The Night Shift by Wula Dawson '05

Here is a piece we wrote for our first journalism learning cluster Spring of 2002. We were quite lucky we identified two people who have remained deeply connected to the  Aliso Viejo campus community these 19 years later. I am grateful they shared a little bit of their family story and their lives with us.

Link to original piece: The Night Shift

The face of Founders Hall leaves many people awestruck. The columns and copper dome can inspire the same degree of wonder as the Capitol in Washington D.C. The 56,318 square-foot building sits in front of Peace Lake, commanding attention. Visitors are welcome to view the art exhibits and gaze at the domed ceiling. First, however, one’s attention is likely to be drawn to the lobby floor: a brass map of the world set in marble, surrounded by a green and red lotus design. Many respond as strongly to the interior as to the exterior. Armando Dubon does not.

Armando cleans Founders Hall every day from 4 pm to midnight. He is one of five-night shift workers on the elven-person custodial staff provided by Fluor Daniel Corporation, not only SUA’s official credit union, but also a multinational conglomerate whose endeavors range from biotechnology to petroleum processing, and include custodial services. The scope of Flour’s activities is matched by its geographical spread: the company maintains offices and supervises projects on six continents. Among the members of Fluor’s global workforce is Armando Dubon.

Armando is unassuming, funny, and kind. His warm smile lifts his round cheeks so high that he is forced to squint through his glasses. His skin is a soft brown color that contrasts with his thinning gray hair. He is wearing a blue polo shirt and khaki pants. On the day a student arrives to accompany him on his rounds, he is perspiring. He apologizes immediately, explaining that he constantly perspires. He laughs and this puts them both at ease.

Armando starts his shift in the reception room. It is ornately decorated in a style meant to evoke Old World elegance. It has silk wallpaper, large crystal chandeliers, and plush carpeting with a pink and green floral design. The room contains a 100-year-old Steinway piano with wood inlay worth $450,000. Busts of Plato and Socrates, along with bronze replicas of cherubs, Italian blue and rose crystal vases, a large painting, entitled “Forest of Happiness” and wall tapestries fill the room. Here, the university has hosted symphony concerts, weddings, and lectures by Nobel Prize winners. Armando checks for dust, tracing his finger along the furniture. Then he vacuums the carpet where he notices footprints and lint. When he has finished, he stops for a minute to admire the piano. Unable to resist, the student sits and plays. The sound is beautiful. Armando smiles.

Next, he heads to the personnel office. It’s 5:30 and beginning to get dark, but many SUA employees are working late. Armando tries not to disturb them with conversation. Office cleaning usually takes about two hours when people are working. Armando cleans only the space that is not being used. He then vacuums the mezzanine walkway on the third floor, taking the time even to polish the drinking fountains. The setting sun reflects off the glass nameplates that adorn the gold benefactor’s wall. It takes at least $20,000 to get your name on that wall. Armando is not in awe. He finishes vacuuming and moves on.

By the time he arrives at the second floor, the rest of the staff has gone home and Armando can work without interruption. He vacuums, empties the trash, and dusts furniture. He is careful not to move anything from its place. As a result, certain offices take less time. One, exploding with knickknacks and piles of paper, leaves little surface area to be dusted. “I like her office,” he says playfully. But, at another, he is more attentive. “She’s very picky, this one.” Similar offices await on the first floor. In one, Armando says, “I like him, but he has too many plants. It’s like a jungle in here.”

At 7:30, Armando takes his break in his favorite room, The Board of Trustees conference room. He sits at the head of the long, Cherrywood table surrounded by 30 expensive leather chairs. The room is designed for large meetings and has cherrywood pillars, panels, and molding. Its balcony overlooks Peace Lake through massive travertine columns. It has a subtle professional elegance. From the far end of the table, her voice is softened by the room’s carefully designed acoustics. From the head of the table, Armando says, “Take a memo.”

Armando has a rich life story, with many twists and turns. When he was 18, in his native country of Honduras, he was an Air Force cadet, hoping to become a mechanic. One day, he was approached by a commanding officer: the president of Honduras needed a driver. The former driver had been jailed for drunk driving. “He told me that the president needed someone he could trust. He said, ‘Armando, you are young but I see you are a serious person’ and I drove for the president. After two months, he offered me the job permanently.” Armando declined. “I said, what about when you are not president anymore? You may have money, but where will I be? Just the driver with no trade?” The president understood, and arranged for Armando to be trained as an air traffic controller.

He worked for the next few years secure; however, he felt he had no purpose. But, in 1963, at the age of 24, Armando followed his cousin to San Francisco. A year later, his family joined him.

In 2000, having spent thirty years in the San Francisco area, Armando and his wife moved to Aliso Viejo. He has four children. Armando Jr. and Evelyn live in Aliso Viejo. Evelyn has lived here for ten years with her husband and three daughters. She wanted her parents closer to her. Aliso Viejo is not the most affordable of communities, but between the money he earns at SUA and his retirement income. Armando manages.

