The Power of Persistence: The Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb

Sydney Harbor Bridge at Sunset

Sydney Harbor Bridge at Sunset

The balcony of my third floor apartment was so close to Sydney Harbor that with a running start from the living room I could plant my foot on the rail and  dive into the murky waters below. Directly across was the Opera House and to my right was the Sydney Harbor Bridge, affectionately known as “The Coat Hangar.”

I spent two months in this apartment while working on a project for ING Bank in Sydney. And when I sat on the balcony I often observed something unusual–tourists climbing the arch of the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

From my vantage point I could see groups of people, roped together and wearing utilitarian jumpsuits working their way across the arch of the bridge to the other side. They’d be there during the day and even some nights. To a guy from Seattle it was akin to watching tourists bungee jump off the Space Needle.

I found out that there was an unusual story behind those ant like creatures on the bridge. A story of persistence and faith. I learned that a local entrepreneur named Paul Cave had climbed the bridge by special permission as part of an international business convention. Paul had a unusual tie to the history of the bridge. On the day it opened in 1932 a young boy had waited in line to be on the first train to cross the bridge. That lad bought ticket number 00001 Years later he gave it to his son-in-law, Paul Cave.

Paul loved his bridge climb experience so much that he came up with a plan to turn it into a regular tourist attraction. He recruited partners, raised millions of dollars in startup funding, and petitioned local government agencies–only to be denied. Issues ranging from the danger of dropping items onto passing cars below to falling tourists were used to deny his petition. For nine years Paul worked with, cajoled, and even sued government agencies in his efforts to open the Coat Hangar to tourist climbers. At times even his partners told him to give it up as a bad idea and move on.

Finally in 1998 Paul got final approval and the Bridge Climb opened as a business. It now grosses $50 million (AUD) per year and as of April 2013, three million climbers had made the trip. A BBCbucket list named the Bridge Climb as one of the “50 Things to do before you die.”

So when you’re ready to give up on something ask yourself, “Am I willing to persist to see my dream through?” Whether it’s a book, a business, or another vision you’ve had, do you have the perseverance and patience of a Paul Cave?

And no, a bungee jumping attraction from the top deck of the Space Needle is not my dream.

QUESTION: What dream do you have is worthy of faith and perseverance?

Bridge at Dusk

Bridge at Dusk

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A Higher Calling for Story Telling

“The only reason for giving a speech is to change the world.” John F. Kennedy

Balloon Flight - Mount Rainier in Background

Balloon Flight – Mount Rainier in Background

I love telling stories but now is the time to raise the stakes for this blog.  And the best way to explain why is, of course, through a story.

If you’ve watched the movie, Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, The Flying Nun as his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and Tommy Lee Jones as Senator Thaddeus Stevens, you might think that Lincoln and Stevens were the people primarily responsible for ending slavery in America. But I think Abraham himself, would have given the credit to–a storyteller.

In 1862 President Lincoln met the daughter of an Evangelical preacher and said to her, “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!” 

That woman was Harriett Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. You might think that the president exaggerated a bit, but remember what life was like in America in 1852 when Uncle Tom’s Cabin was first published.

The country was violently divided over the morality of slavery. Preachers used or abused the bible to decry or defend the institution. There was a gag order in congress that prevented even debating the issue. (Frankly, I’d like to see a general gag order on Congress but not to preserve a national sin.) And because of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 If you knew of a runaway slave you were legally bound to help return that slave to their owner, or you could face jail yourself–even if you were in a free state.

Uncle Tom's Cabin (Dover Thrift Editions)Mrs. Stowe introduced a story into that age that aroused the conscience of a nation. It exposed people to the humanity of an enslaved people and the inhumanity of an institution. And even people who have never read the book recognize the name of the primary villain–Simon Legree.

According to Lincoln himself, it was a story that sparked the Civil War that led to the end of slavery in America.

I’d like to help you use stories to change your corner of the world. I’ve seen how stories are used to change personal habits, improve family dynamics, and lift groups to a higher calling.

I’m going to continue to tell stories but I’m also going to talk about the art of story telling and share some great resources. I’ll include video, current articles, books, and other resources. And I’ll continue to tell some stories–that are just for fun.

I hope you’ll stick with me and even invite friends to join me as I take my message to the next level. Please sign up for my newsletter at this link. I’ll send out notices of new blog postings and share information not available on the blog.

I believe I can help you change your corner of the world, through the power of story.

Dennis Brooke

I recently taught a workshop on Three Methods for Powerful Storytelling. That workshop was based in part on this article that published by Blogging Bistro. 

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Hope for the Next Generation?

Several friends recently despaired about the fate of grown children raised by their “helicopter parent” friends. According to them these college educated twenty somethings, including one with a Master’s Degree from Notre Dame, had been coddled from the cradle and were now having problems making it in the real world without mommy and daddy to clear the way for them. In their opinion, some of them were destined to be wards of the state.

