I got a text message from Mark Baratelli from TheDailyCity.com letting me know about an event happening at the new Amway Center that was too good to pass up. He informed me that Mayor Buddy Dyer and City officials would be in the new arena which is still under construction, to test the building's toilet facilities. All of the bathrooms were going to be manned so that 443 toilets would flush at the exact same moment.
Parking near the new arena is impossible at best right now. I parked about five blocks away under an I-4 overpass and stuffed the meter full of quarters. When I got to the site, makeshift fences still surrounded the building. I approached what I call the masthead corner of the building. As I walked towards the doors, a security guard ran up behind me to stop me from entering the construction site. I explained about the event and yet he had no idea what I was talking about. Luckily for me, City Commissioner Patty Sheehan also approached the building at the same time. He had no idea who she was and insisted we both get back off the site. I used my cell to call Mark and he told me the entrance might be on the other side of the building near the parking garage, and he ultimately found out the 5th floor walkway was the only way to enter the event. Patty and I walked that way. I told Patty I had seen her once before at an event called "Wheels for Kids" where 95 bikes were given away to needy children. She perked up and remembered me immediately. It took a few more phone calls and some waiting before we finally made our way to the event site in the new arena.
When I entered the arena, four Magic dancers were standing at the doorway and greeted me saying, "Hello Thomas." As I was walked further I thought, "Wait - how did they know my name?" Then, I saw Mark with a construction helmet and bright yellow vest on. He had put the dancers up to the personal greeting. I got my own helmet and vest and then Mark and I walked towards a huge crowd of vested people. There was a red carpet and velvet ropes. We heard the laughter of children. A woman told us to walk down the red carpet. There were plenty of TV cameras.
Then I noticed Dwight Howard who was heads taller than any cameraman. As he was interviewed the cameramen closed in around him. I started sketching frantically. People were in constant motion and I knew I also had to get a sketch inside a bathroom. Groups of children from Nap Ford Community School were on hand and were each assigned a number which corresponded to a team leader. When it was time, the team leaders escorted the children and reporters to the various bathroom scattered throughout the building. Mark and I simply stayed at the bathroom nearest the staging area.
Once inside the bathroom, the team members kept posing for pictures. Then over the public address system, Dwight Howard said, "Everyone man your stations. The Royal Flush shall begin in 10, 9, ..." The flushing began with Swiss accuracy. People ran from stall to stall, flushing in each. A woman barged in on Mark's stall and shouted out, "Oh my! Excuse me!" The flushing continued for the next ten minutes. I imagined man hole covers being blown sky high all over the city. Then, all at once, it was over. The announcer suggested snacks out in the staging area and the bathroom immediately cleared. I remained behind adding watercolor washes to my sketch. I suddenly realized I was missing a rag and so I took the free tee shirt I had been given and used it instead. When the sketch was just about complete, a woman walked in and asked, "Can I wash my hands?" I, of course, said "Yes." As she washed her hands, I asked, "Do you know if this is a men's room or a women's room?" She pointed out that there were no wall urinals and I realized I was doing my very first drawing in the new arena in the women's bathroom.
Out in the hall I returned to the first sketch I had started, and worked on it some more. As I sketched, Buddy Dyer walked up to me and asked if I was one of the 25 artists who would have work in the arena. I said no, but let him know about my blog and gave him a card. After the event was over, I walked back to my truck only to find it had a bright green parking ticket envelope on the windshield. I had banked on it only taking two hours to flush some toilets. My enthusiasm for sketching events downtown was shattered.