Monday, December 12, 2011

Lessons Learned the Hard Way: Do not destroy an entire wall of your college's dining area.

(photo @ greeningopseu)

When I was at the University of Kentucky, one of the places my friends and I would often go to eat was the Blazer Cafe.  It was located very close to the dorms and the classroom buildings.  It also had the Blazer Express, a nice little convenience store that could save you a trip from making a grocery store run that would require the use of a car.

One of the other things that was great about Blazer was that it had giant, comfortable chairs that were on wheels.  These combined with linoleum floors to provide hours of entertainment in what we liked to refer to as the "Rolling Chair Total Destruction Derby."

Behold, our chariots of DOOM!

Now before any of my female readers that idolize Chelsea Handler and read Cosmo try to attack me and my friends for acting like neanderthals, you should know a couple of things:

1.  Girls often participated in these matches, too.
2.  You probably own at least 2 cats and enjoy movies starring Kathryn Heigl.
3.  It was harmless fun... least it was until Saturday, March 4, 2000.  On that morning, myself and a large group of friends headed to Blazer to get something to eat before the University of Kentucky Wildcats took on the Florida Gators at Rupp Arena.   We had eaten breakfast and begun our usual post meal ritual of rolling across the cafeteria and slamming into each other at incredibly high rates of speed.

For some reason that I still cannot explain to this day, I thought it would be funny to see if I could get my chair to roll all the way from one end of the cafeteria and directly into the outside wall of the Blazer Express.  Surprisingly, I was able to achieve this with relative ease on my first attempt, but not with the force that I had hoped for.

I backed up a second time, flung myself and the chair across the cafeteria, and slammed once again into the Blazer Express exterior.  This time, the results were much more than I had been anticipating.  As my chair collided with the wall, a loud 'CRACK!' ripped through the entire cafeteria, causing everyone eating in the non rolling chair section of the dining hall to suddenly stop talking and stare in my direction.

Look!  It's something insanely stupid that happened in college WITHOUT alcohol being involved!

In an act of stupidity that would have made Wile E Coyote proud, I had managed to punch a hole through the Blazer Express' dry wall in the perfect shape of my chair.  As the cafeteria's mummers began to evolve into laughter, my friend walked up to me and said:

"Nick, you know you gotta do the right thing and..."

"I know, I know..." I muttered as I got up from the chair/hole in the wall and headed for the entrance to the convenience store.

I walked inside to find the shocked attendant still completely unsure of what had happened.  While my chair hadn't gone completely through to the other side, it had definitely made a large impact in the dry wall and probably sounded like the beginning of the apocalypse from where he was standing.

I walked up to him, collected my thoughts as best I could, and then uttered a sentence that no matter how many ways I tried to refine it in my head, it still came out sounding utterly ridiculous.

"Excuse me, sir...I was rolling around in one of the chairs out there, and...well...I slammed into the wall."

"Oh, that's what that was..." he replied.

"I'm not finished.  There is currently a giant hole in the wall outside due to what I did."

"A hole.." he stammered.  "But, how could a rolling chair even do that type of damage?"

Clearly, this was going to be even more embarrassing than I anticipated.

"I was able to propel myself from the other side of the cafeteria.  I guess I just had enough force that when I hit the wall, I also went right through it."

Saying it out loud like that really brought home how absolutely stupid what I had done was.  The bemused look on the cashiers face wasn't helping matters...until he said something completely unexpected:

"Don't worry about it.  Let the school pay for it."

You can also take a few of these before you leave if you want!

I was a bit taken aback by this suggestion.  I guess I should have been grateful for the sentiment, but it just didn't make sense.

"I don't think you understand; this was completely my fault.  I was the one that slammed my own chair into that wall and punched a hole in it.  And even if I didn't feel incredibly guilty and stupid about it, I'm sure there are cameras everywhere that saw it.  I would rather just own up to this now and get it over with."

Still, the attendant (who I later found out was one of the managers of the store) continued to insist that the school would pay for it.  I told him that I ate there every night during the week and left a number and email at which I could be reached.  I then went about the lovely task of informing my parents (who were visiting for the weekend), about my little adventure in bad judgement and property destruction.

