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Painting The Hill



May 13, 2011

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska -
Sometime in the next couple of weeks, a longstanding tradition will reoccur on “college hill.”
jpg Dave Kiffer

The Ketchikan High School seniors – and others – will paint the hill. Actually, it used to happen on upper Madison, but when Kayhi was expanded in the early 1990s Upper Madison became upper Jefferson . No one really wanted to call it Upper Jefferson so they took to calling it College Hill because that’s where the main campus of UAS-K is.

In Ketchikan we like to illuminate the obvious.

So now they “paint” the hill shortly before graduation. Actually paint isn’t quite the right word, unless of course you consider what Jackson Pollock did as “painting.”

In truth, they graffiti it – or perhaps that is what they now call “tagging” in the Big City.

As usual, I digress.

Anyway, any time now some surreptitious group of students will “tag” the heck of out College Hill with an array of colors, statements, sayings, witticisms and whatever.

They do it every year.

And it’s been going on at least since the early 1970s.  I – of course – being an upstanding youngster never “tagged” Upper Madison in my day. But I did go to jail for “tagging” Upper Madison. More on that in a minute.

You see, some folks fail to see the creative burst of energy that painting the hill entails. They don’t appreciate that for 12 years we have been pounding into these kids’ heads that they have to work together. Then the minute the students work together to graffiti bomb the street, the grownups get all grumpy and complain about what a public nuisance it is.

Go figure.

Then these people actually complain to the local constabulary about said activities and the constabulary races out to college hill, swinging their truncheons, in an effort to stop aforementioned hooliganarial activities.

Or something like that.

Certainly the peacekeepers want to keep the public peace and they want to discourage general lawlessness in Our Fair Salmon City. But for the most part they don’t take an overally aggressive tack in tackling the Jackson Pollockization of College Hill.

I can say that with some confidence because if they did it probably wouldn’t happen year after year.

But at least one year, they did take a more active role.

In 1977, I was a senior at Kayhi and I certainly knew about plans to paint Upper Madison. But for some reason I didn’t take part.

I wish I could say it was fine upstanding character that led to NOT “vandalize” a public street that night. Maybe I was too busy studying. Maybe I was just asleep. Who knows? I wasn’t there and I really don’t remember why.

But sometime later, I did get a call – that was back in the Cord Ages when you actually had to go into another room and pick up a receiver and talk into it (no ringing or buzzing in your front pocket, quel horreur!).

Anyway, I went into the other room and answered the phone (no caller ID in those days). It was a good friend who suggested we walk a couple of blocks up to the college and look at the painted road.

I have always been highly susceptible to suggestion, so I agreed.

When we got up there, there were probably 40 or 50 kids standing around admiring the artwork (and the creative spellings). Shortly thereafter, two police cars came roaring up the hill with lights flashing. Most of the kids immediately began tumbling into the woods to escape. That was the smart choice (danged honor students).

No police officer was going to spend one second stomping into the woods chasing after anyone. They just wanted to disperse the gathering.

As usual, I was a little slow to react. I was still standing next to the road when a car pulled up and someone shouted “get in.”

I did and, as the car sped off, I immediately realized my mistake. It wasn’t like the cops were going to ignore a car full of “vandalizers” speeding away.

They didn’t.

We got pulled over and then escorted down town to the police station. My mother was one of several that got woken up by a call from the police.

Then we were escorted back to the hill and given mops and brooms. For several hours, we were encourage to do our best to remove the graffiti from the hill. We didn’t get much, but that wasn’t the point.

Actually, I’m not sure what the “point” was anyway, except that two police officers got to spend most of their graveyard shift “supervising” the cleanup of the hill.

Finally, about the time the sun started to come up, we were allowed to go home. Where some of us received additional punishment from our families.

I learned a valuable lesson that night.

If you’re gonna to “do the time” you might as well at least “do the crime” first.

Of course, I never had another opportunity to paint the hill next to Kayhi and the other schools I attended didn’t have such fun traditions (so much for college spirit).

But I am serving notice, if the this member of the Class of 77 makes it to 2027, I’m gonna do my best Jackson Pollock imititation on College Hill.

I dare them to call my Mom, then.


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Historical Feature Stories by Dave Kiffer


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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