All right, here’s the next story. I haven’t played Quake, the game (I’m not really a FPS fan, other than the Half-Life series), but I’m a Nine Inch Nails/Trent Reznor fan, and they made the soundtrack, and it’s fucking awesome.
Willy led me in through the front entrance of Create. I had been here many times, but it had been at least a decade since then and I couldn’t remember if I ever actually came in this way. It might have even been rebuilt since I had been here last. I signed in, and Willy greeted the receptionist.
“I’ll probably be gone by the time you leave, so just make sure to put in the sign out time, alright?” she said.
We were getting there a bit late, after a lot of people had left for the day. I, and he I’m sure, would’ve preferred to do it earlier – I, because I wanted to see things in action, and he, because it just meant more time spent at work – but the company had told him I’d have to come in later because of safety precautions and potential for a lawsuit if, say, some acid spilled on me.
We were in the office section for just a moment, and I caught a hint of that unique smell. I had always called it ozone, because I once heard that computers generate ozone and the office section is full of computers, but I don’t really know what it is. I’ve only ever smelled it in this building, when my dad worked here, with one strange exception. There was a hole in the floor of a community building that I could smell it seeping from.
But I only caught a hint of it, just for a moment, then it was gone. We passed through a hallway, one wall covered in paintings by local artists, with prices and contacts posted below each, the other wall glass, showing a nice little garden beyond.
The hall opened out into a far more industrial Create than I was used to. Not “industrial” as it is commonly used, grimy and dirty, the floors and walls and everything were cleaned to perfection. And it was in that precise cleaning and attention to detail that I found the industrial side. It wasn’t the warm, close feeling of the office building, with that same old carpeting, it was waxed tile and white walls and bright fluorescent bulbs.
It was fast-paced. With one exception, the entire time we were walking from place to place, room to room, project to project. I had my recorder on, but had put it in my pocket and accidentally bumped it off. I carried my notebook and pen with me, which would normally have been filled with notes and descriptions, but the only thing written in it, in an otherwise completely empty page, about my time at Create read:
He first brought me to one large work room, and we began walking the length of it. On one side, a giant metal tank, which he said was being used in cryogenic research. He brought me closer to it and showed a temperature-controlled box for testing materials and projects at temperatures up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. They did work on equipment sent to mars, including one of the rovers that still functions there, so testing ranges of temperatures was important for ensuring reliability.
“I’ve actually worked on one component of that rover, so it’s cool that something I made is on Mars.”
I knew they did Mars-related projects, but didn’t know that he was actually involved in them. That seemed pretty cool to me, as well.
One display in particular interested me, though he never mentioned anything about it. An assembly of metal pipes, with tubes and cords connected throughout, hanging from the ceiling over a tank. I had no idea what it was, or what it could be used for, but something about it interested me.
The overall sense I got from this room was like those scenes in spy movies, where they take the spy to the laboratory to introduce them to all the special new equipment they’ve cooked up, whether it was explosive chewing gum or a watch that doubled as a glass-cutting laser. That was, truly, what this room was like, but in real life.
He showed me one display of a past project he had worked on, which was used for securing arresting cables on aircraft carriers. Making a strong connection, strong enough that it could stop a fighter jet going at full speed – he explained that they always sped up right before landing, since they’d need to keep flying if they missed the cables – was difficult and used very heavy and unmanageable equipment. Create had been hired to develop a portable machine that could be used for it, which Willy worked on. He showed a picture of the system on an aircraft carrier, in a shipping container.
“I set up this whole thing in that shipping container so it worked as a sort of mobile workstation for it.”
At one end of the room was a large plexiglass workroom. He said he built it for dealing with mercury originally, since they needed to be pretty careful about that kind of thing, but right now they were using it for work with silicone.
He led us back out of the room, pointing out a few other things on the way. I noticed a row of black motorcycle helmets sitting on a shelf and was reminded, for some reason, of a character from Durarara!!.
We went outside, behind the building, and headed towards a cement bunker, partially buried. Inside, a few spotlights shone on a thick, short metal cylinder on tracks which led through a tunnel of sandbags.
