Memorable Work Phrases

It’s difficult to suggest that we have “legends” where I work. We've had legendary people work with us (Ray Morrow) but I really don't recall any great feats of impossible accomplishments that are remembered and passed on to new workers to inspire them. Instead, we memorable stories that have titles that become work phrases that we bring up in meetings or laughingly mention in an email. These summaries usually have an implied moral or warning to those who would forget the past.

One Man, One Hour

In 2003, I was on a project at a science museum in Charleston, WV.  We would drive down from Columbus on Monday, stay the week and drive back on Fridays. We managed our client, their GC, our vendors, and ourselves. Towards the end of the project, we planned for the client to bring in a few school groups to test the activities to see what was working, what was not working, and what was breaking, both physically breaking and breaking our hearts.

My last piece of work was to install some painted, metal trim around a small platform. I had previously dry-fit the metal to the platform before sending it out for paint. That morning, we got to the site at 7:00 am and gathered for our daily meeting. Everyone knew the school groups would be showing up at 10:00 am and that we should be finished with our work by 9:00 am so that we could absolutely be cleaned up and ready. We went around the circle with everyone sharing what they were working on. When it came to me, I said that I had to install the trim and then I would be available to help others with their work. Allen asked, “What is it going to take to get done?”
I said, “One man, one hour.”  The group broke up and I got to work.

I opened the box my trim pieces were in and immediately found out the marks I labeled them with were covered in paint. My first task was figuring out what was what. In normal Doug fashion, I did figure it out, but did not re-mark them knowing that I would easily remember which was which and the two minutes it would take to mark them was way too long.

While dry fitting them worked out great, I had never added the fasteners to hold them on to the platform. As the fasteners cinched down, the metal would bend slightly, which kept it from laying flat on all sides. Because the front and top were visible, I couldn’t add fasteners on those sides to make them lay flat. On top of this issue, tightening the screws caused the metal to deflect and when the screws were removed, the metal did not go back to its original shape. I had to bend every deflection back by hand.

When I looked at the time, it was almost 8:00 am and I should have been done. Co-workers were peeking in at me, but not saying anything.

Once I did get one piece in and fitting correctly, the next interlocking piece would reveal where things were not flat or where they were still bent. There was a cascading waterfall of failure that kept requiring me to remove all the pieces and starting from scratch.

At 8:30 am, Jim walked over and said, “Do you need some help?”
I said, “No, I’ll get it.”
Jim hunched down and watched for a few moments. He immediately noticed that the holes I was pre-drilling for the hardware were too small. Many of them were large enough at this point because I had run screws through them four or five times, but with Jim making the holes larger, the newer pieces were behaving better.

Ouch! Did I mention the edges were sharp and the holes that the screws had expanded had skin slicing blades coming out?

We got to the last piece and discovered that it needed to be the first piece. The way the metal bent around required it to be the first piece. We took them all off. Jim said, “Which is the next piece? Are these labeled?”

It was now 9:45 am and the groups had already shown up.  Would we be able to let them in early? I think AJ showed up at this point to jump in to help.

At about 10:04 am, Jim, AJ and I were finishing up with others helping to hide my tools as the school kids started running around the space.  

I was able to hang back and watch the kids interact with the exhibits. I was soaked with sweat and sadness, but the kids’ excitement and glee took my edge off.

If you are ever in a meeting and someone brings up a hesitation about the labor and time it will take to do something, a few folks will smile and say, “One man, one hour.” I, too, like to say it, because I dabble in self-deprecation.

Here is that platform with the metal trim. It’s beautiful. Yes, that is astro-turf.


We build interactive exhibits, mainly for children's and science museums, but many other venues, like zoos and retail environments, are very interested in how we can communicate a message through physical interaction and software. Some of these exhibits are new, untested ideas that we put a lot of effort into making them work or re-working them. Some of these exhibits are tried and true, industry-wide, standard hands-on activities that really don’t change from one installation to the next.  Something like a gyroscope or a zoetrope. You can’t really bend the science to make these phenomenon work in a different way.  But every project is different, and sometimes these standard exhibits are changed slightly based on that project’s needs for different cabinetry or themeing. We find ourselves looking at a previous drawing of an interactive and thinking, “This is what worked before, it must be what will work now for this simple activity.” But something was changed from one project to the next and that modification isn’t needed or could be a challenge if it isn’t caught for the new project. AJ and I were discussing this one day and lamenting about how poor documentation of changes can be an issue when everyone just does what the person before them did. That reminded me of a story my ECON 101 teacher, Mr. Ault, told us about his wife’s ham. When she would prepare a ham, would cut a generous portion off either end. When Mr. Ault asked why she did this, she explained, “It was how my mom did it.”

This stuck with him and at the next family gathering, he asked the mom why she cut the ends of her ham off. The mom replied, “I’m not sure, it’s how my mom did it.”

And to the matriarch he presented himself and asked. “Why did you cut the ends of your ham off?”

And she explained, “My pan was too small to fit the whole ham.”

Sometimes we do things because it’s just how they were done before. And while that seems to save time and money, you can end up doing things for the wrong reason.

For our team, when something is a replication, we take that extra step of making sure that what we did before was the correct way and that we do not keep mirroring unnecessary modifications from the past. When something should be carved in granite, we make sure we document any project specific changes, so that future creators know what they are getting into. But when one does sneak by and the question is asked why it was done that way, we know it’s a Ham.

