The lights were out, the air conditioning was off and the computers and telephones were down in the law offices of Munger, Tolles & Olson on the 35th floor of the Crocker Center Tuesday morning.
But attorney John B. Frank, garbed in a blue polo shirt and khaki pants, rather than his usual lawyer's suit, was hard at work anyway.
"I have a client in Silver Springs, Md., who I think probably doesn't believe me any more," Frank explained as he labored by smog-filtered daylight in the uncomfortable heat of a nearly deserted office. "A couple of weeks ago we lost power here and the computers crashed. . . . Then last week we had the earthquake. And now this. . . . I feel like the school kid who said to the teacher, 'My dog ate my paper.' "
Indeed, employees at Crocker Center and other downtown Los Angeles high-rise complexes have faced one calamity after another recently, the latest being Tuesday's transformer fire-induced power failure that left several skyscrapers without electricity and its attendant services from about 2 a.m. until 10:30 a.m.
With offices nearly unreachable and with working conditions virtually unbearable for those who braved the stairs or overcrowded auxiliary-powered elevators, most employees, unlike Frank, either went home or milled about for hours in first-floor lobbies or outdoor plazas.
Some of the affected workers appeared bemused by the latest inconvenience. Others seemed fidgety. Some, even irate.
Most, ventured Syd Mooney, a senior account manager for Trust Company of the West, took things in stride as they began to ponder whether bane and affliction are becoming a way of life in Los Angeles.
Take the answer she received, Mooney declared, when--seeing the large crowds outside her South Hope Street office as she arrived at work--she asked a friend what was going on.
"We're just having another pestilence," the woman replied with a shrug.
For Anna Bohn, the power outage was fraught with opportunity--both to socialize and to worry.
"It seems you have to have a catastrophe in order to meet people in Los Angeles," asserted the 32-year-old legal secretary who moved to Los Angeles a month ago from her native Brazil.
But Bohn, standing in Crocker Center lobby, readily added that, while she remains attracted by the city's warm weather, she is also having second thoughts about remaining in town.
"If I'm offered a job in Washington, D.C., tomorrow, I'm gone," she avowed, only half-jokingly. "You feel so insecure here. . . . I'll freeze back there, but at least I won't shake."
The management of Stepps tried to make the best of a bad situation.
Because the kitchen was unable to prepare hot lunches, the yuppie-infested eatery instead offered cold sandwiches on Crocker Center's outdoor plaza, under a makeshift sign reading "Power 'failure' Lunch." Specific entrees included "Quakin chicken salad," "Lights Out Cajun meatloaf" and "Tidal Wave tuna salad."
Dave Herald, executive director for Munger, Tolles, explained that only a skeleton crew remained in his firm's offices because, even with power restored, it would take three additional hours to sufficiently cool the high-rise building--in which windows cannot be opened--and bring the computer system back to normal.
The main activity at Munger, Tolles on Tuesday morning was the taking of a legal deposition in a case where a witness, unaware of the power problem, had flown in from Arizona. The proceeding occurred before shirt-sleeved lawyers in a conference room still not fully repaired from damage incurred in last week's earthquake.
"Please be cautious of the overhead ceiling tiles," read a sign on the door.
"Besides the deposition," said Herald, "it's stone dead in here, which is eerie. Usually, we're a 24-hour firm."
Still, the remaining employees were making the best of the situation, personnel manager Norma McIntosh said as she and a handful of secretaries sipped on cola in the parquet-floored lobby of the law firm to remain cool.
"The mood here," she said, "is cheerful. And warm. And thirsty."