Friday, April 8, 2011

Journey of Awakening – 28: Getting Grounded in San Francisco

Winter 1974-5. My self-story of being an ex-pastor, failed husband and father, floundering revolutionary, unable to find a job, had to end sometime, I suppose. Here’s how it happened for me.

Bob Vance, our Area and House Prior, loved ice cream cones. And whenever he had some serious issue he wanted to discuss with someone, he would say “Let’s take a walk over to Uncle Gaylord’s” (Old Uncle Gaylord’s was a famous ice cream parlor on Mission Street, 4 blocks from our house). One evening after dinner Bob approached me with the offer I couldn’t refuse. On the way he talked of how things were going with the Houses and the Order. He asked me how I was doing. How were my kids? Did I have an idea of a direction for my life? Bob always had a way of making you think he was asking for advice on important decisions he was struggling with, even when he wasn’t.

“So how is it going with your job search?” I was waiting for it and launched into my problems and difficulties with my being under-qualified or over-qualified for this or that type of work. He listened patiently until we arrived back at the front steps of the House. His parting shot was “Well, if you really wanted to find a job, you’d have one when you get home for dinner tomorrow!” Strange how a simple comment can puncture illusions like a pin stuck in a balloon.

The interesting thing is, I actually had a job offer the next day and was to start work the following day. One of the ads I found on my next day BART run was for a chief dispatcher at a company called Private Protection Patrol. It happened that the summer before leaving St. Louis I had a part-time job as a dispatcher for Whelan Security. This job experience apparently qualified me to run an office of 3 other dispatchers, a bank of electronic monitoring devices, and several hundred security guards, because I got the interview and was hired the same day. I was able to report to the House at dinner on my new employment.

What I didn’t know was how desperate the company owners were for someone to take charge of one of the most dis-organized and dysfunctional organizations imaginable. They didn’t need a chief dispatcher—they needed a super-hero. The PPP offices were in the industrial warehouse district in the Back Bay, so I had to use one of the House cars to get to and from work. Things were going smoothly during my training period. Then I was turned loose and instructed to schedule the dispatchers and guards for their various shifts. Security guards are either part-timers while looking for full-time work or second-jobbers. Most are living on the edge and are often difficult to reach. The turnover rate is high, so you are constantly interviewing new applicants, running background checks, etc.

The most eye-opening part of the job was that PPP specialized in supplying security for big parties and rock concerts in the Bay Area. We would often be asked to line up 100-300 guards for an event. One example was the night of the Grateful Dead concert at the Cow Palace.


We were getting calls all evening that they didn’t have enough security and our guards were walking off the job site in frustration, trying to do crowd control for the tens of thousands of ‘Deadheads’

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Another night we received a call from a private party that our two guards were being backed against a wall and had their guns taken away. I called the SF police who were not at all happy to have to “clean up our mess.”

It didn’t take many months for my bosses and me to agree that something needed to change. Another re-organization of the dispatch office resulted in my being put on the graveyard shift. Things were usually quieter then, except when we had a concert or party that went on into the wee hours, or the several nights that I was taking threatening phone calls from one of our disgruntled guards who had been let go. Probably the most challenging aspect of the midnight to eight shift was that bank of 50 blinking monsters, I mean monitoring devices staring at me from the wall in front of me. The sites under surveillance varied from huge trucking yards to 7-Elevens and everything in between. The interesting thing is, there were no cameras. Everything was done by listening in. Imagine trying to discern who was entering a fenced-in yard while a semi-truck engine was rumbling in the background. Then there would be the irate convenience store owner who had tripped an alarm button while being robbed, which meant a phone call to the store to determine whether a call to the police was warranted. If you made the wrong call it was too late. This system was not the most effective ever designed.

I finally got so stressed out that I asked Bob Vance to let me quit that job and go look for another. That was a few months before Private Protection Patrol went out of business.

So, back on the BART and on to the next job-hunting adventure.

1 comment:

  1. Your writing style is much improved. Even though I have heard this story–MANY TIMES—it held my attention. One thing. Your photo on the email does not look like the house on VanNess?