I remember when I first got the job I knew it wasn’t going to be a very special experience. It was a job with no upside other than money, and no downside other than taking time out of my day I’d rather enjoy wasting.
Being a security guard, I mean, who the hell would choose to do that over anything else. I can’t imagine any of the retirees I worked with earnestly looked to being in private security with glee and joy. I needed money for tuition.
I wasn’t planning on sticking around, but that’s what happened for a little while. First, though, I got my taste of the security world by being placed at the Washington State Fair. It’s this massive attraction that happens in September every year, in Puyallup, Washington. Hundreds of thousands of attendees or something like that, on a massive fairgrounds that’s been there for decades. Carnies would show up, tons of people come to see what was going on, we had rodeos, ferris wheels, games, the whole nine yards. Streets get shut down, traffic becomes entangled, parking spaces are few and far in between. Massive, massive event for the city is all you need to know.
I was on every day, tasked with either roving or bouncing at one of the bars. Employees had to park two miles from the fairgrounds before walking, because that’s how much parking was taken up, or how expensive it was. I didn’t see anything really interesting there, got to learn how to be on my feet in the same exact spot for eight hours straight, and overall just kinda stood around and looked for people who were doing things wrong. Some days it was warm, some days it was cold. I liked being the go-to guy for the higher ups to see anything that was going on if they weren’t going to go see themselves. I especially liked feeling like a team on those really expensive radio sets they have. Those things were so cool.
There were a lot of things that just straight-up took away from the experience, though. My co-workers either gossiped about each other or didn’t do their damn jobs. At the bar where I slapped wristbands on people and checked ID’s, there were two entrances. I was put at the main entrance, and a woman who also worked for my company got the other. About two hours into the shift, she starts complaining that she has to go to the bathroom. Then she just up and leaves her post. Anyone could have walked in or out with alcohol, and spread it around to anyone out in the larger fairgrounds. That’s something like out number one priority of stopping happening. Big no no.
There were a lot of people like that, who either thought it would be an easy gig or that they didn’t give a shit about what happened. It definitely was the main take away from the experience that there were seldom people who did their job.
For a month, I was at the fairgrounds. Not a lot happened. After that, however, they asked me how I’d like the idea of staying on and being stationed somewhere else once the fair ended. At first, the idea didn’t sound so great, but I still needed tuition money. I went through more training. Cut my hair. I got the professional look to go with the quite-serious job. My boss highly recommended me for the spot, citing my fantastic ability to do my job and my willingness to operate as a leader and by myself.
Then I was put on as Campus Safety at Green River College. Given instructions, a new uniform, and a time to be there. I showed up, trimmed up, and was ready to go as a professional, and was subsequently mocked slightly. “Look at this guy,” was something I heard one of my leads there say, on my first day. This would continue throughout the first week or so, with me looking like I cared with my tucked in shirt and proper gear belt.
Green River College is a sprawling place full of three-story college buildings, with nature trails nearby, and an on-campus housing complex in one corner. There were three or four of us there walking on foot from day to day, though we also offered a sort of shuttle service for the students getting to and from places in the city.
In training it was described to me that there wasn’t much to do besides lock doors when campus was all closed up. I worked swing shift, and that’s when I had to go around to every door in every building on campus and make sure that it was all locked up.
I had a pair of leads, one I’ll call Asstart and another I will refer to as Laid-Back Jones. Asstart was a fucking moron. He told me he didn’t care what I did as long as I listened and responded to radio calls. Said I could even do homework on the job, and he wouldn’t mind. Asstart also talked about how much he liked cars and tits every day, as if everyone had forgotten the previous days lessons. He had a speed camera monitoring device on the dashboard of his car which told him when he had to go the speed limit for fear of getting ticketed. I had also asked him a couple of times what he wanted to do, and he never had an answer like “Oh, yeah, I want to go to school,” or “I’m gonna go to New York”. Asstart was a good old country boy, who lived 40 miles south of the college, in the sticks, and had nothing to do with his life. I could say that Asstart had no ambition.
Laid-Back Jones was in a similar situation to me, however. Going to school, using this job to transition, and had milked out quite a bit of good money out of becoming a lead and staying at Green River for a while. He and Asstart would routinely go patrol together, and it was clear to me that although they had their inside jokes, Jones didn’t care for Asstart outside of the workplace.
Most daunting, however, was the tone of campus when that darkness fell. I might arrive at 3 or 5 in the afternoon, and what followed was nearly abandonment personified. The place got so creepy, and all the buildings so tower-like. I was equipped with a flashlight and radio, but that didn’t stop my senses get the better of me when all was perfectly quiet.
I explored to pass the time. Just roving around the empty, dark buildings waiting to be called on the radio to unlock a door for someone, or escort someone out to their car because they felt unsafe. Funny. I never felt entirely comfortable there, even with not a lot going on.
The nature of the job made me always feel like I was a target. To what, I didn’t know. If you ever play video games, you’d probably know that guards are the first people to get killed for one reason or another. Not that I thought I was going to get shot or something, but it was the very real sense of danger that comes with college kids and that kind of tension as being security at a place where things could very well get bad somehow.
There was an RA in the apartment complex who was investigating a party in one of the rooms. After quiet hours, lots of people from off campus, that kind of thing. So as the RA is trying to shut down the party, one of the people there (big Somalian guy, according to what I’ve heard) hammer fists him. If you’re unfamiliar with this, it’s when you cup your hands around each other and swing them like a hammer. Lot of weight, lot of force. Knocks the RA to the ground, and the poor guy splits his head open on the pavement. He’s paralyzed now. The people ran off, never to be seen again. No consequences, no one accountable. Our guys showed up about a minute later.
