A Fly On The Wall . . . Observations While Working On Safes

©2012 by Ken Dunckel
Safe and Vault Service  SF Bay Area & Northern CA

A Fly On The Wall
Observations while working on safes . . .

Because of the work I do and where I do it, I get exposed to a lot of different work environments. I get to see what people do (and don't do) in their daily work, hear them talking about topics that interest them.

As a self-employed individual, one of the things I envy about some people's job situations is the benefit packages. Especially government jobs.

People in government (city, county, state, Federal) jobs might not be getting rich  at the work, but it seems (with some notable exceptions) that if you land that government job at almost any level, you're (generally) in a much better situation than people working in the private sector.

Once a worker has passed probation and is settled into the job, there are things like paid health care, paid sick leave and vacations, employee representation, and retirement with pension. Yow, that's only a concept to many small business people. I'm glad to know that near-mythical (in my eyes) stuff still exists in some places.

Also, from what I've seen of some government jobs, you pretty much have to work at getting fired, because there's a lot of tolerance when it comes to different types of "transgressions."


Thought you'd never ask. Yeah, sure, a few come to mind . . . 

I had an assignment at an unnamed government health care facility (aren't euphemisms great?). The job was to visit the office of a lady who was in charge of one of the facility's departments.

Arrived, introduced myself, was shown to the safe and went to work.

The lady I was working for had to leave the office, but assured me she would return soon.

So I started my task. In the office with me were two women at desks. One lady was in front of a computer screen at the desk in the corner of the office, and there was another one at a desk to the immediate right of the entrance to the room. She, too, was in front of a computer screen.

From where I was working, I could see the computer screens of both office workers. The first lady seemed to be working diligently on what appeared to be some kind of spread sheet or other office-type program. She worked away, picking up the phone once in a while and speaking briefly, then going back to her computer.

The second lady was also pecking away at her computer keys, bringing up various screens. I glanced over her shoulder at her screen . . . she was studying her screen intently. The screen she was studying was:


Yep, she was sitting there on what appeared to be work time and getting a paycheck for checking out what salsa music was available for download. A few times she got on the phone and talked and laughed in an animated way in a language I didn't understand. When she did speak English on the phone, her tone changed, and all she said were things like "I don't know," and "Please hold, I will transfer you," but she was concentrating mostly on the salsa music web site.

 . . . Sheesh!

The boss lady returned to her desk. Her seat in the corner also gave her an over-shoulder view of the computer screen with the salsa music site.

I thought, "Betcha she gets rid of salsa. com and gets down to her work now that the boss is here." 

After a couple of minutes I glanced over again, and I was right. There was her boss sitting there in the corner, and there was the salsa fan at her computer. Salsa.com was gone, having been replaced by . . . facebook.com. All in easy view of her boss, who she had her back to. She was obviously not worried about the boss seeing her day's project.

My job that day was to drive the forty or so miles to this place, remove one lock from the safe and replace it with the desired lock, then drive back another forty or so miles. I get paid only for the results/products I provide, and that's only if they work.

I hope the woman at the computer never goes go out with stress syndrome or carpal tunnel syndrome, or anything related to her daily "work." Moreover, I hope she never goes home and tells her family she "had a hard day at work."

But I can only hope.

New scene, different city, different facility, same agency:

I was working for the offices of the on-premises police who secure the place. The job required going in and out of the office I was working in to get more tools from my truck.

Luckily, I was directed to a nearby parking spot, right by the back of the building at the rear loading dock. Being that close was a rare treat, because it got me in and out of the building and to the office work-site very conveniently and without fear of being challenged by the loading dock workers, who are very protective of the parking spaces there.

As I walked in the first time, through the trees that lined the edge of the property I noticed what was either a red tail or a Cooper's hawk swooping. I love spotting and watching hawks, and so do a lot of other people in these parts. I thought it was pretty cool.

However, I couldn't stand there and enjoy raptor sightings; work was waiting inside. I trudged in and got started.

Soon I needed another tool from my truck. I went to get it. When I found it I started back in. As I walked I glanced up at the walkway along the loading dock facing the street. One of the workers had a pair of binoculars, and another one was grinning and motioning to me while pointing in the general direction of where I'd seen the swooping hawk.

I figured the guy with the binoculars and the guy trying to get my attention were bird watchers too, and I was thinking it's a nice job that comes with a view of hawks near the ocean and time to watch them. A great way to spend work breaks, right?

I couldn't figure out why the other guy was motioning first to me, and then out to the area through the trees where I'd seen the hawk, but he didn't explain. I didn't see the hawk, but he was looking in the same direction as the binocular guy. I kept on, happy that the motioning hadn't been about moving my truck.

When I got back inside I nevertheless thought it might be a good idea to ask and make sure my truck was okay parked where it was. So I asked the on-premises cop who was my escort about it, telling him what had just happened on my way back in.

