Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Blast From The Past, From A Kid Who Flunked History...

I never did well in History classes, I don't know for sure, but if I had to guess, it had something to do with a lack of interest on my part. I remember handing in a freshman year research paper (My topic was the Tulsa Race Riot, if ya care) thinking I'd really done something interesting -- I'd even managed to get interested in it myself. That paper came back with so many red marks on it you'd think the Coach and his "Teacher Intern" had both used it to sop up a week's worth of shaving nicks.

My sophmore year, my "standardized test scores" landed me in Honors US History, and you guessed it, a Coach taught that one too. I actually did flunk that one, and had to re-take the second semester when I was a senior. Junior year history was taught by a Teacher (not a Coach) and I did rather well in that class, because he made it interesting.

In college, I took that one History class because it was required. I fought a reasonable fight and It went well for a little while (there aren't any Coaches at Community College) but the shit hit the fan partway through and I flunked that one too. When I took it the second time, I ended up in an evening class with a totally different professor and she was amazing. I aced that one, most likely because she made it interesing, and not just because she "talked funny."

I guess that's why I'm so crazy about Jack Frank, the guy who narrates quite a bit of the local artsy stuff on TV. He doesn't really have a noticeable accent as far as I can tell, but his voice is just nice, like Garrison Keilor, only not quite as Northern.

Last night I was glad I was at home and remembered to tune in for that half-hour Tulsa Video show -- it was great, I'm definitely pickin' up a copy of the DVD. Even though I've always had a rough time with History Classes, I get a real kick out of the Local history -- I love to look at the old pictures of Tulsa to try to spot familiar buildings & landmarks that are still visible today.

The show was only a teensy little half-hour, with ads for the DVD with "the full hour and additional features," but it did show a little clip of the old Super-Mods on the dirt at the Fairgrounds, and a couple shots with mention of the old Fred Jones Ford Dealership downtown.

I got a little sentimental when I saw the Fred Jones building on TV, even if it was only for a few seconds. I've been trying to brain-in on exactly when it was that they decided to tear down the buildings for a church parking lot... It was in the hottest time of summer, and I know for sure it was after '92 and most likely before '95 or so, but I still can't remember which year.

My Dad had a buddy who worked for one of the largest (non-automotive) wrecking companies in the Tulsa area, and this friend of his was one of the few people with the license/certification/credentials to cap off City Of Tulsa Sewer Lines. (uhm, Howdy, Google!) Dad's buddy got us in on helping tear down several buildings; like the offices that were torn down to make room for the Mardel store at 51st & Harvard, and a couple big houses in fancy-schmancy neighborhoods -- Houses you'd never believe someone would tear down; but we'd go in and get everything that could be carried out & hauled away; and I'll never forget makin' a half-hour drive home with three huge chandeliers in the back seat of the SHO. We'd haul in all sorts of things from fixtures & furniture to boxes & labels to trailer-loads of doors & bags upon bags of switches & outlets. Mom's dishwasher even came out of one of those houses. We carried out cabinets and dug out hot tubs, we got heat & air units and even truckloads of stepping stones & landscaping, plants included.

Being a "Family of Car People," we were fascinated with the idea of getting a first-grab at the newly vacant dealership; and we were also stunned by the stuff that had been left behind. An incredible number of desks and chairs (like the antique-y chair behind my desk at home), along with all sorts of records and reference materials in notebooks, on VHS Tapes, and on Microfilm. My Dad's so proud of those old payroll ledgers from years ago, and the 24th-scale model that's a perfect match for his ol' red Galaxie 500. I don't even remember how many boxes of pens & pencils & "desk stuff" I carried out of there -- several desks looked like whoever worked there had just pushed their chair back, stood up, and walked off without lookin' back -- I didn't have to buy anything to write with for several years after that. The four-foot-tall tower speakers out of the service department ended up in my garage, and the elevator ended up in the little church where I grew up. There were several recycled items that got passed on from that building.

I wish I could've watched 'em take the elevator out, but I only got to go downtown on the weekends. We'd pull whatever trucks we'd drove down there inside the service doors or into the showroom, and just start loading stuff up. I remember looking through all the front offices where the sunshine came in from the street and just being sweaty as I could be. My Dad and both of my brothers and a couple of the guys who worked with us at the time were all there, all taking stuff apart and loading pieces onto trucks.

