Brianstorms  >  Various Articles  >  The English Bull Terrier Visits Microsoft

The English Bull Terrier Visits Microsoft
by Brian Dear

Written in 1998 at the height of the Dept. of Justice legal wrangle with Microsoft Corp.

We headed over to Microsoft this gray October morning, intent on walking a couple miles through the streets and parking lots and paths and sidewalks and fields of the Microsoft corporate campus.

"Campus" is an inaccurate description, despite Microsoft's own use of the word. At least, when I think "campus" I picture a sprawling college or university property with lots of old academic buildings, paths, quads, a few gentle rolling hills and twisty lanes, lots of open spaces, terrible parking conditions, and throngs of busy people, mostly young, everywhere. A vibrant, living community.

At Microsoft, I don't get the sense of that kind of community. To be fair, it's a Saturday, and Microsoft is a business, not a school. (Parking conditions are superb.)

The countless video surveillance cameras, which sit atop the corners of many of the buildings like high-tech gargoyles, sure are disconcerting. [I kept imagining the nerve center of Microsoft's security forces, a dark, stuffy room no doubt, with countless closed-circuit TV monitors providing instant coverage of every square foot of the campus... and me and my English Bull Terrier, going from one TV to the next, to the next, to the next....]

There's something so lifeless about Microsoft's architecture. There's no passion, no inspiration, no exaltation.

The campus is more like an office park whose master plan was drawn for the convenience of cars rather than people. It's a nondescript place, with nondescript buildings possessing a purely, strictly, functional architecture. Many of the newer buildings are designed with these large square windows, each representing one office room, each holding one office worker (or maybe two). There's very little asymmetry or variety to these buildings, just large square on top of and next to and under large square. Why, the pattern of sameness makes Mondrian's work look positively Paisely in comparison. I kept thinking, had Warhol ever visited the Microsoft campus, he'd have painted the repetitive square office windows, each with Microsoft workers sitting at their identical desks with their identical monitors and their identical lamps and their identical shelves, instead of repetitve Campbell Soup cans.

I can see the 15- and 17-inch monitors and desks and chairs and shelves and not much else, inside window after window after window. If I were the architect, I would have made the windows hexagonal shaped. After all, the company is not unlike a huge hive of worker bees, all in service to the mother of all queen bees, Bill Gates.

Microsoft's office park is like a huge, sprawling website that seems to be permanently under construction. New buildings going up all over; older buildings being renovated; sidewalks closed; "Prepare to Stop" and "Construction Area" signs alongside the streets everywhere. Huge construction cranes, with crews busily working even on Saturdays. Lots of "THINK SAFETY, THEN ACT" signs along with even more "NOT HIRING" signs attached to the temporary chain link fences surrounding the construction sites. The sound of pounding hammers, banging steel, and various diesel engines mix with the random yells of workers calling to other workers mixed with the whine of wood saws. In the background I can hear the not-so-distant whoosh of traffic from the 520 freeway and busy streets that surround the campus.

I get the feeling that the Microsoft campus was intentionally designed with buildings far apart, and lots of streets and side streets --- so if and when they move, or outgrow it, or, perhaps, go out of business, or, perhaps, get chopped up Baby-Bell style, they can leave and multiple companies can settle in and call the corporate park home. I wonder how long it will be until that happens. The buildings have that destiny written all over them. That and Ozymandias' name.

To Jesse, the English Bull Terrier, this is new territory. He didn't seem that pleased with today's walk-site selection, but then he doesn't have much say in the matter. I was curious to see where he might choose to poop, as well as peep. Would he find a spot with some symbolic meaning, or significant location? Or would he just go when he needed to go? It was going to be interesting finding out. For some reason I kind of relished the idea of driving across town, going out of my way, all the way over to Microsoft's office complex, just to let my dog do his business on said complex.

We got out of the car and headed east, along a street both sides of which had major building construction going on. Indeed, the construction crews noticed Jesse right away, and worker after worker would nudge or otherwise grab another worker's attention and point out "Spuds Mackenzie" coming down the street. "Dude, seriously nice dog," one said. "The Budweiser dog! He's right here! Right next to me as I speak!" another said, standing over a manhole and speaking down to the man who'd climbed down below.

