TT with HD: Scott Rosencrans
HD: So, the first question that I wanted to ask you--you are a carpenter.
SR: I'm a carpenter.
HD: And I built this teeter totter out of wood, as a carpenter might. So I wanted to give you an opportunity to pander to me by telling me what a wonderful job I did on this teeter totter.
SR: You did a really nice job. I was talking to Mary [HD's wife] when I walked in. First of all, the strength is the key, which you have achieved. And the pinch point there, where you've used the galvanized pipe with a sleeve [inaudible due to teeter totter creaking]. We were talking about the presence of filler, and I thought well, he's planning on painting it. But you're not planning on painting it?
HD: [laugh] No. You know, my original plan was I wanted to make this out of red oak. And I priced it out at Fingerle. And it was going to be like a $300 proposition just for the wood. I'm really glad that I didn't go that route. I went for this--what do they call this?
HD: Well, it's like fancy pine. Hmm, I forget the name of it ... Hem Fir.
SR: Ah, yeah.
HD: So I went that route, just due to the economics, but in retrospect I'm really glad that I didn't try to do this in a nice-looking wood. Because then it would have looked like I was trying to make it look pretty. That was actually my vision--that it would be furniture-like in its feel. And this is more sort of playground-like. And I made this design up as I went along and I discovered, you know, I'm just going to need a lot of putty.
HD: [laugh] That's just the way it's going to be. And I guess I thought maybe that I would paint it or stain it later but I just never got around to it.
SR: Well, even though Hem Fir is not necessarily conducive to constant outdoor exposure, I think it's more suitable than red oak. Red oak really hates water.
HD: Yeah, I would've had to really seal it up good. So is wood the material you deal with as a carpenter? What does it mean to be a carpenter in these times? Do you deal with aluminum stuff? Does that count as carpentry? Or is it dry walling or is it framing? What do you do?
SR: A real mixed bag. The work that I do and have done for many years involves renovation and remodeling. So we are taking existing homes and converting them to new purposes. Sometimes that means installing aluminum or vinyl siding on the outside. But, number one, I prefer to get a sub-trade for that. Because that's sort of an area of expertise, like plumbing and electrical--it's a sub-trade, or it can be.
HD: Siding is a sub-trade?
SR: Yeah. And the application of non-wood elements other than composites and decking. But what I get into is, I frame with wood. Metal studs are generally used in commercial applications. And really, I built my reputation on developing my finish carpentry work. Which is more like staircases, moldings, finish elements.
HD: Crown molding?
SR: Crown molding.
HD: So you know how to do crown molding?
SR: Yes, I do!
HD: That is not an easy thing. I watched--what's his name--Norm on This Old House or whatever that PBS program is, and basically I became convinced that if I ever had crown molding to do I was not going to even attempt it myself. That's what I learned from watching that.
SR: Well, it's like anything else, you learn the technique, and then it's like riding a bike.
HD: Yeah, well, it's easy if you know what you're doing.
SR: Right, yeah.
HD: But to get to where you know what you're doing, that's a long road.
SR: Well, I'm 47, I've been doing carpentry since I was 18. So that's 30 years with the few breaks in between. But pretty much it's the body of my life's work. You develop a knack after a while.
HD: So you are in business for yourself as a carpenter?
SR: I am.
HD: So if somebody said okay, I'm going to do a home renovation, I don't know, convert the garage to living room, or I'm going to bust out a wall and make a pass-through between my kitchen in my dining room, that's the kind of project you would entertain?
SR: That is the kind of work that I do.
HD: So you were describing to Mary earlier your pre-campaign ritual?
SR: Pre-canvas ritual.
HD: Pre-canvas ritual. So canvassing meaning ...
SR: ... going door-to-door.
HD: Okay, so the actual act of physically knocking on doors.
SR: Yeah, I was telling her that it was my favorite part of the entire day during the campaign. Because it was just a matter of going out and having conversations with people and getting their feel on things. But my preparation every day, I developed unconsciously sort of this ritual, I would have a Snickers bar. I would eat a Snickers bar while traveling in my pickup truck to the neighborhood, and I would be listening to--a friend of mine, Dave Boutette, put out a single about six months ago, it has two songs on it--one of them is called "The Candidate" and the refrain on the song is "Will you make the world better?"...