Every son dreads the day when he has to look his father in the eye and say:
"Dad, today I was acting like a major tool...and I broke a wall."

A few days later, the same attendant saw me eating outside the store and came up to my table.

"Ummm...they saw you on a camera," he said sheepishly.

"What a surprise," I responded.

He went on to tell me that the school had asked if he knew who did it.  He told them that he was "pretty sure" that he did and that it was someone he would probably be able to contact.  I'm not sure why this guy felt the need to cover for me, but it wasn't helping.  I told him that I was more than willing to talk to whomever I needed to get this resolved.  Instead he told me that he just needed my student ID number, mailing address, and contact information.  I wrote it all down for him, handed it over, and spent the next week waiting for the hammer to drop.

As the days continued to add up without any consequence, my anxiety over receiving some sort of financial and criminal penalty for my incredibly stupid indiscretion began to wane. I still felt bad about it, but I had now tried twice to give my information to a store manager so that I could be contacted.  After another 2 weeks, I had begun to think that maybe this really was just going to go away.

One thing that was also going away were the rolling chairs in the cafeteria.  Over the next few months, they had slowly been replaced by chairs without glorious amenities like wheels and oversized armrests.  There were still a few left, but we had made the responsible decision to retire from our days of chair demolition derbies.

But one fateful night, a few of us began to roll around and knock into each other a bit.  It wasn't with anywhere near the same exuberance and kinetic chaos that we used to have; this was much more muted and also confined to a small area.  Still, it was almost as if the wheels on the chair had a power over us that was so strong, we could not contain ourselves...until a campus security officer walked over.

Blazer was usually a pretty calm place (with our chair demolition derbies being the most violence it ever saw), so it was a little strange to see any sort of police presence there.  The old man walked up to our table and looked at us out of one eye while he kept the other squinted for no discernible reason.

"Ya'll need to cut that out," he barked.  "That type of crap is why there's a big 'ole hole in the wall over there.  We're still looking for the guy that did it."


The silence that had befallen our table was quickly broken when the brick that I had laid inside my pants dropped loudly to the floor.  As the security guard walked away, I jumped up from my seat and ran to the Blazer Express.  When I look back on it, the guard probably told us that just to scare us into stopping, but at the time, I fully believed that I was the subject of a campus wide manhunt that would end with me being incarcerated.

"DUDE!"  I screamed at the attendant.  "The police are looking for me now!  Why didn't you just give them my information?!"

"I did!" he replied with a stunned look on his face.

"Well, please tell me who I am supposed to contact so I can do it.  I don't want to get arrested."

The attendant told me that the information had already been passed along to his boss and the people in charge of building repair and maintenance; there was nothing more that he or I could do.  I went back to my seat and contemplated my unaware fugitive life that I had been living for nearly 2 months.

At this point, I would not have been surprised
 if the owner of Blazer Express also had one arm.

Over the next few days, I talked to every person that worked there about the giant hole that I had put in the wall of their store.  Surprisingly, most of them treated me like a type of folk hero than a criminal, but that still didn't change the fact that I had caused property damage that needed to be repaired.  Each person, whether a manager or employee, assured me that they would turn over my information to whoever was in charge of physical repairs.

As the school year ended, I still had not heard back from anyone.  The wall had finally been repaired and was being painted over when I left Kentucky to spend the summer back home in Georgia.  I mentioned it to my parents once again, but even they seemed to think that with the amount of time that had passed, nothing was going to be done.

Then in August, right before the school year began, my father walked in to inform me that my tuition bill had also come with a "vandalism charge" of a few hundred dollars.  I used the last of my summer job paychecks to finally close the book on one of the strangest chapters in my life.  I also learned a few things:

1.)  UK uses EXTREMELY cheap dry wall.
2.)  Sometimes doing the right thing requires more work than just confessing your sins.
3.)  Rolling chairs are awesome, but the power that they can give is something that must be treated with care.

4.  This floor combined with a rolling chair is too much power for one man to wield.