No! No, no, no, no, noooooo! My heart was racing and all I could do was exhale. Why me? Why today?
I took a deep breath, hurried to the elevator lobby and pushed the down button. The doors opened right away and I stepped inside for a ride that I did not want to take.
The work day was little more than half an hour old.
The doors closed and I pushed the button for the 27th floor. Think, think, think. How can I best present this situation?
I got out on the 27th floor and walked around to the main elevator bank. I pushed the down button for the Service elevator and those doors also opened immediately. Dammit! Why am I being rushed with this mess? The doors closed and I pushed the button for the underground garage level where our shop was located.
The light behind the ‘G’ button came on as a bell sounded, and after a slight pause the doors opened and out I stepped, another lamb for slaughter.
I quick-stepped my way to the office. Might as well get this over with.
The Boss was seated at his desk. His head was down and he was concentrating on a timecard. More timecards were stacked on both sides of the green blotter in the center of the desktop. I waited for him to look up.
He signed his name on the bottom of the timecard, placed it on the stack to his left, and looked at his wrist watch. He looked me in the eyes, “Back so soon?”
It’s now or never. “You’ve got a problem, Boss.”
My Boss stood straight up, hands on his desk, legs forcing his rolling chair into a row of file cabinets on the other side of the room behind him. “I WHAT?”
“…H-Have a problem. You have a big problem, Boss.”
“Get this straight, if I have a problem, YOU have got a bigger one. GOT IT?”
“All right, let’s go. Show me what’s going on.”
By June of 1987 I had been working in the Transamerica Pyramid for 11 months. We had been remodeling the 48th floor for the last three of those months, working long hours and periodic weekends to ensure that the top floor was ready for a big corporate event for Transamerica.
The Professional Golf Association’s U.S. Open would be played on the Olympic Club’s Lake Course that year and Transamerica was hosting the first party for the PGA and it’s sponsors. CEOs, celebs, and players were lined up to attend.
That event also doubled as the unveiling of the new Corporate Party Floor—as we worker-bees called it—and the stress and strain of completing it on schedule grew larger and heavier with time.
Custom cabinetry, railings, and flooring aside, we electricians had our hands full with a plethora of remote controlled lighting, motorized sun-shades, and audio/video equipment. We also installed a custom cable-hung X-shaped light fixture in the center of the room over a stairway which led to corporate offices one floor down.
What was considered state-of-the-art in 1987 is almost laughable now.
The control cabinets for the low-voltage control system were mounted above the ceiling of the 48th floor. That enclosed space had asbestos in the fireproofing and as a result, only those of us who were certified and monitored for working in an asbestos environment could be up there to install and troubleshoot the equipment.
Because of the nature of the work, we did it on overtime (OT) when the other workmen were gone. We logged a lot of it in the week leading up to Opening Day. The Boss made one thing perfectly clear: for what it cost to pay us in OT wages, THAT SHIT BETTER WORK THE FIRST TIME, EVERY TIME.
We worked until 10 P.M. the night before the day of the party. We checked and rechecked the scene controllers on both sides of the entrance to the room; we ran through all of the pre-set lighting combinations of the controllers; we tested the over-rides and individually adjusted banks of lights; we tested the top and bottom limit switches on the the drop-down projection screen in the ceiling; we burned in the lamps in the light fixtures to be certain that they worked and had no premature failures.
The only thing that we could not do was test the motorized sun-shades. The company that was installing them worked late that night on another job. They assured everyone that they would work all night, if necessary, and have the job ready when we came to work the next day.
At 8 A.M. the next morning I saw the Boss step out of his office and head in my direction. I took two gulps of my coffee and threw the empty cup in a trash can. “I need you to go up to the 48th floor and check everything that we did up there.”
“I mean it. Use a voltage tester and check every receptacle. Make sure that they all work. No broken or chipped cover plates. I know that you did it last night, but we have to be sure that nothing happened overnight.”
“The window guys were here until 5 A.M. this morning. I need you to go up there and verify for me that everything is ready to turn over to Transamerica. I don’t want any fuckups. Got it?”
“Take your time. TA wants to start setting up for the party at Noon.”
I put on my best smile. “On my way, Boss.”
The truth was that I was dog-tired. The long days had stretched into long weeks and I just wanted to sleep for a day or three. Maybe catch up to where I should be, nocturnally speaking.
I caught the service elevator and shared a ride with a mail room guy from one of the many insurance companies in the buildings. He got off the elevator on a floor part way up and I continued onward to the 27th floor alone.
To access the floors above the 27th in the Pyramid means that you must go around to the East side of the building and use an elevator in one of the “ears’ of the building. That elevator shaft is actually outside the sloped walls of the building. The “ear” on the West side is an air shaft and provides a visual balance to the overall design.