HD: ... what's your answer to that? [laugh]
SR: [laugh] That was my intention! It's still my intention. So I would listen to that song while eating my Snickers bar and traveling through the neighborhood, that was my ritual.
HD: Now when you say a Snickers bar, you mean like a real regular-sized Snickers bar?
HD: So not a fun-sized.
SR: Right, and not the dark-chocolate variation. The standard, classic Snickers bar.
HD: [laugh] Okay.
SR: It's kind of unusual because my personal background--rock climbing, kayaking, doing outdoor sports and stuff--I tend to reach for a Power Bar, or one of those things more often. But for some reason the Snickers bar became the thing.
HD: Well speaking of Power Bars, the classic Power Bars are pretty nasty, wouldn't you agree?
SR: It depends on how hungry you are.
HD: Well, that's true. But you know, the Harvest Bar line of Power Bars, the granola, chewy ...
SR: ... it's at the honey coating on it.
HD: Yeah, it's more sort of dessert-like almost. Those I think are vastly superior to ...
SR: ... they are very good.
HD: Have you had a chance to sort of put the election behind you? I mean, you are sort of past that? You must've taken a couple of days to just say okay, Dang, I didn't win that.
SR: There was no question it was a full-time pursuit since April. And there was a lot of energy and momentum tied up in that pursuit. So once it comes to an end, there needs to be a period of decompression. My wife's family has a cabin in the woods about 20 miles from here. You feel like you are completely isolated, but you are steps from your door practically. So we went out there for a few days and I floated around in an inner tube on the lake.
SR: And I did some reading. I still fielded some phone calls and things like that but the nice thing is that there is no Internet out there and the phone service is terrible.
HD: So you were really, by choice, isolated.
HD: So what were you reading, periodicals, or?
SR: "Team of Rivals" by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It's about Abraham Lincoln's tenure in office, and the events leading up to that. But really the focus of the story, if you want me to get into this, is how he chose members of opposition throughout his career, or people who had different views from himself, but he noticed their strengths and abilities, which he recognize would be beneficial to him when he selected his cabinet and he put together his team. And it's the story of how that worked.
HD: So do you see any way of applying that basic notion to Ann Arbor city government?
SR: I do. You know, it's one of the tenets I talked about during the entire campaign. You have to be able to reach across the table, you have to be able to work with whoever is sitting there. I didn't really focus on this point, but the fact is, those other people sitting at the table from the other wards were duly elected by the people who live in those wards.
HD: Yeah, somebody did vote for them. In fact, enough people voted for them to put them in office.
SR: And if you have an idea that is new to them, or perhaps even controversial to them, it is your job to convince them or demonstrate to them how that is the better idea and how they should go along with it. And that way you get to move those ideas forward.
HD: So I don't have the precise vote tally in my head but you got over 600 votes.
HD: 694, okay, so almost 700 votes. Which is, about 200 more votes than the winner of the Ward 3 primary.
SR: I know--of course there were three candidates.
HD: You know, let's leave that aside for a moment and focus on the fact that you got 200 more votes the winner of the Ward 3 election. [laugh] I'm sure you noticed that, or people have pointed that out to you. Did people offer that as some kind of solace, along with other "kind" things? Things that after a while might get to be annoying? You know, "Good race!" "Good job!" Did people react that way, maybe try to find a silver lining that wasn't really there?
SR: Let me answer that this way: The response that I received from people in the aftermath of the election was very consistently "You ran a beautiful campaign," and I felt good about that, too. I felt that we dotted every "I" and crossed every "T" and that we were friendly, our signs were really beautiful, and our artwork was gorgeous. [laugh] And we did reach out to thousands and thousands of people.
HD: I think that's one thing on which there'd be a community-wide consensus--that it's lamentable that we elect people to city council on around 1000 votes.
SR: Yeah, in our case I think it was 5% of the registered voters in the Fifth Ward made this decision for who is going to represent everybody else.
HD: So back to the dam. Mike Anglin placed Save Argo Pond signs next to his signs at polling places--that was an issue that he identified himself with.
SR: That's disappointing.
HD: Why do you see that as disappointing? Because in a sense it sets the stage for something to happen, right? It sort of forces the issue to go forward.
