On the Beach, where Hamilton’s awful towers loom

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The Beach Strip
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Posted with permission from the Hamilton Spectator
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Hamilton Spectator
By James S Howlett
May 13, 2016

The first thing you notice when you visit the Beachstrip is the lake. The second is the hydro towers.

Giant and surreal trophies of the rat race centred in a glorious frame of natural blues. One day the blues are calm and azure, another, a wild purple rage, but the towers and cables just stand there grey and dead looking.

Carol and I got used to them over time, much like a difficult mother-in-law, but the towers could be entertaining in their own way. When thunderstorms would roll in from the lake, we would go upstairs to watch the lightning buzz from the sky to the towers, all lined up in a row down the shore like Frankenstein's workbench. Sometimes on sweltering July nights, I would wade out in the lake to cool off, and with water up to my neck, look along the coast and see those electric bolts of blue striking all the way out to Coburg or Niagara. Most times I would be the only fool doing this, but once in a while others would come out with me to enjoy the spectacle. The voltage does this to you, I guess.

One disconcerting Beachstrip party trick is to take a warm fluorescent light bulb outside at night and hold it high in the air while you touch the electrodes on the end with your fingers. This causes it to glow from all the electricity coming from the towers. Some people are very freaked out by this, but it's always a hit.

Every few years, helicopters do airborne inspections of the wires. Hovering loudly they creep down the strip at less than walking speed, leaving a wake of barking dogs, scared cats, and ticked-off shift workers.

In May and June, kids from various high schools would gather for nighttime booze-ups under the towers, and if it got a little crazy I would sometimes get a call to go down and try to be a settling presence. One June evening long ago, Cora the Calligrapher — Eric the Artist's wife — asked me to go to a party that was unusually boisterous, so we walked over to the tower closest to our street and found a large gathering of inebriants. They had a giant fire, plus the usual boom-boxes, but strangely, all of them were craning their necks toward the top of the tower. Looking up through the twilight, I spotted a guy in his 30s who had somehow climbed to the highest crossbar at the peak of the tower and — incredibly — was hand-over-handing his way out to the middle, hanging precariously all the time.

The most dangerous high-wire act imaginable. No net. No tether, and all in an electrically charged, alcohol saturated environment. I asked around the crowd what he was doing and a girl replied to me that I could relax. "He does this every year" she said, with an air of resignation. I didn't know if that meant nobody could stop him or if he was really a Flying Wallenda they had hired for their function, perhaps it was both, but in the end this fellow made it all the way to the middle of the crossbar, did a handstand, and climbed back down to a smattering of applause and a cold beverage. Hopefully, he doesn't do this anymore.

A more entertaining sight was to see brave linemen from Ontario Hydro working all day tethered to the towers while checking rivets, or cranking themselves from tower to tower in a little cart like a Blondin high wire act over the lake. One time in the '80s, they spent an entire day attaching very large fluorescent orange orbs to the middle of each cable, apparently as an experiment in reducing wind effect on the structures.

The linemen were all gone by 5 o'clock and many beach people never saw the show. The night of the installation, my neighbour, Sam the Blacksmith, came home from Stelco's 20 inch mill's afternoon shift completely unaware of it all. Close to midnight, he pulled onto our street and parked his car. Then, as he was headed for the door of his house, lunch box in hand, he heard someone whispering to him. Psst! Psssssst! Looking around, he found another neighbour — Lloyd the Plumber — hiding behind the back of his Dodge. Lloyd motioned for Sam to crouch down, and Sam, unsure of what was going on, crept cautiously over to the trunk where Lloyd was hunkered down.

At this point the reader must understand that in those days many residents of the Beachstrip, a very cultured and congenial group to be sure, enjoyed all the benefits of fermented and distilled beverages with some rigor, and Lloyd had developed an expertise in that regard that was almost legendary. So, out of this fund of experience Lloyd grabbed Sam by the shoulder and pointed to the shimmering orange globes that were hovering like a squadron of spaceships over the sand. "Quiet!" he hissed. "They're going to land on the Beach"!



James S Howlett is a Freelance writer who lives on Hamilton Beach
 
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