He glanced at watch, then chuckled and said, "The guy was trying to show you. Across the street in the fourth floor of the apartment building there's a good-looking young lady who showers and dresses every day around this time. She never pulls any curtains; I don't think she cares." Patting his walkie talkie, he said, "We have a radio code for her: Showtime."

Another cop had overheard part of the conversation. He asked "second floor or fourth floor? The one on the second floor has a better rack."


Hello, Sir

One last one: I routinely work for military customers. Getting inside their work places often requires enduring some security screening at gates and entrances, surrendering (or not bringing) camera/phones and so on.

At one such customer's place I was in a large office made of cubicles, each with an officer at a desk with a computer monitor and CPU. You're not supposed to have roving eyes in such places, because classified material is often exposed.

In short, discretion and studied disinterest are the rule in those places. I'm not a spy or anything like that, so I couldn't care less what's going on.

At the far side of the big communal office was the unit commander's office. The Commander had to cross the breadth of the office to get from the main room door to his office. Officers and enlisted personnel in the room addressed each other on a first name basis; a pretty casual workplace. They reserved the "Sir" mode of address for the Commander, because every time he entered or left the room somebody always said "Hello Sir" in crisp military fashion.

As I worked I heard background noise; people talking cubicle-to-cubicle, the sounds of printers and keyboards. Every once in a while there would be momentary flash that reflected off the room's ceiling, almost as if someone were taking a digital flash photo. It couldn't have been that; no cameras were allowed in there, so I didn't think about it too much. But they had a variety of communications gear and other stuff in the room, none of which was my business.

Remember, I was working around an officer's cubicle on a government security container. As I worked, I couldn't help noticing that he was playing a computer game. I figured it was probably for my benefit, because I was an "uncleared" individual, which meant I had no security clearance. Therefore I wasn't supposed to know anything about the contents of the safe I was working on, let alone what would ordinarily be on this officer's computer.

As I worked along, I heard the room door open yet again, and someone across the room again said "Hello, Sir." And the ceiling flash happened again. And I figured it out . . .

The ceiling flash happened at the same time the officer whose safe I was working on killed the game display on his computer screen, a moment after the lookout said "Hello Sir." When the officer switched his computer display back to something more mundane and ostensibly work-related there was a flash as the bright game display instantly gave way to whatever spreadsheet he switched to.

Every time the lookout/greeter announced the Commander's entry, there were enough near-simultaneous computer display changes around the room to create a flicker of light on the ceiling.

It happened twice more before I finished the job.

Some jobs have benefits, and some jobs have other benefits.

This was unrelated, but was it?

You know what? Relating these experiences from running my own business reminds of a related experience with a woman I lived with a long time ago.

She, too, had one of those golden jobs, working for the State of New York, where employee benefits were legendary even then. Come to think of it, I never even knew exactly what my girlfriend did for a living. I knew she got dressed in nice business attire every morning and drove off to her office in the huge complex of state office buildings known as The State Campus.

She was the equivalent of a shop steward for the state employees' union up there. As such, she had special (union-negotiated) dispensation to periodically leave her office during the work day and roam about the office complex, ostensibly visiting her constituency on union business.

I also knew that in truth she was mostly leaving her office work undone and going on extended coffee, lunch, chat, and dope-smoking breaks with like-minded work cronies. As far as I could tell, in terms of her actual work, she didn't do jack shit.

Anyway, one late afternoon she burst through the apartment door, home from "work." She was raving, storming around, swearing loudly about her asshole boss, and gobbling Valiums like they were M and Ms. Living life as she did, at the rate of a crisis a day, she could have been the Poster Girl for Valium.

When I was able to calm her enough to speak intelligibly, I got the story: She'd been out and about the office campus, attending to her usual "work." When she returned to her office, her boss was waiting to have a word with her. He'd told her he thought it would be really great if she could contrive to spend just a teensy bit more time at her desk handling some of the work that had a way of piling up while she out of the office attending to "union responsibilities."

The stress of hearing that put her over the edge. To think that he could ask such a thing! It was as if he thought she was just coffee-klatching and smoking dope all day instead of working! As a side note: I'd been up to her "work" place on more than one occasion, which is to say to meet for two hour lunches and get loaded with her out in the parking lot. It was her routine.

She damn near lost it when I commented that she might actually do well to make a show of acting as if she worked in that office. Okay, apologies, more Valium, forget I said it.

I remember wishing I had a state job.


Note to readers: Please feel free to comment or post your thoughts about this and any of my posts. Don't worry, I'm pretty thick-skinned.

Ken Dunckel
Owner, Safecracker
Safe and Vault Opening, SF Bay Area and Northern California


miley swan said…
Purchasing a home safe is a very wise investment for peace of mind knowing that your valuables are being kept safe and security apparatus market is now driven by biometric technology.
Safes in NYC

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