A few days ago, I had to drop my sister off at a friend’s house. This friend lived in a gated community within a gated community. That’s right, two gates. Two separate interactions with the guard gate command center to make sure that I wasn’t a threat. I was blown away, mostly because this community was located inside an incredibly safe city to begin with.
Gated communities make sense if you happen to live in the one nice area of an otherwise deplorable city. You have a legitimate reason to wall yourself off if you are surrounded by a bunch of crack houses, home invasion rates are 100 times the national average, and hundreds of kids per year are lost to kidnapping. In that case, get the wealthy people together and figure out a solution. Maybe you have roots in that neighborhood and don’t want to leave. Fine. Build gates until the cows come home.
But having a gated community in a place like Calabasas? Where the streets are lined with botanical garden level greenery? Where Golden Labs outnumber meth labs a bazillion to 0? Where a car with a rust spot causes gawking and finger-pointing? Where the cops get called on 15 year olds for playing basketball in their front yard at 10: 30 PM on a Friday? (Happened to me twice. Someone complained it was a “noise violation.” Come on, it’s Friday night. I tied some earplugs together with a brick and a piece of paper that said “Try these!” and smashed it through my neighbors window. Just kidding.)
The crime rate is absurdly low. (These stats don’t quite jive with that statement, but Calabasas still fairs very well compared to the rest of the country.) I know families who do not even lock their doors. Their front doors. They have been robbed exactly 0 times. My family consistently leaves our garage open all day long. If there is anyone out there dying for an old pair of roller blades, or a second place trophy from a 1999 basketball tournament, they have easy access.
Are we ever burglarized? Of course not. Yet for some ungodly reason this city has like 37 gated communities. Half the places you want to go you end up having to interact with some kind of security professional. And I use that term loosely. Seeing as the residents of these communities value their safety enough to want to live behind a gate, you would think there would be a multi-layered vetting process to choose the most highly qualified guard gate employee. Ideally, you want someone who is quick thinking, efficient, and able to sniff out a potential troublemaker.
I have dealt with enough of these people to know efficiency and convenience are not the name of the game. Nor, somehow, is safety. None of it makes much sense.
To help further understand the people who are trusted to keep the riff raff on the proper side of the gates, I am going to discuss the 6 most common types of guards.
1. The Grandpa
I will start with one of the least offensive archetypes. The Grandpa might be a half step slow and hard of hearing, but he has a heart of gold. He will always ask how your day is going, and what you are going to be up to at your friend’s house. He is cheerful, polite and downright generous with how easily he lets people into the gate. For The Grandpa, having someone to chat with for a few minutes is far more important than wondering what is up with the 3 shady looking guys in the backseat.
(Which begs the question, how is there Pentagon level security for the driver, but absolutely no attention is paid to the passengers? You could have an SUV full of people in stocking masks and black turtlenecks, but as long as the driver shows proper ID there are no questions asked. These residents want the charade of security, but they don’t appear to truly care all that much. If they really wanted privacy they would have moats, 50 foot walls, machine gun turrets and other badass stuff that would truly act as crime deterrents. And I would have nothing to complain about.)
The downside to The Grandpa comes when he starts demanding a little too much ear time. One Grandpa who worked at a gate I frequented during high school wanted to talk endlessly about whatever was on his mind. Politics, his family and sports were all fair game. I would listen for as long as I could tolerate. We’re talking about a 75-year-old who sits in a 8 x 10 box all day. I could throw him a bone.
But I couldn’t chat forever. Eventually I would end up slowly pulling forward, until I was basically touching the gate and yelling back my answers, hoping he would get the point and let me inside.
He would finally catch on, sigh, and let me in. Kind of sad thinking back on it, actually. But what was I supposed to do, talk with him for hours? Interaction with a possibly fascinating, clearly lonely senior citizen held no sway in my high school world. There were video games to be played.
Serpico takes his job very seriously, which in and of itself I can find no fault with. I only get upset when he starts delaying my visits with his pseudo-cop shenanigans. This is usually a mid-20’s guy who has watched one too many Clint Eastwood movies. He wants the power of being a policeman without having to put in any real work. In his mind he is head of security at Fort Knox. He eyes all visitors like they are trying to board a plane to Israel with a PLO flag wrapped around their shoulders.
He does not realize, or care, that he is a glorified Wal-Mart greeter with a collared shirt and a telephone. Any interaction with Serpico quickly becomes exhausting:
Me: “I’m here to see ____”
S: (Glaring) “Are you on the list?”
S: “Last name?”
S: “I don’t see it.”
Me: “Dude, I’ve been here like 4 times this week.”
S: “I said I don’t see it. Give me your license, passport, birth certificate, W-2’s, medical records and 3 references. Family doesn’t count.”
Me: “Here’s my license.”
S: “I’m gonna need you to step out of the car, sir.”
Me: “Uhh, what?”
S: “I said step out of the car!”
S: “Fine. Let me call the house. (Picks up phone) “Hello, I have a suspicious character here who calls himself Drew. His license lists him at 5’9, 140, but he is clearly bigger than that. The ID is a fake. He has exhibited behavior consistent with that of the local gang members. Should I call in a SWAT team, or just the regular boys in blue?……. Let him in?!!? What do you mean let him in?! (Slams down phone. Slowly shakes head.) If these people would let me do my job I could clean up this city. One false move, brother, one false move…”
These guys need to take a deep breath, look at the empty space on their uniforms where a badge would be if they were real cops, and keep the line of cars moving.
