I was summoned to Wieden+Kennedy yesterday. Wieden+Kennedy is Portland's premier advertising agency. They are most famous for the Nike "Just Do It" campaign. They needed a custom box. The sales call was like visiting another dimension.
As I approached Wieden+Kennedy's headquarters — a renovated warehouse occupying one of the Brewery Blocks, at the edge of Portland's now-trendy Pearl District — I began to take stock of the hipsters: the young woman in a purple dress who was riding an old-fashioned bicycle; the man in dark glasses and a beret who was taping a "Free — take it" sign to a massive bank safe; the svelte blonde who was coolly smoking a cigarette on the Wieden+Kennedy steps, her bare midriff taut and creamy.
As much as I admired the hipsters, I was more awed by the entrance to the building: two metal doors that towered two full stories. At first, it seemed impossible that these could actually be doors. Inside, one wall was filled by black-and-white portraits (employees? customers? merely ads?). On the other side of the entrance was a large kiosk — for what purpose? no-one was there — with shiny white Macintosh computers.
I walked up the stairs to the reception desk and announced my presence. While I waited for my contact to arrive, I sat on one of three sleek pieces of furniture. I eavesdropped on a conversation taking place on the other side of the wall. (The wall had gaps. Its construction was similar to staggered lincoln logs, so that it was possible for a person in the waiting area to watch these hip young advertising geniuses at work.) The conversation seemed quick and witty, almost film-like. The employees that I could see wore casually elegant clothes: they were clean and polished.
My contact arrived. I voiced my awe at the building, so she showed me more of the place: the employee library (every magazine in which they've ever placed an ad, video of every commercial they've ever produced, a vast CD library so they have quick access to song snippets when producing new advertisements), the employee fitness rooms (a basketball court and a weight room, from which a woman on a treadmill smiled and waved at my contact), the state-of-the-art conference center ("It's got all the latest technology."), the magnificent open pit at the center of the building (actually a series of wide descending stairs). "It's really earthquake proofing," she told me. "It's really beautiful," I thought.
I tried to picture myself working at Wieden+Kennedy. What would I do? Who would I be?
My meeting was with my contact and three other people: two hip and beautiful young women, and one hip and beautiful young man. I wondered if "hip and beautiful" were a job requirement. The meeting was quick and easy, and I was surprised by how effortlessly I joined the witty, casual banter. These people were cool. For a moment, I was cool. I felt as if this place had somehow elevated me.
After the meeting, my contact showed me more of the building. She told me some of the company's history. I told her how one of my high school classes (a journalism class perhaps?) had visited Wieden+Kennedy, though at the time it had been just a small business of little note. (This was before the days of "Just do it.") My contact told me how the company had renovated this building, attempting to preserve certain historic aspects of the architecture while at the same time modernizing it into usable office space.
As I listened, I felt transported. I was not me. I was somebody else: somebody young, hip, and beautiful.
"Look there," said my contact, as she showed me to the door. "That's our giant beaver." And the beaver in question was, indeed, giant. He stood at least twelve feet high, possibly sixteen. "A guy built that beaver out of plywood layers and gave it to us. We love that beaver."
"He seems interested in that wall of photographs," I said. "Look how he scrutinizes them. Maybe he's looking for somebody in particular." My contact laughed. I was witty and hip. I had absorbed it from the building. This place was a nexus of youth, hipness, wit, and beauty. I wanted to stay.
I returned to my car a half hour after the meter had expired. No ticket. I was too hip and witty for a ticket. I sat down to make a phone call. As I was chatting, a hip young parking enforcement officer biked up to me. She hesitated a moment, as if considering whether to issue a citation, but my aura of hip coolness dissuaded her. With a lingering backward glance, she coasted down the block in search of other violators, violators who were not as cool, young, and beautiful as me.
Then I drove back to Custom Box and faced my reality. And my reality if great, really. I have a fine job in a pastoral environment. I have a fantastic wife. It's a wonderful life, and I know it.
Still, I keep thinking about that magical visit to Wieden+Kennedy.
What would it be like to be young and hip and witty and beautiful? What would it take to work there? What would I do? Who would I be? Where would I live? Couldn't it be possible I could live two parallel lives at once, both wonderful, but both completely different?
Sometimes it's fun to think so.
On this day at foldedspace.org
2004 — House Update: Furniture! After six weeks, you'd think we'd be wholly moved-in to our new place. Well, we're not. But we're getting close.