Feb 28, 2016

A Visit to the Dog Park...

There's a handsome bronze dedication plaque
at the entrance to the dog enclosures
Yesterday was a beautiful day in the Tennessee Valley.  Temperatures rose to near 70 degrees with a light southerly breeze.  Mary Ann and I decided it was the perfect day to be outside.  Over the last couple of weeks, she has been researching the location of dog parks in the area.  One looked particularly interesting because it was described as having separate fenced enclosures for large dogs and small dogs.  The name of that park is the Mill Creek Dog Park on Balch Road in Madison, AL.  We decided to take Bella on her first park outing.

After loading up the car with dog toys, snacks, water, and the other necessities of dog travel, we left the house a little after noon.  We had no trouble finding the place, as I had printed Google Maps directions.  We first parked in the parking lot at the southern end of the Mill Creek Greenway.  After asking a gentleman if we were in the right place, we realized that we could drive about a half-mile north on Balch Road to another parking lot closer to the dog park.  That parking lot has a porta-potty and ample room for probably 25 cars.  It also has a walkway under the Balch Road bridge over Mill Creek, so you don't have to cross Balch Road traffic with your dog.  Very well planned, indeed.

The park was a great success for us and Bella.  We all socialized very well.  The small dog enclosure was quite muddy, so the small dog owners rebelled and took over the large dog area as soon as it became vacant.  The variety of dogs was remarkable.  We will return soon.

Feb 4, 2016

The Great Toilet Seat Incident...

    There are people alive who didn't know until reading this that I was expelled from high school.  It's true.  During my senior year, I and a few of my closest friends were tossed out and had to be readmitted by our parents.

    It started because one of our well-loved teachers, Ms. Isabelle Jarvis, a teacher of English and Creative Writing, had to take a few weeks off for cancer treatment.  A substitute teacher named Mrs. Lusk was assigned to take her place during her absence.  Mrs. Lusk was no Isabelle Jarvis.  Nor could she ever have been.  Nonetheless, a few of us smart-alecky high school seniors decided to protest in a very cruel, immature way.  

It went down like this:
Someone in my inner circle of friends (It might have been me; I really don't remember) got the brilliant idea.  Mrs. Lusk was such a half-ass teacher, we should give her a half of a toilet seat!  Collectively, we thought it was brilliant.  In the basement of my home was a bathroom that had not been used in years.  We removed the toilet seat, which was wood, cut it in half, cleaned up one half, and carefully wrapped it in Valentine's Day wrapping.  We put a heart-shaped card on the package that read, "To Mrs. Lush from All of Ush..."  And on Valentine's Day, we sneaked into her classroom very early and left it in her seat.    

Mrs. Lusk waited until her first class to open her "gift."  It was not pretty.  The class laughed; She cried and left the room.  The word spread throughout the school.  And the search for the culprits began in earnest.

 The school administration -- Principal Donald Sayles and Assistant Principal Charles Abba -- questioned all the usual suspects.  No one had a clue who might have done the dastardly deed.  Mrs. Lusk resumed teaching her classes, but there was always that question hanging over the school as to who might have committed this thoughtless, cruel act.  Several weeks passed, yet no one had been identified as the perpetrator.  My friends and I kept quiet.
    One day, Mr. Abba appeared in our English class.  "As you all are aware, a horrible act was perpetrated against Mrs. Lusk a few weeks ago.  I assure you that we will find the person who committed this misdeed, and when we do, we will take appropriate action.  That person will never get into a respectable college or university.  They may never graduate from high school.  They will be disgraced."  Then he went on to be the "good cop."  "If the person who committed this act steps forward, we may show some consideration.  I encourage anyone who knows anything about the event to come to my office at any time to discuss it.  My door is open.  Thank you."    

That was just before the lunch hour.  My partners in crime and I discussed it during the lunch hour and decided to turn ourselves in.  One of the perps, Dennis L., was the son of the President of the PTA.  We all had honor-roll grade point averages.  We were all very active in class societies and projects.  What could they possibly do to us.  There were a few people who knew we had done it.  What if one of them squealed?   And so we went to Mr. Abba's office at 1:00 PM to face the music.  There were plenty of other people present in his waiting room.  He came in shortly after 1:oo and started around the room.