I was alone for that journey, too. Eyes closed, leaning against the walls in the corner of the car; the quiet hum of the elevator cables providing white noise. All I needed was a hammock and I could zonk out for the day.
The elevator car slowed to a stop as the bell rang to signal the top floor. I woke up from my cat nap. Wow, a direct flight, no stops to pick up other passengers.
I stepped out into the small lobby, rubbed the sleep from my eyes, and started looking at the floor, walls, and ceiling. I continued walking and looking around until I was at the top of the stairs to the floor below. Everything looked fantastic. The window guys did a hell of a job picking up after themselves.
I decided to do all of the grunt work first and check out the controllers last. It was a way to ease into the day and enjoy the 360 degree view of the morning light over the city. I went over the floor with a fine-toothed comb. We were in remarkably good shape; the same as when we left the night before. There was nothing left to do but test the controllers and that’s when it started to get weird.
The test procedure that we used the night before was still fresh in my mind so I began to employ it once again with the scene controller on the South side of the room. I ran through the lighting pre-sets; checked the overrides for the light banks; ran the projection screen up and down; turned on all of the lights and checked that every lamp was on; and then it was time to check the motorized sun-shades.
This was going to be a first for me. I had never worked on motorized shades before and these 10-foot long bad boys were bound to be an impressive sight as they snaked out of a pocket in the ceiling and ran down tracks on either side of the windows. I pushed the button and waited for the show to start.
Sure enough, a dozen shades started down parallel tracks and began to cover a dozen windows inch by inch. Motors whirred and shades slid and I started to think about the lower-limit switches on each unit that would stop them at the bottom of each window.
The walls of the Pyramid are sloped 5-degrees off of vertical and as the bottoms of the shades descended they were aligned in a straight horizontal line all the way across the room. The shade motors were in sync and it looked like a huge shadow was falling on the outside wall.
These window guys were good.
The bottoms of the shades hit the top of the window sills at the same time. Fabulous.
The motors shut off.
The shades continued their descent.
I stood there, helpless, and watched as every single shade cloth sagged in the middle and then fell out of the ceiling and landed on the floor. It looked like someone had machine-gunned the June Taylor Dancers (For those under 30: Google it).
That’s when I headed for the elevator, and the conversation that I didn’t want to have with my fearless leader.
Neither one of us said a word on the way to the 48th floor. Actually, the boss did offer one suggestion at the beginning of our journey, “Don’t say a fucking word. I have to see this for myself.”
The elevator doors opened and we stepped into the lobby. “Show me the problem.”
Whew, at least he didn’t say “your problem”.
“Over here, Boss. It’s the motorized shades.”
His face turned red and his eyes opened wide. The veins in his neck started to define themselves.
Not good, not good at all.
He looked to the North side of the room. “Did you test the other side?”
“No, I didn’t. I stopped when this happened.”
“Did you do the shades first?”
“No. I checked everything else first and it was all good. Except for the shades.”
The natural color had returned to the boss’s face and his breathing was normal. “Ok, let’s do your check list on the North side, shades last. I wanna see how everything looks.”
“But if the shades—“
“If they fall off, they fall off. They need to fix this side anyway.”
And so we tested the scene controller for the North side. All went well with the pre-sets, lights and projector screen.
The only thing left to test were the motorized shades. “Go ahead, push the button.”
I looked at the boss. “You aren’t gonna leave any fingerprints behind, are you?”
He smiled for the first time since our arrival.
Good, good. Keep that train of thought.
“Here goes nothing.” I pushed the down button and watched a replay of the South side shades.
As I expected, the shades came down in sync, the motors stopped when they hit the lower limit switch, and the fabric continued onward, ultimately falling on the floor.
The boss let out a quick laugh and walked over, knelt down, and inspected the top edge of one of the shades. He checked a second one and then got up and walked over to the South side and repeated the inspections.
Maybe some humor could lighten up the atmosphere. “You look like the Indian scout in the movies, Boss. ‘Hmmm. Three men on horseback pass here. Head that way.’”
The boss got up and the lines in his forehead had disappeared. “There’s a definite problem here, but I don’t think that it’s our problem. From the look of the marks on the top ends of the fabric, I’m not certain that they were ever correctly fastened to the top roller. I think that we are off the hook on this one.”
“That kind of thinking is why you get the big bucks, Boss.”
His frown returned. “We’ll see about that after the window guys get back here.”
The window guys returned and verified my boss’s diagnosis. In their haste to finish in the wee hours of the morning they did not attach the fabric to the top roller correctly. They tested the shades once before they left and the fasteners held.
Then, along came yours truly.
I was sent up to do a final check before they left and everything checked out perfectly. The floor was turned over to Transamerica and their PGA party was a success.
By the way, Scott Simpson won the U.S. Open with a 3 under par and Tom Watson was one stroke back.
NOTE: The memory of this event came to me when I read Mike Cornelius’s recent post about Tiger Woods return to the PGA.