3. The Nursing Home Escapee
This is a variation on The Grandpa. The main difference is that The Nursing Home Escapee offers none of the Grandpa’s charm while amplifying all of his ancient person challenges. He is typically between the ages of 85 and 130, with wispy gray hair and those weird, old guy skin spots. “Huh?” “What?” and “Say that again” are the main phrases in the Nursing Home Escapee’s arsenal. He is, of course, maddeningly slow. The process of getting out of the booth and writing down your license plate number could be a 5 minute ordeal.
There are a couple of thoughts going through your head as this feeble man struggles to hold up his clipboard and scribble down your information. First off, this guy is pretty much the antithesis of a “guard.” There would be absolutely nothing he could do if I wanted to forcibly remove him from the booth, open up the gate, and tell my criminal friends there was an all you can B&E buffet going on.
Second, how on earth are there any young people out there complaining that they can’t find work? This man holds down a job even though he is arthritic, riddled with cataracts, and remembers eating shoes in the great depression. If he can find work, I am sure most able-bodied young people can do the same.
4. The Guy on Vacation
This is usually a 25-40 year old. As with the older gentlemen, he is slow and hard to deal with, but not because of his age. His inefficiencies are due to the fact that he sees no problem with spending large amounts of time simply not on duty.
You see, some of the guard gates in really expensive areas have a lot going on. They are equipped with TV’s, bathrooms, comfy chairs, coffee makers, and stocked with books and magazines. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them had showers. I have pulled up to a community, wondered which resident decided to build their house right outside the gate, then realized that the mini-mansion I was looking at was actually the guard booth.
So it’s no surprise to drive up to the gate and look in at an empty room. Then you wait. And wait. And wait. Maybe you give a cautious “hello?” cause it’s not like there is a meat counter-esque bell to ring. Just as you are about to give up, a droopy eyed guard will come sauntering out of god knows what back room. There are no apologies, and there is definitely no hustle. You are just another person breaking up this guys afternoon relaxation.
I am too cynical to believe these people are on legitimate bathroom breaks. I bet when there’s a lull these guys grab a Sports Illustrated and a cappuccino, head to the john, and close the door. As far as they are concerned, anyone who lives in the community can get in via the sensor on their car, and any visitor can wait 5 minutes. It’s a smart move, because what can you really say to that guy? Are you going to accuse him of faking his bathroom needs? There is nothing you can do except sit there. Damn him.
5.The English Language Challenged
Every now and then you will come upon a guard whose lack of basic English is downright astonishing. Scenes like this play out:
Me: “Hi, Drew Housman going to the Smiths.”
Drew: “Wait, you mean where? The Smiths.”
ELC: “Cahn yoo spehll thaught?”
Drew: “S. M. I….”
ELC: “Slowar puh-leeze.”
Drew: (backs out, purposefully drives off cliff)
When you really think about it, this person’s lack of language skills is more impressive than annoying. It relates to my earlier point about people complaining about the job market. This guy holds down a post where you have to talk to people ALL DAY, yet he speaks English like he is a quarter of the way through his first Rosetta Stone course. Gotta hand it to him for pulling that off. There are no excuses, people.
6. The Yes Man
I’ll end on a positive note by talking about the best kind of security employee. The Yes Man is young, energetic and no-nonsense. He gets that he is not there to make friends, but to open up the gate as quickly as possible. Conversations are short and to the point. He actually gives off the vibe that he is trying to make things easier for you.
I saw a great example of this kind of guy recently. I was pulling up to a gate and I noticed that the guard was getting something out of his car. The car was a good 20 yards from the security shack. I was fully prepared to wait while this Guy on Vacation type rooted around in his vehicle for a while, made a phone call, and then sauntered back to the booth smoking a cigarette.
What I did not expect was for the guard to see my approaching car, slam his door, and break into a bat-out-of-hell sprint to get back to the booth. I’m talking arms pumping and a determined look on his face. He arrived, barely even breathing hard, to greet me as I rolled up. If he had a tip jar I might have given my first tip that wasn’t forced out of me by societal norms. To top it off he let me in without making me jump through any hoops. He is the gold standard of guard gate men. I think we can improve a lot of lives, and cut a lot of stress, by having more Yes Men types in the security booths.
I also think it would be a good idea to create a “Good Samaritan” list. It’s like the opposite of registering as a sex offender. If you have made over 500 trips in and out of gated communities without ever taking up residence in an under construction house, harassing a kid on his way to polo practice, burning down a park, or stealing a Shetland Terrier, you make the list. The reward is lifetime access to the gated communities in your neighborhood.
Let’s make it happen. Because gated communities are basically just another status symbol. They do not necessarily reduce crime. They do make it annoying for anyone outside your community to visit you. And the whole world should change so that I am less annoyed. Just kidding. Sort of.
Also, I apologize in advance if this blog jinxes the whole city and we are hit with a mega crime wave. Please let me hide behind your gates if this occurs.