    "Angelo, what are you here for?"
    "I punched Mr. Pezzano 'cause he pissed me off."
    "Come back at 1:30."
    "How about you, Vinnie?  Why are you here?"
    "I got kicked out of Miss Tarbell's class for giving her some lip."
    "Come back at 2:00."
And so it went.  Finally, he got around to us.  "Hi, Dennis.  What brings you to my office?"
    "Bob and Rick and I are here to talk about the toilet seat incident."

He was shocked.  He spoke almost in a whisper.  "Come in my office and have a seat."  He led us into his office.  "If you boys know something about this incident, let me first assure you that the school will make every effort to protect you.  We will never allow the perpetrators to harm you in any way."

We looked at each other and then stated almost in unison, "We did it."
There was a prolonged silence.  Finally, Mr. Abba said "Oh, my God!" as he rushed out the door.  We waited more than an hour for his return.

Mr. Abba returned with Don Sayles, the Principal.  They informed us that they were convening a special faculty meeting at 4:30 PM to review our case and determine the punishment.  They were recommending that we all be suspended, only to be readmitted when accompanied by a parent.  We would no longer be eligible for the National Honor Society, since they planned to strip us of all of our "Activity Honor Credits."  These were "points" that you earned for participating in clubs, societies, and other extracurricular activities.  In our school, membership in the NHS was determined by the combination of grades and activity honor credits.  The ultimate disgrace would be that we would not get to wear the honor "shawl" that came with NHS membership and was worn over the graduation gown.  The faculty met and endorsed our punishment.  Mr. Sayles asked me if my parents had even the slightest clue what I had been up to.  I answered that my mother was aware of the whole thing, watching us cut the toilet seat in half.  In fact, I told him, "She said we were going to get ourselves in plenty of trouble, and that this caper was really stupid."  Mr. Sayles informed me in front of his staff and my friends that I was a barefaced liar.

I got home after a long, lonely walk.  My brother, Willy, who had recently been expelled from the University of Michigan, was home.  My mother was at Bridge Club and my father was playing golf, so I know it was a Thursday.  I explained to Willy what had happened.  He was amused.  When we heard my mother arriving, Willy said, "It's your funeral!"  He ran upstairs, where I knew he was listening at the top landing.  As soon as my mother came in the house, I started bawling as I told her the whole story.  I had to repeat everything when my father arrived home.

The next morning, my father was elected to accompany me to school and get me readmitted.  He and Mr. Sayles were old golfing friends, so we were greeted warmly, if awkwardly, as we entered Mr. Sayles' office.  My father apologized for my conduct and expressed how embarrassing the whole incident was for our family.  Mr. Sayles expressed how shocked the administration and faculty were to find out that three such outstanding students had stooped to such callous behavior.  Then my father did something totally unexpected.  He said, "Don, I understand you called Bob a liar.  The fact is that his mother did know about what the boys were doing and expressed her disapproval.  He was telling you the truth.  I'd like you to apologize to him for your accusation."  Mr. Sayles apologized awkwardly.  We soon left his office, my father left, and I went to class.  But the story doesn't end there.

It really bothered the three of us that we weren't going to get to be members of the National Honor Society.  So when the school was looking for a volunteer to run the annual Community Chest drive (later to become the United Fund), Dennis suggested that the three of us volunteer.  What a brilliant idea!  Maybe we could earn our way back into the school's good graces.  We ran the fund drive, raised more money by far than had ever been raised before, and eventually were granted full restoration of our activity honor credits.

Miss Jarvis returned to school that spring and I don't think she ever forgave us.

Feb 3, 2016

The Great Water Slide Adventure...

One of the few images I've been able to locate of the water slide at
the Get-A-Way Skateboard Park  I became very familiar with it!

I moved to Huntsville in 1978 to manage a skateboard park and teen recreation center.  Before long, as I have already documented, I was the general contractor in charge of building the skateboard park.  A couple of years later, I thought I had seen the last of that facility and had moved on with my own general contracting business, Creative Builders.

