Doors, almost any door marked “Private”, “Employees Only” or blatantly “No Trespassing” were an early weakness. This doesn’t mean that I went out of my way to violate each and every one, but where I had to accomplish something or was extremely curious, I was subject to this character flaw.
The part of Petaluma I grew up in was on the outskirts of small ranches where weak fences were often marked “No Trespassing”, but we knew many of the owners and had verbal permission to proceed through with our hikes, box sliding or other harmless fun kind of stuff. The famous hill behind Grant School was easily the best hill around for such fun, but permission to use it, looking back was something that someone acquired from the owner, then shared with all his buddies who shared it with all their buddies. As one of the original gang who got permission, because one day we were challenged by the owner who listened to our plans and gave us the thumbs-up. This obviously was well before the day when insurance professionals decided to kill all fun in America. And I did share that permission with my bike gang, boomerang bunch, storm drain hoard and even a few girls. It may have gotten a bit out of hand.
A bit north of Petaluma is the larger city of Santa Rosa. In those days, Santa Rosa was distinctive partially because they had taller sky scrappers than Petaluma did. I loved these buildings for one purpose I used to love to walk into one of these building like I belonged there and explore the upper floors until I found the door that led to the roof. From up there, I enjoyed both the unusual view that relatively few ever got to see and the solitude. I was surprised that few of the building managers kept these doors locked, but few did.
One building turned into something I did not expect. An old hotel, right downtown had been changed to a residential hotel. The inside still looked regal, but everything looked old, dated and dusty. But the rich history was fully evidenced by the internal and external architecture.
On my first visit I found the door (no signage about trespassing) so in I went. It lead to a very old squared-spiral staircase with small landings in each corner. On the first landing I saw 3 normal side-yard style garbage cans with no lids. I closed the door and proceeded to climb the stairs.
I made it to what had to be the door to the roof after about 6 flights of stairs, but no joy. The final door to the outside was locked. Oh well. There were other buildings to explore and I had several hours still to wander around, so I began the trip back down. I was on the second to last flight when the original door opened and a very old woman stepped in with two small tied up bags of something that looked like garbage. I stopped walking and watched her, lay one bag down and then square up and shoot one bag into one of the garbage can, basketball-swish-style. She smiled and picked up the second bag and repeated the stunt. I could not help but laugh and give her a friendly round of applause.
She was a bit startled when she realized she was not alone, but was then immediately charmed by my enjoyment of her great garbage bag swishing. It had been about a 12 foot shot up about 8 stairs to the landing – and she nailed both like a pro. I can’t recall what all we both said after that, but it ended up with her asking if I’d like a cup of tea with her. And just like that – I was no longer a trespasser, but the guest of a resident. “Sure, I said. I’d love a cup.” Well, this started a very odd friendship. Her room was small. One wall had her bed. Another had the hallway door and a counter with her electric cooking appliances and small food cabinet and frig. The third wall had her dressers and a small counter with knickknacks and a widow overlooking Santa Rosa from the top floor. The forth wall had another window (Corner room) and a small wardrobe. I sat on the bed as she made up the tea and she pulled up a single old kitchen chair for herself to sit as we drank and chatted.
She proved to be an amazing resource of funny stories and memories. She finally wrangled a few details from me as to what I was doing up those stairs and positively glowed when I told her why I was there. “Just for the views, you say. How delightful! I’ll bet you’ve seen many.”
We went back and forth with our stories as the clock wound down and I soon had to be somewhere. “Please come back and visit anytime,” she said. So I did and brought a friend from my Penngrove church group. My new friend was thrilled to have more visitors because her family had long ago passed away and she was left alone. Several trips back happened and she proved to be a consistent gracious host who always made us welcome and sent us on our way laughing. We often brought snacks to share.
