BaM at 20: Our First Real, Possibly Haunted, Office Space
In 2003, we bought a building. It was lovely. And perhaps still being used by its previous occupants.
The thing that really makes any company seem real — and not just a bunch of people sharing an office and some stationery — is when it owns its own building. As a result of the massive amounts of Bank One rebranding work we did while cramped in the cinderblock building on Indy’s Park Avenue, we’d been able to buy and renovate a gorgeous 3-level corner building just a few blocks away on the near-northside. It had been purpose-built, a century before, as the Saloon Building, housing a bar and brewery called the Blue Note. In the 1940s, female line workers from the propeller factory next door would blow off steam there, looking, at least I hope, like they stepped out of a war-era We Can Do It poster. By the 1970s, it was the most crime-ridden and dangerous place to get a drink in the city. When Mark and I were at nearby Herron in the early 80s, that was not the direction art kids went strolling.
But by the late 80s, the LGBT community had rescued/gentrified the entire neighborhood and the Saloon Building had been reclaimed as a collectibles and memorabilia shop called, “A Rare Find Gallery” with a luxury apartment above. That’s what it was when we bought it.
It had a rooftop deck that made Indy’s skyline seem positively metropolitan. It had a brick-walled courtyard filled with Japanese maples and flowering bushes. We were giddy. We’d been looking at spaces for months, and none had felt right. This felt more than right.
We hired exciting young architects to make it award-winningly gorgeous. Inside, it had a room off the 2nd floor landing perfect for a video edit suite. A 3-car garage was soon converted to additional office space with gorgeous colored floor-to-ceiling glass banded windows. It had a working fireplace in the second floor conference room. A finished basement for servers and developer workspaces. All in all, it looked like the TV-fantasy of a design firm we wouldn’t allow ourselves to entertain back in college. Outside, it looked like it might just undock and carve its way down Fort Wayne Avenue like a steamship.
But I will also remember it for its demon ways.
First of all, it was, and may still be, haunted. Full disclosure, I personally think notions of an afterlife, spirit photography, telekinesis, full trance mediums, and the effectiveness of Proton Packs are various levels of malarkey.
Still. Weird things happened, dude.
Dry-erase markers would fly off marker trays and across the room on their own, completely derailing serious meetings. Several employees heard voices. Rodocker heard, “where is everybody?” whispered directly into his right ear. And it was an excellent question, as there was no one there. He hurriedly joined everyone else in not being there.
Conference room chairs would move on their own. So would cleaning supplies and piles of important papers. Motion detectors would go off in empty rooms. Enough people with enough levels of skepticism experienced enough things that, surely, something strange was going on.
One evening I was getting ready to be the last to leave and heard coughing from the main workroom downstairs — it had distinctive acoustics from its ancient tin ceiling, so it seemed clear where it was coming from. I called out, “hey, I’m leaving, are you staying late” to whichever coughing art director it must be. No response. Then another cough. Hmm. Okay, maybe Gary had his headphones on and couldn’t hear me. I walked the building end to end and found no one. No matter where I walked, the coughing came from the same place. I set the alarm and locked whatever was coughing inside for the night.
Another time, I was working very late and it was that kind of quiet where can hear your own head whistle. And I could swear I could hear the bar crowd downstairs where the bar had been a century earlier, right down to a barkeep shouting over the din to ask about additional rounds. This may or may not have led me to install a fully mirrored design and editing system at home.
One chilly spring day, one where Mark was conveniently out of the country — on the other side of the planet, in fact — I, with most of the creative people, was in the courtyard shooting a promo idea to present to ESPN. We had developed friendly contacts in their NYC offices, and they would throw jump balls our way.
In those days, some of the first “prosumer” cameras became available with “cinema mode” — it could make your I’ve-got-a-barn-let’s-put-on-a-show productions look suspiciously close to an filmed TV spot costing ten or twenty times more. Big time marketing directors hadn’t caught on yet, and wondered how we could possibly shoot and edit such broadcast-ready (-ish) material so quickly and cheaply, complete with finished motion graphics. We’d been given, literally, a few hours to come up with an idea for ESPN’s new no-commercial-break offering, where the game wouldn’t pause and commercials ran in a mortise at the same time — the action never stopped. So we’d come up with a quick concept, shot from inside a car’s trunk, about needing to stock up on adult diapers. It was cold out, and my camera battery died quickly, so I called for an extension cord that could be found in the basement server room. But no cord was forthcoming.
I really only remember hearing, “Um, you may want to come see this.”
I began to smell it as I made the turn down the basement stairs. Then I saw it. It was evil, vile, almost unimaginably horrible. The stuff of nightmares.
It was a bubbling, growling lake of human feces.
The Hellmouth had opened in our basement. Roughly ten feet square and growing. Satan’s gateway, threatening to swallow our server racks, telecom equipment and all that was holy.
Okay, apparently the sewer line had collapsed, but in moments like that no one wants to hear a rational explanation. You want the real world to have Command-Z. Imagine how you would deal with such a thing. Go ahead, think it through.
Whatever is in your head right now, it was worse. Think shovels. Bags. Bleach. And clothes that would have to be burned.
We still got the video delivered.
This is the thing about owning your own building. You are responsible for things a tenant isn’t. I do have golden memories of idea sessions on the sunny roof, and grilling sliders in the courtyard for the Fourth of July. Storyboarding by the fire in December.
And poop-shoveling in the domain of the undead.