Friday, September 17, 2010

Alone, 100 Feet in the Air, Rising a Giant Pirate Flag Over Campus

September 8th, 2010
A Wednesday
It's all Jens's fault. He got the pirate flag bug in my head, I couldn't shake it, and it was almost the death of me.

During the boredom of last semester’s under-scheduled progression, I hatched a brilliant plot to make a pirate flag out of a big black queen-sized sheet, and hang it up on the east tower of Old Main. I didn't want to just hang it off the front, that would have been easy, I wanted it on a 15 ft tall flagpole on the top spire.
The first step was to determine how best to get up on the roof. After a few minutes of snooping on the fourth floor, I realized that it was easy to get on the roof by going out any of the windows on that floor. I then located all the surveillance cameras and plotted the route that would take me past the least number of them. Next I crept up there at night to see if it was easy, and to see what would be required to get up to the spire. I determined that I would need a ladder, and some rope to tie myself off once I got up. I figured I would need some help, so I recruited a friend to hold the ladder, and pass me anything I might need. While gazing over the edge, I realized I could drape a rope off the edge, and pull up the ladder and the flagpole from the outside.

Once all my reconnaissance was completed, I made the flag, built a lightweight ladder, and started getting some people to be sentries down on the ground. I had everything ready a week before the projected date. I had decided to put it up on the Tuesday night before finals week, that way it could provide a good laugh to to those overstressed studyaholics who were probably going to be on the verge of collapse and could use a break. Unfortunately, it rained that night and I had to wait.

When fall semester started, I decided that the second week of school would be perfect. Although the stress isn't as high as it is during finals week, it's still pretty bad. I know that I definitely needed a pick-me-up!
All my sentries were still willing to do their job, and my rooftop partner was ecstatic that we were finally going to do it. While at Deseret Industries Thrift store, I discovered two Utah State University Facilities Maintenance t-shirts, the perfect disguise to enter the building with all the necessary equipment, which I would carry in a large box that would obscure my face from the two cameras I would have to pass. I finalized the plans, prepared a briefing presentation for all those involved, and waited nervously.

As Tuesday morning dawned, my rooftop partner called me to tell me he had the flu. I was so desperate for an escape from the insanity of starting, that I decided to do it alone. As the night approached, the excitement grew... I had been preparing for a long time, and it was finally happening!

After the briefing, I drove up to Old Main Hill, and moved the ladder and flag to the place where I had earlier dangled a rope off the ledge. I tied them off, and headed for the roof.

The disguise worked perfectly, and I was able to make it up to the 4th floor undetected. That's when the first hitch in the plan cropped up. I had planned to go out the window of an office on the 4th floor that was usually unlocked. When my gloved (to keep from leaving fingerprints) hand tried the door, it was locked. I almost wet myself I was so nervous! I started for my backup, the girls bathroom window, but something was wrong; the doors to the girls and boys bathrooms were propped open and the lights were on! Could the Janitor be in there? I hesitated, backtracked, and reassessed. After nobody came out, I decided to close both doors, and turn out the lights. In the dark of the Handicap accessible stall of the girls bathroom, I dawned my camouflage jacket and face mask. I then unscrewed the screen (something I wouldn't have had to do in the original office plan). I climbed out the window and replaced the screen, just in case. I pulled up the flagpole and ladder, moved them into position, and began to assemble the pole (it was in two sections, to make it easier to carry). Once it was fully assembled, I began to climb the ladder.

This is where it got scary. I had planned on having someone hold the ladder, but I was solo. I nervously climbed it one small step at a time.  Once I got up, I realized the ladder was a little short, so I had to stand on some protrusions on the metal spire cap. I tied myself off, and just stood there for a minute to regain composure. It was at this point that I started thinking about where I was... alone, 100 feet above the ground precariously balancing on slightly flimsy metal outcroppings while trying to move a giant pirate flag to the vertical in the dark, with a strong wind blowing... "Maybe this wasn't such a good idea" I said aloud. "A LITTLE LATE FOR THAT" I then replied, and I went to work!

The Zip ties I brought weren't long enough, so I had to combine them together. This took much longer than I had planned, but it worked. It took a while to get the pole up and secured. Once it was, I began to twist the rod and deploy the flag. It was so beautiful to see that giant scull smiling down at me, seemingly saying "I knew you could get me here."

I finished up, untied myself, and began my withdrawal. I made sure I took everything off with me. I tossed the ladder over the edge, climbed back in the window, and stuffed all my gear back in the box for my exit. As I descended the stairs, a real facilities maintenance man was doing his cleaning rounds, but he didn't get a look at my face. As I exited the building I wondered if he would end up being the poor chap who would have to take it down.

The next morning when I went to my 7:30 am class, there my flag was, waiving briskly in the stiff breeze! As I walked to my 9:30 am class, I watched a crew of men heavily harnessed climbing up to the top to take it down. I stood there, talking with a friend as a police officer wound up the flag on the pole. It didn't last long, but it was totally worth it!

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