Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Citizens Bank Weather Ball Meets The Wizard of Oz

Guy takes us behind the scenes at Citizens Bank:

"After making a series of utterly horrible life decisions, I found myself working as a security guard in the early 1990s.

"On more than one occasion I was assigned to the venerable old Citizens Bank Building downtown. I worked alone — like 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. or something — and it was fairly creepy. To cut to the chase, it fell to me to change the weather ball. I don't know why, but I'd always kinda figured that the thing was, somehow, automated or a moderately high-tech deal. Actually, a guard climbs some rickety stairs to this funky, dank room (buzzing, loudly, with electrical current because it's right beneath that enormous sign) and there are three huge buttons on the wall — red, blue and yellow. Next to them is a telephone. The protocol is this: you call the National Weather Service, listen to the recording, do your best to interpret it, and hit the button(s). I think there was another button to make it blink 'in agitation...'

"In an odd way it was kind of deflating; it was like finding out that the Wizard of Oz — the man behind the curtain — was just an ordinary schmo like me. In fact, in this case, he was me.

"Final note: On a dare from my former wife, I purposely set the thing completely wrong one night simply to see if the world would grind to a halt.

"Nothing happened."

Citizens Bank Photo: night sky and neon by lonniec61

13 comments:

  1. Sorry for all the typos - I'm sick as a dog with the crud. That damn post almost needs a translation...... Oh well.

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  2. Guy, you're too hard on yourself. This reads great. Nice story.

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  3. I always wondered if you could turn two colors on in the weather ball, like turning the red and blue lights on at the same time and get a "purple light in weather ball". What does that mean and where was it in the song?

    Red and Blue-Purple light in weather ball
    Red and Yellow-Orange Light in weather ball

    Or that some combination of all three would allow mauve, taupe, or chartreuse lights in the weather ball.

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  4. So you could have sat up there throughout your shift, pushing the buttons in sequence so that Flint collectively would lapse into weather confusion as the WB sequenced through red-yellow-blue-red-yellow-blue.

    Pity, a chance missed.

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  5. Maybe they have modernized the switching since then. All they'd really have to do is install relays to change the switches. It could be done by remote control. Perhaps there is some safety issue here, but high voltage and high current electrical circuits like this are changed all the time by relays and remote control. Was that the room up on a high floor that had all kinds of "employees only high voltage" signs on it?

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  6. Any Citizens Bank insiders who can update this one? I kind of hope it's still the same process Guy described.

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  7. Does the bank ball still light up? I didn't think it did anymore...

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  8. Oh yeah. I think the photo was taken this summer.

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  9. After I posted that little memoir it occurred to me that the room which contains those buttons is actually on top of the building. To be honest, I don't recall this with absolute certainty (and, man, have I been sick with the flu) but I think that was the configuration. After you ascend those stairs, I believe, your actually in a room on top of the building. I remember that the lights of the weather ball - along with a ton of ambient racket from the eletrical current in the sign - filled the place and made it all sort of unnerving. Being up there alone, at like 4 AM, just had a weird feel; I wanted to set the damned thing and get outta there. I guess I was never really cut out to be a security guard.

    I don't recall any warning signs about high voltage. I just recall the place as being sorta dirty and, actually, kinda spooky. Most of all, as I've said, I found it kinda remarkable that the mechanism whereby the whole thing was manipulated was so incredibly low-tech and, further, that it was routinely managed by some minimum-wage schmoe like Guy Merritt.

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  10. I loved this story. I remember asking my sister what would happen if there wasn't a color on the weather ball. She replied, "the world would end."

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  11. I used to see the Weatherball everyday on my way to school from Davison to Durant Tuuri-Mott. I usually saw it when we were on Lapeer Road near Channel 12 and the M&S bottling company.

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  12. I miss the Halo Burgers and the Angelo's Coney Island. We have a Coney Island shop in Kalamazoo, but it doesn't compair with Angelo's!

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  13. My life wqs sqved at Saint Joseph's Hospital in Flint in 1962, following my family's involvement in an alcohol-related crash at the corner of Davison and Irish Roads. I wqs treated well at Saint Joe's, I will alwqys remember my experiences there, and I miss it.

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