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BASE Jumping: Articles: Stories: Drunk Scouting

Drunk Scouting

by Walt Appel

This is an original article belonging to the author. It has not been edited by Basejumper in any way.

“Hey Walt, I found a really laid-back building that I think I can jump easy as shit! Wanna come scout it out with me?!!!”

It was a good friend of mine, whom I’ll call “Mr. 460?, who had developed (and still has) quite an addiction to BASE jumping. He is a very smart, experienced, very-active BASE jumper. So what was he doing calling me? That, as it turns out, is a very good question.

Among people who use parachutes for fun, I’d have to say that BASE jumpers are the wiliest, most cunning of the breed, and among BASE jumpers, people who enjoy jumping buildings long after construction is finished and they have become fully occupied are cunning indeed. There are some really smart BASE jumpers around. I never was one, though.

I have pretty much retired from BASE, but what kept me alive, intact, and out of jail was my intuitive ability to recognize who the smart people are, and learn what they do. That’s exacty what I did and I used that knowledge to write a series of articles on BASE jumping, which I posted on the old rec.skydiving newsgroup. Many years later, they are still circulating out there in one form or another and virtually everything in those articles is still considered to be “best practice” even today.

When I met Mr. 460, he was a fledgling BASE jumper and one of the true legends of the sport, “Dead” Steve Morrell, had taken him under his wing to teach him about the sport. I was a friend of Steve’s and it was on one of Steve’s BASE trips that I met Mr. 460. Later on, 460 would move to the city where I lived and turn into a BASE jumping fiend who would jump everything in sight. Along the way, I shared with 460 everything I knew about BASE. It didn’t take him long to become an outstanding BASE jumper in his own right.

It was during this time he had found the building that had gotten him so excited. What he didn’t know when he called was that I had already had a few beers and was catching a great buzz. That’s not a good thing when scouting a BASE site. I wasn’t about to let common sense deter me from some fun on that night, though!

It was a warm summer night and 460 and I were going to a tall office building. One of the primary rules for scouting a potential BASE site is to blend in; the idea is to look like you belong there and not stand out. You don’t want to be noticed. Not at all!

So how does one “blend in”? Most of it is simply how you dress. If you are scouting a building under construction, you dress like a construction worker. For an occupied building, you can dress like a maintenance guy, office worker, or whatever. We, and I use the term “we” very loosely in this case, were going to dress like office workers.

“Shit, Walt, how about putting on a shirt that isn’t so fucking bright?!!!”. By the time 460 had reached my place I was dressed in a pair of Dockers and a red polo shirt. Not just any shade of red. It took the concept of red to a whole new level. Imagine the brightest, loudest, whoriest-looking shade of red lipstick you have ever seen. Now turn the intensity way up. That is the shade of red shirt I was wearing.

“Don’t worry about it”, I said. “I work in an office building every day and dress like this all the time at work. It will be no problem. Trust me!!!” (Famous last words!)

We ran into a bit of a snag before leaving, though. While BASE jumpers are not inherently criminals, there is an inherent need for most BASE jumpers to learn some criminal skills—particularly those who jump occupied buildings. Building security personnel and systems have gotten quite sophisticated and if you want to avoid detection and possibly arrest, you have to be at least as sophisticated in your approach to scouting a bulding.

Scouting a building can require some “tools of the trade”. In this case, I wanted to take a scanner so I could scan for and find the building security department’s radio frequencies. I also wanted to take a lockpick set in case the door to the roof was locked. The scanner was way bigger than the average pocket could accomodate and the lockpick set was not much smaller. James Bond would have been proud of that lockpick set!

In my alcohol-soaked mind, the solution was obvious. I would wear a trench coat that had pockets big enough to hold the scanner and picks.

Picture this for a moment. It is a warm summer night with not a cloud in the sky and certainly no rain in the forecast. I was wearing a the loudest red shirt in history and a trench coat, and I was going to walk into an office building where I had no reason to be. This means walking right past security and engaging in activities where getting noticed is a really, really bad thing.

I was all set to make the short list of nominees for “Dumbass of the Year”.