SR: Yeah, I like that concept in general. And I think it still allows for either alternative to occur. I think they're just saying, let's relieve the pressure on the earthen berm. Which, on a certain level, makes sense. But the reason I find it disappointing is because city depends on the $200,000 in revenue that they get from the Argo canoe livery.
HD: How much was that?
SR: $200,000, approximately. There's about 40,000 rental trips and about $400,000 from both canoe liveries in Ann Arbor. And they're about half and half. So I am estimating approximately $200,000 out of $400,000 total is being generated by Argo canoe livery. That's money that the parks depend on, that's money that the city depends on. And that's a big enough chunk of money that it will have an impact on services and facilities.
HD: So let's connect the dots. Closing the mill race, which serves basically as the connection between Argo Pond and the lower part of the river, has the effect that if you want to rent a canoe at the Argo livery and your intention is to float down to, I don't know, what's downstream ...
SR: ... well you could go to Gallup Park.
HD: Right, so let's say your plan is to go from Argo to Gallup. You rent the canoe, and then you paddle, what 100 meters? To the place where the mill race is, and if it's open, you float through and then there is a portage--how long is that?
SR: The walking part?
SR: I would estimate 50 feet.
HD: And if it were closed, how long would that be?
SR: There would be no potential for portage.
HD: Well, it would just be an athletic feat, right? As opposed to a simple portage.
SR: The only way I could envision it is that you get out--you and the boat--get out of the water just before the dam somewhere and then you traverse the earthen berm. You would have to go over the top of it and down the other side, but you would also have to walk down stream considerably, because the water is too fast because of the pressure of the dam to get in right below the dam. You would have to move downstream a bit. I don't see this as a practical opportunity at all. You know there may be three people in Ann Arbor that could pull this off! [laugh] It's just not practical whatsoever.
HD: But you would be one of the three people, right? [laugh] You described climbing and kayaking and adventure-style stuff, you could probably do that.
SR: With one of my larger friends! [laugh] We would have to carry machetes and create a trail for the first trip, and I am not sure that that is legal. There will be pond paddles available, I should add that. For the very few people who rent boats at Argo to just paddle around Argo Pond, that opportunity would still exist.
HD: Do you happen to know what kind of percentage that is? I mean you have a lot of these numbers in your head as a park advisory guy. [Ed. note: SR was recently elected chair of the Park Advisory Commission.]
SR: Right. I don't have the exact--I would not want to quote a wrong number.
HD: But it's not by any means the majority of paddlers, I wouldn't guess.
SR: No, the vast majority of the people, as I understand it, are looking for the longer river trip. In fact, the folks that operate the canoe livery believe, just from customer response, that if they had a riverine trip from the bottom of Barton Dam all the way to Gallup, that their business would increase--"dramatically" is the word that they use. So that would increase revenue. Out of these $400,000 that is revenue generated by the canoe liveries, that's a surplus of 10's of thousands of dollars as well. It's around $65,000 net surplus. So their business would increase, and their surplus would increase, and it would help pay for maintenance of the riverine throughout. Including at Gallup and Geddes dams.
HD: So let me go back to the closing of the mill race, because I think maybe I misunderstand how the current system works. You have to get out of the canoe and carry the boat currently?
SR: You do. You go down the mill race from Argo Pond, you transition into the mill race, which is the stream above the earthen berm, you reach the end of it, there's a little dock in a concrete pad, and then you walk down concrete steps to the river itself where it is finally slow enough to get in safely. And that's the 50 feet of steps that we were talking about earlier. So you do have to carry your boat that distance, and on a rainy day that's pretty slippery.
HD: But what we would be talking about instead--to get to the point where you currently get out of your boat--if you were to carry your boat along the earthen berm, whatever that distance is--how long is the berm?
SR: Oh, as opposed to traversing the earthen berm? It's about 1500 feet. So if you went the length of the earthen berm ...
HD: ... that would be an effort.
SR: That would be a tremendous effort. So I think it would have a direct impact on those revenues and those rentals. Also, it too, is not a permanent solution. And I suppose you would have to look at things like, will the city even allow people on top of that earthen berm, if the mill race is not there. If it is just a muddy ravine and there's a chance that people could fall down into that ravine and not be able to get out, it may be more prudent just to keep people off the earthen berm altogether.
