Sunday, December 14, 2008

Trapped in the religion building!

Curiosity tightly bound by distance can be a dangerous thing.

I remember leaving Lee's campus this time last year for holiday break, just recently having witnessed the razing of three structures on the southern tip of campus.

After the rubble was swept away a makeshift fence was erected and preparations began for the foundation of a new religion building.

Oh, how the jealousy rose up within me.

Other Lee University students would have a full semester of watching a slab of concrete grow a skeleton, then skin, and take on the breath of life that buildings do.

It's fascinating stuff, watching it all come together before your eyes. Progress building on progress day after day.

Alas, I was on the next train to D.C. for the spring semester, studying journalism in the nation's capital.

Yes, while it's difficult for the construction of a two story religion building to hold a flame next to the experience of spending a full four months in Washington, I still felt like I was missing out on the birth of a campus landmark.

After all, I had mercilessly covered the erection of the new home for the Leonard Center and Health Clinic, documenting everything from floor plans to framing on video, with photos, and in writing.

Well, to sum up Washington for you: Juno, lost in the Library of Congress, class, internship at the Washington Times, liveblog from the Capitol building, front page stories, Holocaust museum, spring break, classic movie nights, Metro, never got to walk down the Washington Monument, departing friends.

So the semester concluded and I, still going through religion withdraws, looked for any excuse to make the trek to Cleveland during the summer so I could get a sneak preview of the inside of the new building.

The opportunity came when I made plans to meet with the outgoing managing editor of the Lee Clarion to discuss preparations for the upcoming year.

It was a Sunday, and I spent the morning at church after arriving in Cleveland. My meeting wasn't scheduled until 3 p.m. That meant I had three hours to spend with my camera inside the newly-drywalled halls of the unfinished School of Religion building.

The gate was open and inviting and the DSLR slung around my neck danced with excitement as I walked through the dirt to the front entrance of the building.

To my surprise there were three construction workers laboring on details of the incomplete lobby.

I announced my presence and my mission to gather photographs of the building and continued past them, breathing in the wonder of a brand new building, and also what toxic chemicals my inhalation of the insulation provided.

The unpainted walls, the classrooms filled with air duct pipes, the stray ladders and hanging light bulbs. No doubt about it, stepping inside felt marvelous.

There was scaffolding to the ceiling of the lecture hall. In the corridor a Bi-Lo grocery cart rested from wheeling around stray construction materials. The elevator shaft was a dark and deep pit.

All the joys of seeing a building in a state you'll never see it again. And on top of that, archiving it for generations to come.

A snapshot of every classroom and office, all in a developmental stage, littered by the occasional Dr. Pepper can sitting atop an isolated pipe jutting from the floor.

My memory card was full, my stomach was empty, and the 3 p.m. meeting time loomed ahead of me with little time to spare.

I strolled toward one of the exits and, upon finding that it was bolted shut, I walked to the other end of the structure and found the second exit locked tightly. Third exit. No cigar.

By this time not only was I beginning to realize the building heat of a closed structure in the summertime, I was contemplating what would happen if for some odd reason I had actually been trapped in.

Luckily, that wouldn't be the case. As I could just exit from the opposite side of the building where I first entered.

Funny, the laborers were gone.

And the large hole of an entrance that first admitted me to the building was now covered from top to bottom with large pieces of plywood, religiously hammered into the metal frame.


So, what are my options?

1. Haul a ladder from the second floor down the steps and attempt to jump out of the crack between the plywood and the crest of the rounded frame, possibly hurting myself from the nine-foot drop.

2. Knock on the other exit doors and yell out "help me!" to any remaining construction worker who might still be around outside before leaving for the day.

3. Wait for someone to find me. Possibly for hours.

Well, I tried number two. Sort of. Then I remembered that I had been blessed with a tool of modern times: the cellular phone.

I quickly added two more options to my list:

3. Call a teacher, explain the predicament, and hope for the best as they explain that there's little that they can do.

4. Dial Campus Safety's number and hope that they take pity on my soul.

Such a difficult decision.

But in the end, I was pleased that I had taken the time to insert Campus Safety's number in my contact list. I called.

"Lee University Campus Safety. How may I help you today?"

"Hi. I'm stuck in the religion building."

"Excuse me?"

"All the workers left and I was taking photos and now I can't get out."

"The new religion building that's under construction?"

"That's right."

"Try one of the doors."

"I have. They're all bolted shut."

"We'll send an officer over."

"Thank you."

Three minutes later I watched from one of the large lobby windows as a snow-white SUV pulled into the construction zone and parked.

A young man got out, definitely taller and bigger than I, but then again, I'm sort of the short and stubby type.

For a moment we looked at each other through the window. One on the inside. One on the outside.

He walked around to the plywooded entrance, shook his head, and proceeded toward one of the locked back exits.

I quickly raced through the building to where I knew he was. Hearing him fiddle with the some sort of metal piece, I wondered how much would have to be done to rescue me.

Gradually, a metal wire tied from the outside came loose and the door creaked wide enough open for me to slip through.

Awkwardly, I stood there, like a criminal about to be sentenced.

"What's your name?" he asked. I told him.

"Are you a student here?" Nod.

"May I see your student ID?" I didn't have it with me.

"Your regular ID?" I didn't have that either.

A lecture ensued about many things, including always having your student ID and not crossing onto construction sites without permission.

Trust me, by that time I learned a lesson. My curiosity learned it. My camera learned it. I learned it.

As I waited for the officer to escort me into his SUV and take me as plunder back to either his office or the Cleveland Police Department, I heard him say "goodbye" and he walked to his car alone.

I breathed a sigh of relief and then inhaled the clean, cool air of the outside world. I vowed never again to be held captive by religion, instead focusing on the relationship that saved me.
• See all the photos that I took during my ordeal here and here.

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