It all started when someone forgot the cereal.
Someone forgot to refill the cereal supplies at our coworking space. There are dozens of us, tech entrepreneurs who share desks in a large open-concept office where we work on our individual companies and projects. I run my writing business out of there, so I was the natural choice for recording what happened when the office managers left us alone for the holiday week.
Our space, right in downtown Orlando, is called Canvs, and it’s missing the second ‘a’, because we’re young and hip and hate unnecessary vowels. But it’s still pronounced “can-vass,” not “canvz.” One of Canvs’ perks is free cereal and milk for members. There’s also coffee, snacks like peanuts and granola bars, and even fresh fruit.
It’s an ideal setup for tech entrepreneurs. We’re like children. Unkempt man-children and women-children with computer skills and t-shirts from tech conferences that we wear like concert t-shirts. Like most entrepreneurs, we loathe structure and organizational hierarchy.
We go to bed late, get up late, and work our own hours. We don’t like rules and we don’t like being told what to do. So we eat cereal in the middle of the day and strike vowels from words.
The office is closed for nearly two weeks for the holidays, which means our office managers/adult supervision are at home, spending time with their families. But Canvs has 24/7 keycard access, so some of us are back at work the Monday after Christmas.
Except someone forgot the cereal.
We think it was one of the office managers, but they wouldn’t give us their cell numbers.
There’s still milk, but only half a gallon of whole milk, and a barely-touched gallon of skim milk. We laugh about it being “the American beer of milk,” and dump it down the drain, since the skim milk drinkers are probably at home drinking organic vegan almond milk eggnog. We pass the jug of whole milk around like a victory flagon of wine, savoring its sweetness.
I sit on the Community side of the office, where no one has an assigned seat. You just take an open desk for the day, and the next day you’ll sit somewhere else, like working in a coffee shop. We call ourselves the Rovers. We like the camaraderie and the feeling of belonging it gives us.
We refer to the people on the other side of the office, the ones with permanent desks, as the Settlers. We laugh and make crude jokes about their name and the states of their relationships. In the afternoon, one of the Settlers wanders over to Rover territory, and we drive her out with shouts of “THIS IS SPARTA!” Little did we realize, this was the. . . “incident” that sparked the resulting wildfire.
Later, we raid the kitchen and eat most of the fruit and all the snacks. That morning, we had pitched a few of the bananas that started to turn brown, but we rescue them and eat them.
Supplies mean survival, we tell ourselves. Without food, we can’t work. Without work, we can’t provide for ourselves or our families.
As much as we laughed at the Settlers for their creature comforts, I miss my daily cereal routine.
The Rovers arrive at the office early, before the Settlers arrive, and finish the fruit. We search for more food, but the cupboards and refrigerators are bare. We curse whoever forgot the cereal.
We turn to the little plastic containers of coffee creamer, but half of them have gone bad. We combine the remaining creamers into a single glass. When we finish, we have six ounces between us, which we put in our coffee, crouching around the machine as it brews, like cavemen around a cooking fire. The coffee is hot, and we are pleased at our fortunes. We burn the empty containers to cover our tracks and hide our presence.
The Settlers barricade access to their territory with some of their unused tables. Our Rover work-anywhere abilities let us do client work in between shifts in the guard tower, except the Settlers have changed the wifi password, so we’re forced to use the Ethernet cables at our desks. The Ethernet is faster, but it makes us less mobile, so we sit with our backs to the wall. The air crackles with danger.
That afternoon, the Settlers twice send thieves to the kitchen, but we turn them back. On a third attempt, they steal half a box of granola bars we had stashed away for an emergency. We send a small raiding party to retaliate and burn down three of their desks. We steal the granola bars back, and take a jar of peanut butter as well. One of the Settlers breaks his arm in the melee. Supplies mean survival.
That night, as I go to sleep, I think the skim milk may not have been so terrible.
The Rovers have captured the bathrooms! The Rovers have captured the bathrooms! We now hold most of the western sector, and control access to the kitchen and the only bathrooms. The war council believes we can take the entire office by week’s end.
Meanwhile, the Settlers find an emergency exit and use it to go to the bathroom at the Hamburger Mary’s on Church Street. The Hamburger Mary’s staff doesn’t mind, but the Settlers feel awkward, so they buy an order of fries each time they visit, which they throw away, because they’re “counting carbs.”
Ironically, we control the bathrooms, but need food. We’re out of cereal, we’re out of pistachios, and we don’t have any more of those little pretzel things with peanut butter inside. One of the Rovers, a new guy, begins to cry and wants to quit. We berate him for being weak, and tell him if he wants comfort, he should work from home. He relents and stays with us, but he disappears at lunchtime the following day. We never see him again.
We raid two other downtown coworking spaces, and turn up a few packs of oatmeal and half a leftover pizza from an all-night coding session. It’s not much, but every little bit helps.
Supplies mean survival.
It’s become our mantra. We chant it to ourselves before we raid. We say it before we scoop the coins out of the fountain and spend them at the vending machine. My wife says I’ve been saying it in my sleep for the last two days.
That evening, we sit around the warm glow of an old CRT monitor from the storage closet, gnawing at the bones of the pizza. We talk about the Before Time, when cereal flowed unendingly from the plastic containers, and fresh fruit appeared on the counter every day, by magic.
That night, I dream of the skim milk.
A raid on one of the art galleries yields mixed results. There’s plenty of food, but it’s all organic, and most of it is vegan.
In the afternoon, we sweep through a nearby comedy club, which is home to an improvisational theatre troupe. They are surprisingly quick to adapt to our surprise attack, and fend us off with invisible war cows and invisible giant hammers. We’re slaughtered and barely manage to escape
Windrunner, the network security consultant, is stampeded by war cows, and they place his head on a pike outside the ticket window. He’s actually still alive, but is bound by the improv rules of “Yes, and.” He remains there until he’s rescued two hours later by a superhero who’s afraid of heights.
We’re getting weak from hunger. Our raids are largely fruitless, because the other coworking spaces are empty for the holidays. The war council says if we don’t get food soon, we may have to surrender. I worry my bones are getting brittle from the lack of milk.
Late in the afternoon, we enter a ceasefire with the Settlers, and agree to let them use our bathrooms if they bring us fries from Hamburger Mary’s. We barter one order of fries for two bathroom trips; three, if they’re loaded fries. We give them access to the women’s bathroom and designate the hallway as the Neutral Zone. No weapons, no shields.
It’s a holiday miracle! We find six boxes of cereal under the office manager’s desk. From what we can tell, she bought them before she left, and forgot to put them in the kitchen. We gather with the Settlers in the conference room, and they share three gallons of 2% milk they’d hidden in one of their dorm fridges.
It’s a wary truce. On the surface, we’re happy the war has ended, but our hands never stray too far from our weapons, and we all jump when the commuter train rolls past. We wonder what will happen when the office managers return. I hope we don’t get into too much trouble.