HD: That's a good point, because right now you could fall into the mill race obviously,...
SR: ... you could swim to shore and get out.
HD: Right, you have an opportunity to swim. So the idea would be, when we say close the mill race, we are talking about emptying it of water?
SR: That's what I understand. I think the only reason to close the mill race would be in order to empty it of water. Because the whole issue is about that water applying pressure to the earthen berm. So my thinking is if you are closing the mill race, then the reason is so that you can drain it and not have the pressure against the earthen berm.
HD: But that would be something important to nail down. That seems perfectly logical to me, but maybe I will ask a follow-up question. Or maybe it's in the letter [from the DEQ].
SR: The question being, what is the benefit of closing the mill race?
HD: Right, and the question being does closing the mill race actually entail that the mill race be drained of water, too. I mean that seems logical enough, but who knows. The idea of a riverine trip from Barton dam down to Gallup--this past spring there were, I don't know, at least a half a dozen incidents on the river, people managing to get themselves stranded, or overturning. And then there was a case of an SUV backing down a boat ramp and managing to back all the way down into the river.
SR: Where was this, at Geddes?
HD: I'm not sure where it was. But anyway it seemed like this spring every couple days ...
SR: ... I'd read in the paper about somebody's kayak ...
HD: ... yeah, I don't know if you think it seemed like this year more than most? I didn't go back and look to see ...
SR: I don't know what those statistics are. I do know that the canoe liveries are good at closing down the river in inclement conditions. And as I recall, most of these events were occurring during high water or after storms, which is an imprudent time to be taking a trip down the river, especially if you don't have a high level of ability.
SR: As I recall most of these instances were after storms when the water was high, and that's just imprudent use of the resource.
HD: So basically if we do go to a system where really the idea is to promote riverine trips, then for liveries, it's going to be on them to say to people, Look, the water is too high.
SR: Well, you can't take one of our boats down there. But what's to stop somebody from bringing their own boat to Bandemer and getting in the water there?
HD: Yeah, and then getting themselves stuck.
SR: Which, I think, is what happened. I doubt that staff would keep the liveries open.
HD: So listen, you got anything else you want to get off your chest and onto the teeter totter?
SR: Yes, two things actually. One is I think I can help you address that.
HD: And when you say "that" you mean ...
SR: ... the creak. Now you may enjoy the creaking, but I am worried about your sound quality [for recording the conversations].
HD: No, it is a concern. On the one hand, I like it because it has kind of a nautical feel, kind of like a creaking mast kind of deal going on. On the other hand, yeah, it makes transcription a real challenge. Let me tell you what I have tried in the past. I have squirted some silicone lube inside the sleeve. But somehow I think that the actual creaking that we are hearing is not metal-on-metal, it's wood somehow. So I would love it if you could tell me ...
SR: ... I think it's right here. It's rubbing against that pillar.
HD: You mean the edge of the sleeve??
SR: Yeah, it's where it's in contact with it right there.
HD: Okay lets stand up and scoot it over and we will test this empirically. Okay, now let's try.
HD: That is much better! [Ed. note: the creaking returns almost as soon as HD utters this.]
SR: Now it's moving over. It's because we are sitting on an angle. But if you were to put some plastic bushings in there, perhaps.
HD: Okay, plastic bushings. I could get those from, like Stadium Hardware?
SR: Or what you could do by a small section of pipe that's the same size as you have for the sleeve, interior diameter, and then slice a section and put those between. I think it would help.
HD: All right. I would encourage you to follow up with me at some future date and pester me as to whether I have implemented your recommendation.
SR: This will be my first teeter totter project.
HD: I might ask you for an extension, though, on whatever your recommendation might be.
SR: The second point that I wanted to bring up is that the only regret that I have from the campaign is that we weren't really--I think this will come from experience more than anything else--able to drive home the issue that I think was really at the heart of the matter here in Ann Arbor. And that is job creation.
HD: But do you think though that a local government has the ability to have an impact on that?
SR: I certainly do. Absolutely. On a number of levels. First of all, directly. One of the things that I called for in my customer service tenet was to begin with building permits, for example. If the building department is running inefficiently, or doesn't take a customer service approach, that slows down commerce throughout. It slows down the actual job, and that means people are going to the lumber company less frequently, which means that people that people are buying gas less frequently from the local gas station. Businesses that are creating products for use in construction--all of that cycle of commerce is slowed down.
