Hogg & Mythen Architects, Part Four
LEARNING THE IMPORTANCE OF BACKUPS
I have a ready answer whenever I’m asked that infamous interview question, “What was the biggest mistake you ever made at work and how did you fix it?”
H&M did a variety of work, but our bread and butter income came from tenant improvement projects (a client leases space in an existing building and creates offices to their design specifications). Of these, the building at 30 Van Ness (at the corner of Market and Van Ness) was primary. One of the first CAD-intensive projects we undertook was to completely measure and draw up all four floors (plus underground parking garage) of the building since these shell drawings could be easily used again and again when it came time to build out any particular area.
I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but I must’ve been fucking around with something on my system (the one where all our drawings were stored) one day and all that work was gone. Might’ve reformatted the hard drive, or updated the OS or god knows what, but all I knew was that all that data was no longer there. I checked for copies on the other two machines where we had AutoCAD installed and came up empty handed. I was in a panic. After scouring every location I could think of, I put my tail between my legs and told Nick.
Surprisingly, he wasn’t angry. All he said was, “Well, you’d better get back to work and recreate them.” Wow.
Fortunately, we still had all the measured sketches we’d done, so it wouldn’t involve physically measuring the building again, but I was looking at a lot of work nonetheless. I sucked it up, went back to my desk and started drafting.
I happened to glance over at a stack of banker boxes against the wall and noticed the FedEx mailing envelope we used to take diskettes back and forth to the blueprinters (this was before we had own own plotter on site). I walked over, looked inside, and let out a yelp that was undoubtedly heard down the street. In that envelope were three diskettes containing all the plans of 30 Van Ness. They were several days out of date (we’d started a new TI project), but damn…a few days out of date was infinitely preferable to having to recreate months of work.
My ass was saved.
Immediately thereafter, we bought a tape backup for each of the PCs and began a thorough backup routine.
The biggest project H&M was ever involved in was the design and construction of a new school in Seoul, South Korea. I’ve long since forgotten how this particular project fell into our lap, but it was the one thing I am most proud of during my time at the firm. Jack and Nick were pretty much hands-off as far as design was concerned, giving Neill free reign and he definitely thought outside the box on this one. Very “post modern” (it was the mid 90s, after all) I remember the main multi-story facade being a diagonal black and white checkerboard with horizontal red brick accents. The client loved it.
I didn’t travel to South Korea with Nick, Jack, and Neill even though the invitation was extended because—reasons. I didn’t have a passport, dreaded the thought of a twelve hour flight over the open ocean, and frankly, simply didn’t want to be away from home for the two weeks this visit was projected to take. So along with Cerese, I stayed back and “held down the fort” until they returned.
I just emailed Nick, hoping that he has some photos of the project he can send me. If I hear back from him I’ll post them.
August 1994. I’d reached the end of my rope with many aspects of life in San Francisco. Still smarting from the breakup with Rory a year earlier, it seemed life in The City had lost all the magic it once held. Two unplanned trips back to Phoenix to deal with parental health emergencies showed me that life in Arizona really wasn’t as bad as I’d remembered—although I still had no real desire to move back to Phoenix; if I returned to the Grand Canyon state I’d definitely head south to Tucson. After much thought a particularly nasty run-in with a meter maid downtown (the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back), I decided it was time to leave. I gave notice on my apartment and at work.
They were devastated.
During the following two weeks while boxing up my life (Annie Lennox’s Diva is forever burned into my mind as the soundtrack for those weeks), strange things started to happen. San Francisco was not going to give up her grip on me so easily. The magic started returning: a cool ocean breeze, fog spilling over Twin Peaks, friends all but begging me not to leave, more than one encounter with a handsome stranger after exchanging glances…and discovering the joys of a newly-opened sex club South of Market called The Playground. (Pet Shop Boys’ Relentless will forever associated in my mind with that place and its wonderful wanton memories.)
I suddenly found myself wondering why the hell I was leaving San Francisco. Was it really too late? My buddy Stan was fond of telling me it wasn’t. I wondered if he might be right.
One evening I sat down to write in my Journal, hoping to sort this all out, but I didn’t get more than a paragraph completed. I started writing about everything that had happened during the previous week; the men, the realization that I really did have friends there who didn’t want me to leave, the magic that had come back into my life in various forms—and I wrote, “I can’t leave!” I broke down and cried.
And then, at 12:15 a.m. that night, I made a decision. I wasn’t going to leave. No matter what it cost, I was not going to say good-bye to my beloved San Francisco. The only problem was the financial Catch-22 I found myself in. I had to leave Hogg & Mythen in order to remain in San Francisco; I needed the severance money they were going to be giving me in order to pay the two month’s rent I now required in order to stay in my apartment. I didn’t relish the thought of leaving the guys, but at the same time I knew from my conversation with Nick a week earlier that because of the however-misplaced sense of betrayal was feeling, staying on was probably not an option. No matter. It would force me to find a position doing more computer and less (much less) architecture, which was my ultimate goal.
What I was not prepared for when I told him of my decision to stay was the fact that he wanted to keep me on—and—would be willing to loan me the money to pay my rent so I could stay. Now that is something you just coudn’t find in any workplace. Needless to say, I accepted.
Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on your perspective, this magic didn’t last. It was all a ruse by San Francisco to get me to stay. Once I’d signed that dotted line, life returned to “normal.” A year later, I was packing again—and this time it was for real.
The folks at H&M at first didn’t believe me, but as the clock ticked town to the last couple days I think it finally sank in that this was goodbye. On my last day, we all went out to lunch and returned to the office where we had a very tearful goodbye. They even let me keep the infamous bright red desk chair that I’d picked out a year earlier…
Tucson lasted only six months (another story for another time), but when I found myself back in San Francisco again—and gone, and then to return again—I didn’t approach H&M other than to offer my services as an independent contractor. We’d all been through so much, and if I was ever going to make a clean break from architecture, this was the time to do it. As it turned out, I ended up at a major architectural firm for a few months following my first arrival back in The City out of necessity, but thankfully that gig was cut short by an opportunity to dip my toes into the then-exciting career of PC Support. By the time I’d left San Francisco and returned again three years later, my previous architectural career was already but a fading memory.
Would I go back and change anything if I could? Not a thing. Everything that’s happened in my life has brought me to the place where I am—and who I’m with—now, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.