Much of my childhood was spent listening to my mother spin yarns about growing up in Boston. Sandwiched in amongst her other tales were occasional gems about Ruth and Gehrig at Fenway, Cousy's bounce pass, and the Splendid Splinter in the clutch. It wasn't until I was much older did I begin to appreciate the importance of these stories and my loss at never having asked the obvious questions while she was alive.
Recently, I've yarned my own tales of Koufax's curve, Ryan's heat, Wilt's dunk, Magic's grin, Jordan's flight plans, Aryton passing, and that USC comeback against Notre Dame. I see that same disdain in my son's eyes I no doubt once held for my own mother.
But I also saw Les Skoloda build. Mind you, I haven't seen Les in 20 years, but for one brief moment in time I was lucky enough to watch him work. Les worked for Disney building its most complicated 3-dimensional dreams in its various theme parks around the world.
Most people thought Disney's creative talent lay solely in its resident creative group. Indeed, they've always had an incredible pool of talent. But someone had to take their concepts and turn them into a reality. That is precisely what Les did. I'm not exactly sure of his title-it could have been project expeditor, coordinator or manager. A more accurate title would have been construction artist extraordinaire.
A typical Skoloda canvas approached $50 million a pop back when houses cost $50,000. He dealt with complex, curved cantilevers and cartouches in the same manner that a typical contractor dealt with drywall screws. He was a wizard in three dimensions.
Les would orchestrate vast quantities of tradesmen and specialists with his invisible conductor's baton. There were times he was able to pull exactly the right part needed at the precise moment from thin air! It was uncanny.
Need a train car full of acoustical absorption for a pesky theater? Call Les. First, you'd get a well-deserved grilling about the facts and particulars of a given situation. Once convinced, it would show up in hours. Not months, like on any other project. It was as if he had a hidden warehouse filled with exotic materials at his beck and call.
What was even more amazing is that it would be installed by the time you could drive over to the site. Invariably, he was nearly finished just as you raced in the door. I have never seen anything like it before or since. "Just trimmin' it out," he would say. "Should be done in about 20 minutes. Sounds a lot better, too."
When asked his motivations, he said, "It's simple, John. Getting it done quickly and correctly is the cheapest way to do it. Saves the company millions in the long run, and the guests get a better show. No other way to really do it that really makes sense."
There was one project where an executive was mistakenly quoted in a local newspaper stating that it was going to open in a week. The difficulty was that it wasn't planned to open for three months. It wasn't too difficult to figure out who got the nod to sort out that issue.
At our 4:00 a.m. conference, Les calmly went around a large conference table packed with the various trades and asked us what we needed to complete the work to meet our newly imposed schedule. When my turn came, I claimed to need 30 electricians for three shifts from now until the moment we opened-being confident it might buy me a little time. As of that moment, we hadn't pulled a single cable.
Predictably, there were 30 electricians already lined up at the door on my way out. All he said was, "Get to it, Mayberry. You've got work to do!" with a big grin on his face. Suffice to say, the attraction opened a week later.
Looking at Les, one might never have guessed such hidden talents lay in him had you seen him. Yet, one might suspect he could either be the life of a party or equally at ease reading to a young child on a rainy afternoon.
Skoloda was always three steps ahead of everyone else. No doubt he's moved on from those days like we all have. In retrospect, it was a pleasure to just watch him work his craft. My hope is that each of you also gets to work with a Les Skoloda some day and that you're able to appreciate how rare their gifts really are.
Somehow I can't help but think Les has already finished reading this article before I'm finished writing it.