Friday, June 24, 2016



After my year of being a VISTA volunteer in the tiny remote Eskimo village of Sleetmute, Alaska, I was transferred to the Hawaii Curriculum Center at the University of Hawaii on Oahu. Some change. The Center’s mission was to develop creative educational materials specifically for the elementary schools of Hawaii. Because this was essentially my first ‘design’ job, I had nothing to compare it to, but looking back now I realize that the incredibly talented people there were developing what we now call interactive media way ahead of its time, and also looking back, I can see where my whole design career began to take shape.

And, need I mention again that this was HAWAII..... Mind-blowingly beautiful and inspirational. While it was only one year since I had gotten my industrial design degree from Pratt, that already seemed like a lifetime ago.

At Pratt, my senior project was a sensory playground where little kids, regardless of physical abilities, could play together in a safe environment and learn from each other. My playground eventually wound up having a crater-like shape. Now Hawaii had it share of craters and volcanos, and also had these incredible golf courses. “I was just fooling around with some idea sketches when a friend of mine  Dana Jones saw them and thought I should meet her friend Jack Throp, the Director of the Honolulu Zoo.

To my surprise, Jack loved my idea and showed me this little parcel of land he had. It was too small for an actual playscape, and not even in a public area, but nevertheless it was a piece of actual land for me to play around with. Great! My little plot was located between the zoo proper and the maintenance yard where the zoo crew worked ‘behind-the-scenes' to keep the zoo up and running and the animals healthy and fed.

Jack introduced me to the crew, told them what I’d be doing and also that I’d be ‘on my own’. Fine with me. I also got to park my car in the maintenance yard and occasionally  I would hang out or eat my lunch with the crew. Seeing what went on ‘backstage’ was always fascinating.

One day when I arrived I sensed that ‘something’ was different. Did you ever get that feeling? I had no real reason to think so and yet I did. Anyway I brushed it off and went about my business. 

At lunchtime I still felt ‘something’ in the air. I asked one of the guys “What’s going on?” “Nothing” he replied. Okay. Maybe I’m wrong, but I couldn’t shake the feeling. Maybe it’s the guys listening to their little transistor radios. I said “OK...SOMETHING’S going on...What?” Finally this older guy tells me to sit down, and it a way.... to shut up! 

He told me this story. During World War II, when the Japanese forces invaded a city, one of the first things they did was to open up the zoo’s cages and let the wild animals out. They didn’t have to worry, they had guns, but the city’s population was thrown into even greater chaos. That was history.

He then asked me if I had heard about the Amchitka underground atomic test that was to take place in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands today. I did. Everyone in Hawaii had it in the back of their minds. He told me that at the first sign of a tsunami heading toward the islands, the Honolulu Police had orders to ‘put down’ all the big animals at the zoo to prevent their escape. Wow. I’m stunned. And then he told me that the maintenance crew, totally on their own, had made secret plans to move the big cats and others animals from the zoo to hidden enclosures they had built in the mountains above Honolulu. Wow again.

That’s why these guys were all on a hair trigger, listening to their tiny transistor radios and ready to go into action. That’s why there were so many different trucks around that morning. 

We waited. The blast went off on schedule. There was no tsunami. Everything went back to normal. 

Still, those guys! Those guys!

Bravo !

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