Random Shirts


Day 22 – The Great Googly-Eyed Fire Hydrant

After a final stop by the museums of DC, it was across the Chesapeake to the other part of Maryland.

The peninsula of land east of Chesapeake Bay is known as the East Shore of Maryland, I came to find out. I was a little bit surprised at what I found.

The East Shore is actually a really nice farming area. It is a rural area with some small Victorian towns. I passed fields of soybeans, corn, and wheat, with a few boats thrown in.

I left the main road to visit the town of Queen Anne, a very small town filled with some beautiful old houses, and almost no businesses. As I passed through, I spotted a free boat ramp down to a beautifully peaceful river, the Tuckahoe. The weather was nice, so I pulled in and paddled around and under an old railroad trestle. I then went downriver a ways, finding an odd abandoned boat and a tiny old dock. In the process, I managed to scare up a flock of about 200 geese.

It is a great little place to go for a paddle.

Mere yards before crossing the Delaware line, I passed a house whose front yard had been turned into a shipyard.

Someone was building a steel ship in front of their house, a ship that could almost be bigger than their house when finished.

What is this, the Noah of Maryland?

Of course, I was curious about the story behind this ambitious project. I tried to find Noah, but no one seemed to be around, even though there were two drivable cars sitting in the driveway. I could hardly imagine all of the work required to build something like that from scratch.

I have long been a bit curious about Delaware.

Normally, it would be one of the last states to cross my mind at all. I mean, the whole state is less than half the size of my home county. But it doesn’t even have the distinction of being the smallest state, which at least gets Rhode Island some press coverage.

However, it does seem to have an unusual appeal to people from the state. I first noticed this when I graduated from high school, and one of my classmates mentioned that she was happy to graduate because she could then go home to Delaware.

Since we had gone to school together in Oklahoma from Kindergarten all the way through high school, and I knew that she had lived in Oklahoma since at least the age of 2, I found this to be an odd statement. How is Delaware home?

In college, I met another person who called Delaware home. She had such a high opinion of the state, that she took it upon herself to host an educational program each year to preach the virtues of the small state. She held the lecture on Delaware Day, which is apparently a state holiday celebrating the date on which Delaware ratified the U.S. Constitution. People did actually go to these Delaware Day programs, though primarily to heckle.

So, I wondered what was so great about the tiny state, that it would have such a draw on people.

After finally visiting the state, I still have that question.

It was nice enough, I guess. Pretty much the same as the Maryland East Shore. And it has no sales tax, which is a nice change. But there was nothing that made me really long to come back.

As I drove by the Dover Air Force Base, I saw the remains of a big cargo plane sitting in a field across the road. Just a huge rotting carcass in a pasture, with the head and tail and other smaller pieces strewn about. And that is about the most interesting thing I found in the state.

That is, the most interesting thing other than the googly-eyed fire hydrant.

I reached Newark, DE, home of the University of Delaware, just after dark.

It took me a while to find a legal place to park near the campus, but finally found an open parking meter on the main strip of restaurants and shops.

I got the distinct impression that UD was affected more by the 1960’s than Oklahoma State was. I parked outside a store called GrassRoots, which was only a block or so from the local pizza joint, Peace a Pizza. A place called Home Grown did not specify what it was they grew, but apparently it is a good place to cure the munchies.

I stopped in at a place called Cluck U, a wings joint with a healthy sense of humor and little else that could be described as healthy. I would say that it had questionable cleanliness, but there was really no question about whether or not it was clean.

I asked the student behind the counter if he knew where I could find the fire hydrant with eyes.

“There is a fire hydrant with eyes?”

“Googly eyes,” I clarified.

In college, Doug, Kristina and I were in an organization called NRHH, which stands for National Honorary something or other.

One of the main functions of NRHH was to recognize people, usually by giving out awards. For example, we were in charge of choosing a Student of the Month each month, and served as judges for many of the end-of-year campus awards.

Not only did we choose the winners, we also provided the awards. However, though NRHH gave out literally hundreds of awards each year, we had a very small budget with which to do so. There were a few awards for which we gave out plaques, but the vast majority of the awards and recognition had to be done on essentially a zero budget. 

