Soaring over Struthers

It was definitely not what I planned to do last Tuesday. But when the foreman of the roofing crew said it would be a good day to go up, I thought it might be my last chance.

Yup, up. Up above the roof — the Struthers Library Theatre’s roof. Well, it did seem like a good idea at the time.

The Paramount Roofing crew, the same roofing company that built the new amphitheatre roof at Chautauqua, has been working on our theatre roof since July 11th. We have had cranes and man lifts working their way around the building all summer and fall. The men they hauled up to the job each day have been hard-working, safety minded and incredibly nice to our whole staff. I haven’t been able to figure out whether they all call me ma’am because they’re very polite or whether it’s just the white hair. I think I remind most of them of their grandmother.

The sun was out that morning when foreman Tom said, “It’s going to be almost 60 this afternoon, and not too much breeze,” I was all in. It seems that these big boom lifts aren’t real happy when extended in winds exceeding 28 mph, and I soon learned why. It took a bit of prep to go.

I was given my own hard hat by the general contractor when they started our renovation in July of 2016. Tommy told me to wear my hat and he’d get me a harness. Smiling broadly, I asked him if Omar the Tentmaker had left a spare harness in one of the trucks. He laughed and said no, he could fit me, not to worry. “Not all roofers are thin either,” he said, but I had noted that every one of their crew was built like a spider

I swear the harness weighed twenty pounds and can’t imagine the weight and pressure of one on a blistering summer day. On jobs this steep and complicated, all OSHA rules are in full effect, so even if I were going to be just an observant guest, compliance was mandatory. The guys have worn the vests every day, all day and are tethered to safety stations once on the roof. One told me they don’t like them but after a while they don’t notice them too much.

I was not going on the roof itself – simply a ride up, way up, in the man lift, look over the scenic views and sweep back down. But not only was I harnessed, I was to be tethered to the inside of the lift bucket.

I climbed into the harness much like a vest with the heavy straps on my shoulders then clipped them together across my chest. Another set clipped across my lower abdomen. Then Tommy said, “The last clips are hanging down behind you so just bend over as far as you can, reach through your legs then pull them forward and up. Then we’ll clip them into the bottom.” I looked at him as if he had three heads.

“Seriously? You want me to reach down, back, and through then reverse it and stand up again?” He smiled and nodded. “Well, Tom, I can’t do that. The hips are shot, the knees have both been replaced and one-third of the back has been laminated. You do it.”

His eyes grew bigger. “You want me to reach down through your legs?” he asked.

“Since I can’t, you have to,” I said as I spread my legs as far as I could. I mean, it’s not like I had worn a skirt. He bent down and through to reach the clips, but I could see the red embarrassment creeping up the nape of his neck below his hard hat. He handed up the clips and I was able to click them into place, at least saving him that discomfort.

He opened the gate to the bucket and offered me his hand as I stepped up and in. He hopped in, clipped me to the inside, secured himself – and then off we went. The lift arm is controlled completely from inside this enormous machine. He assured me that he had over 2500 hours logged in it as we slowly, evenly slid upwards. “Keep your knees loose, let yourself relax and go with the movement of the bucket. It’ll bounce a bit with the breeze.”

Now I’ve never been particularly afraid of heights. But lately, I don’t know what’s happened. Suddenly I’m definitely uncomfortable making a curtain speech on stage if I have to stand near the yawning, dark, orchestra pit. So although my head was cool with the idea of going up and seeing the cityscape from above the roof, its calmness didn’t translate to my clenching stomach or my death grip on the frame of the cage.

Let myself relax? Bounce with the breeze? My hands, no longer strong from arthritis, were using every last fiber of stringy, aged muscle to hang on to this yellow cage. We were about eighty feet up, at the roof edge. From there the roof climbs rapidly up steep inclines to over 120′. All the guys wear heavy harnesses and are tethered to safety stations once on the roof.

As we cleared the edge where the roof begins its steep angled ascent, the breeze picked up a bit. I was just about to say we should probably go back down before the gale force winds blow us across the parking lot, when Tom said, “Nice day for a ride, barely a ripple.” The backs of my hands showed two colors: brown old age spots and white knuckles.

My cell phone was in my pocket and I wanted to reach for it to take a few pictures but that would mean letting go. I thought for a second about asking Tom to retrieve it but on second thought maybe I’d already embarrassed him enough. I told him that I was going to retrieve my cell camera if he wouldn’t do any loops or twirls for a minute. He was good. “Are you okay?” he asked.

“I’m just ducky,” I grinned, noticing that my smile was freezing in place. We moved back and forth and slid sideways as Tom displayed his magical prowess at the controls. He drove us to the best vantage points for the views in all directions Frozen to the spot, I didn’t dare to move my feet, terrified that it might unbalance the bucket.

“Okay this is the tallest lift we have – we can go to 145′. We’re at 130 – are you game?”

Executing the best acting job of my career, I said casually, “Nope, I’m good!” I said that 130′ was lovely, I could see sooooo many things.

“I don’t feel a strong need to go any further.” I thought to myself, strong need? I have a strong need to be back on that parking lot before my claws freeze permanently around this perch.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the experience and I can’t thank Tom enough for the kindness he showed – in every way. But I now think my bucket list has changed because of my adventure in Tom’s bucket.

I no longer have a need to sky-dive. Para-sailing and rock climbing are now off the list and I heard recently that wing walking has fallen out of favor since all the bi-planes are in museums.

This weekend I’m doing some touch-up painting for the holidays. I think I can do everything without going past the second step, especially since the view isn’t one bit better from the third step. I’ll pass on the harness, but the hard hat is probably still a good idea.

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