Armando Jr. was 2 and a half when his parents moved to the United States. The Dubons’ lived in Berbal Heights, a quiet, close-knit community that sits snugly between two more dangerous San Francisco neighborhoods, the Mission and Bayview districts. As Armando Jr. got older, increasing gang activity began to worry his father. A few of Armando Jr’s cousins had become involved in gangs. When he was 12, the family moved half an hour south to the more tranquil Daly City.

After high school, Armando Jr. enrolled at a nearby junior college but soon he was following his friends into the “void of the business world.” After being accepted to California State University at Chico, he decided not to pursue that path. This allowed him time to pursue his passion—acting. “I had always wanted to act since I was a kid, but I was chicken.” He enrolled in the Gene Sheldon School of Acting. From there he went on to perform in his first play, Death of a Salesman. He became increasingly involved in the San Francisco acting community.

“I have also acted in some independent films but I like doing the live productions and experiencing the audiences response with their laughter and stuff. What really gets me is when I hear people crying. I know I am doing my job.”

About a year ago, Armando Jr. was working as an actor in San Francisco, but paying the rent with a nine to five job at Starbucks. “If I’d stayed at Starbucks they would have pushed me up to a district manager. I took the job originally thinking it was nine to five, and then to the theater at six with rehearsals until twelve. The Starbucks thing kept snowballing, but it just wasn’t my gig.”

As in the case as his father, family is Armando Jr’s gig. Soon after seeing his parents move south, he joined them. He knew that acting could be a part of his life anywhere but his nieces were growing up only in Aliso Viejo.

Armando Jr. becomes bright when he talks about his nieces. He is closest to Natalia, the oldest at 13. A sentimental look crosses his face as he speaks about her, “I used to change her diapers and taught her her ABC’s. I couldn’t stand my nieces growing up feeling, ‘Oh this is my Uncle Armando who comes to visit every now and then.’”

He had been visiting Aliso Viejo ever since his sister’s move. “I have seen Soka since there was nothing here and I watched it go up and wondered if I would be a part of it.” Last July, his father, already employed on campus, urged him to ask about a job. The day after his interview, he was offered a position in the mailroom where he was worked ever since. Like his father, he works a second job, which allows him too, to live in Aliso Viejo near his family.

He is not currently working in theater. He is not getting standing ovations or promotions in Starbucks. But he says recognizes that life involves trade offs and nothing is forever. For now, it’s enough to be near his parents, his sister, and his nieces. “And you guys of course,” he says to an SUA student. He enjoys his job, and appreciates the meeting and talking with students from all over the world. Armando Jr. recalls a conversation with a student he had met months earlier. “I was particularly homesick for San Francisco. She was also from the city and we were consoling each other, when she said, ‘Remember, you’re meant to be here right now.” This still reverberates in him. “I made peace with what was bothering me.” He says she helped him find it. “Every day, when I make my rounds, I take a deep breath, and look around and say ‘thank you.’”

It’s 8:30 and Armando’s shift is far from over. He is back on the third floor with a mop and bucket cleaning the bathrooms. Two hours later, he moves to the SUA security gatehouse at the university’s front entrance. He empties the trash and stocks the bathroom with toilet paper and paper towels, then mops the floors. SUA has a sophisticated security system. Inside the gatehouse, screens monitor several strategic campus locations. “I’d better be more careful of what I’m doing when I’m cleaning,” Armando jokes with the security guard.

At 11:00 pm, he returns to the Founders Hall Gallery. He gazes not at the exhibits, but at the floor. He is looking for scuff marks. Even so, he suggests, “Go over there and look at that painting. Then look at the price on the painting and tell me what you think.” He chuckles as he mops.

While working, Armando talks a bit about Latin American politics, immigration, and in particular the struggles of Mexicans who risk their lives crossing the border to make a living. “Mexico is a rich country, though. Any place with raw materials is a wealthy place. It’s just that the governments in these countries are so screwed up. They’re corrupt and poorly run and they waste a lot. In some places they come to your house at midnight, you leave and you never come back.” This is one worry that Armando does not have in Aliso Viejo.

Armando dust mops the world map on the lobby floor. He pauses, points to Honduras and says, “It is cheaper to live there. I wouldn’t have to work. But my wife doesn’t want to leave the children and grandchildren. We will probably never go back, which means I will have to work forever.” His son may believe that nothing is forever, but Armando does not agree.

His final task, completed before midnight, is to load the night’s trash bags into the truck that hauls them to the dumpsters. He takes pride in his work and in the work of the entire staff. “We cover a lot of ground for such a small crew.” SUA custodial staff members clean about twice the industry standard of 25,000 square feet per person. Though much of the space is unused, the size of the buildings are still overwhelming. Armando’s worries about the size of the crew. “We do the best we can with the time we have.” If a building on campus doesn’t look clean, Armando feels that it reflects badly on him.

Founders Hall looks as it should every day because of the work Armando and other staff devote to cleaning it. One might easily get swept away by the beauty and scale of the building. When asked, “Do you like cleaning it?” Armando replies, “I don’t like cleaning. Who does?” Armando’s point is well taken. As impressive and well designed and beautiful as it is, Founders Hall is just like any other building: it needs to be cleaned.