HD: ... through permitting fees?
SR: Yeah, if there is difficulty in working with the city honestly, there are people who will refrain from getting a permit ...
HD: ... going through the proper channels.
SR: And that costs the city in revenue, as well. And working inefficiently increase costs as well. So you can both decrease costs and increase revenue and facilitate commerce by operating one department more efficiently.
HD: You know, Susan Pollay--also an alum of the teeter totter--executive director of the Downtown Development Authority, at the last capital improvements committee meeting, she mentioned that the company that is doing the Fifth and Division streetscape improvements--Eastlund Concrete--they lost part of an afternoon of work because it turned out that they hadn't gotten all of the proper permits for their lane closure.
SR: What's happening is that it's resonating, which is further impacting your sound quality. So I'm worried about that.
HD: So you know something about sound quality as well. Is this from your movie days?
SR: [laugh] I did take sound classes when I was in film school. But let me answer your question first. Yeah, I do think that it's the contractor's responsibility to go to the city and inquire, and say, This is my project, what things do I need to do in order to comply and perform the job properly within all the restrictions? I think it's incumbent on the city to say, This is everything you need to do in order to achieve this objective. And I think what you are describing is the city's failure to do that. You know it doesn't hurt or cost the city any more money to put a smile on their face and reach out and say, This is how I can better facilitate your project. And it behooves the city to do so, because number one, there are jobs being created by this project. Number two, it's infrastructure that benefits the citizens at large. So it is in the city's best interest to take that approach.
HD: Now back to the movie business.
SR: I worked in the movie business from 1988-92. I started out when I was living in San Francisco, and then about halfway through moved to Los Angeles to work exclusively on features. I started on commercials and industrials and some independent features. Before that I went to film school at City College of San Francisco. And it was an interesting exploration. I was in my late 20s early 30s, and I was sort of chasing down a fascination, trying something out, and I had some success. It's all freelance in the movie business--everybody is freelance.
HD: So basically that's how you learned to be in business for yourself?
SR: It's a good way! Because you have to learn how to pay your own taxes and all of that stuff. You don't have an employer specifically. So it is all freelance. I started out as a grip and a production assistant on commercials and industrials. By the end I worked my way up to becoming a location manager and sometimes assistant director on small features.
HD: What is a grip?
SR: A grip is a person that handles rigging.
HD: And rigging is?
SR: Rigging is, for example, if a light fixture needs to be placed and "rigged" or installed, if you will, in a certain location, the grips will provide the stands and the equipment, and a lot of the labor in terms of getting that fixture into its proper place, so that you can get the shot. And then an electrician--electricians work very closely with grips--the electrician will then provide the power for the illumination of that light fixture. So grips have sort of a mixed-bag job, whether they are hanging a banner or moving a piece of equipment. That's what they do. A dolly grip is a person who pushes the camera dolly for the camera person.
HD: So all these different jobs, electricians, grips, and whatnot, on a movie set, even in small independent features, is that heavily unionized, or not?
SR: It depends. On small, independent pictures--we're going back to '88-'92 so things might have changed dramatically since I worked in the business. But I can speak to the time that I was there. Which was that on small independent pictures, commercials and industrials that had a small market, a lot of them were non-union. Certainly studio features and television commercials for large companies that were going to be distributed nationwide, things like that, they tended to use more union labor. So it depended on the scale of the project, really. But it's not unusual on a major feature. I work on something called "Memoirs of an Invisible Man" with Chevy Chase and Daryl Hannah in San Francisco ...
HD: ... huh! ...
SR: ... as a production assistant on that and I did some second-unit assistant directing. That was, at the time, one of the most expensive pictures ever made. It was right after Diehard, I think, it was like $25 million or something, which was unheard of at the time. And there were probably anywhere from 20-25 different departments that worked there and many of them each had different union locals they were working from. So if you got a big picture with 200 people on the set at a given time you could also be dealing with dozens of unions. So there's a lot of coordination involved.
HD: So did you have a chance to go over to see any of the filming that was going on in Virginia Park?