So, we had to get creative. We would do some really cheap things, like giving out paper certificates. When that got old, or when we had 50 people all getting the same minor award, we would go with whatever we had handy—office supplies, for instance, or a large bag of smooth rocks.

Now, few people are very excited about receiving a binder clip or a rock. But, we found that if we decorated it with craft paint or glue, and presented it as recognition for a job well done, just about any object would do the trick. It was the thought that counted, and everyone loves a pat on the back and a sincere “good job” or “you rock”, even if the “you rock” is written with puff paint on an actual rock.

At some point, when we had to make a large number of one minor award, someone found a bag of what we called “googly eyes”, or the plastic bubble-shaped eyes with black pupils that would wiggle around when shook. We attached those to the business card holders or binder clips or whatever it was that we had to give out, and painted little faces on them. Oddly enough, they seemed to go over well. Again, it was the thought that counted, and at least the eyes made them stand out as more than just binder clips. They were recognition for a job well done.

The next time we had to give out a large number of small awards, we simply took a different batch of common objects and attached googly eyes to them. Before long, a cliché was born. Going to give something out at an awards ceremony? Here, attach these googly eyes to it first.

As this started to get a little bit over the top, I half-jokingly suggested that we should forego the rocks and binder clips and just hand out really big googly eyes. No one seemed to go for the idea, until Doug and Kristina presented me with a truly giant googly eye that they had made out of a couple of dinner plates and a black disc. They called it The Giant Googly Eye Award. It was not an award for any particular thing; I like to think of it as sort of a lifetime achievement award.

I’m probably the only person on Earth to have received a Giant Googly Eye Award.

So, when Kristina found that a fire hydrant on the University of Delaware campus had two large googly eyes attached to it, she naturally thought of me. And since I was passing through Delaware anyway, I knew that I needed to make a stop by this fire hydrant. A random road trip needs a sufficiently random roadside attraction.

Now, all I had to do was find it. I had not been able to hear Kristina’s directions over the chatter of Doug and Lauren, so my only clues as to the hydrant’s location were:

  1. It was on the University of Delaware campus, and
  2. It was not in front of the building that Kristina teaches in, but was near an adjacent building.

Too bad I didn’t know what building she teaches in. So, all I had to do was find a fire hydrant with eyes somewhere on the University of Delaware campus. In the dark.  And, I had a time limit to do it in, since I was parked at a meter.

At least that makes it interesting.

I started asking student-looking people for clues. Kristina was an English major, so is there perhaps an English building, or a particular classroom building where a graduate student would be most likely to teach an English class?

The third person I asked suggested that I might be thinking of Memorial Hall.

So, I got directions to Memorial Hall, got lost, and got some new directions. As I walked across campus, I checked every fire hydrant I came across, just in case. I found that fire hydrants are often tucked away in inconspicuous places.

I finally found Memorial Hall. OK, I thought. This is the one place where it is not located. But it may be within a block in any direction.

I struck out in a lucky direction, and found the Great Googly-Eyed Fire Hydrant tucked away behind some bushes.

It was one of those wonderfully weird little mysteries. There was no explanation for it. Apparently, somebody decided the thing needed some eyes, and took it upon themselves to fix the design oversight.

The hydrant’s name is Albert, by the way.

According to our NRHH philosophy, if you take any random thing and attach googly eyes to it, it becomes something special. Something worth giving as an award. Albert the Great Googly-Eyed Fire Hydrant is probably the most random thing I have ever found to have googly eyes attached to it. So, it must be very special indeed.

I spent the night camping at Lums Pond State Park just outside of Newark. It cost $22 for a non-Delaware resident to set up a tent on a patch of ground, with no electricity provided. Proud of our muddy ground, aren’t we? And they do not provide change, so if you are not carrying around enough $1 bills, they expect you to just pay extra.

The facilities were not even as nice as those in Mississippi.

But, by that point, I didn’t have many other good choices nearby. And this would at least allow me to go back to Newark in the morning, to get some decent daylight photos of Albert.

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© 2006 by Kevin McConaghy. All rights reserved.