on company property, I wonder what will happen to the various smoking teams. Maybe some will decide to quit smoking. But I’m guessing most of them will probably be compliant and simply walk the 15 or so yards over to the field behind our parking lot. But, not the Russian women. I bet they’ll find a secret spot some place else on campus, steal some chairs from the cafeteria and carry on as before, because they’re bad ass like that. And I kinda admire them for it.