SR: I didn't. I was right in the middle of the campaign, and it was important for me to stay focused on knocking on doors and things of that nature. I did send an e-mail to the location manager. Rob Reiner was working on the picture. I had worked for the entire Reiner family--Carl, Rob, and Rob's brother Lucas--on a picture called "Spirit of 76" back in '88 or '89. It was filmed in the Bay area. So I had met them before and got to know Lucas pretty well. Carl and Rob had cameos in it and weren't around that much. So I e-mailed him and said, Welcome to town, you're working in my ward, and by the way I'd love to visit the set some time, but that was pretty much it. The truth is, people are simply doing their job, and nobody does their job at their best with people breathing down their neck. So it makes it more difficult if there are a lot of people standing around. It would've been fun to say hello. I doubt if any of the Reiners would have remembered me after 20 years.
HD: You never know. They might have at least faked it and that would've been nice. Yeah, I remember you!
SR: That's something else I think I could contribute, either at the city council table, or maybe there are other opportunities in my civic work. And that is, to help provide a more informed discussion for the needs of film companies as they move to town, since I do have a certain amount of experience.
HD: The tax breaks seem to be an avenue that has actually resulted in actual movie-making activity. It could have been possible that when the state passed those incentives, that movie makers said, Yeah, well, big deal, make a movie in Michigan? No. But people have actually said, Okay were going to go to Michigan and were going to make some movies. I don't know how they're measuring the impact of that, but I assume he can't be negative, right?
SR: I think it's positive. People complain about the tax breaks that were given to the movie companies, but we're creating jobs. And you could say that they're bringing all their people from LA to do the work. First of all, they're not doing that for their entire crew. Secondly, how long is that going to last where they keep flying people from LA to work in Michigan movies? They are going to create a local talent pool that they can use.
HD: Yeah, I think that doesn't happen overnight. People sort of slowly figure out, what are the needs of a movie production company--with respect to catering, say. Catering a movie set, I would assume that there are totally different constraints than, say, catering a wedding. I don't know what they are.
SR: You have to learn the ropes for that particular profession.
HD: So catering a movie set, I'm sure, is a wholly different proposition than any other kind of catering. You'd have to be ready for any number of things that you wouldn't have any idea that existed. And you just have to learn that.
SR: You have to learn that, yeah. It's like anything else, working in a new area. One thing that would be very valuable to the movie business--in the movie world if you could dream of the perfect business to serve your industry, what that would be is a business called "24 Hours Everything in the World, Delivered." Because what happens is you are working in a variety of circumstances in a variety of hours--for example, when they make scripts changes in the movie business, they copy it onto a different color of paper. So when you put that into your script, you know that this is a change and there is a sequential order of that. Well, if the script change comes in the middle of the night, and they are going to be shooting a scene in the morning, and the production staff needs to create copies of the script changes for everybody, and they need to get pink photocopy paper in the middle of the night, there needs to be a way to do that.
HD: You'd have to set that up in advance, though, right? That's your point.
SR: Right, it would be a registry. And then when a movie company came to town, the Convention and Visitors Bureau would say, We have this registry, do you want to sign up for this? So you have these businesses that are willing to serve you.
HD: So that is something that the Convention and Visitors Bureau might handle?
SR: They are our local film hero at this point, as I understand it.
HD: So they are the point of contact.
SR: Mary Kerr, I think, is her name.
HD: So if a movie company comes to town, that's what people are told, that it's the Convention and Visitors Bureau who are the point people?
SR: The point of contact, yeah. There are a lot of things we could do to facilitate that business.
HD: All right. Thanks for the ride.
SR: Thank you!
HD: Anything else?
SR: I like to help you [inaudible]. You could start, Dave, just take a 1-inch board and put it under this side. And let's level it out a little bit and I think you'll have less problems. I'm just worried about your sound quality.
HD: But comfort-wise, it's all right, right?
SR: Oh yeah, I love the teeter totter! It's really nice. I was a little worried about a lack of a handle, but you know what, I have no worries.
HD: For this one, in contrast to the one in the backyard, I did a round-over router bit pass that I was really proud of, because I had never used a router before. I was just really happy that I didn't gouge my thigh or anything really awful.
SR: We didn't get to crime-fighting. But we could do that another day.
