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Putting Up Signs
Written by Mike Spock
We had come to that point in the Wharf Project where everyone sensed trouble coming. The museum team was working into the night on the last stages of the massive exhibit installation, trying to work around the desperately late building contractors. The opening was bearing down on us. The big decisions had long since been made; celebratory invitations were stuck to our friends' and supporters' refrigerator doors. As always, there were a few fundraising calls to be followed up but I was too distracted to be of much help. I was a loose cannon. From past experience, everyone knew that I was apt to show up with suggestions of last-minute changes that, however insightful, were at the very least terribly distracting. Ruefully, D&P staff called my unhelpful observations, "being Spocked." Elaine and Janet knew that if they didn't give me something to do I would be part of the problem, not part of the solution. (Later I learned to offer my input only in rigidly circumscribed ways and moments.)
For a week I joined the crew of administrators, who, each evening after their real work was done, cleaned glass and installed case stops (moldings that held case glass in place), but there were too many of us, and I saw we would soon run out of work. I had another idea: no one was available to install the directional signs that would direct people to Museum Wharf with the soon to be iconic milk bottle we had moved to the front of the handsome but anonymous cliff facade of the wool warehouse. I was pretty handy. I spent a year when I dropped out of Antioch learning how to be an apprentice cabinetmaker. Maybe that was how I could make myself useful without driving the real workers to distraction.
I mapped the routes from the expressway exits and downtown corners to our site, figuring how to assign right, left, and straight-ahead arrows to the stock of 100 reflectorized aluminum signs. I loaded my beat-up station wagon with tools, brackets and bolts, rolls of stainless steel strapping, and an extension ladder, and headed for the most remote signpost on my route where I could begin to learn the sign-hanging trade. It took a few clumsy starts until I figured how to juggle the tools, hardware and sign twenty feet in the air before I hit my stride. Working after midnight with my flashers on kept me away from heavy traffic and curious cops (I had decided there were too many agencies and too little time to get all the permissions in place). I almost got away with it until two cops called me down from my ladder high up on the Central Artery asking to see if I had permission from the MDC (Metropolitan District Commission). A few weeks later a half dozen of the signs were delivered to my office without comment but all the others remained, unchallenged.
Of course, some of the lampposts I had tagged were old, wooden, and shaky. My most vivid memory was being up on one these less than steady perches at 2 a.m. in the Combat Zone, when the street life was at its peak, trying to warn drunks from becoming tangled in the coil of strapping lying at the base of my ladder. It gave me great satisfaction to pick out the gorgeous signs as I commuted each day to work until they disappeared gradually, I hoped, to the dormitory walls of Boston college students or in a heap in accidents with wandering cars. I couldn't have been more happily and innocently employed in the lead up to the museum opening.
Next: Part 4: Opening & Living Ever After - We Opened (1979)