It always starts for me with a disconnected thought in the wee small hours of the morning. When I still worked rotating shifts at the Golden Gate Bridge the minutes between 3 AM and 5 AM on Graveyard Shift were a veritable playground for half-remembered and mis-remembered truths, fantasies, and broken intentions. Six straight days of working Day Shift from 7 AM to 3 PM got us a day off and then back to work the following night from 11 PM to 7 AM for another seven straight days of the dreaded Graveyard.
My biggest challenge was the sixth and seventh days of that shift. By then it was hard to get to sleep during the day and difficult to stay awake at night. Concentrating on a task was difficult and the time between assignments was filled with jumbled thinking.
In 2004, on just such a night, an idea was born. April Fools Day was fast approaching and it seemed like just the time for some light-hearted humor in the workplace.
Our Electronic Toll System was in its 4th year of operation and there was a lot of buzz around the District about making revenue generating deals with “Corporate Partners”. The idea was that for the right company and the right price a deal could be made and they could have their name prominently featured around the District, including buses, ferries, terminals and the like.
I guess that’s called Branding, or something, but at the time it was the talk of the “town”. Just so you know: I didn’t understand it then and I don’t pretend to understand it now. I just had a glimmer of how it could be taken to an absurd level.
That plan went into effect after I finished Graveyard and started my Swing Shift (3 PM to 11 PM for another seven straight days). Our on-call Toll System trouble-shooter, Glen, told me that he would be working over the weekend in our test room getting the bugs out of a scheduled software upgrade to the Driver Fare Displays (DFD).
That was all that I needed to hear. My idea was to put a message from a fictitious “Corporate Partner” on a DFD in our test room and take a photo of it with one of our regular DFDs—with the standard message—above it for comparison.
When Glen showed up on Saturday night I asked him if it was possible to put any two-line message of our choosing on the spare display in Lane 13—that’s the Test Lane. Glen said that it was very easy to do and that he could even change the style of the font. Can it get any better for a guy with half an idea?
Yes, it can.
Glen set up his laptop computer, connected the appropriate cables to the Lane Controller and said, “Here, let me show you an example.” He quickly typed ‘Coors’ on one line and ‘Light’ below it. The five letters in each word lined up beautifully on the LED screen of the DFD.
Be still my heart.
“You mentioned being able to change the font?” The apparition of the original idea began to flesh itself out in my mind.
“Oh. yeah, watch this.” Glen hit some keyboard combinations and the words on the display took on the look of a Comic Sans font.
“This is perfect. Mind if I take a quick photo?”
“Go right ahead. I can leave it up for a bit while I work on other stuff if you want.”
“Nah, I just be a second.” I got the photo and Glen went to work on the upgrade. I promised him that he would be the first to know what I was up to once I figured it out for myself.
I didn’t know it at the time, but what I embarked on was a flight of Flash Fiction Writing. I concocted a new division in the District and tasked it with successfully entering into a deal with the Joseph Coors Brewery to fund the cost of receipt printer paper for two years. This is not to be construed as a knock on JCB or the GGBHT&D. They were what I had to work with and April 1st was fast approaching.
Inserted below is a copy of the “Press Release” that I made. It eventually got relegated to the back of the Electric Shop scrapbook.