The RA had gone against procedure. When something like that happens when we were going to knock on a door or something big is going on, we were supposed to use the buddy system. Call for backup. This RA didn’t. But for the life of me, I wish I could have been there to defend him. No one deserves that kind of thing.
Another story from my time at Green River came from one of the international students. So Green River is supposed to be a big wheel in the international demographic. A lot of the housing goes to them first. Slavics, Asians, all kinds of people. Very educated, and away from home.
One of these kids, a freshman, had been pursuing a girl he liked. Months after starting at Green River and living on campus, he ultimately got rejected. Over the course of a few weeks, he planned his suicide, and one day he walked out into the woods to an overlook with a black powder pistol. He test-fired it at a nearby tree, and when it worked, he turned and shot himself in the head.
I was only allowed to see the pictures of the scene. He was an Asian kid. Younger than me, by the looks of it. I had seen footage of people dying online, there’s plenty of that kind of thing out there, but I had never seen blood so vibrant red. They always talk about how the face looks on the dead, and this person did not looked surprised or happy or indifferent. He looked like he knew exactly what he was doing. It’s sad to think he thought he knew enough about life to end his own.
One call I personally responded to was to a girl who had overdosed on what is called a THC dab; synthetic and dangerous is all you need to know. She was 16 years old and not even a student. She was in a bad way, but she would be fine. We called EMTs and they were on the scene pretty quickly. I wrote my report, they took her to the hospital, and all was calm again. When I volunteered to write the report, Asstart expressed thanks since he wouldn’t have to do any work.
I wandered a lot. With my key card and ring, I could get anyplace in the college. I found the roof of many buildings. Some of which I lacked special gear to clamber around on comfortably. I walked down long, void halls. I held my flashlight close every night and never let go.
When the rain came, it pissed down, soaking through the jackets I got with my uniform. One of those nights, I was patrolling the apartment complex on a friday night from 7:30pm to 3:30am. That was one of the shortest longest nights I’ve ever experienced. I watched students come out of their dorms to smoke, with almost clockwork regularity. The rain pissed down. No much happened after 10pm.
One of the residents invited me in at one point for some college student-made cheesy mashed potatoes. Ended up being a literal potato mashed up with grated cheese all mixed and melted in. I got to learn his story and some of his girlfriend drama, and he was generally very personable. He was one of the nicest residents there who I got to know, but there were others. I’m sure having dinner there should have gotten me fired. He was quick to point out that it was a thing he had done for Asstart many times in the past, which eased my worry about that.
There was another resident who was a big of a tough guy. Among my own circle of friends, we would refer to him as a fuccboi (fuck boy). He wore DC shorts, always had a ball cap, talked like a thug, all the hallmarks. He was pretty chill with me, however. Funny guy, too, and he had apparently befriended past guards. We’ll call him Feelgood.
One night I was patrolling the dorms again, and there were girls loudly singing karaoke in their third story apartment after quiet hours. Like, really loud. Their horrible songs carried long into the night. Before I heard them, I heard someone yell, “WOULD YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU FUCKING WHITE GIRLS?!” It made me chuckle, but I had no idea what was going on yet. There could have been trouble. When I went to investigate, Feelgood was out of his apartment and about staring up at windows trying to determine what room these people were in. I put 2 and 2 together and asked if he was the one that just yelled and he proudly claimed responsibility. It seemed like he ran on his id a lot, but it made for someone quite humorous and unfiltered. I appreciated having that. We ended up sorting out the issue with the RA on duty and things were quiet again.
At the end of my shift, it was commonly 11pm and the campus was empty. We had our Campus Safety office in the main office of the school, which was near the apartments and where I parked my car. However, to get to the radio room to check back in all your gear, you had to walk all the way across campus, about 15 minutes (alone, in the dark), to put your radio and keys back where you got them.
This was easily the most immediately terrifying part of the position. Why, I don’t think I’ll ever know. I like to live on the idea that I enjoy the dark because normally people are afraid of what they cannot see. At that time of the night, I tried to be what someone couldn’t see instead of being afraid. It didn’t work. When I had my radio, I felt powerful. I had friends (relatively speaking). Someone would listen to me and respond if something went wrong at any point.
When I put my radio away, and emerged from that room, I became afraid again. Most pretenses of me being confident in my ability to defend myself adequately were overridden by the strangest fear. Alone and a good long walk away from anything, with only a flashlight and key card to my name. My uniform gave me a small comfort, but I felt that target appear on my back again. What’s the first thing someone is going to do if they want to maliciously enter someplace on campus that I could get to with my keys? That’s what I was thinking the entire time, and it freaked me out.
And it was almost always raining when I came out of that room. Just enough to dampen sound from everywhere else but make my splashing footsteps louder than anything else. I would feel the aches from being on my feet all day at last, and that paranoia would creep up at just the right time. In the cold, in the dark, wet, achy, alone, and very calmly fleeing to my car. I cannot stress enough how much that part of the job got to me. Perhaps it sounds petty to you, but you weren’t there.
When I finally got to my car, all the joy from everything else I might have gotten throughout the day was sapped from that long walk. Every poem I’d ever wanted to write about the smell of Green River or the people I’ve met there or the cool things I had seen had been painted over by that manic walk to my car. Driving home didn’t feel good, it felt like I was defeated. No music ever cheered me up. I was running on total autopilot for those 45 minutes every day.
I’d arrive home, take off my uniform, and just fall into bed. I’d wake up the next day for class, then come back home and put on my uniform again. Back to the grind, reminding myself how special my boss had made me first feel to take this position.
(PDF version: PCS)