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Commentary: The Water Tower

Commentator Miriam Sitz committed criminal trespass as a teenager. The fact that she and her friends didn’t get caught, she says, is a tribute to their cunning and meticulous preparation.


Katy, Texas, 2004. I was just 15 and had two accomplices: Abbie and Sarah.

We were all super straight-edge kids. But that fall, we hatched plan to climb a water tower.

There were rumors of others who’d done it years before; gone up to spray paint their initials or the rival high school’s mascot. But our plan felt more… important. We knew we could outsmart the powers that be—they’d never expect docile young things like us to do something so audacious.

So we planned our scheme for weeks. We even took a recon mission to the tower, just scoping things out. It loomed over the cemetery where my grandparents were buried, standing like a sentinel at the border between suburbia and country.

We made contingency plans—cover stories that would keep our real mission a secret. If my parents caught us sneaking out, I had a roll of toilet paper in my backpack to show that we were just planning to wrap a house. If we were caught closer to the graveyard, the candles and matches in Sarah’s bag would prove we were just trying to scare ourselves with a midnight seance.

We each wore two sets of clothes: a layer of black over a layer of white, to blend in with the night and then the tower. And we had no contingency plan for being apprehended at the site… Because we were 15, and there was no way we wouldn’t succeed.

Abbie and Sarah slept over. Close to midnight, bags packed, we snuck out, grabbed the three bikes stashed next to my garage, and took off.

Ten minutes later, we arrived. We climbed over the barbed wire fence one by one—Abbie first, according to plan. She was nimble, a gymnast, and easily scaled the chain link to help me and Sarah over from inside.

We made it to the water tower’s ladder, suspended and locked some 10 feet in the air, like on a fire escape. We shimmied up an electrical box nearby, stretching to reach the lowest rung. And then, we climbed, up one long ladder, then a second, to the very top.

An aircraft warning light spun around, bathing us alternately in red light.

We looked west, and it was just dark—pastures and farmland. But when we turned east, we saw the Houston skyline. It took an hour to get there by car, but standing on the tower, the city looked so much closer.

And then, we took pictures, blinding ourselves with the  disposable camera flash. Maybe not the smartest idea for three people who didn’t want to get caught.

But we weren’t. It was the ultimate nerd victory.

Technically, we broke the law, but we really didn’t do anything bad. Our planning paid off—we executed with precision and cunning.

And sometimes, when I’m finishing a story, I get that same feeling. When I know I’ve covered all my bases and turned up something really good, with the research and interviews and documents to back it up. Sometimes, journalism is the ultimate nerd victory. And I don’t even need to wear two layers.


Miriam Sitz does not condone vandalism, but isn’t so worried about trespassing.

Photo from Flickr

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