But just north of milepost 14 on a local bike trail, my wife and I found hope for at least a few of the future generation.

On a sunny Easter Saturday Laurie and I took a sixty mile ride on the Centennial Trail which starts in Snohomish, Washington, just north of Seattle, and winds through farmland and the outskirts of small towns. The people on this paved path which follows an abandoned rail route are friendly and several  businesses cater to the walkers, runners, equestrians, and cyclists who frequent the route. The trail is so well maintained that Laurie called it “the ballroom of bike trails.”

Just north of mile marker 14 east of the town of Marysville the trail took us under an overpass where two girls had a lemonade stand. It was still early in the day and my wife promised them we’d stop on our way back. That was hours away given that we still had 30 plus miles of rCentennial Trail Ride - Snohomishiding and a lunch stop. We started a long descent into the valley and I guessed that by the time we did get back they would be bored with their little business venture and be long gone.  

When we did return hours later there were still there. Their stand is situated at the top of a long hill several hundred feet above the valley floor. When we stopped to talk to them purchase lemonade we found that they had been running this business for three years. One of them was sporting a Stanwood High School shirt and I’d guess that they’re both in high school. Because they’re in the shade at the end of the longest climb on the trail, they’re perfectly positioned to catch tired and thirsty riders, runners, and walkers finishing their climb.

The lemonade was great, especially after 45 miles of riding, and very reasonably priced. It was encouraging to see two young entrepreneurs sticking with business year after year especially after hearing friends lament the fate of their own friend’s kids.

Business WomenOne of the girls commented that they felt like they were getting too old for a business like this. As we pedaled away Laurie said, “You’re never too old to make money.”

If you do find yourself on the Centennial Trail and come across our two young business women tell them that others find their persistence encouraging. And suggest that they raise their prices. They’ll need the money for college, or their next business venture.

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How Did You Meet Your Mate?

My wife and I taught a marriage preparation class where our favorite icebreaker question was, “How did you meet your future spouse?” Common answers were, “Through friends,” “In a bar,” or, “We were classmates.” But the answer from one couple, which I’ll share later, has always stood out in my mind as the story to be topped.

Laurie and I met when we were teenage members of Civil Air Patrol, a civilian auxiliary of the US Air Force. Imagine Junior ROTC crossed with Explorer Scouts and you get the general idea. I was her Flight Sergeant at a search and rescue training camp. She thought I was a jerk. Given the fact that I was a fifteen year old boy–she was right. Four years later I had matured to the point where she thought I might be worth a second look. After some encouragement from a mutual friend who thought we’d be good together, we started dating. She’s spent the last 33 years helping me smooth off some of those rough spots in my personality that caused her initial rejection.

Several of our closest friends are in mixed marriages–which in our part of the country means that a University of Washington Husky married a Washington State University Cougar. Both of these long lasting relationships started in bars. And none of their children are attending either university.

A cousin told me how her mother sent her to college with the express purpose of earning an MRS degree–which means finding a husband. She was interested in the college life but not so much in that MRS degree. For awhile she managed to put her mother off with stories about non-existent boyfriends. When mom lost patience and demanded to meet the current beau, my cousin enlisted the help of a classmate she barely knew–and in whom she had zero romantic interest. When her mother showed up he played the part and mom went away satisfied, for the present. But the seed was planted in the mind of her accomplice and he asked her out, several times. She finally acquiesced and the rest is marital history.

When we meet couples I like to ask that icebreaker “How did you meet your mate?” Partly because I like to know about them but also because I’m looking to top the unusual response by the engaged pair in our marriage preparation class.

Their answer was, “Over a dead rat.”

There was silence in the room until I asked, “A dead rat?”

“Yes. We were lab partners in a college biology class and our first assignment was to dissect a rat.”

I asked if they’d be putting a frosting facsimile of their benefactor on the wedding cake. Sadly, no. It didn’t fit within the theme of their reception.

How about you? How did you meet your mate? Leave you answer in the comments. It’s fun to share stories, even if you can’t top, “Over a dead rat.”

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Romance in the Ring Tone

Everyday is Valentine’s Day

Posted in Building the Best Relationships, Just for Fun, Wooing Your Wife | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Sixth Sense of Canines

Dogs seem to have a sixth sense about coming disasters. Historians and researchers claim they can sense earthquakes coming. Although when one hit Seattle we had to wake my parent’s snoozing terriers so we could get out of the house. But I do know of one case where I believe a dog had a sixth sense about a coming disaster and managed to avoid it. 

