Being a nerd, which is to say going too far and caring too much about a subject, is the best way to make friends I know. ~Sarah Vowell
This past Wednesday, I wanted to surprise Kyle and do something for his birthday, which is tomorrow. Summer is nearly over, especially when Kyle begins bandcamp and I’ve hardly seen my little vacationer since school let out. This weekend he’s heading to Virginia, deep south with my parents and family friends to go catfishing, at night. (Actually, they left a few hours ago.) Skirting around all the plans, Wednesday felt like the most opportune time to spend a day with Kyle. Done.
With the help of a family friend, Barb Planinsek, we made arrangements to tour the Google offices in Pittsburgh. You see Barb’s nephew, Andrew, is employed by Google and chose to work in Pittsburgh this summer. (Nephews are the best!) He travels all around the world for his job, but is headquartered in Mountainview, California. Of course I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.
Unbeknownst to Kyle, the plans for Wednesday were made months prior, when I met Andrew at the Fishing Derby in May. Naturally, upon hearing who Andrew’s employer was, I instantly thought, Touring Google Pittsburgh would be a great experience for Kyle and a perfect birthday activity! I’m not one hundred percent sure, but I think I was right. Although, trying to get excitement out of that kid is hard, but by golly I saw it during our tour!
Unfortunately, because of everyone’s schedules, Wednesday was planned on Tuesday. Not ideal but it worked out. My goal was to surprise Kyle with an experience most don’t have, give him an educational activity he’d enjoy, and begin networking him for his future. Bonus!
Andrew kindly moved his day around to accommodate us. Barb and I were on board from the beginning. Now came the hard part, Kyle. I tried calling, to let him know I arranged a surprise for him, but he never answered the phone. I thought about texting, and chose another route. Initially, I was toying with the idea that Kyle might enjoy the experience more with a friend. During the planning process, I got a hold of Jennifer, Kyle’s good friend Duncan’s mother. (If you can follow that.) She was more than happy to lend us her son for the day. In fact, Duncan was in on the secret and helped me align Kyle. Plus, Duncan was excited about the adventure too.
All day Tuesday, Jennifer kept me posted to Kyle’s responses to Duncan. Duncan called Kyle and said he was coming over Wednesday morning around 7:30 am for a surprise. I was told Kyle’s response was, “If I’m getting up early I want to know why.” Boy is that kid stubborn! Duncan remained steadfast and never told Kyle who was picking them up, and what they were doing. Eventually, later in the day, I was told Kyle was intrigued about the surprise. I believe he was excited because when I showed up on Wednesday, he was ready to roll. He even tried to hide a smile from his lips, though I’m quick and I saw it! I too was grinning from ear to ear ready to jump out of my skin.
Heading west, we eventually made our way to Bakery Square in Pittsburgh. We stopped and had breakfast, figuring the boys would be hungry before our ultimate activity. We actually had time to waste, since I didn’t know what traffic was going to be like, and we were so close to Shadyside, we headed to the area for some exploration. What did the boys do with their freedom to shop and money in their hands? They played Pokemon Go. At least I got Kyle out moving around and he seemed to be in a pretty good mood.
Once we made our way back to Bakery Square and entered the lobby, Kyle read the list of companies on the elevator wall, while I told the guard we were heading to the seventh floor. Even Kyle couldn’t miss the bright bold letters that read “Google”, seventh floor. Then, suddenly without warning it happened again. True happiness in the form of a smile left Kyle and was spotted! Kyle’s smirk is like the elusive Sasquatch, it has been rumored to make its appearance and then vanish before your eyes. Now I can say I was a first hand witness! The facial gesture was something between ornery, knowing the secret, and being truly excited. It was at that moment, I was honestly happy.
We get to the lobby and naturally I want to start snapping pictures. Kyle wasn’t pleased about this part of our trip, but complied with minimal resistance.
Andrew met us at the front door and passed out our name tags, while I did the formal introductions. Would you believe Kyle didn’t remember meeting Andrew at the Fishing Derby? I made it a point to introduce him and of course his employer. That kid cracks me up.
Andrew did a great job with the tour! He shared his own personal stories and fun facts about Google, especially Google Pittsburgh. I knew Andrew was the perfect tour guide, but what I didn’t expect is what I saw in the offices. Wow. In a separate post, I’ll explain later. You would not believe. Now it was my turn to be surprised.
Once the tour came to a close it was lunch time. We joined Andrew in the “cafeteria” which resembled an upscale restaurant, with stations of gourmet food, real plates and utensils, a variety of infused waters, and restaurant quality tables and chairs, and booths.
Our lunch was fantastic! Plus, it was all free. Google has a full kitchen staff, including a quality chef to prepare these, nutritious (mostly aside from the desserts), delicious meals for all its employees as a perk. There was so much, Andrew had to walk us around and show us everything, including the corner of the room where they grew some fresh vegetables and herbs. Seriously? Yes!
Not to downplay the tour, which is impossible, but the best part of the day was our conversation during lunch. Andrew continued telling us about his job and sharing stories, always projecting enthusiasm. You can tell he genuinely loves what he does, and is proud of his accomplishments at Google, which he should be. Kyle and Duncan even stepped out of their comfort zone to ask questions, but mostly they listened.
After we ate lunch, we sang Happy Birthday to Kyle and celebrated with cupcakes. On Tuesday, during the planning stages, I ordered cupcakes from a local bakery and had them delivered for another little surprise twist. I knew we were eating lunch there and I thought it would be fun to celebrate Kyle’s fifteenth birthday at Google Pittsburgh. Yes, I even brought candles! (Although, I forgot the matches, which Barb reminded me of when we were in Shadyside. I bummed a pack from a smoker who worked in a bar.)
On a side note, I didn’t realize there are roughly five hundred employed in Google Pittsburgh. I was going to order a sheet cake, thinking we’d share with everyone in the office. Nope. Besides, they’re well stocked with sweet treats, I’m sure they didn’t miss the cupcakes.
During the course of the Google experience, I noticed Kyle and Duncan were never distracted by their phones or video games (at least not that I was aware of). They listened to Andrew and seemed interested in what he was saying, even during lunch. I think the day was a success. Now I’m starting to make plans for Kyle’s next birthday. It’s a big one, his sixteenth.
After we said our goodbyes, we headed to Station Square to get on a Ducky Tour of Pittsburgh, keeping with the theme. Unfortunately, the next ride was booked up. I did make reservations the day prior, but I cancelled for fear we might not make the departure time. I didn’t want to rush us out of Google. It was a hot day and I could tell the boys had enough anyway. We headed home. It didn’t take them long to fall asleep.
On a side note, besides giving Kyle a memorable experience, there was just an equally great part to the adventure. It was rubbing our personal tour of Google in my sister’s face, and continuing my claim to the coolest aunt! At least that’s what I told her.
I hope Kyle and Duncan had a great day. Happy Birthday Kyle!