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,
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
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
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
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
"I own the movie poster, I have it framed at home,"
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
We made it back to the car, an hour's walk it turns out,
both of us feeling refreshed, and drove home.