A friend had introduced me to the library of a nearby university that I’ll conveniently forget to name. I loved that place. The Petaluma library was fine for a community library, but is simply did not have as many interesting things to see and read as this university collection. So it became a regular hangout. I couldn’t check anything out, but they always had open study rooms and my friends and I could take one over and read or talk books without disturbing too many people around us. This was where I first had the chance to play with microfiche, only to discover it was not as cool as the spy movies suggested. One afternoon I had a writing project for a high school class and was sure I could find some material at that library, so I packed up my notebook and binder and drove to the campus. The place was quiet when I got there, but I didn’t really think much about that until I arrived at the doorway of the library and found it locked.
Say what – why would the library be locked in the middle of the day? This had not occurred to me as even being a possibility. I put my stuff down and considered my options. I knew the books I wanted/needed were right inside. I knew of no other options because the Petaluma Library did not have what I needed and might not have been able to get there in time had I tried to explore options. I looked at the glass doors closely and realized they were the type of door that, if someone inside wanted to let me in, they would only have to press down on the bar and the door would swing open. I needed only press that bar down somehow from the outside. Hummm,
Because I’m a guy and youngish guys do things like this, I pulled out my wallet and extracted the small roll of wire I kept for emergencies (and yes, this was the only time that its service was required) and my comb (and yes, I had hair in those days). With these two, I was able to bend, wiggle, drop the end into position and retrieve the wire end so I had a loop passing through the gap the two main doors and coming back into my hand so I could pull that inside lever down. A heavy “CLICK” resulted as the lock disengaged, granting me an open door to the whole library.
Just like that, I found myself the master of the library that afternoon but thought it best to stay away from windows and light switches while I finished my paper. I felt like quite the civil renegade, but loved having such a wonderful library at my full disposal. I was careful not to make any kind of mess or disturb anything that might look untoward the next time the building was legitimately opened. I did want to come back in the future, and it’s a library – with books that are precious by definition. As the sun began to set, I recalled that lights would be a bad idea, so I finished up and quietly left and told no one about how I compromised that library for many years. Doesn’t this sound like fun?
Finally, when I worked at the automated dairy systems company, they decided to send me to San Francisco one day to deliver a box of parts to the air freight office of United Airlines. My boss told me the place was kind of hard to find, but he drew me a map and thought the parking lot and door I needed were, “… right about here, just north of the passenger terminals.”
With some trepidation, I took the company car keys and was off. After some driving in circles, I pulled into the parking lot indicated on the map right about 12:10, and saw an unmarked door – which struck me as odd, but perhaps they only wanted certain customers to know it was here. This barely made sense, but I proceeded in with my little box of dairy system parts.
Humm, No counter – no obvious place to meet someone to help me send off the box. No one to ask. I finally noticed a clock and realized that it must be their lunch break and that’s why the corridors were so empty. But I needed to talk to someone about sending the box. I wasn’t about to just leave it somewhere. So I kept walking and getting frustrated. It was eerie — all those empty offices with no one around.
Maybe there’s a door to the roof around. . . Okay, I didn’t really consider that but only because I wanted to get some lunch too. But I did find a door clearly marked, “Authorized Personal only. I starred at that door for a few seconds and thought, there’s no one out here to ask, so perhaps the best way to find someone is to go someplace I’m not supposed to be – so I did. I walked straight through and found myself, with my little box of dairy parts standing in a huge open hanger with multiple partially assembled United Airlines jets – but no people anywhere.
Wow – this is sooo cool! I thought, but where is everyone? Again, lunchtime rules I guess. From this I learned never to question union rules about lunch time. They are serious about this.
So I walked around a bit to see what I could see, but mostly so I could honestly say that I walked around some before getting kinda paranoid about being there. When they came back – those union guys might not take kindly to my invasion of their workplace, so I finally decided that I had to be in the wrong building and should return to the beginning and try to reset which parking lot and door to try. My second attempt worked much better and that little box of dairy parts was on its way to meet the action ends of someone’s cows and I got out of San Francisco without my parents having to come down and bail me out of jail.
I do think I deserve some degree of congratulations for resisting the urge to leave some of my automated dairy parts mixed in with the array of 747 engine parts I found on one guy’s work bench. Oh to watch the poor technician try to figure out where those parts were supposed to fit. Hysterical, don’t you agree?