A few years back, disguised as an objective member of the press, I inveigled a tour of Microsoft during one of its secret bacchanalian orgies/press events. That place still haunts me. It's built like an Ivy League college campus so that sellout academics won't suffer the ill effects of a culture change, yet a mall in the middle hosts restaurants and luxury shops. Inside the 150-plus office buildings, you'll find the ubiquitous lounge chairs, pool halls, and Ping-Pong tables.
During my illicit visit, I viewed a spectacle that's popped up on recent protest agendas. Microsoft has a private bus system called the Connector to ferry employees from all over the greater Seattle area and Gatesian dukedom to its Redmond offices. Microsoftees can park their cars and ride to work in customized Greyhound-sized buses with comfy seats and free Wi-Fi, for that crucial 40-minute head start building security vulnerabilities exploitable by the NSA.
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I asked if they serve free coffee on those yuppie yachts like they do everywhere else. A faraway gleam in the HR tour guide's eye told me all I needed to know. I expect the guide took credit for my idea and rode it to a promotion to Director of Gratuitous Amenities. This is why I can't make it in corporate America.
Only when I got home and woke from my Microsoft-induced daze did I realize the full impact of what I'd just witnessed. Buses? Used for transportation?! And funded by money other than our tax dollars?!! By private companies for their own employees?!?! Is there no end to the horror? It's like watching a drunk baby fight a police dog for a pigeon carcass -- or not.
Meanwhile, back in the Bay Area
If Microsoft has been doing this for years, why is Google getting publicly flogged in San Francisco, caned bloody like a Singapore graffiti artist, for the same thing? If questioned, Microsoft trots out the party line: It reduces the number of Porsches on the road, it's green, and if you're against that, you're a devil sociopath who should turn in the Birkenstocks you were automatically issued when you moved to the Northwest. If Google is trying to promote its bus fleet that way, it's not chanting loudly enough.
Instead, it's being vilified as the lead nasty of what's billed as the growing gentrification of San Francisco by an influx of high-wage tech workers driving residents out because they're making it possible for landlords to institute massive rent hikes. How is Google's bus service linked to this problem? I inquired and it seems the only tangible difference between Googlehound and Microbus is that the former stops at public bus stops, while Microbus uses nebulously funded park-and-ride lots, though I suspect some of those are public, too.
That's the big gripe? That's a bit of a meander when you're pissed at real estate developers selling to high-income earners and evicting lower-income longtime residents. That's definitely gripe-worthy, although it's as inevitable as BlackBerry devolving into a patent troll, and it's been going on since 8,000 BC when nomads who lost their tents in a sandstorm said, "Screw it, we're staying here." Future generations of those collectives were eventually evicted from their city by an influx of higher-wage yak herders, and that's been the pattern ever since.
One group giving Google a particularly hard time is what looks like a relatively new urban think tank and protest party, the Heart of the City. Its Spartan site primarily links to the recently leaked and admittedly creepy Google memo instructing its employees on how to respond when questioned about the Googlehound service.