So anyway, I somehow got 460 to go along with my dumbass plan and we headed off to the building. He parked in the parking lot right in front in case we had to make a really fast escape. Then we walked in, exuding the kind of confidence that comes from either really knowing what you are doing or from having one beer to many.

We got in the stairway and headed for the top. Once there, we examined the door very carefully for any signs of intrusion detection, like magnetic alarm contacts. None were visible.

“Ok [460]”, I said, “I don’t see any magnetic contacts, but that does NOT mean there aren’t any. They can be flush-mounted in the door and doorframe and can also be mounted outside. I’m going to try to open the door. If it is unlocked and we get it open, the first thing we need to do is listen for any kind of alarm sound and look for any type of magnetic contacts that might be part of an alarm system. If there is an alarm sound or if there are any contacts, we’re still Ok because it will take the security people a while to get here. I’m thinking we will have at most, one minute to scope out the launch point and then get the hell out of here. Are you ready?”

“Yeah, let’s do it!”

The door opened with no problem. There was no alarm sound, but there were magnetic contacts on the outside.

“Fuck man, there’s an alarm system. Let’s check out the exit point and get the fuck out of here!”

460 was starting to think that this situation was developing some real potential for going downhill in a hurry. I casually walked over to the exit point and was absolutely floored by what I saw. This was by far and away the easiest exit point I had seen. Usually the exit point is on a retaining wall at least a few feet high. Not this one, though. It was an easy step up and was really wide. Man, this was deluxe! I stood there enjoying the view from that magnificent exit point and wishing like hell we had our gear with us. Jumping this would be a real piece of cake!

460 was starting to get concerned and pointed out to me that the clock was ticking.

“Shit man, we’ve got at least another 20 seconds! Dude, this exit point rocks!”

Anyway, I finally came around and decided we had better get out of there. We went back in the stairway and started hauling ass down the stairs, looking at the signs on the doors leading into the stairway. “Reentry This Level” was the magic phrase we were looking for, and we found it quite often. Unfortunately, every fucking one of those doors was locked!!!

Yep, this situation was starting to go downhill in a hurry.

We started trying the door on every floor to see if we could get out of the stairway. After 10 or 20 tries, we finally found one and got off on that floor. We immediately realized that this floor was not intended for public access at all. There was no receptionist’s area or anything like that. It was nothing but desks and cubicles.

“Let’s get the fuck out of here!”

We went back to the stairs and had gone down only a flight or two when a security guy came out the door we had just been through.

“Can I help you?”, he asked.

460 started explaining to him that we were just “looking for a way back in” and the guy responded by asking what floor we wanted to get to.

As I started hauling ass down the stairs, I was kind of impressed that 460 was actually managing to come up with some sort of bullshit answer for the guy. It didn’t matter, though, because the mere fact that I was hauling ass down the stairs confirmed every single suspicion the security guy might have had about us. 460 started hauling ass right behind me.

We ran like hell down those stairs until we figured we had some sort of decent lead on the security guy, then we started trying doors again and finally found one. This floor looked FAR friendlier than the one we had been on earlier, but it didn’t matter. We were in deep shit.

We found the restroom and went in there to talk about what we were going to do. It had become obvious to us by that point that we needed to split up. Security was going to be looking for two guys. 460 suggested that we might also want to trade clothes. I didn’t think that would do much good and, as it would turn out, 460 later would have reason to be truly grateful that we had not swapped clothes. The plan was for one of us to go to the elevator, take it directly down the the first floor and go to the car. The remaining guy would wait ten minutes and do the same thing.

460 won the coin toss and decided to go first.

“See ya’”

“Good luck, dude.”

Under most circumstances, ten minutes is not a very long time. Under these circumstances, though, time seemed to stand still. I spent the time finding a place to stash my “tools of the trade” because I did not want to have them on me when I was trying to get out of the building. I figured I could always retrieve them at a later time since this was much more of a publicly-accessible floor.

As I would find out later, 460 had quite an encounter on his way out. Here is what he experienced while I was killing off ten very long minutes.

He got in the elevator and unfortunately it wasn’t the empty elevator he had been hoping for. It wasn’t even his second choice of being an elevator with one or two office workers on it. Nope, not at all. The elevator was occupied by a tall, huge black security guard who looked like he was not in a very good mood. Could life get any worse?

