FM Frequency: What I Did Over My Summer Vacation

By Jeff Crane, P.E., LEED® AP
Published in the September 2003 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

I recently had the good fortune of escaping the electronic tether binding me to a second home (in other words, I gave away my facilities emergency pager). Yes indeed, my wife, kids, and I embarked on a nine day vacation adventure—a road trip to the Florida Keys! Now while most couples would consider a 2,000-mile round trip with four-year-old and six-year-old boys a complete nightmare (or maybe even grounds for divorce), a well prepared facility manager is excited by the prospect of peeking into other people’s facilities!

Indulge me for a minute while I reflect on my own childhood vacation memories. My sister and I share this vivid recollection of being seat belted (my mom was a safety freak before it became fashionable) to beanbags on the floor of the family’s green Dodge Tradesman 200 (that’s a 70s era work van for those of you who don’t realize that mini-vans are not real vans). We would enjoy this well intentioned, yet frighteningly unsafe form of transportation during our annual vacation trek from Buffalo, NY to Florida’s sunny beaches. In spite of the joy at the end of the drive, I distinctly recall how miserable it was sitting in those beanbags. For two days straight (in each direction!) we’d do crossword puzzles and try to keep from getting bored out of our skulls. Since we couldn’t see anything, this wasn’t easy.

Anyway, the point of this recollection was my own realization that those boring road trips were NOT what I had in mind for the Crane boys. No way was I going to subject this new generation to beanbags and crossword puzzles!

When we decided to undertake this voyage, I knew my facility management skills could be redirected to make this the best trip in our family’s history. The first priority was to confirm our vehicle would be safe, efficient, and comfortable for my “customers” (sound like familiar themes?)—the pioneers on this lengthy journey. I deemed the vehicle “Crane Compliant” (see my May column to get the inside joke) prior to takeoff. In anticipation of the inevitable “Are we there yet?” chorus from my boys, I decided to morph our Honda CRV into a rolling entertainment center. When my oldest son was two, we made a wonderful investment in an AC/DC television/VCR combo. That little TV, combined with Pokemon and Scooby Doo videos, served us well on previous multi-hour trips to visit family in North Carolina.

But this trip would be different. It would carry us through three states down the Atlantic coast for at least 12 hours in each direction. We had never taken a trip this long, but I was certain that the movies wouldn’t be enough.

For $35, I purchased a DC/AC inverter and wired in our X-Box game console. I also purchased a $7 headphone splitter, so my wife and I wouldn’t have to listen to “Scooby Doo and the Legend of the Vampire” for the 28th time. This was the best $42 investment I ever made.

In spite of my facility management prowess, I was unable to install a portable potty in the cramped CRV (in spite of the absence of beanbags, today’s mini-SUVs can’t hold a candle to the old Dodge Tradesman in terms of space). I simply couldn’t control the number of times we had to stop for breaks.

But I am happy to report that for the entire trip to Florida and back, the kids alternated between watching videos, reading books, and playing video games-all with audio feeds connected through their little headphones. They didn’t fight (much), and my wife and I had a chance to spend several hours talking uninterrupted, something that never happens at home. If anyone asked “Are we there yet?”, it was only because of the countless times we stopped on the Florida turnpike to throw quarters in the toll booths. Mission accomplished!

We arrived in Marathon in the central Keys and pulled up to a 60s era facility—I mean home—that appeared to be a converted duplex. It was a neat, single level stucco house on a canal. The interior looked as if it had been completely renovated, and other than the 8′ ceiling height, it was very modern. The marble floors throughout were a wise IAQ/maintenance selection and provided a great “road course” for the kids to race on their scooters (come on, they were on vacation too!).

As my wife rolled her eyes, I immediately checked the filter in the air conditioner evaporator. It was not up to my standards, but we would only be there for a week. I also checked the appliances, tasted the water, inspected the roof, doors, and windows, and considered paths of egress in case of fire or worse-alligator intrusion!

Out back there was a large patio and deck on the canal. Not exactly “kid proof” (no railings), and the water was about 6′ feet deep, clear, and very inviting. We would have to keep a close watch on the boys. We spent a couple days playing and snorkeling at the beach in Bahia Honda State Park, took a day trip to Key West (where I was born during my dad’s Navy service), and went snorkeling off shore on a gorgeous coral reef. We also spent a couple days escaping from the searing heat by staying indoors, where we played board games, read, and fished behind the house after the sun went down.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I couldn’t have selected a better week to be out. My maintenance technician had to take the same week off, because his wife had their first child on the Monday that kicked off my vacation.

Consequently, our facilities coordinator inherited the emergency pager and got help from a contract engineer who was on site doing some project work. The entire week, a tropical depression managed to settle over Charleston, and they had numerous storms with heavy rain and lightning.

In addition to fielding facilities requests all week by herself, our all-pro coordinator had to deal with several power flickers, annoyed tenants, and even a 30 minute power outage. As I’ve said before, this silly building knows when I’m not here and doesn’t like it (see my column from February 2003). Still, it was great to get away and spend time with the family. I am eternally grateful that I didn’t get a single call from my staff while I was out.

Crane is a mechanical engineer and regional property manager with Childress Klein Properties, a leading real estate developer and property management services provider in the Southeast.