You can race around or build a turtle; But be sure you know where you are headed
By Patrick Robinson
Ever since I was in second grade and the teacher wrote on my report card, “Patrick seems to spend a lot of time daydreaming” I’ve found that my mind will wander off like a curious puppy on a moment’s notice. So that begins to explain what happened when I was named the Publicity Chairman for Evergreen High School’s Homecoming. I went to the meeting with all the other folks putting on the event, but it was boring listening to them talk about posters and selling pickles and stuff so as usual I was staring off into the middle distance. I just happened to be thinking about our Vice Principal whose mug had an odd similarity to a turtle which I found amusing.
Right at that moment they called on me to speak.
“So Pat you’ve had a week to think about it. What ideas do you have to promote Homecoming?” I of course had nothing. Not a single idea. I probably looked like a burglar at that point, caught in the act, so I blurted out what came to mind. “I think we should make a giant turtle on a boat and float it in Elliott Bay to promote Homecoming.”
Shockingly, they said. “Ok sounds good let us know if you need help with that.”
Crap. Now I had to actually do it. What an idiot. I figured later we could take it out into Elliott Bay and get the news media to notice it floating around. Instant publicity! Pretty good idea actually.
Normally to promote something like this you can call a bunch of people, send out press releases, race around and try and drum up interest. That’s not my style.
Fortunately I had some experience with this kind of thing. My Dad was always building something out in the garage and for a few years he roped me into helping build a series of floats for the White Center Kiddie Parade to promote something or other. So.. we called on his friend Dick Siebert who lent us his 8 foot pram (a small boat) and who cleverly designed the “ribs” of the turtle out of thin strips of plywood. We built a box framework and the attached the plywood ribs. Next came a chicken wire drape and then large sheets of newsprint dipped in paste. Of course all this took time, I mean about three weeks.. and oh yeah.. I forgot to tell anyone in the adminstration I was doing this stunt.
In the meantime all the students found out about it. Cheerleaders were dropping by, posing with the turtle which by then had been dubbed “Timothy” and girls would ask me how it was going.
Amazingly enough, for the first and only time, I was actually almost cool.
Timothy had a three foot long head that we could move from side to side, and “fins” made out of cut up inner tubes. We painted him Sea Green, then painted the shell markings on him in white so he looked well…like one hell of a big turtle.
Then, somebody blabbed. I was hauled into the Principal’s office.
“What’s this turtle we’ve heard about?” the Principal asked. “It’s a publicity stunt to promote Homecoming,” I explained sheepishly without telling him my inspiration. “So what’s the plan?” “We’re going to get in it and float it around the Bay to get attention.”
Right at this point I realized he was not that smart because he said, “Ok sounds harmless enough.”
Phew! We applied the last bit of paint and finally launch day arrived. By now the entire school was involved. We put EHS on the side and for a final flourish added a "Born to be Wild" sticker.
We towed Timothy down to the Don Armeni boat launch. Joined by two buddies, I figured we would head out into the bay, tool along Alki and do a little loop and head back. I borrowed a wet suit and we climbed in. Hundreds of students and curious onlookers had gathered to see the maiden (and only) voyage.
The launch went great and we fired up the tiny motor, heading out into the bay. What an adventure!
Then it hit me.
We had failed to make any way to SEE outside other than a tiny space on either side of Timothy’s head. I didn’t panic. Things seemed cool. But we had literally no way to know where we were going.
This became pretty apparent to the people on shore too. I was not aware of it but a group of probably several hundred people were shouting “You are heading into the ferry lane!!” which they realized when the ferry sounded it's horn. I was clueless but it got my Dad’s attention. Lickety-split (his term) he commandeered a boat and took off after us at high speed.
I heard a boat approaching, Then I heard my father’s voice, “Patrick! You’ve got a head on you like a boil! You are in the ferry lane!” Which caused us to turn Timothy around and peer past his head so we could see my Dad waving excitedly at us. He demanded we return to shore. After only 20 minutes. Oh well.
The bad part? No one in the media noticed us at all. Today of course it would be totally different. But it did prove to be a wonderful way to promote school spirit and a sense of unity. It also made me something of a minor star. So thanks Timothy. You helped remind me that I may have failed to get attention for the school but going slow is not so bad. I suppose I could have built a giant rabbit but that would have been weird.