Hey, What Did You Do on Your Lunch Break?

More Than a Meal: Execs Walk the Dog, See a Film

By Published on .

When Evelyn Hurley takes a late lunch out on Thursday, expect to see a few bruises on Friday. That's because the sweet-tempered office manager at SicolaMartin, Austin, Texas, is also a Texas Rollergirl. Her team, the "Hell Marys," practices weekly to maintain their edge in a very physical and competitive roller-derby flat-track league.
All the right bounces: For execs such as Dave Botero, lunchtime means a quick workout on the handball courts.
All the right bounces: For execs such as Dave Botero, lunchtime means a quick workout on the handball courts. Credit: Lily Plourde

But Ms. Hurley, who's known as "Nasty Habit" at the track, also uses the practice as a way to de-stress, re-energize and forget about work for a few hours during the day.

While most people may not choose such an unusual way to do it, she's not alone in her desire to disconnect. For a certain cadre of people in the advertising and marketing world, lunch is about everything but eating. From yoga and movie watching to biking and dog walking to social clubs and journaling, taking a break is their lunchtime mainstay.

Cathartic blogging
Freelance agency copywriter Paul Kennedy's main course begins with the same sandwich from the same sandwich shop with the usual coffee and three sugars, but there it departs from the norm.

Mr. Kennedy writes a satirical blog called the Advertising Agency (theadvertisingagency.blogspot.com) chronicling the pompous, egotistical, and often hilarious and true antics inside the ad agencies he moves around in.

His online "pretentious" persona doesn't sync with the real Mr. Kennedy, but that's actually part of the appeal for him.

"Free-form writing my blog is actually a relief after the strictures that apply to writing advertising copy. It's cathartic," he said.

And despite what our workaholic culture may proclaim, the non-lunchers aren't some bunch of lazy loiterers just looking for a way to get out of work. In fact, the cohesive thread that runs through their midday endeavors is passion. For most of us, it seems to take monumental effort to break away from the grind -- or push back from the lunchroom table -- for an hour or so during the day. Those who do, do it for love. (Sometimes rather literally in the case of the national nooner dating service "It's Just Lunch!" which started with a Chicago office in 1991 and now claims to have arranged more than 2 million first dates and has 80 offices worldwide.)

"Many people don't think outside the box. They say, 'When I'm working, I'm working.' It can take a lot of effort to switch gears," said psychologist and work-life balance expert Susan Robison.

Not for these people, though. Ms. Hurley, for instance, is not only a rollergirl, but also co-owner with all the other players of the league and passionate about reviving the sport of roller derby around the country.

Handball fanatic
Others, like David Botero, director-business development at integrated-marketing shop AndCulture in Harrisburg, Pa., are just as consumed. In Mr. Botero's case, it's handball. A native of Queens, New York, he grew up with his cousins playing handball on courts from Coney Island to the Bronx, and now he's trying to bring that love of the sport to eastern Pennsylvania.

Before moving out of the city several years ago, Mr. Botero played pickup games at lunch in New York while working at Univision and McCann Erickson. While at Univision in 30 Rockefeller Plaza, he would jog to the famous West 4th Street handball courts in lower Manhattan, about 2½ miles away.

"Pop Warner [football] and Little League are a given here, but growing up in New York, it's handball," he said. "It's a great outlet for frustration, and I love the banter and camaraderie, and the competition, and just the workout itself."

At the Rodale offices in Emmaus, Pa., passion meets career for Bicycling and Runner's World staffers who head out for noon runs or bikes every day. In inclement weather it may only be a few stalwarts, but on sunny days, the pack can number more than 20.

Bolsters productivity
"When I'm feeling swamped and thinking about skipping a ride or run, I might think about not taking that 45 minutes, but I know if I do, I'll get that 45 minutes back in productivity before the end of the day," said David Willey, editor in chief of Runner's World.

Stephen Madden, editor in chief of Bicycling, agreed. "It re-energizes you better than a 3 p.m. cup of coffee ever could," he said.

They also manage to squeeze in a little work, testing running shoes, bikes, helmets, workout attire and even electronic gadgets during the noon sessions.

"I know this sounds like I'm trying to rationalize this to my boss, but we do talk about work and the gear we're using," Mr. Madden said.

Sometimes even the everyday tasks done outside of work can pick up the day. Karen DeLuca, senior VP-group media director at Deutsch, New York, walks home to her apartment in Chelsea every day to take out her dog.

"It's a necessary thing, I guess, but I could hire a dog walker, too. It gives me a reason to leave the office every day, to step back for a while and take a break," she said. "I really feel like I come back refreshed for the afternoon. ... It's a recharge."

Breaking from N.Y.'s 'work culture'
Interestingly, most of the people discovered in pursuit of this story live outside of the advertising and media mecca of New York. Mr. Willey said he can guess why that is; he lived in New York for a long time before moving to Emmaus four years ago.

"New York is so work-centric; it's a work culture," he said. "When I was in New York, I rarely did this stuff during the day. ... At Rodale, it's part of the culture. That means it's not just you, it's the culture. So it's not about putting limits on your ambitions at work."

He added, "Sometimes I think people see it as an either/or. 'Well, if you have time to run or work out, you're obviously not working hard enough,' and that's just not true."

You don't have to convince rollergirl Ms. Hurley.

"I've become so much more centered and peaceful," she said. "People say to me that I'm too sweet to be a rollergirl, but I always say, 'You should have met me before I started doing it.' "
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