Voodoo Budgeting

In about 2001, I told my boss that numbers he was moving around in the project budget were either incorrect or wrong or unnecessary. I forget the circumstances, except that I probably should have shared my opinion in some other way then by telling him it was “Voodoo Budgeting.”

Join me in the way back machine to 1986 when actor Ben Stein teaches that George H. W. Bush called Reaganomics, “Voodoo Economics.”

I don’t know very much about Economics (except about the professor’s wife’s ham,) but I did remember that line from the movie. It seemed a fitting way to describe what I was feeling at that moment. My boss did not like that phrase very much.

His displeasure with it was so memorable that this Work Phrase isn’t about budgets or accounting or economics or the phrase Voodoo Budgeting. It’s about when you say something to someone and it sticks with them FOREVER.  

When my boss brings up Voodoo Budgeting, I know that he’s reminding me of that special day and that he’ll never forget the time I doubted him and did so using a clever movie reference. Sometimes I will bring it up in a meeting, just so that I can say it before he does so that I can still have some power over those words.

A few years ago, we hired someone at the management level who had production experience and seems to know “a guy” in every trade possible. I’ll call him KF for Kung-Fu. He was experienced and seem to be able to give us contacts throughout the industry. The one thing he did not have a command over was searching the internet.

In a project meeting, we discussed resourcing brass stanchions with the velvet ropes. Hugh had been doing some research and shared what the costs were. The new guy thought that the costs for the stanchions were too high and asked if Hugh had done research on used stanchions.  KF said, “You see, the internet, it’s made standing in line at the theater obsolete. Theaters everywhere don’t need those stanchions anymore, so they are in a backroom getting dusty. The movie managers want to make a quick buck so they sell them on line. We just need to find them.”

(I don’t want to get in to how many theaters DON’T have brass stanchions with velvet ropes and that some manager would be creating a website to sell them.)

KF grabs the meeting room keyboard and pulls up the internet. He then starts to speak aloud and type, “ www dot used brass stanchions dot com.” That web address came up empty. Again, “www dot movie theater brass stanchions not being used for sale dot com.” Nothing. He tried several variations on this, each time coming up with a longer, more complicated string of words that he would try to turn into a website address. Of course, nothing came up. Hugh stopped him and said, “I will continue the search at my desk.”

In the end, we bought a bunch of new stanchions and aged them so that they would look old. Not old like they were in a movie theater closet for years, but you get my point.

Now at work, when someone asks how to locate an odd material or obscure product, like a pair of 6’ tall fuzzy dice, we will follow that up with, “Have you tried or”

Below is an image of stanchion that were not bought used and use in a themed structure.

Aunt Barbara's Wagon

Back in the late 80s, my Aunt Barbara gave me her behemoth of a station wagon and my friends and I had an awesome time driving it around and causing all sorts of distress and that's the end of the story.

Except that the station wagon never made it to me. I never got to opportunity to create shenanigans in it.

Steve intercepted the wagon and I never got to drive it.

I think the station wagon was about 60 feet long and the back end of it could hold 23 people and 12 kegs. I assume that if it ran into a telephone pole, the driver would feel a slight bump and only notice later that the station wagon was covered in a telephone pole quantity of toothpicks. Its gas tank held 500 gallons of gasoline that would get it to go 45 miles. Aunt Barbara had multiple sclerosis so her station wagon was outfitted with an aftermarket accelerator and brake control on the steering column which made for interesting feet-out-the-window driving opportunities. I could be wrong about these descriptors, but I choose to ignore the truth,

I know for sure that some of you reading this are aware of the station wagon and probably ended up passing out in or under it. You have your own story. I know of two.

Steve had the station wagon for a while when the brakes started to go out. Like any good Powhida, he ignored the problem and hoped it would go away. It did not go away and, again, instead of fixing the problem, he created a work-around. As he was driving the station wagon through Toledo, he would watch the crosswalk signs in the distance. If he saw one of them start to flash, he knew that the light would soon be changing. To come to a stop, Steve would do the following:
1. shift from Drive into 2
2. shift from 2 into 1
3. press the brake pedal to the floor just for show in the hopes the brakes would kick in
4. engage the parking brake
5. shift from 1 into Park
6. swear
7. steer the wagon into the curb for a frictional slow down
8. shift from  park into reverse
9. drive up the curb and on to the grass
10. let the final momentum take the wagon off the curb and to the stop bar

Steve did this until he did get the brakes fixed or the wagon died

The Wagon Died
The wagon died. Steve knew it was going to die, it was just a negotiation with fate as to when. For Steve, it was on a road trip from Toledo to Ohio State. The wagon let the ghost go along the side of 23 South. Fortunately, it was a caravan of cars headed to Ohio State, so they were not stranded. Steve gave the wagon last rites and his buddies stripped or obscured every single VIN code from the wagon along with any paperwork that might point back at him or poor Aunt Barbara. They left the smoking husk next on the side of the road where nature would take its course. There are some that say that rusting bits of the wagon are still on the side of the road or that an auto mechanic from Detroit found the wagon and brought it back to life as a bus to take kids to school. Me? I think that the highway patrol had a semi tow truck haul the beast to Lake Erie where it was used to shore up part of the coast and keep erosion from pulling Cleveland into the lake. The wagon couldn't stop itself, but it can keep Cleveland from floating away.

(Please come back in a few days for photos of the wagon. I have reached out to Cousin Andy for photos. If you have photos, please contact me at