You had to be there..

By | March 12, 2021

The early response to the “Been There, Done That. Took Notes” blog has been very positive: an unexpected request, from a number of viewers, has wondered who is Ray Harris and what is his background? Does he cause these crazy things to happen or is he just an innocent victim?

Both! I am guilty of enjoying an occasional humorous event at someone else’s expense. However, my willingness to adventure out in new directions and take some risks has often resulted in “unintended consequences.” I shall relate some of these happenings in this blog.

My College Experiences

I graduated from high school in 1946 and wanted to be away from home for my college years. I craved independence. I chose Stanford University, the Harvard of the west. Why Stanford? The year 1946 was several years prior to Alaska and Hawaii becoming states. I picked the school that was, and is located in Palo Alto, California, the furthest spot in the continental United States from my mother and father. Stanford was and is a great school, comparable to any other in the country.

Besides studying hard and receiving decent grades, my two most lingering memories of Stanford are:

I was on the wrestling team at Stanford. One year we scheduled a match with the inmates from San Quentin Prison. I don’t recall much about the wrestling match, but I do recall sitting in the electric chair (no I don’t think they turned it on) and eating lunch in “the pit” with armed guards roving overhead.

Stanford was located about 30 miles from the ocean at Rio Del Mar. Every spring quarter, several of us rented a cabin at Rio Del Mar and commuted to school at Stanford. We didn’t sleep much, ate peanut butter sandwiches, drank beer, and spent every waking hour on the beach and in the water. While on the beach, we played a new game using a metal pie tin manufactured by the Frisbee Company. Yes, that was the origin of the game Frisbee.

Stanford, Harvard of the west, San Quentin, the Electric Chair, the ocean, Frisbee; what an education and preparation for life.

The Adult Years

The colorful experience surrounding me during my adult years can be grouped into three categories: Experiences for which I was responsible, experiences for which I was NOT responsible, and Don Quixote.

Experiences for which I WAS responsible:

  • My son Dan was bringing his soon-to-be bride to Minneapolis to meet his family. To make an impression, I rented five very realistic gorilla suits and replete with bananas and before current security restrictions and obstacles at the airport, the Harris Family descended upon the unsuspecting couple. She married him anyway!!
  • I was the second person to walk on water! With styrofoam planks and waterski harnesses, and after a great deal of practice in the YMCA pool, I entered Cedar Lake and walked on water! The only problem was a law of physics – for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction – one foot went forward and the other backwards. Scant forward progress.
  • I had, and have the ugliest hat that ever existed – A bright green hat and wore it everywhere. My family HATED it. As we departed for a family vacation to Hawaii, I was warned that the hat was to remain in Minneapolis. Upon our arrival in Hawaii, I soon received a package in the mail. Voila, my green hat! My wonderful secretary, Barbara, conspired with me and put the precious hat in the mail. Soon after, my daughter-in-law Julie acquired some bright green material, and meticulously fashioned a complete ensemble (shirt and shorts) to accessorize the hat.

Experiences for which I was NOT responsible:

In 1984, construction of the new Calhoun Square shopping center was almost complete. The leasing program of the 65 retail spaces had been a resounding success – with only a few small spaces remaining to be leased. One of my leasing assistants came to me, “a well regarded fitness center wants to be a tenant in Calhoun Square and we no longer have a large enough space for them, except in the basement of one of the older renovated, three-story buildings.” We all agreed that was a good solution.

Soon the leasing assistant indicated the prospective tenant objected to the location due to the unacceptable and inadequate ceiling height of the space. “So we’ll solve the problem by lowering the basement floor.” Owen Beckwith, the superintendent of our contractor, Kraus Anderson, agreed and directed his construction team to begin work on the “floor lowering” project. A successful solution, I thought as I prepared to leave the city on a family vacation. Early the next day as my family was climbing into the car, I received an emergency call from Kraus Anderson, “We began to lower the floor and found that all of the basement wood columns holding up the entire building have rotted and are no longer attached to the floor – no longer attached to anything! The building will soon fall into the basement!”

Within a day, the contractor installed steel columns throughout the building. Wow, a disaster averted, only because we had cleverly decided to create a leasable space for a tenant, by providing enough ceiling height by lowering the floor.

When our team was selected to be the developer of Calhoun Square, I was quickly volunteered to be the public face of the project. My partners, Doug and Martha Head, gladly accepted the role of silent partners. At the time we didn’t realize that the planning, financing, and approval process would stretch out more than 5 years. Suddenly I became the target of everyone opposing the project – those who felt Calhoun Square would be such a failure that the entire area would become blighted, or it would be so successful that it would result in numerous high rise buildings, or the area would be a full time traffic jam, or people opposed to change of any kind. Large signs began popping up all over Minneapolis. The favorite sign blared “Dump Ray Harris, Dump Updale,” (the name assigned the horrible project by the opponents) and “Dump Sally Howard,” the 7th ward council member. For years local papers and a very loud and vocal minority continued to spread every imaginable kind of negativity about the Calhoun Square project and the larger-than-life, evil developer, Ray Harris.

Don Quixote

My hero, in literature and life, is Don Quixote. Almost everyone is familiar with the story of Man of La Mancha – a story written in 1605 by Miguel Cervantes, of a crazy old man on an old horse striving to reach “the Impossible Dream.” Quite obviously there is a physical resemblance between Don Quixote and me. Mentally, he was crazy and the verdict is still out on my mental state. But both of us had the same goal, “the Impossible Dream.” The Don Quixote Society pledge summarized the two of us, “Always proud to admit to being a dreamer, being unrealistic, being idealistic, refusing to accept the world as they find it and dedicated to making it what they believe it should be and exhibiting behavior pursuing the above even at the risk of failing, being laughed at, or considered a fool.”

The quest continues!

“Dad, Don, and the Ass. Which is which?”