Bay of Cubes
In my world, new friends literally pop out of the woodwork. Doug Hechter is an over-the-top craftsman and project manager (and Deadhead) who was hired to construct the huge bay full of cubicles for all kinds of our desk workers; each with a niche for a computer monitor, some file cabinets, electric outlets and phone lines. Clusters of 4 desks stood on short concrete platforms. Before the slab had been poured, a network of channels and conduits had been laid down so that all the electrical, phone and computer cables would all come up in the center of each workstation without wires on the floor.
George Powell had designed the whole arrangement down to the details of the walnut trim, and the cloth covered panels; gray of course, and the carpet, gray also.
It was an enormous project of cabinetry, 48 workstations, and Doug Hechter was brought onboard to pull it off. Hundreds of identical pieces of plywood needed to be cut, rabbeted and dadoed with precision. Thousands of feet of walnut trim needed to be milled with bullnose and a channel, then precisely cut and mitered. Hundreds of panels needed to be stretched with padding and cloth and installed.
Doug set up his shop in one of the future production bays that wasn't in use yet. He needed a lot of space for his staging area. He enlisted some of us Powell employees to help with the volume of tasks: Jamie Johnston from the woodshop, George Totten from R&D, me and Ves from Facilities. We had shop tools, spray booths and a great variety of skills.
By the time Doug had finished and moved on, we had become good friends. Years later he would connect me with some truly exceptional projects; exotic mansions, I'd have to call them. He had been part of a communal tribe in the woods of the Navarro Ridge, in Mendocino County, back in the 1970's. Long after I left Powell and moved to Northern California again, I got to meet and work with remaining members of his free spirited commune on a palace of recycled redwood near Sebastopol in Northern California. They in turn have become close friends of mine and adventures with them continue to this day.
Anyway, the cubicle bay was finished, and JW and I were living there in the Lemon House. Besides doing my regular job in Facilities, I had to keep an eye on the comings and goings of everyone and anyone after hours, at night, and on weekends. I couldn't be awake all the time so we began to enlist some of our production workers to spend the night inside the building for a little extra pay. There had been some pilfering of materials during the construction phase that wasn’t too concerning. But one was an inside job where somebody working for one of the subcontractors left an extension ladder up the 20-foot side of the building so he and his buddy could gain access to the unlocked doors on the roof after hours. Our man in the building heard them come in and fearlessly raced up to confront them. Hearing someone coming, the intruders ran back out on the roof and were scrambling down the ladder, when our man emerged with a carbine in his hand and yelling in Cambodian. They made it to the bottom of the ladder without breaking any bones and raced off terrified in their pickup truck. I didn't know he was going to bring a gun; it was never discussed.
Since we didn't want anybody to get shot, and the unfinished building began to be occupied by departments whose areas were completed, a private security company was hired to provide a watchman to patrol the exterior for an 8 hour period at night, so I could get some sleep.
The building was finished enough that most production bays were up and running, the indoor SkateZone was half finished and all departments like Personnel, Sales, Promotions, Management, that had been scattered about our Gutierrez St. complex were now all housed in Doug Hechter's Great Hall of Cubicles. The building had an elaborate alarm system that would show on a panel the opening and closing of every door, of which there were over 100. But the building was not finished, and the alarm system was not operational. At closing time, I would make my rounds, locking all doors to the exterior, then settle in for the evening at the Lemon House.
While the building was in this state, I got a report that someone had gotten into a petty cash box, in one of the drawers in the cubicle area. It had happened once before, but they hadn't told me, thinking it was a mistake or a one-time pilfering during the day. The second time, I was told, and they had determined that it must have happened after hours. The third time James–our computer tech, AV guy and electrician–and I took action.
There was a conference room on a mezzanine level that overlooked the maze of cubicles. The familiar full size photographic cardboard cut outs of the team were placed up there to provide cover for our video camera, set to record a frame every second on videotape. James set up the security camera to run continuously all night and rigged a silent alarm to the drawer where the cash box was kept. When triggered, a remote phone silently dialed the phone next to my bed at the Lemon House and played a recorded message.
It didn't take long, the first or second night we had the trap set, the phone woke me up. "Break-in at Powell Headquarters...Break-in at Powell Head-quarters," in my own voice. Sure enough, we got a bite. I called 911 and explained the situation; there was a burglary in progress. They said they would send out a Deputy Sheriff.
I got dressed, got my keys and went out to the street. In less than a minute, I could see the black and white patrol car turn off Hollister Ave, about 300 yards away. I waved my flashlight in that direction and he switched off the headlights as he came toward me. I met the deputy at his driver's side window, quickly explained the plot and what part of the building the silent alarm came from. He climbed out and retrieved his dog from the back seat.
We quietly walked to the front door that opened almost directly to the cubicle area and entered. The deputy shouted, "SANTA BARBARA SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, STAND AND SHOW YOURSELF!" ...Silence. The German shepherd was getting excited. There was a tiny squeak of a desk chair. He loved this game. Even without anything our senses could pick up, he already knew where the bad guy was, by sound and smell. This would be easy. Silence. The deputy shouted, "I'M GOING TO RELEASE THE DOG!"...Immediately, a head popped above the partitions right by where I knew the cash box was located. It was the private security guard. Mystery solved.
More Sheriff's deputies arrived and took the security guard aside to get his story. He claimed as he was doing his rounds, he found an unlocked door and thought he heard somebody inside, and went in to investigate. Except that he had no instructions to go inside, ever. Just patrol the outside. While they were grilling him, I took some other deputies in to where we had the video recorder and a monitor set up, to take a look at the footage. We saw him enter the room, walk directly to the center of the maze where the cash box is, then duck his head below the partition. At that point, the silent alarm was triggered, I made the 911 call; and in less than 3 minutes, the deputy, the dog and I enter.
Turns out the security guard had a record (burglary), and when he let them search his apartment, he had a lot of Powell products; T-shirts, sweatpants, etc. that would have been easy to remove from the warehouse in the times he had entered. He was not a skater, and could not explain how he got all this stuff. They also cited him with some illegal martial arts gear. There was no trial since he copped a plea when it was clear they had the goods on him.
After they took him away in a patrol car, and the original deputy came to me and said, "You know this maze of desks and partitions is perfect. How about the company letting us use it for training our police dogs." I checked it out with George the next day, and it was agreed.
This was before the half-built SkateZone was open to the "public" and one Saturday, all these patrol cars and police dogs showed up in front of the Lemon House. That's why I have all these pictures of German Shepherds lounging around the SkateZone. That's where they hung out while one dog at a time was next door in the hall of cubicles, training to play "bad-guy-in-the-maze," their favorite game.
When you love your work, you get really good at it.
They're saying, "Hey John stop taking pictures and get back to work."
and I'm saying, "Someday there's going to be something called the
world wide web and you're going to be in it. Really."
This is not the "suspect". This is Doug Hechter, the mastermind.
This is the view from upstairs where we had the hidden camera.
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