I've had this English Bull Terrier for three-and-a-half years, and have learned to cope with the cries, murmurs, excited cheers, exclamations, and other forms of "Spuds" utterance. I'm fascinated with the fact that my dog triggers such an instant, seemingly involuntary response from Americans brought up on television and other forms of advertising. Why, I wouldn't be surprised if half of these people don't rush home and crack open a cold can of Bud after seeing my English Bull Terrier. The degree to which this particular advertising icon is permanently etched into the mind of America never stops fascinating me.

On some streets, the leaves of the trees were still afire, a yellow and orange color that I find so magnificent wherever I see it. On others, the deep reds of the leaves had begun to fade, their splendor already spent.

Jesse didn't seem to particularly care or notice, but was in one of his pulling moods, a most unpleasant behavior where the only way he seems to be able to communicate his displeasure at being where he happens to be at the moment is by pulling hard on the leash, walking way ahead of his master in pure alpha-dog boldness, as if to say, "C'mon let's get out of here right now." The only thing I've found to combat this kind of behavior is to insist on him "heeling" and if that doesn't work, then I stop, turn, and begin walking the other direction, saying, in a language even a thick-as-a-brick English Bull Terrier can understand, "I'm in charge, and I say we go THIS way." And after a few steps, stopping, turning around, and heading the original direction again.

Of course, doing this repeatedly means it takes a while to get anywhere. And Jesse's poor neck gets raw from the ever-tightening choke chain.

We headed down one wide, gently curving street (appropriately named Microsoft Way [Oh, what Guy Kawasaki might have to say about THAT]) and came up to a 4-way-stop intersection where on two corners of the intersection were triple flag poles. One set had the US Flag, the State of Washington flag (which from afar reminds me of the Presidential Seal but then as you get closer you see it's not an eagle but it's the head of George Washington), and the third flag has a Microsoft logo on it and a hugely-lettered product logo: "Microsoft Visual Studio 5.0". Uh huh. Ok.

On the other side of the street, we find ourselves standing at the base of the other three flag poles. These three flags are: another US flag, another State of Washington Flag, and another Microsoft-related flag, this one mainly blue, with white letters spelling out words, each word being a little bit different in font size: "Where to you want to go today?". The blue background of the flag is faded, almost a pastel, as if it's been bleached by the sun, and looking up into the flag, on this gray sunless October day, I noticed the fabric of the flag was thin and slightly transparent, and then it hit me: Saving Private Ryan. If you recall how that movie opens and ends, with the pale, sickly US flag fluttering quietly, liquid-like, in the wind -- well, this was the same thing. Only its huge letters said: "Where do you want to go today?"

As we made our way through the intersection, cars would approach, and the drivers would see the English Bull Terrier and smile. I always like how my walking my dog makes people smile.

We continued down Microsoft Way, alongside a large athletic field, about the size of three or four football fields, and indeed, one soccer game (players in long black socks and looking mostly European), and several flag football games going strong (each team in white or green uniforms, all of which are nice and clean and seemingly brand-new). I was reminded of college intramural games, but again, something was different. Everybody has neatly trimmed hair. No longairs on this campus.

None of the buildings on Microsoft's campus are tall. Again, the corporate office park feeling: mostly two or three, sometimes four storeys, almost never more. The whole physical plant is laid out for cars and other vehicles. One gets the feeling that roads come first, and then they stick the buildings here and there.

A nontrivial number of BMW Z3's and Mazda Miata's zip by as we walk down Mirosoft Way. Many more BMW's and Porches in the parking lot than, say, Mercedes. One could almost tell the corporate-ladder-status of employees by checking the parking lots of the various buildings -- at most, they were full of your basic modest Japanese cars, Honda Civics, Accords, Toyotas, not many SUV's. Other parking lots had black BMW 730i's, Porsche Boxsters, Turbo Carreras, and lots of Z3's. I noticed oftentimes, drivers would approach an intersection, 4-way stop intersections usually, and POWERGLIDE right through the intersection, never stopping, whizzing through, then down the street, and then another POWERGLIDE into a parking lot, and disappearing in a whoosh, down into a parking garage underneath a building. Wm. Gates Offensive Driving School graduates, no doubt.