“I actually had to bring in all of these sandbags myself to set it up. You can see, there, it goes back about six feet, then there are a few more feet of sandbags before the back wall of the bunker. This is testing the functioning of a rotor and, well, if something goes wrong with it, something will go really wrong with it, so we’re just making sure it doesn’t do any permanent damage.”
The cylinder had tubes and cords coming from it, one connecting with a display measuring the vacuum. That’s when I wrote “millitors -.5” in my notebook.
He was checking on how the vacuum system was working. They needed to create a vacuum in the cylinder before testing the rotor, and to help this process, they were heating it with strips, which he adjusted around the cylinder. They had slipped down a bit from where they should be.
“Once we get it to an acceptable level of vacuum, we’ll start testing it. We have a liquid cooling system here,” he said, pointing out two tubes going into the cylinder, “that goes around the rotor itself, because it gets pretty hot pretty fast.”
He checked a few other things and adjusted a few more, and told me how detail oriented you had to be to do this.
“You can have all the academic knowledge, you know, you can know how things work and all that, but you really need to be aware of every little thing for it to work right, and since no one can really be aware of everything, we have a bunch of people working on these projects, so if someone misses something, someone else will hopefully catch it.”
He switched off the spotlights and we headed out of the bunker. He shut the door – two or so inches thick, solid steel as he told me – and bolted it. We went back inside the building, and into the main hall, with dozens of specific-use rooms. Some clean rooms, which had an interstitial room with gloves and protective suits, some chemical laboratories, cryogenic laboratories, everything. Create did a lot of different stuff, as I was learning.
He brought me into the vacuum pump room. Desks and shelves surrounded the room, and created a little peninsula jutting out from the wall. He showed me a diagram on one wall, comparing the efficiencies of different vacuum pumps at different speeds.
He pulled down pieces of a vacuum pump from a shelf to show me. They were two centimeter-tall metal spirals, which would then interlock and rotate around another, and essentially trap bits of air in between the two spirals – it was a tight, precise fit – and pull it out.
Another one he showed me was a metal cylinder with hundreds of tiny blades going around it, which fit into two halves of a surrounding container of sorts which, again, was a very tight fit. The process was much the same – it caught tiny bits of air, trapped them, and pulled them through.
“You’ve got to pay such close attention to these, how you align them when you put them together. Even if there’s just a bit of dust in there, they’ll get messed up.”
He showed me a few mini-workstations in the room, including the soldering desk. He said he had to get a specific certification to be able to use it there, but now he’s the one that teaches others how to do it. Right before we left the room, he noticed something sitting on a shelf and showed it to me – twisted, ripped steel wreckage.
“This is actually part of the remains of one of those tests we did, in the bunker, that went wrong. And it wasn’t even at full speed, yet.”
He showed me the blade of sorts, more just a slightly tapered bar of metal, that they attached to the rotor to test it.
“The one from the accident isn’t here, another guy who worked on it decided to put it in his office, because it looked pretty cool.”
We walked back through the art-and-garden hall, to the reception desk. The woman who had been there when we arrived was gone, but someone else had taken her place. I signed out, and we headed outside. While walking, I asked him how he got the job.
“Well, I just had a high school diploma, but I just got a job here in shipping and receiving. And, well, I had done a lot of work on cars and wiring and stuff with my dad, and I was a hard worker, so when this one guy retired, who I had interacted with a lot, about three years after I first started working there, I decided to try for his job, and I got it.”
“So what is your specific job title?”
“I’m a technician. So, the engineers figure out what needs to be done, and design it all, and then basically bid for the different technician’s time. So my schedule remains pretty regular, which is nice. A while back, if they offered I could do twenty more hours of work on a week, I’d do it. But the reliability is nice, now, since I have kids.”
“And how long have you worked there, now?”
We parted ways, I thanked him for his time, and especially for taking some extra time at work, after hours, for me to come. He said it was no problem, any time.
There had just been so much to look at, at Create. There were so many projects, so much equipment, all sorts of materials and chemicals and everything I wished I could get access to but couldn’t, not without bringing up some flags on some government database.
At home, I went to the Create website, and checked out their job openings page. And, as I had hoped, Willy’s old job, shipping and receiving, was open. I didn’t know how long I’d be staying in this area, but if I would be staying for any amount of time, I might want to think about trying out for that job.