HD: No. You know what, I want to hear about the crime-fighting. Because I have a crime-fighting story that I can share with you. So Mary and I lived in China for two years. And early in our stay I had my wallet in my backpack in the outside pocket. I guess I probably knew that that was not the best idea, but I thought, I have it right here, it's right on my shoulder. And, you know, we had been warned of pickpockets, so I'm not really sure why it did not occur to me that I should really put it in my pants pocket at least.
SR: [laugh] That was easy!
HD: It was weird, because I really had no explanation for why I thought that was the guy. And why did I think--it wasn't like I thought, Oh, this is going to work, I just reflexively put my hand on his shoulder, not even like squeezing with a vise-like grip or anything, just put my hand on his shoulder and he produced the wallet. And I was like, Okay, lesson learned, keep my wallet in my actual pants pocket and not in my backpack pocket.
SR: All's well that ends
HD: I guess. So Helen, also in China? [Ed. note: Helen Bunch is SR's wife.]
SR: She was there in 1989, she had a scholarship to study postgraduate figurative drawing in a city called Hangzhou. There is an art institute there. Her parents went with her to help her get settled in and they went to Beijing first. They got out of their taxicab somewhere in Beijing and somebody came up and snatched her purse. And she was still a pretty young woman, she is still a pretty young woman ...
HD: ... now wait a second, where does the comma go, you know? Pretty comma young woman, or just pretty young woman.
SR: Both! [laugh] Gorgeous, relatively young woman. As she is now! She had run cross-country in high school, that was her sport, and this guy took her purse ...
HD: ... she chased him down?!
SR: She chased him down, and her real concern was that she had importantant stuff in there--I don't know if it was her passport or money or what it was. She just wanted to get her stuff back. But she chased the guy down, and got him and got her purse back ...
HD: ... so did she tackle the guy with like a flying tackle or something?
SR: I don't know. And it would be good to ask her for her version of the story, because she actually participated in it. I'm just relaying it second hand ...
HD: ... as it has been handed down.
SR: She chased the guy down and she got her purse back, but she and her parents both say that they regretted it. Because immediately these plainclothes guys came running out of nowhere and started beating the crap out of him and hauled him away. And they thought, You know what, this guy is going to be in a labor camp for the rest of his life for ripping off a tourist. And this was in 1989, which you'll recall was the year of Tiananmen Square. So tensions were really high, and actually Helen had to cut her stay short because of Tiananmen. So that was her crime-fighting story. But you know, she tells a lot better than I do.
HD: But you have one of your own, right?
SR: I have a couple of my own, actually.
HD: So right down here on Fourth Street?
SR: The one on Fourth Street was I was working on a renovation at a house. It was an extensive renovation, so we were there about 9 or 10 months. And during that process, we would say hello to all the neighbors as we got out of our trucks, and after a while you get to know people on a wave-hello type basis, and recognize what cars they drive and so on. So there was a Saturday where I left some tools on the job, and I wanted to pick a couple of them up so I could work at home. And I noticed this guy sitting in a car that was familiar to me as owned by the woman who lived across the street.
HD: So the car was familiar to you, not the guy.
SR: The car was familiar to me, the guy was not. I had not seen him before. But you know at that moment you're thinking something doesn't look right here, but there could be something that you don't know. It could have been a visiting relative from out of town who was looking for something in her car. So I chose to simply sit and wait. I thought, if the guy walks away from this person's house then he was probably not supposed to be in the car, and if he walks into the house then he was probably okay being in the car.
HD: So you knew which car matched which house. That was the key, okay.
SR: So he was rifling around in this car, and he got out of the car and started walking down the street, so I knew immediately he was not supposed to be there. So I knocked on the door and asked the woman, Is this person supposed to be in your car? And she said, Absolutely not. And I said, well, okay I'll see if I can catch them. So I ran down the street, he was a couple of blocks away, and I came up behind him and I said--I lied, because I was trying to think of something where he would hesitate to react violently if he was inclined that way--so I said, "You want to tell me what you were doing in my girlfriend's car?" And it did cause him to pause, and he paused long enough for me to say, "Listen, I think you should just give me back everything you took out of the car." And he handed me this bag of stuff and I took it back to the woman.
HD: So did that get filed as an incident with the police?
SR: No. I gave it to the woman who lived in the house, and there was stuff in there that did belong to her, and there was other stuff that didn't, so the guy must've been just going down the street cleaning out cars. And I said, I will leave it to you to distribute the stuff to your neighbors.
