Yesterday my buddy Cinda and I took the train over to the Bay Area Book Festival. It was a nice day. A little smoggy but nice. I hadn’t been to downtown Berkeley in several years but some things never change; college kids still fly up and out of BART like locusts, hopping over those of us with squeaky knees. The homeless still camp where they want. Restaurants still have signs in their windows reading “Bathrooms for customers only.” There’s still a whiff of pot in the air.
We were there to attend (among other things) a session at the iconic Shattuck Hotel on writing memoirs. Having worked in that neighborhood for many years, the hotel itself brought back many memories. The lobby had been remodeled since my last visit but the upstairs meeting rooms were the same.
As the memoirists discussed their process, I flashed back to one particular day in 1995. I believe it was in the fall, not long after the lean, fast-paced company I worked for had been swallowed by its parent, a whale full of corporate babble and blubber called TRW.
If you’ve ever worked for a monster company you know the first thing that happens in these instances is reprogramming. Shortly after the “we have taken over but don’t worry” announcement we were signed up for a session in “corporate expectations” at the Shattuck and ordered to attend, regardless of our work loads or even what we did. Facility manager, receptionist, janitor – it didn’t matter. Of course, we all knew the end was coming. Reprogramming is usually either proceeded or followed by “corporate restructuring.” And sure enough, as we sat in Shattuck, our new lords and masters laid off friends who’d been excused from the reprogramming so they could be fired, a brain-dead effort to appear kind that back-fired. I don’t know what they were thinking because at lunch the news flashed through the Shattuck, causing several members of my “class” to storm out of the session, middle-fingers raised in salute to our instructor who was just some poor rah-rah from Cleveland where TRW was called T.R. Wonderful.
We were all friends then, just a happy tribe of musicians, artist and writers who supported each other while working our day jobs. Email was in its infancy and required keystrokes, thus it was the medium through which we could bare our souls without upsetting the purveyors of corporate values.
The SS Milvia where we all worked and played is still moored about a block away from the Shattuck. After the class in memoirs I wandered past it which was a mistake. Someone’s modernized the facade; they’ve probably also replaced those sabotaged toilets that flooded the lab the day we were uprooted to Oakland. And fixed the elevator that froze between floors every time the big guys got rowdy. I’m sure the foosball table is gone. I’m sure it’s no longer a shoes-optional building. And I’m sure no one working there uses email to start a flaming debate about abortion or the death penalty. Those times have passed.
I stood and looked at the SS Milvia until the memories whispered good-bye, its time to move on.
Have you ever wandered past a place once held dear and wished you hadn’t?