Clyde List at Boeings
Sherwood Scroll, May 1977Americans pride themselves on being very individualistic. We have always admired the single family farm for example. Thomas Jefferson wanted the whole country to be that way. One big family farm with us Americans on the inside behind the hedgerow and "Them" on the other side. Even people born and raised in the city want to get back to the farm even if they never lived on a farm. They hang pictures of the farm on their walls. I guess that's why our office buildings have so many walls instead of windows.
Ten years ago I worked at Boeing Aircraft Company, in a building that had no windows. You didn't know what time of day it was or whether the weather was cloudy or bright. You couldn't see out. To get into the building, or even to walk next to it, you had to wear a special badge with your picture on it. Once you got past the security guards and inside, it was kind of nice. There was very little to distract you from doing your job. If the weather was rotten you didn't feel rotten. If it was nice out you didn't start daydreaming about being on the farm.
If you decide not to work at Boeings anymore you go to this office on the other end of the plant where a lady reminds you that you can not go back the way you came. In order to find your car, you need to to walk all the way around the fifty-some acre plant, with a storm fence always at your left side... a much longer journey than you had planned on.
I worked on the Sixth Floor, the top floor. The Olympic Mountains were visible from up there. The view was spectacular. At certain times of the Spring and Fall, employees from the lower floors would crowd to the Sixth Floor and even climb out onto fire escape with a pair of field glasses borrowed from the Sporting Goods Department. Through these lenses, the mountains were bathed in a rose colored light that made them seem more like roses than mountains. "Man, ain't that something though?" was the comment heard over and over again. "Man, ain't that something?" It was a view that would cost you plenty of money anywhere else in town.
When I got a turn with the field glasses I spent all my time focusing upon a remarkably large article of women's underwear hanging in the window of the man who had waved the whiskey bottle at me. I tried to get my side of the street interested in it. But not this time. Even the guys from Shipping and Receiving were too fascinated with the horizon to lay their eyes on anything else.
"Whew! That was close!" I remember thinking. I was lucky. I quit working there before the lay-offs began. I never behaved well in an emergency, laid off situation. I could only imagine the stunned expressions on those who had been my fellow workers as they turned in their badges and went to the office on the other side of the campus and discovered how long the route was back to their cars.
And this is where the lesson came in. Within a few weeks the management where I worked was laying off people too. The unemployment rate was reaching 19 percent, similar to what the United States as a whole experienced during the Great Depression. A sign appeared on the edge of town: "Will the last person to leave Seattle please turn off the lights?"
It was only a matter of time before I realized that, in Seattle, it doesn't matter whether you work at Boeing Aircraft Company or not. Your turn comes anyway. I got in line at the Employment Office on Taylor Street with all the former Boeings employees. I remember thinking that being an American doesn't guarantee the satisfaction you're supposed to get when you go to an American school and the teachers open your eyes to the fact that as an American, you're an individual, and nothing more.
Copyright 2007 by Clyde List