Until two days ago, I didn’t realize a person could mourn the death of a building. Yet as I sat at my computer watching the live feed from the scene of a six-alarm fire, I felt the sting of tears.
On the screen, I watched plumes of black smoke and raging orange flames dance on the roof of the building I walked through almost every day for nine years. The news reporter told me that 200 firefighters were called to the scene of the massive blaze that started sometime before dawn broke over Louisville, KY, home to GE Appliances and the industrial compound known as Appliance Park. I knew without the reporter’s back story that each building was assigned a number with the main manufacturing buildings being numbered one through six.
Number six, aka AP6, was the one engulfed in flames, and the one in which I spent the majority of my career with General Electric. I remember my first day on the job, and how I told myself I could overlook the run-down building with its peeling wallpaper and dusty corners because I had an office with both a window and a door! The desk was a relic from the 60’s and the orange upholstery on the chair was stained with something I didn’t care to think about, but it was mine. I was working for a Fortune 100 company, and I was happy.
As shabby as my new home away from home was, everything was right in my world that day as I settled into the first of my three offices in AP6. Now, I watched a wall directly behind that office collapse.
An aerial view showing an all-encompassing look at the six acre-building blazing throughout the day flashed on the screen, and I thought about cats. Not just any cats…THE cats…the fabled pack of feral cats that roamed the far reaches of AP6. They were rumored to hunt rodents as well as interns unfortunate enough to take a wrong turn into the bowels of the legendary building.
I hope the cats got out. I’m sure the other buildings have plenty of mice to keep them well-fed. Finding signs of mice throughout AP6 was a common occurrence. My colleagues and I once gifted my boss a Nerf dart gun, so he could take target practice on the mouse we were sure had taken up residence in the walls of his office.
Oh, the good old says in Building 6. I once practiced my Photoshop skills on an “OPEN” sign for our suite door. We were forced to keep it closed during business hours for an entire week while work crews demolished the bathroom across the hall. They had found asbestos in the walls, and since the workers were required to wear hazmat suits, common sense told me I should keep the door directly opposite the lethal stuff closed as much as possible.
A few hours after the blaze that finally brought down AP6 started, residents were ordered to stay indoors. The smoke from the fire was heavy with potentially toxic fumes from the components stored in the building. I had to smile. AP6 was certainly going out in style.
Even with its less than desirable accommodations, I created a wealth of fond memories inside the walls of AP6.
The Hubs and I spent 13 years as a dual GE couple. AP6 was the only building in which we both had offices at the same time.
One Halloween, the staff and I spent an entire morning creating a haunted house in our office space in preparation for an afternoon of family trick or treat. The Older One, decked out as a young Harry Potter, bravely led me from room to room, warding off my sinister co-workers with his magic wand.
The general manager of the division that worked inside Building 6 once declared AP6 to be an island in the tumultuous sea that was Appliance Park. We worked hard. We hit our goals, and within the confines of our island, we were blissfully unaffected by the politics running rampant in other parts of the business. In celebration, we wore sarongs and ate pot luck lunches.
Now, three days later, small fires are still burning in AP6–the building unwilling the die completely. I know a part of it still lives in me. I have had offices in four other buildings since I resigned from GE five years ago, but none have left such an impression as AP6.
Some of the longest friendships of my adult life started in that building, and the most influential relationships in my professional network were forged in its offices. I gave my first business presentation in a room known as “The War Room”. I handed out awards for a division-wide fitness challenge from behind a podium in the auditorium, and I reported sales results in the Executive Conference Room. I achieved the biggest successes of my career in AP6.
Watching it burn was heartbreaking, but while digging through a box of artifacts taken from my final office in AP6, I realized I took the best pieces of that building with me. I have a wealth of business knowledge gained during those years that I use every day. I have friendships I cherish and a professional network I was able to call on during tough times.
Its walls are ash now, but I will always remember the years spent inside AP6 with fondness.