In the fall of 2008 the University of Washington mascot, Spirit, an Alaskan Malamute was chasing a squirrel when he injured his shoulder. A live mascot has roamed the sidelines of UW Husky games since 1922, but Spirit wasn’t there for the opening of the season. In fact, he didn’t make it for any of the games that year. Not even the last one which was going to be his retirement ceremony where he’d be replaced by Dubs, the current mascot.

I went to watch football, as in American football, and not soccer. It was University of Washington's Huskies vs Freshno State's Bulldogs. Was a really exciting game (even though I didn't really understand what was going on), and my ...An injury chasing a squirrel? Personally, I think Spirit could smell disaster coming. That season the Huskies went zero for twelve. We were the first 0-12 team in PAC-10 conference history and the only NCAA Division I team to finish the 2008 season without a victory.  We couldn’t even beat the 1-10 Washington State Cougars. We were firmly atop only one ranking—ESPNs Bottom 10 

In my opinion, Spirit proved that canines do have a sixth sense when it comes to coming disasters. Injury chasing a squirrel? Yeah, right.

Related Posts:

A Bit of Attitude

A Little Faith

Postscript: Some question why our mascot is the Huskies but we have a malamute roaming the sidelines. Legend has it this is based on a compromise from 1922 when a committee charged with selecting a new name to replace University of Washington “Sun Dodgers” selected “Huskies.”  Malamutes was a strong contender for the official name but it just didn’t roll off the tongue like, “Go Huskies.” In deference to those who lobbied for Malamutes, a malamute was chosen as the live mascot. 

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The Museum Piece

The clerk at Massey’s Grocery Store looked down on my curly haired head. Like most five year old boys, I wasn’t tall enough to see anything but the front of the counter, but I could see the shiny dime he was holding out to me. I took it, and knew exactly what to do. When I went shopping with my mother and baby brother I had often seen adults go to a mysterious machine on the wall and put coins into it. From a slot in the bottom they retrieved some unknown prize and went on their way.

I rushed over and pushed a chair up to the wall. I climbed up and put my dime into a slot—on a stamp machine.

Fortunately my mother retrieved the gift by hitting the coin return button and guided me to the front of the store. There she put me on Sandy, a coin operated rocking horse. She placed my dime in the slot and I took my first of many rides on the fiberglass steed.

Even when I outgrew kid rides there was something special about seeing that weathered horse and remembering my first ride, a gift from a kindly checkout clerk. When Massey’s closed their doors and Sandy disappeared it was as if one small anchor of my childhood broke its chain and vanished into the depths.

Decades later the Massey’s Grocery building passed through a life as a local family fun center and was finally remodeled into the Auburn Justice Center. Even though it was no longer the grocery store of my childhood it was good to see the structure and its distinctive fin-like marquee still in use. It was an Auburn icon and a reminder of my childhood.

But decades after Massey’s and Sandy vanished I was visiting the White River Valley Museum with my wife. As I was browsing the exhibits I pointed out pictures of Northern Pacific railroad workers from the first half of the twentieth century. Although I couldn’t spot my Great-Grandfather, who was an engineer in that era, I did locate the bag of one conductor whom I knew had worked with him.

Then in a nearby exhibit I spotted a familiar fiberglass shape. It was a battered, dime operated, electric horse, much like my favorite steed that stood in front of Massey’s Grocery for so many years. When I looked at the plaque I was shocked to see that it was Sandy—the very same Sandy that I had first ridden as a five year old boy.

A lasting memory of my childhood still lives, but now as a silent museum piece.

This story was an entry in a contest about my hometown of Auburn, Washington.

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The Art of Selling

The best sales people don’t rely on a smarmy pitch or underhanded tactics. They find out what people want, and then deliver.  

I spent one Seattle summer working as the ice cream man, selling my wares from a three-wheeled truck. My best route included Alki Beach a sandy summer hangout on the west side of the city. One of my favorite methods of making a sale involved young men.

Your typical guy on the beach isn’t terribly interested in popsicles or fudgesicles. Those things are for kids. If I had been driving a beer wagon that was lax on checking IDs I would have had plenty of customers in that demographic. But being a young man myself, I did know what they wanted–girls. And in good weather there was a plentiful supply of them at Alki.

Armed with this inside information I would spot a likely group of young men and make sure that there was an equivalent group of young women near by. I’d pull up to the guys and say, “Hey, if you buy these ice cream bars I’ll take them to those girls over there and tell them they’re from you.” Like me, most of the guys were too shy to make their own introductions to cute girls so this offer was too good to pass up.

After I delivered the treats to the women they headed over to thank their benefactors. In subsequent passes on the beach I sometimes saw them still in conversation.

I have wondered if anything, other than extra money in my pockets, resulted from my favorite method of making a sale. I imagine a young mother tucking in her son who asks, “Mommy, how did you meet Daddy?”

She smiles, kisses him on the forehead and says, “Well, there was this ice cream man…”

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