One day, as I was driving north on Huntsville's Memorial Parkway, I glanced to my left and saw the profile of a steel structure growing near where the Get-A-Way was located.  I turned left on Drake Avenue and then onto Leeman Ferry Road to investigate.  Sure enough, someone had dug a hole for a large swimming pool and was erecting the beginnings of a water slide.  A little research with some of the skateboarders told me what was going on.  As a means of increasing the cash flow of the facility, the management had decided to construct and open a water slide adjacent to the skate runs.  Over the next few weeks, I watched the structure grow -- first several supporting towers of steel, and finally a sinuous fiberglass channel connecting them.  It all looked very high-tech.

One day my phone rang.  It was none other than my old acquaintance Mr. C.D. Howard, the City of Huntsville Building Inspector.  The conversation was something like this:

C.D.: "Mr. Mead, this is C.D. Howard.  Do you know anything about the water slide that Mr. XXXXX is putting up at the skateboard park?"
Me:  "No more than you know, Sir.  I've seen it going up."
C.D.:  "Does he think I'm blind?  I see it everyday, driving down the Parkway.  He must think I can't see!"
Me: "I don't know about that, Sir."
C.D.: "Well, he finally got around to asking about a building permit.  They've got no health permit, no building permit, haven't had any drawings reviewed, haven't had any inspections.  He must think the law doesn't apply.  I'm not at all happy."
Me: "Yes, Sir."
C.D.: "Mr. Mead, I trust you and you're a fine builder.  You do things by the book."
Me: "Thank you, Sir."
About this time, I'm really confused as to where this conversation is going.
C.D. continues: "Mr. Mead, I'm going to tell Mr. XXXXX that if he wants to complete his waterslide, he will only be able to do it with you as the Contractor-of-Record.  He has some jake-leg unlicensed contractor from Decatur working on the thing, the drawings are no better than sketches, God only knows how well anything has been fabricated.  It's a real mess.  I'm just letting you know so when he calls you, you will have given it some thought.

You certainly don't have to take the job.  If you decide to do it, I advise you to make sure he hires you as an employee and that you perform all the construction duties as his employee, under the umbrella of his insurance.  Do not do it under your State License and your insurance."

I asked C.D. what it would take for him to accept the project given it's then-current status.  He said he would want a complete detailed set of "as-built" drawings, including a comprehensive measurement of the thickness of all the fiberglass components.  He said that if I accepted the job, his inspectors would work closely with me.

Sure enough, a few days later, Mr. XXXXX called. He was quite reserved as he asked if I'd consider coming back to work for him.  I told him of my conversation with C.D. Howard.  I also quoted him a total price of $10,000, a number that I would soon learn was the bargain of the century.  We struck a deal.  I went to his office a couple of days later to sign my contract.  Then began the real work.

Every day for the next few months, I spent at least a couple of hours climbing on that water slide and taking measurements.  I completed more than 20 large-scale pages of carefully crafted drawings -- every last beam, girder, bolt, rivet, concrete structure, electrical and plumbing systems, and that damnable fiberglass.  I made a large set of calipers with which I could gauge the thickness of the fiberglass every few inches with an accuracy of a few thousandths of an inch.  I worked in rain, wind, outrageous cold, sleet, and snow because I wanted to get the job done.  

The drawings were interesting because the structure was unlike anything I'd ever drawn before.  The steel towers were easy.  A plan view and a couple of elevations were usually sufficient to describe those structures, supplemented by some fastening details.  But the fiberglass structure was so free form, it was a real challenge.  I finally did a plan (overhead) view and then did a side view (elevation) as if the whole thing had been stretched out into a straight line.  In addition, I did cross-sections of the fiberglass channel every foot of its length, as well as details of the flanges that joined all the fiberglass components.  Completing the drawings took several weeks because I was completing other construction projects at the time.

Ultimately, I finished the job, the necessary permits were issued, and the facility was opened to the public.  Within a couple of years the entire park had closed for good.  The last I saw of the water slide, it had been sold to someone in Guntersville and was being stored out in the open behind a chain link fence.  I don't know if it ever was assembled again.