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Janet Carlson

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My Trip to Google's HQ

Posted: 08/11/08 05:36 PM ET

I was invited to Google at the end of July to speak at the company's Authors@Google program at the legendary headquarters in Mountain View, California. The idea was to promote my just-published memoir, Quick, Before the Music Stops (How Ballroom Dancing Saved My Life). The authors program is a perk for employees who feel like spending a lunch hour on any given day listening to an author speak about his or her writing. Among those who've addressed Googlers: Arianna Huffington, Elizabeth Gilbert, Michael Pollan, Christopher Hitchens, Marie Brenner and an impressive (and to me intimidating) list of others whose talks you'll find on YouTube.

Of course, I had to sign a confidentiality agreement upon checking into Googleplex, the glass and steel fortress that Googlers call a campus -- a cluster of buildings, walkways, patios and, yes, a sand volleyball court and other brilliance-stimulating recreational facilities, which I witnessed in full and happy use in the middle of what the average person might call a workday, at 2 p.m. Because of said agreement, I can't write my usual longwinded post here because they'd have to break the legs I like to dance with or kill me before I manage to see my Amazon Sales Rating break 1,000.

But I am permitted by the law of Google Land to tell you about one really nifty little invention, a thing I came across on my official tour for privileged visitors: a vending machine. I tell you, this thing is urgently needed in the real world, particularly in the world of our young people in schools.

During lunch at Charlie's, one of the five or so cafes where Googlers eat every day for free, Erika, my lovely host, explained that founders Larry and Sergey feel very strongly that no employee should ever be more than 150 feet from snacks and drinks. Everywhere throughout the buildings there are little stations -- refrigerated shelves of Naked Juices, coffee bars with muffins, snack bins loaded with M&Ms, Gummi Bears, nuts, yogurt, fruit and cereals. All for the taking, no cash required. Free sustenance to fuel the excellent and eccentric minds of thousands of engineers and other supercreative types who roam the halls in T-shirts, toting laptops and verging on big ideas that only need a few calories of something scrumptious to combust or spill forth.

With all this food available, why a vending machine stocked with stuff you have to pay for? A couple of engineers came up with this clever scheme and implemented it here on the second floor of the main building. On July 25th, I stood before it and beheld the usual treats -- packs of candy, salty snacks, cookies. But the prices looked weird. Erika explained that the machine charges more for foods containing unhealthy ingredients. How California is that? There were Cornnuts for 20 cents, a Lindt chocolate bar for $1.50 and a tiny package of Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies for a whopping $4.55! I was thinking, hey, if they stocked fresh celery, the machine could actually return 25 cents to you for good intentions. Anyway, here's how it works: snacks cost a penny per gram of sugar; two cents per gram of fat; four cents per gram of saturated fat and a dollar per gram of trans fat, the evil, heart-disease-inducing ingredient that's just been banned by this state and was banned in New York City eateries some weeks ago.

I don't have any idea whether anybody ever buys anything from this machine; it's probably just a novelty there, minding its own business. But I, for one, would like to see Google market the Google Vender to public and private schools around the country; heck, the world. (Surely they've already thought of that.) I've heard health experts say that diabetes is on the rise, and obesity is epidemic among our children -- because of our eating habits and, ironically, partly because kids sit in front of their computers these days instead of playing outdoors. Heart disease awaits them when they're older unless we rid our tables of trans fats. Just ask Michael Pollan, or read his book, In Defense of Food. That's all I can say; just wanted to file this semiapproved report from top-secret headquarters about an unsung little invention that deserves to be sung about. But shame on Google for listing on their corporate Website: "The nearest 24-hour donut shop: Krispy Kreme in Mountain View."

 
 
 

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