Joe stood at the edge of the curb in anticipation of the cars arrival. He was heading to the yearly office party and the guys in charge allocated each employee a ride pass for a free round trip autocar. Not that this was his first time in one, he had taken a handful of them within the city rings but never one from all the way out at his apartment. He checked his phone for the little car icon to update, it was nearly there. The wind was getting cooler, not quite spring so nights required a jacket still. It had been a hectic day at work, one of the server arrays failed and they had to hurry to establish a backup only a couple of hours before they left for the day. Everyone in the office was looking forward to the event. Sure they had Christmas parties and all, but management felt that quarterly holidays proved beneficial to morale. His phone buzzed and a white Chevy rolled up to the public entrance of his apartment complex. Joe tapped his watch to the door and it unlocked, allowing him inside.
The heat had already been turned on and the music from his phone synced to the car. Joe took a moment to adjust his socks after locking his seat-belt in place. While at the office he could wear jeans and a t-shirt, but for public outings like this the boss put in a dress code of slacks and a button down shirt. The girls in the office always wore fancy little cocktail dresses, he couldn't’ tell them apart from a more formal dress. Joe checked the map on the dash to ensure the car was taking him to the correct place. His office had chosen a somewhat upscale bar and diner combo that was a favorite of the upper management on the weekends. He figured they had worked out a deal after having had so many after work drinks there that they could get the cover charge down enough to let the whole office in under budget. Typically a place like this charged about one hundred dollars for the cover and then food and drinks were on top of that. For the event however, the company was paying for everything. They had received good marks with the business bureau and a tax break the previous year giving them extra cash to spend. Luckily for Joe, the CEO was a bit of an eccentric man who had grown up well off but not as much as his peers so he would always jump at the chance to spend on the employees before investing it back into the company or management. None of the employees complained about having a minimum bonus each year when they got free tickets to movies, food vouchers, and fancy toys in the office.
As the car made its way into the rings of the city, and past the usual buildings he visited he couldn't’ help but watch in awe as shops became fancier and the people walking around grew more refined. People wealthy enough for dog permits walking their pets, folks younger than him and better dressed, and restaurants he couldn’t pronounce. Soon the autocar came to a stop and parked itself on a nearby street. The bar he was headed to was just around the corner but didn’t offer any parking whatsoever. People wealthy enough to go to it just had their cars drop them off and go park elsewhere. He got out of the autocar and headed around the corner of the square. The building to his right was some sort of apartment building, or hotel, he couldn’t tell which. One of his co workers waved to him, calling out his name as he turned the corner.
“It’s over here Joe! Come get in line!” They shouted.
Joe briskly walked to the end of the street where the line of his office mates was forming along the side wall. Each one had to be fitted with a wristband for the evening to give them access to all the floors and free food. Everyone was allowed four drinks for free, anything after that had to come out of their own pocket. Joe didn’t think he would need more than four drinks having not eaten much for lunch that day. The security team at the front doors was fairly efficient with the wristbands, checking ids against a tablet with everyone’s name on it. Once inside the room was surprisingly warm, and a coat check stand was positioned to the left of him. He decided to leave his jacket there rather than carry it around the rest of the night. His boss was already there making sure she had her keys in her purse. She had brought her husband along, each employee was allowed a plus one to any event, but Joe hadn't been actively dating anyone in particular in the last month or so. Plus, he figured he might have a chance to chat with one of the girls from sales he had been looking for an excuse to talk to. Being a data clerk didn’t give him much of an opportunity to go upstairs to the sales floor.
The bottom floor of the bar was more of a lobby, complete with a large lounge area and various service kiosks. Rather than waitstaff having to hunt you down for food and drinks you simply ordered downstairs and it sent you up to a table on one of the upper floors. Due to the private event each employee was given instructions to simply bypass the kiosks and head straight to the fourth floor. Joe waited in the lobby for a couple of his co workers to arrive before going upstairs with everyone else. Charley, his deskmate was running late because his wife got off work late, Tabitha and Kyle who sat across the isle from him were already there and had been upstairs to get drinks.
“Hey Joe you made it! You should see what they have upstairs, come on.” Tabitha said, hooking her arm around his.
“I told Charley I’d wait for him.” He said, tapping at his phone. “You guys go on back up, he’s almost here.”
“Alright man, see you up there in a bit.” Kyle said, leading Tabitha back over to the elevators.
Charley and his wife soon entered the doors and met up with him. “Hey man, you got that array working before you left right?”
“Yeah yeah, I wasn’t going to leave till it was back up.”
“Oh good, ok.” Charley said, “Now I can enjoy all this.” He then looked over at his wife. “Oh I’m sorry, Joe this is my wife Meagan.” He said motioning to the woman beside him. She waved shyly as Joe returned the greeting. “Drinks are upstairs right?”
“Yeah that’s what Kyle said.” Joe said leading them over to the bronze coated elevators. The entire interior of the bar was decked out in dark green carpeting, brass fixtures, and creamy white lighting. If it wasn’t real art deco it was sure trying its best.
Upstairs they were met by the majority of the office, all enjoying cocktails and snacks. Dinner was to be served in a little over an hour and Joe didn’t want to fill up on junk, someone in reception told him that there was going to be meat at the event and he wanted to be able to eat every bite of it. He was soon approached by a waitress carrying an empty drink tray.
