“Clara, I don’t have any idea what is going to happen at this meeting; all I can promise you is that it will be boring. But if you would like to come wi-” She instantly jumped out of her chair with a shout of joy and ran through the room.
“I’m going to get my wallet! she yelled back, “And a clipboard!” already at the top of the stairs. She was so excited to get out of the house and go on an adventure with her father. There was no talking her out of coming once the offer had been made. But I still felt a little guilty taking her with me to a Planning and Zoning Committee Hearing. And deep down, a part of me was already afraid that she would do something weird and embarrass me.
On our way into town, I tried my best to explain what I thought was going to happen. “So, someone wants to build some homes in Anchorage,” I had explained in the car. “And to do that they need permission from the government. And they asked me to do the math to decide where to put their new driveways. And it’s possible they might have questions, so I’ll have to stand up and explain my math.”
She giggled out the window of the back seat. “Okay, I do math at home, and I understand what you are talking about.”
“So, I’m basically like an engineer myself!”
“…What? No. What does that even mean?”
“Okay,” she conceded. “Like a Junior Engineer then.”
“Clara, there is no such thing as a Junior Engineer, and a real Junior Engineer would have known that.” I took a deep breath worried again about what I might be getting myself into. “You know what, just please don’t embarrass me. I’m filling in for my boss tonight because he’s sick. So, I’m already taking a pretty big risk bringing you along to meet clients I have never met before. Your job is to sit quietly in the back of the room, try not to be seen, remind me to turn my phone off when we get there, and maybe draw some pictures of the room so you can share them with your mom when we get home. You have your drawing tablet right?”
She held up her pink clipboard with both hands and shook it in the air strangely.
We were both surprised by the size of the assembly chambers when we arrived. Clara remarked that it reminded her of a large courtroom, and I explained that it sort of was. This was a room where a group of judges voted to determine how they would choose to act on a number of different laws. We wandered around the room, and I met the team of people I would be working with. They were asking the design team to all sit together on the front row. They told me this while glancing awkwardly down at the little girl with the pink clipboard beside me.
“That’s perfect,” I said. “I can sit up front with you guys. My daughter is just going to sit in the back, over there, and draw pictures.” I gave Clara a hard stare, “and she’ll be quiet and not be weird at all.” I could feel myself starting to sweat into the collar of my dress shirt. I draped my coat over a seat and promised her that I would be back in probably 20 minutes.
30 minutes later, we were still slowly plodding through the hearing with no signs of it ever stopping.
“Through the chair to commissioner Baker, I would like to direct your attention to exhibit E of the handout in which it is clearly shown that the easement along the west side of the proposed development is in accordance with the Municipal policies and codes regarding such easements and that setback requirements have been met for all structures on the site.”
I yawned into my hand and glanced over my shoulder at Clara as I had several times already. She was small and dark among the sea of concerned citizens that had turned out for the public hearing. And as I turned to face her she did what she had every other time that I had turned around that evening. She smiled and waved excitedly, and then bent over and unclipped the drawing from her clipboard and held it in the air above her head. I nodded and tried to subtly motion for her to put her arms down, but she emphatically waved it back and forth and pointed. As if she were an Olympic judge announcing her score for the most recent high-dive. Only in this case the score was some kind of crude pencil drawing of a square inside another larger square surrounded by several smaller filled in squares. I smiled and slouched down in my chair hoping that no one was noticing. One of two of the commissioners obviously did, but they politely ignored it and continued their hearing.
There were 30 more minutes, and then after that 30 more, as my client calmly argued in favor of his development and the Planning and Zoning Commission calmly worked out the legal requirements and future planning considerations that would need to be addressed. Every ten minutes or so I would turn in my chair cringing at what I would find there, and every time I was met with this same enthusiastic cheerleader, silently hopping up and down in her seat showing me her latest drawing. It was like watching an amateur mime who was pretending that the pencil drawings were a bundle of balloons that they were struggling to keep on the ground.
I was never called forward to defend my math. And eventually, a million years later, the proceedings came to an end.
I shook a few hands, and then slowly walked to the back of the room and stood over the little girl. Surrounding her on the floor, in a strange circle of paper, were probably 15 different drawings.
“Hi Dad,” she said.
I just stared at her, very tired.
“So, my pictures didn’t work…” she motioned at the ring of arcane shapes and diagrams surrounding her like some sort of medieval spell.
I said nothing.
“So, what I was TRYING to say, is that you told me to remind you to turn off your phone. So, I was drawing pictures of your phone.” she held up a drawing that looked more like a melting ice cream bar. “But I guess you didn’t ever understand.”
“Oh,” I picked up one of the images and handed it to her. “Thanks. My phone was back here with you the whole time, in my coat. Did it vibrate at all?”
“Okay. Well, that’s maybe because I had already turned it off.”
“Yeah,” she said, picking up the last of her drawings. “I thought so.”
She handed me the stack of papers, and I looked at the one on top. “You know, these are actually pretty good.”
“Thanks,” she smiled.
I put my arm around her shoulder and started walking her towards the exit, “Hey, how about we go get something to eat and celebrate both successfully being junior engineers tonight?”
“Yes!” she cheered, and it echoed far too loudly around the council chambers.
Several people turned to see what all the excitement was about. An older man held the door open for us and shook his head and smiled. My daughter and I stepped out into the night and walked toward the car arm in arm.