At Building 10, I noticed a huge white truck parked right at the top of the long circular driveway. Right at the entrance to the lobby of the building. The truck's engine was running, and a fan-like sound was whoooooshing and humming. The sides of the truck were painted with a logo with huge letters: SHRED-IT.

There's shredding going on at Microsoft.

Oh to be a fly on the wall inside Building 10 today.

I wonder what the Justice Department would think.

We made it to the "original", the "old" Microsoft campus, buildings 1 through 8. These are the ones you see photographed in circa-1980's articles about Microsoft. Two-story nondescript buildings, mostly (greenish) glass exteriors, X-shaped if seen from an airplane. But the buildings are for the most part nestled among tall pine trees, and the effect is rather cozy. I bet these buildings are still the choice ones for employees.

And then, finally, the English Bull Terrier finds his spot. Building 1. He poops. A big magnificent, multiturdinal poop. In the ivy outside Building One. Surely the building that Gates worked in, at least in the 80's. Building One. So perfect. When he was done, he dug his four paws into the ground and began vigorously wiping them, as if he were vigorously skating but keeping in place, the effect of which was to dig up clumps of dirt and grass and ivy and debris and cause said clumps to fly five feet into the air behind him. He then, finished, looked up to me, smiled, and indicated that he wouldn't pull anymore, and that we could proceed, his business completed.

We meandered through more streets and made our way past Building 8, made famous recently by the fact that it was here, in a conference room, this past August that Mr. Gates took his marathon videotaped depositions, soon to be streamed across the Internet just like the Other Bill's testimony was recently.

Across from Building 8, we found ourselves back on the other side of the athletic fields, the flag football game still going strong. From a distance I noticed a chubby woman standing at the sidelines, seeing us approaching, and smiling at my English Bull Terrier. As we approached closer, I saw her leaving the football game and walking in a direction that would intersect with our path. Jesse wagged his tail and we stopped as she came up to us.

"Excuse me," she said, smiling, looking at the dog.

"I couldn't help but ask if you've ever seen the movie BAXTER?" She even pronounced it correctly: BAHK-STEHRRRRRR, in ze gritty Frenchman's voice.

"Sure!" I said. "It's one of the reasons we bought the dog in the first place. We fell in love with bull terriers because of that movie, even though it had a horrible ending."

"Well your dog reminds me of BAXTER," she continued, then mimicking the evil-French-accented voice of BAXTER, the voice which narrated the movie and was supposed to represent the thoughts of the dog himself, coping with a variety of weird human owners, and struggling with a dark memory that haunts the poor animal throughout the movie.

"I own the movie poster, I have it framed at home," I offered.

She smiled and offered nothing in return. "Well, I just wanted to say hello to your dog," and then she turned and went back to the football game.

In the three-and-a-half years I have owned this English Bull Terrier, in the one-thousand-plus miles I have walked him and he has walked me, in the rain and snow and sunhine, over hill and dale, up a street and down a street, stopping for countless passersby and myriad calls of "Spud" and "Spuds" and "There's Spuds Mackenzie" and "yo, there's the Bud dog" and "remember the beer commercial? look over there!" and so on, despite all of that, and in all this time and in all these many miles of dog walks, in all our millions of encounters with other people, never, EVER, has anyone mentioned the movie BAXTER.

This was a first.

This is a movie whose plot concerns the trials and tribulations of a certain English Bull Terrier who, over a period of years, moves from one owner to another, finally, to a family whose nasrty eight-year-old boy who's a Nazi fanatic, a future fascist... The movie's tone turns very nasty and dark towards the end, and is shocking and cruel and upsetting and leaves a bad aftertaste.

Somehow, somehow, it seemed appropriate and not surprising at all that it would be a Microsoft person who would know about BAXTER.


We made it back to the car, an hour's walk it turns out, both of us feeling refreshed, and drove home.


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Copyright 2002 Brian L. Dear. brianstorms is a trademark of Birdrock Ventures.