I found a closet in one of the offices and I could see some light inside. The closet was tiny, shorter than my 5'6" and just barely shoulder-width. I vividly remember looking around in there as best I could before I stepped in to check out the blinking red light. If there's anything I've learned in the salvage biz, it's "Don't ever reach without looking first." After I'd looked closely and convinced myself there weren't any mysterious holes in the walls or any exposed wires, I leaned in to check it out. It had some LED's and a digital readout of some type; It had zones marked like a security system, and temperature settings like a thermostat; came to the conclusion that it had to do with the heat & air system. Air Conditioning. I remember thinking to myself what a sweet deal it would be if I could mess around with those buttons and switches to make some cold air blow in there; and everybody would think I was awesome for it.

So, I crowded in there, making sure the door wouldn't close on me (as this was way, way before I had a phone in my pocket all the time), and sat my ass back against the wall opposite the panel to survey the situation. "Hey, if I can program the VCR or set the clock on the truck radio, surely I can figure this out." I remember looking and puzzling a minute or two, and then I started pressing buttons to see what would happen. Some lights on, some lights off, some blinked around as I messed with the buttons and switches. A few what-if's went through my mind as I sat there, but I figured that if it was a security system, they'd probably discontinued the service when they moved out, and if it did call the cops, we could explain what had happened or My Dad and his buddy would get me out of the deal.

I don't know how long I sat there just messing around with that panel trying to see if I could make anything happen. I sat, or almost sat, with my back & hips against the wall behind me, and my knees wedged against the wall under the panel. The panel was the width of the wall and probably just a bit taller than it was wide. It never made any sound, it didn't have any kind of "warm electronics smell," it didn't make any sound, no beeps or dings. I'd managed to blink some lights and make the LCD readout switch among "zone 2" and zone whatever, but I'd not heard any kind of siren chirps like you'd expect from a security system, and I not heard (or felt) any fans or blowers or air moving.

Then there was a huge boom. It shook the floor against my feet and the walls against my body, and I was knocked tharn without being physically touched; like a deer in the headlights, I was frozen with fear and a million thoughts shot through me at full-tilt. Terror. Destruction. Carnage. Death. Dismemberment. My mind imagined every horrific scenario that could possibly have taken place; most prominently a huge HVAC unit blasting off the roof of the building like a rocket; with a hail of flame and shrapnel blasting the life out of most of my family and a couple of my close friends as they loaded parts onto a truck out in the showroom. Like a missle, the HVAC unit would blast off, way up into the air, taking out a major airliner or possibly a news or life-flight helicopter, and then come to land falling through the roof of the nearby church, probably in the middle of a lavish wedding. In the midst of all the carnage, the building would shake and then collapse, leaving me trapped in that tiny closet, pinned by debris and getting zapped by the remnants of the control panel on which I'd been pushing buttons without knowing what I was doing. I don't know how long I sat there, still and scared and near tears as I thought about what the hell I could ever tell my Mom if I was the only one who'd survived the explosion.

When I heard my oldest brother start to laugh, I un-wedged my knees from the wall and nearly fell onto the office floor. He laughed even harder when I came around the corner -- My Dad said I looked really bad, apparently the mental experience showed on me physically.

Nobody was dead, no HVAC unit had shot off the roof.

They'd backed the ol' red one-ton Chevrolet flatbed around into the hallway toward the row of offices and wedged it into a doorway, where they'd strung the winch cable as far out as it would go. They had wrapped the cable around a safe; the kind like ya see in the movies -- with a combination dial and a round door. The safe was about two feet square and probably three feet tall, sitting on top of a stand that was about two feet tall and looked rather spindly, even to the untrained eye. After the cable was wrapped around and hooked into itself, they hit the button to wind it back onto it's spool, in hopes of dragging the safe across to the doorway and up onto the bed of the truck.

Things don't always go as planned though -- the spindly little table was tougher than it looked and had great traction even on what looked like a slick floor. They managed to scoot it about three inches, and then the front feet dug in and the whole mess turned over. Even a small safe is heavy -- heavy enough to shake the concrete floor and walls of the building, and even though two feet isn't a great heighth, it was enough to make a huge boom.

And they still make fun of me for thinkin' I'd blown the whole town up by tryin' to get some cold air blowin'.

More later...

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