“Can I get you anything to drink?” She asked. the question caught him off guard, it had been a while since Joe had been to a place that even had waitstaff like this. He fumbled for an answer as he frantically took out his phone to look at a menu. The girl smiled. “You can take your time, just come over to the bar area when you’re ready.” She said. Joe looked over to the bar area she was pointing to and noticed a small line of people waiting to order drinks. Since it was a private party they had to do everything manually. Joe walked over to the setup counter to order a beer, which should have been simple enough had the options been what he was used to drinking. Every beer on tap was from a microbrewery in the central rings of the city. Some had fancy German or Czech names to make them sound more authentic. Others were more modern, with understandable names but still no clue what the would taste like. The Bartender got to him and asked him what he wanted.
“I’d like a beer, but I’m not sure which one.” Joe said. The bartenders eyes lit up as he proceeded to give a micro lecture on each one available. In the end he went with the kölsch, making his decision with a standard “Yeah, that one.” answer. The bartender pulled him a pint and handed it over. By the time he made it back to the lounge area the VP of something he wasn’t a part of called for everyone's attention on the small PA system. He began his speech with the typical thanks and congratulations. The company had increased growth by a large percent thanks to the sales team who all received applause. A few stand out employees who had been promoted earlier in the year each received special awards from their higher respective bosses. A few other managers and such gave small speeches, followed by the CEO whom everyone cheered at knowing that the food was going to be brought out after he was done. Joe had finished his beer by the time the speech was over. The CEO thanked everyone again for coming and asked everyone to head to the dining tables provided to start dinner.
The table seating was all pre arranged. Joe found his seat via the chart emailed to them earlier in the day. He was beside Tabitha and Kyle, who were now several drinks into the event. A buffet line was starting on the other end of the banquet area, Joe sat his beer glass down at his seat and took his empty plate to stand in line. The food offered that night was a series of various salads, veggies, and bread but the main prize of the evening was at the very end of the line. A single member of the kitchen staff stood at the end of the table handing out each person four small pies stuffed with real beef. The line moved quickly enough, and before long he was back at his seat at the table with everyone else. He had picked up mostly mashed potatoes, gravy, and two kinds of beans, but left more than enough room for the pies to not touch anything else on the plate.
It wasn’t that meat was rare, it could be bought at nearly any grocery store these days. But the price for it was astronomical. Having a steak for dinner would cost you easily two hundred dollars for the most basic sirloin. There were, of course, ways of getting the tax reduced on it to the true cost but that involved being a student or having a government job. Joe could afford the odd steak dinner or two a year, so having free meat pies at a work event was a treat. A waitress came by and brought everyone water and took more drink orders. Joe ordered a whiskey shortly before devouring the savory meat pies. As he ate he noticed one of the sales girls walking past. He recognized her green dress from the awards speeches earlier, and watched as she made her way to the table of other sales workers, sitting down beside a guy he could only assume was her date. Joe didn’t recognize him from work, unless they had just recently hired someone. Tabitha and Kyle were having an excruciatingly loud conversation beside him about their odd trips to airports. Loud music had been playing since the dinner service began and now that folks were finishing up, the dance floor was beginning to populate.
Joe typically left once the dancing started. He would make his appearance, eat his meal and shake hands with the bosses in thanks for the evening. Getting up from the table he headed to the bathroom to get ready to leave and call over his autocar. The bathroom area was located towards a balcony with outdoor seating and a smoking area connected to the building next door via a long outdoor corridor. Joe made a quick trip to the bathroom and walked out to the balcony to escape the noise and heat of the party inside. He pulled out his phone to signal the car to show up. A notification popped up with a fifteen minute eta for the vehicle. Joe looked out at the city from the balcony, it was dark now and the lights from the buildings at ground level reflected off the brushed metal surfaces around the alleyway below. The street below was immaculate, and recently paved. The glass windows around him were all freshly cleaned. Joe took out his nic pod and took a full pulls from it leaning on the balcony railing.
He felt a tapping on his shoulder. Joe turned around to see what he expected to be someone telling him not to vape on the balcony. It was the girl in the green dress. Her eyes were red and her cheeks puffy as thought she had been crying.
“Hey do you have a spare?” She asked him, holding up her own empty nic pod.
Joe stood up and rooted through his pockets frantically trying to find the spare pod he knew was in his slacks. “Yeah Yeah, is maple ok?” He asked, retrieving the pod from his side pocket and handing it to her. She thanked him, and placed the pod in her device. “You ok?” He asked.
The girl shook her head, exhaling the maple scented vapor. “It’s nothing, just need to take a break, yeah?” She said, and stood beside him by the railing.
Joe nodded and watched as the wind blew her hair behind her neck, the lights from the city reflecting in the waves. It probably wasn’t as grand as he imagined it but after a few drinks. “Sorry, I’m Joe.” He said, catching himself staring. “I’m downstairs in data security. Congrats on the sales award.”
“Yeah, well I might not be there Monday.” She said, tapping the up button on her mod and taking another pull.
“They’re gonna fire you after all that?” He asked.
She shook her head, “The reason I won that award just broke up with me about ten minutes ago. Don’t cheat on people Joe, they’ll eventually find out and call you out on it in front of everyone the second they stop clapping for you.” She said, scrolling through her phone and typing something into it. Joe’s phone buzzed, a notification ran up saying he had been sent $15, reason: nic pod. “These are good where did you order them?” She asked.
Joe figured she was trying to shake off the subject of her wrongdoing and proceeded to tell her of the shop he got them from in the outer ring. Before he could finish his explanation of the shop his phone pinged him. “My ride will be here in a minute, I’ve gotta go.”