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Google gWater: By invitation only

Opinion | November 20, 2009

Google gWater glassGoogle’s Mountain View headquarters — the Googleplex, as it is known — is a wondrous place. The various little perks and bennies enjoyed by Google employees are legendary. Whether it’s free laundry service, a loaner umbrella when it’s raining, a loaner bicycle to get from building to building, or a help-yourself bucket of gummi worms, Google provides everything for you.

Visitors to the Googleplex are invariably stunned by these displays of Larry and Sergey’s nigh-prodigal largess. At most of their own offices, they’re lucky to score a free newspaper for the train ride home.

But there is one thing Google is less willing to provide, as I learned this week while covering the Chrome OS announcement. Next time you have a chance to visit the Google campus, just you try getting a drink of water.

I don’t own a car. So for me, schlepping down to Silicon Valley to cover a tech industry event means riding Caltrain. In Google’s case, the main campus is about two miles from the Mountain View station, or just a few minutes by bicycle.

On this particular Wednesday I forgot to bring a water bottle, so when I parked my bike at the Google Visitor Building at 1950 Charleston Way, I was feeling a little parched. Since there was still time before the press conference began, I asked the receptionist if he could point me to some water.

The receptionist’s brow furrowed slightly. “Well,” he began, “there’s a cooler with bottles of juice, if that’s OK.” He pointed to a little refrigerator on the other side of the room lined with shelves of Odwalla — free for the taking, of course.

Since it was the only option offered, I figured it would have to be OK. Anyway, juice sounded fine for the moment. And free Odwalla? Who was I to turn down the fabled Google generosity? I grabbed a SuperFood and chugged it down while I waited for the event to begin.

Once inside the conference room, however, my bewilderment increased. They had the usual concession table full of croissants, fruit, and little snacks. There was a decanter of coffee. There was a decanter of orange juice. There were supplies for making tea. But one thing that wasn’t there was anything resembling plain, cold water. Reluctantly, I poured myself a second glass of juice and sat down.

The event happened. I won’t go into it here, because it was about as exciting as such events ever are. But by the time it was over, I realized that I was actually what I would describe as thirsty. Moreover, the sun was high in the sky, and now I needed to ride my bike back to Caltrain.

Back out in the lobby, I approached the receptionist again. “So,” I said, pointing toward the little refrigerator. “Juice. But no water.”

He looked at me thoughtfully for a moment, then suddenly a little light went on behind his eyes. “No,” he said. A look that can only be described as utter satisfaction spread across his face. “Google is going Green,” he said proudly. “We don’t do bottled water anymore.”

I said, “How is it ‘going Green’ to make me drink bottled juice instead of bottled water?”

He frowned.

“Do you have any of the other kind of water, maybe?” I asked. “The non-bottled kind?”

His look was now one of heartfelt sympathy. “If it was up to me, there would be a drinking fountain right here in the lobby.” He pointed, and my eyes followed his finger to a spot along the opposite wall where there was no drinking fountain.

“But there isn’t one,” I said.

“No.”

“So let me get this straight. Google is ‘going Green,’ which means nobody at Google is allowed to drink water anymore. Only juice. I mean, it’s water, you know? It’s 95 percent of what people drink,” I said, adding weakly, “It’s good for you.”

At this, the receptionist’s sympathy evaporated into contempt. This was Google, after all. How dare I imply that Larry and Sergey would fail to provide something for their beloved employees?

“Google has installed water delivery systems near employee workstations,” he intoned with measured patience, “that decant filtered water into glasses and other receptacles.”

A water delivery system — imagine that! And he emphasized the word “filtered” — as if to say that one day, I too could be lucky enough to have a job at Google, and then I wouldn’t have to scoop my water out of a rotting, pre-Roman aqueduct with an algae-covered gourd anymore.

(Google is changing the world, after all. Freeing suburban Californians from the twin scourges of cholera and amebic dysentery is just one small part of the plan.)

“But,” the receptionist continued, looking at a spot in the air just above my shoulder, “they’re all upstairs.”

I turned. Behind me was a steel staircase painted navy blue, the kind Google installs in its buildings to make everybody feel like they’re working in a vast Soho loft. Up above, I could just make out a few Googlers moving around, going to and fro in their Googley jobs — all well-hydrated, no doubt.

I turned back to the receptionist with a look that said, So that’s that?

“If you want,” the receptionist continued flatly, after a moment, “I could go upstairs and get you a glass of water.” He seemed to perform a mental calculation, then added, “If you want to wait.”

“Thanks anyway, man,” I said. “I think I’ll live.” And then I left.

Postscript the First: I’ve since come up with a plan for the next time I have to cover something at the Google campus. I won’t bother to ask about water. Instead, I’ll ask for the men’s room — because I’m pretty sure OSHA regulations require companies to provide those. Once inside, I’ll bend down and wave my hands at the sink’s motion sensors while I lap from the faucet like a dog — the Google Way.

Postscript the Second: Receptionist at Google Building 1950, if you’re reading this: You’re a total wanker.

12 Responses to “Google gWater: By invitation only”

  1. dave wang Says:

    You have to complete a brainteaser to get water around here. You think water grows on trees?

  2. Darryl Says:

    The receptionist is just bitter because he graduated Summa Cum Laude from Cal and that’s all those snobby Stanford grads at Google will let him do.

  3. senshikaze Says:

    great story!
    it is sad that Google can’t have a *filterd* water fountain for the poor non-Googlers.

  4. LeN Says:

    That was amusing. However, as I was reading the story while drinking a cup of hot tea on this cold January morning, it occurred to me that – had I been there – I would have settled for a cup of hot tea without the tea bag.

  5. Kevin Says:

    Never hop on your fixie with out a water bottle dude.

  6. Neil McAllister Says:

    @Kevin: Don’t worry, dude, my bike has gears. ;-)

  7. FrugalNYC Says:

    Hopefully they are not “Google Gears”. Sorry, couldn’t help it! :)

  8. FrugalNYC Says:

    Like the insight into the life at Google headquarters.

    As for your bike’s gears, hopefully they are not “Google Gears”. Sorry, couldn’t help it! :)

  9. uberVU - social comments Says:

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by EricKnorr: A wickedly funny anecdote at Neil McAllister’s site about his trip to Google for the Chrome OS announcement: http://bit.ly/8QTuTe

  10. michael Says:

    your sure are a picky person. “OH NO!!!!!! I MUST DRINK WATER… I FREAKING HATE JUICE AND IF I DONT DRINK WATER IN 10 HOURS I THINK IM GOING TO DIE!!!!”

  11. carbunicle Says:

    The receptionist actually said ‘decant’ and ‘receptacle’? This is the kind of generation you get when you don’t let children play outdoors.

  12. Ashish S. Says:

    Very interesting article… made me laugh on a rather gloomy day :)