Have you ever wondered how a movie theater stays so cool?
If you did, the movie had to have been pretty bad. But think about it. It’s a huge room … What kind of machine is needed to calibrate the temperature so that you always want to snuggle with your sweetie?
Dee Jackson knows. If you thought some burly dude was responsible for that kind of machinery, you would be wrong. The assistant director of HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) for Cinemark, one of the largest chains of movie exhibition theaters in the US, is this short, charming black woman who is willing—in fact, eager—to roll up her sleeves and push some dirt.
“It’s dirty work,” she says, not complaining but almost bragging. “I wear a hard hat, I wear earplugs, I wear safety goggles, I’ve had to stop traffic in Dallas before to get trucks in.”
In taking on this responsibility, she has come a long way in a male-dominated industry. She entered the construction space in 2006 as a technician for a manufacturer of garage door openers.
She progressed in this role to serve national brands like Horton, Walgreens, and Walmart, as well as the military. At one point, she had to be on call all night in case a Walmart or a military base suffered a garage door malfunction. Jackson’s job was to dispatch service.
Understandably she got burnt out and transferred to the HVAC department of her company. It turned out to be a high-pressure transition.
“I had one week to learn about HVAC, or else I lost the job,” Jackson remembers ruefully. Not to be outdone, Jackson crammed for the required test—learning everything about the thousands of parts in an HVAC system, from the compressor to the copper lines to the coil—in one week. She passed the test and the job was hers.
She transferred from her manufacturing role to Texas Air Systems, but Cinemark was a client for both of them. When Cinemark needed to hire someone to take charge of their entire HVAC inventory, from Florida to Alaska, Jackson was the one they called. They knew her value, they courted her, and they poached her.
The role opened Jackson up to an entire country’s worth of responsibilities, learning more than she ever thought she would know about the intricacies of HVAC. Especially in California, she learned about “dirty power.”
What on Earth is “dirty power?” Power generated by coal and oil?
Not in this context. “Dirty power” happens when a construction project is nearby. These projects can sap so much power from the grid that it ends up frying HVAC units. The city is responsible … but try telling them that. Jackson found herself having to hold her ground in some very uncomfortable conversations with city officials.
“Nobody wants to hear that they have to take the responsibility for blowing out the unit,” Jackson said. With units costing tens of thousands of dollars, can you blame them? That’s why Jackson had to oversee the installation of devices that can detect dirty power to prove the city’s responsibility for the mishap.
With the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing, Cinemark is in the midst of a once-in-a-generation remodel, bringing their HVAC up to COVID-era standards of ventilation in plaintive hope that a vaccinated public will be eager to return to theaters once the pandemic subsides.
As it is, the theaters are struggling. The ones that still exhibit movies require visitors to be masked and maintain a buffer of seats between movie-going parties. No company in the entertainment industry likes to keep seats empty on purpose … but that’s just the world as it is right now.
In the meantime, Jackson has the dish on the fact that in COVID times, you can often rent an entire Cinemark auditorium for a private screening with your friends, for as little as $100! How’s that for a bargain?
Jackson has taken the COVID-19 pandemic in stride. For her, it’s a much-needed chance to reset. “Since I’ve been at home, I’ve been relaxing, I’ve been enjoying my home, doing a lot of self care,” she said.
She has even turned her self-care into a business—Deelicious Scrubs and More, a line of vegan, organic bath and body products that she makes by hand and sells at farmer’s markets and craft fairs. Her line includes scrubs, lotions, and home-blended bath teas—her lemongrass and chamomile blend is a hit, and her eucalyptus and spearmint blend is getting ready to drop.
A big advocate of the healing energy of sage, she also makes and sells sage bouquets blended with rose petals and other aromatics. Jackson isn’t even afraid to use a burning bouquet of sage to make a statement.
“Last week I had a co=worker that tried me while we were on a video conference at work,” she recalls. “I lit my sage, and the point got across very clearly—’Not today!’”
Her passion for health and wellness stems from the passing of her beloved grandfather from cancer. After his death, she became sick herself. These experiences drove her to seek alternatives to traditional medicine in pursuit of wellness.
“The products and the business are to bring peace and tranquility,” she said, “but also wellness and health into your life.”
For Jackson, it’s all about drawing boundaries—a precious opportunity to choose what energy you let into your life, choose what people you let into your life. If you don’t decide for yourself what you will put up with, someone else will decide for you—and probably not in your favor.
Whether she is wrangling giant movie-theater HVAC units in Alaska or bundling sage for homemakers in Texas, Jackson is an inspirational example of a woman who set her own boundaries, decided what she wanted out of life, and set herself on a path that few women and fewer black women take. When women push dirt, it’s never by accident.
“You’ve got to bring that love back to yourself, bring that wellness back to yourself,” she said. “We get so lost in this world ... now is the time to do that.”