21 Years of Baby Steps

This year and particularly this December will mark 21 years of working in Downtown Syracuse. It doesn’t sound like much, and 21 years is an odd year, in general and the literal number, to recognize or even celebrate.

The number of years that have passed since my first work opportunity as a weekend volunteer at the Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science and Technology (commonly, The M.O.S.T.) didn’t click until a conversation the other day. A community confidant of mine and a definite friend, Michael Sgro, reached out to have a conversation about personal and professional growth. The Syracuse-based leadership coach, radiant ball of energy, and overall good guy has a definite knack. When it’s difficult for me to open up about my own evaluation, he knows how to get me to take down those walls.

Aside from interviews and professional meetings, the Zoom or FaceTime calls with those comforting, productive, and fun aspects have taken a spot on the back burner. Part of that is my fault for not being proactive. With that being said, it was enlightening to realize some of the mental weight this life during pandemic has imposed.

Scientific Steps [Photo by C. Malone]

Those steps. Those literal and figurative steps. Not all of these progressions have been baby steps. Some have been leaps. In order to make those leaps, there momentum is needed. Running starts are necessary. After landing these leaps, more baby steps need to be taken in order to stay on those two feet. Baby steps are needed to slow down, for composure, and for balance. Baby steps are needed to be safe than sorry.

At 16 years old, I had a slight idea of what to anticipate and how to prepare for the upcoming years. It’s that transitional age, where living in the present had to be balanced with preparing for the future. Before that, planning for the future was figuring out upcoming weeknight happenings, if there was a sporting event or project to focus attention on, or what fun to be had in the weekend ahead. Planning homework around new Friends, Seinfeld, or Ed episodes was also critical.

At 37, sometimes the balance can still be a little daunting. There’s always concerts, sports, and other exciting happenings to plan for and around. TV now works around your schedule. There’s still homework, whether it’s school-related or personal. There will always be homework.

But those steps. Those literal steps.

I started helping out at the museum because I loved science (especially ecology) and knew volunteering looked great on college applications. I walked the floors, tinkered with the exhibits, learned the science behind said exhibits, cared for the creatures — those ferrets especially. Then came more responsibility: learning the cash registers for admissions and gift shop sales, science demonstrations, planetarium shows, and more. Then I was hired as part-time staff and continued to volunteer for special events. It took me 10 years to leave that part-time job I continued to work post-college, even while having a full-time job.

I was a dinosaur. Twice.

“Fluffy the Dinosaur” — Named by a random, unknown child.

Where my friends worked typical retail jobs, I was at a science museum. Instead of roaming around a supermarket on my breaks, I walked Armory Square. On weekends, heading downtown early was important to grab a caramel turtle from Nancy’s Cafe and sit on the steps of The M.O.S.T. before the work day began.

Sitting on those steps were amazing moments. These were moments to close my eyes and shut my brain off. These were moments to read, think, and write. I could breathe in the city air that didn’t smell like city air. There’s nothing like the aroma of fresh rain evaporating off the streets and sidewalks after a morning summer rain. After work, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que conquered the air — and still does.

Even the autumn foliage is beaming [Photo by C. Malone]

People watching was easy. Drivers looking for spots would drive their cars in literal circles around the museum — multiple times, too. Some showed frustration while others danced and sang to the music blaring from their speakers. Cars would even blow through the stop sign at the corner of Jefferson and Franklin, and (sadly) some would (actually) hit people.

The View [Photo by C. Malone]

The morning moment of solitude would pass and I’d enter the museum happy while others would be freaking out on where the school buses, which would bring droves of even younger kids, would park.

They were amazing years. As a teenager, I got to see and explore Downtown Syracuse during the day and at night. I’d show people the starts, point out constellations, and talk about mythology or Native American lore in the globed planetarium. Then, at night, standing on the roof and seeing the actual stars, test my knowledge, and chat with others about life. I learned to not trust others and choose my friends wisely, but I met several more amazing people, important people — too many to list (you know who you are).

Standing on the roof of a historical armory, felt like staying on a castle. The surrounding moat is a paved street. I wasn’t the king, however, but merely a knight taunting others as they walked by, calling their mothers hamsters, and perhaps taunting them another time.

Though the 21 years, I’ve been able to see my home city evolve. I’ve seen high points and low points. It’s amazing to see favorite businesses continue to thrive, and it’s been sad to see many go. Vacant spaces are now lively. Torches have been passed in spaces and businesses, owner-to-owner. Yet, wooden boards still take the place of some — still too many? — windows; if you stare at them long enough, they’ll surely produce a splinter in your mind. Countless people continue to relentlessly promote and care for the City’s sake despite the gray clouds produced as naysayers and urban blasphemers vomit hasty, unthoughtful, crass statements. Even during a pandemic, Downtown still hustles and bustles. It’s our duties to keep it this way, no matter the local or global circumstance.

Love and positivity conquers all.

Where and what are your steps?

Monty Python and the Holy Grail gif from giphy.com

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