In a word, “yes”!

As they were going on the longest elevator ride of 460's life, the security guard gave him a stern look and asked, “You seen a guy wearing a red shirt?”.

“Why no sir, I haven’t”

[long thick silence and pure tension filled the rest of the elevator ride]

460 is a nice guy. He’s an easy-going guy. You don’t want to get him backed into a corner, though, because he can get a bit excited. He got off the elevator, came around the corner and saw in the lobby what could only be described as a CODE RED SECURITY ALERT!!!! He was about a hundred feet from the door and it looked like he might have to “run the gauntlet” to get out of there. Mentally, he was ready for the fight of his life.

As he briskly walked toward the front door, he was prepared for an onrush of security guards that would scare the hell out of any defensive line the National Football League had to offer. It’s not paranoia when they really are out to get you.

Thankfully, they just let him go. In fact, the security guy we saw in the stairway opened the door for him! 460 walked to his car and got the hell out of there.

Back to my part of the “ten minutes o’ pure fun”.

I had hidden my tools of the trade, took a couple of deep breaths, and punched the down button at the elevator. My heart was pounding hard and I was sweating. This might get ugly.

When the elevator arrived, it was empty and I went down to the first floor. As I rounded the corner and I saw what looked like a security guard convention!!! Holy shit!!! There was only one thing to do—walk through there like I owned the fucking place!

I walked toward the front door and, as I got closer, I saw several security guards surrounding someone who was sitting on a bench. “Fuck, they got [460]!!! Shit!!!!”, I thought. I kept walking and saw that no, it was not 460. I was almost to that glorious front door that I had been fantasizing about!

Just before I reached the door, it opened. In fact, it was opened by the security guy from the stairwell. What do you say in a situation like that?

I turned to the same place I have turned to for many years for divine inspiration during a time of personal crisis. Television. Do you remember those old Grey Poupon TV ads where one limousine pulls next to another, the window rolls down on one, and the guys says, “Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?”. Yep, that’s what I said. I just left out the “do you have any Grey Poupon” part.

As I walked past Mr. Security Guy, I said, in my best upper-crust voice, “Pardon meeeeeeeeeeee”.

Like I’ve said many times before, just like Forrest Gump, I am not a smart man.

It didn’t seem to matter in this case, though. I walked out the door and saw no sign of the car or 460. I had no doubt he had stepped into some really deep shit and had to get out of there in a real hurry.

As I walked through the parking lot toward the street, a carload of security guys was trailing me by about 20 feet. I crossed the street, went down a street leading into a residential neighborhood, and ducked down the first dark side street that I saw. I needed a place to hide.

The carload of security guys had gone away. I walked down the dark sidewalk and way down toward the end of the block I could see a dark figure in the shadows. Could it be?!!!! As I got closer, I saw that indeed it was. It was 460!!!!

Needless to say, we got the fuck out of there and went for a beer.

In case you’re wondering, he did jump the building. Since I fucked up the scouting trip, I drove getaway. It was in broad daylight during rush hour traffic and although it was a really, really close call, we got away with it.

Submitted by Walt Appel on 2007-06-18 | Last Modified on 2007-07-03

Rating: 12345   Go Login to rate this article.  | Votes: 23 | Comments: 4 | Views: 5727

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4 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

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4 out of 5 stars Haha, that's awesome. How old were you guys?
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5 out of 5 stars Great story Walt! I remember you telling me this in '08 =) will never forget
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5 out of 5 stars You captured the true rush you feel when scouting buildings quite well nice story!
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thats so awesome! i had a similar incident at a local hawaiian hotel in waikiki. tripped the alarm, ran to the exit point only to find a super strong, unsafe tailwind. i fucking had my rig on my back and took the elevator down, and stashed my rig in some bushes before i ran into a bunch of security guards............i so thought i was gonna get arrested, but it turned out to be fine. funny thing is that a friend of mine got arrested on the top of that fucker, so nowadays the security guards go STRAIGHT to the LZ when that alarm gets tripped.........

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