HD: Yeah, I was going to say, Norm would ...
SR: ... he would hate that. So I just dropped my toolbelt, and I ran downstairs, and he was far enough away I could see him way down the street where I would never be able to catch him running. So I thought if I cut across the alleys and he happened to go the same direction and try to turn back and blend back into the business district, I might be able to cross paths with him again.
HD: No way!?
SR: And I pointed across the street, and the guy saw me pointing across the street, so he takes off running again. These two younger guys do like a Starsky-and-Hutch 180 in the street and they take off after him ...
HD: ... so they are still in the car ...
SR: ... they are still in the car. And I go running thinking I'm going to participate in this. And it turns out that this went on over like 12 or 14 blocks we were chasing after this guy, cutting through alleys, and eventually we caught up with him--because he had run out of gas, you know run out of breath, he was hiding. And as we were running along, people were hanging out of their apartment saying "That way! That way! That way!"
HD: Seriously, this sounds like something out of a movie.
SR: But it's a true story, and this one is documented. And there was an abandoned apartment building with broken glass everywhere, broken bottles and things, and people pointed to us that he was hiding in the vestibule of this building. I was with one of the guys--one of them had gotten out of the car at some point, and the other was still in the car. We said, okay, and we hopped over the fence that was enclosing this yard. And we went into the vestibule, and sure enough, the guy was there and he was dog tired. So we both pull him out there were two of us now instead of one. And the guy that was with me wanted to hit him, because along the way these guys have had encounters with this guy where he had hit them with a stick, so they were angry.
HD: Wait a second, the chasers were fended off ...
SR: ... at one point, yeah. They caught up with the guy, they'd gotten out of their car ...
HD: ... and he had whacked them with a stick.
SR: Right, and he was able to get away again.
HD: So they were in a mood to punish.
SR: Yeah. And I was like, No, you don't want to hit him, we just want the stuff, we just want the stuff. And then all of a sudden this off-duty Cook County deputy comes flying over the fence with his gun drawn pointing it in our direction, and he is showing his badge--apparently all the neighborhood activity had alerted this guy to what was going on.
HD: This story keeps getting better and better!
SR: Good, then I will keep telling it! So this cop comes flying over the fence with his badge out and his gun drawn, and so we kind of back away from the guy and the deputy grabs the guy and start saying "Are you in the gang? Are you in the gang? Are you in the gang?" And I had no idea why he was asking him this question.
HD: I don't know, Scott, maybe you are just that impressive! Maybe they were impressed by the shorts and sandals, they said, Why, it's Short and Sandal Man, the superhero.
SR: So anyway they released those two guys and we all went down to the police station.
HD: So did you have a conversation with these two Latino guys about ...
SR: ... well, when we were waiting there. You think you go through this once-in-a-lifetime--life-altering in a way--situation with two complete strangers, and immediately some sort of bond will develop. I speak a bit of Spanish and their English was not that great, so we were sort of able to have a chit-chat conversation. But at a certain point we realized really that's the only thing we have in common, and they were nice enough fellows ...
HD: ... but you weren't going to become penpals.
SR: Yeah, we never did.
HD: Were you able to explore with them at all how odd it was that they were dropped to their knees and almost handcuffed and you were not! Did you discuss that aspect of things with them? Did that strike them as unjust?
SR: It was kind of an unspoken thing. Because they saw that I had convinced the police that they should not be handcuffed. I don't know, we just kind of sat there awkwardly, because we had never been in this situation before, what's going to happen next? So I think all we could do is just sort of make small talk.
HD: So you were not free to go, you yourself?
SR: The police asked us to provide a statement. So I suppose legally we would have had the right to leave. But we wanted to give a statement. I just sort of reacted viscerally, and I think that the other guys did, too. It was just like this moment--for some reason we acted.
HD: And once you start, you have to sort of follow through.
SR: And once you start you do have to follow through. We caught the guy, he got 76 months. For purse snatching.
HD: How many years is that?
SR: Six times twelve is 72, so it's six years four months. And recently I just Googled the guy's name, and he's turned out to be quite the repeat offender. But at least for 76 months, or until he was paroled, he was removed from the street.
HD: It will become part of neighborhood lore.