For the last 50 years, Neill Frame has captained the U.S. Mailboat on the waters of Geneva Lake. He’s still searching for the secret to a perfect mailboat jump.
Mailboat jumpers deliver mail to lakeside homes by leaping onto docks, filling the mailboxes and then sprinting down the docks and jumping back onto the boat, which never stops moving.
Each summer, the boat delivers mail and newspapers to about 70 piers daily through a contract with the U.S. Postal Service. When the crew isn’t delivering mail, members give tours of the lake.
Despite his many years of experience, Frame said the task of mail delivery on the water is difficult to perfect.
“I don’t know that there’s a perfect jump because the conditions change all the time,” he said. “I think if you can land safely on the boat without hurting yourself, that’s a perfect jump.”
A handful of hopeful jumpers tried out for the job Wednesday.
Frame has seen quite a few jumps while piloting the boat. An important part of making it back to the boat, he said, is to keep running down the entire dock without hesitation.
First-time jumpers, as well as those with years of experience, said the leap isn’t always simple.
Connor Handel, 19, of Elkhorn is preparing for his fifth summer as a mail jumper. He took a chilly spill into the lake Wednesday after getting stuck on a mailbox.
“I got a little cocky on the jump off the boat, and I waited until the last possible second,” he said.
“I finally got the mail in, but on the way back I wasn’t even close.”
Ava Pezza, 16, was vying for a jumper spot for the first time. The Lake Geneva native has watched the mailboat cruise the waters of Geneva Lake for years.
“When I moved up here when I was about 3, we actually watched the mailboat jumpers. I just think it was something in the back of my head that I always wanted to do,” she said.
Pezza finally got her shot Wednesday, sprinting up and down the docks and leaping for the side of the boat after every pickup.
A grinning Pezza said the job requires more speed than she originally thought.
“The first pier was easier than I expected, but the second was harder,” she said. “You really have to book it.”
As the jumpers and boat deliver mail throughout the summer, those involved are grateful. Despite his unfortunate slip into the lake, Handel said the tryout can lead to a fun opportunity.
“It’s very unique and special,” he said. “I can’t imagine a better job.”
People concerned about a city proposal to allow homeless people to sleep overnight in parked cars at Palmer Park can learn more about the plan at an informational forum later this month, officials say.
For now, the plan won’t see action at City Hall until July at the earliest. That’s when the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee can discuss it at its next meeting. The plan would allow homeless people to park overnight in a lot near a playground and wading pool at the east-side park.
The council would have to alter a city ordinance that prohibits parking in city parks from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
At a Wednesday meeting of the Rock County Progressives, a group that provides monthly forums on “progressive” topics and local activism, local nonprofit agent and homelessness expert Marc Perry discussed the parking proposal as part of a larger discussion on local homelessness.
Perry, who is the director of planning and development for Beloit social service agency Community Action, said he estimates at any given time, a dozen or more families and individuals who are homeless and living in their vehicles are looking for a safe place to park.
He said that number is just a sliver of the 400 or so homeless people who live in Rock County at any given time. That number includes families with children and some who are on the run from domestic violence.
Some of Perry’s Community Action colleagues are part of FOCUS, a Janesville-based homelessness task force formed last year by city officials and nonprofit social service agencies to find new ways to respond to local homelessness. FOCUS crafted the Palmer Park proposal as part of multipronged approach to homelessness in Janesville, Perry said.
Approximately 150 beds at local shelters remain full with waiting lists for clients, Perry said.
A portion of those waiting live in their cars, and in Janesville, they’re not allowed to park and sleep in vehicles along streets, in private lots or in parking lots.
“People are driving around right now, this second, looking for a place to stop,” Perry said Wednesday.
At dusk one night earlier this week, there were no signs of vehicles in the Palmer Park lot in question.
Andy Jarog lives in an apartment a few blocks from the park. He told a Gazette reporter that he recently saw a couple in the park sleeping in a pavilion next to CAMDEN Playground, an area of the park frequented by families.
He said the couple had belongings and bed rolls. They were at the park a few evenings, and then moved on.
Another woman who was walking through the park at dusk said her neighborhood is abuzz with discussion over the parking proposal. She didn’t want to give her name, saying she was concerned about going public before she made up her mind on the proposal.
“It’s nothing new, homeless people sleeping in their car at this park,” she said. “But if the city opens it up, sanctions it, people are concerned. Some are really against the city’s plan. I’m resistant to it because I feel like I need to read more information.”
She said some neighbors are concerned about safety in a park that is heavily used by families and children.
According to a proposal the city manager’s office presented to the council in May, FOCUS chose Palmer Park for overnight parking because it has ample spots and lighting and 24/7 restroom facilities.
Council President Rich Gruber sent the plan to the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee for further discussion, effectively stalling a hearing for at least a month.
Gruber said he wants a written review of the proposal from the fire and police departments. The parks committee’s next meeting is July 9. Gruber said the earliest the council could hold a public hearing on the proposal would be late July.
At the progressive group’s meeting Wednesday night, council member Sue Conley said the task force will host a public information and feedback session on the proposal at 6 p.m. June 26 at City Hall.
Gruber said Wednesday that the plan came to the council as a “skeleton” proposal, and he thinks the public needs more information.
Gruber said homeless people staying in the park could be a “targeted population for predators.” He suggested that on-site security and social service outreach for those who use the parking lot would need to be handled as a “public-private” task with private nonprofits taking the lead.
The proposal brought to the council last month suggested the police department could place a security camera at the site for several months and that police would monitor a live feed remotely.
According to the proposal, research showed on-site security would be too expensive. The proposal suggested the council could consider budgeting for on-site security in 2020.
Jarog told The Gazette he thinks a lack of security would be a bigger worry for homeless families than for the general public.
“If somebody knows this is where (homeless) families, women, kids are staying at night, they might get bothered by men. Or high school kids could get drunk and decide it’d be fun to go and harass people,” Jarog said. “Some people think their kids would be in harm’s way around the homeless, but it could be the other way around. The opposite could happen. It could be the homeless people at risk.”
With three weeks to go, exactly what’s going to happen in Washington on the Fourth of July remains a subject of intense confusion because of President Donald Trump’s plans to reshape the nation’s premier celebration.
Will Independence Day festivities be centered around the Washington Monument or shift to the Lincoln Memorial, as the White House has reportedly requested? Will Trump follow through on his plans to give a speech? And, if he does, will the speech be open to anyone, including protesters, or will the White House restrict his audience to supporters at the traditionally nonpolitical event?
The White House hasn’t revealed its plans. The National Park Service, which is primarily responsible for the event, has also gone silent. That leaves the city government, which helps with security, in the dark.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s representative in Congress, said interdepartmental planning meetings for July 4 usually begin up to three months in advance. But to her knowledge, none of those meetings has happened.
“The city is scrambling to figure out what to do because all they have is the outline of what (the White House) wants,” Norton said. She said she approached the Park Service for details but “They wouldn’t tell us a thing. You know why? Because they don’t know a thing.”
Mayor Muriel Bowser declined repeated requests for comment.
Independence Day normally draws tens of thousands of people to the National Mall for a celebration capped by fireworks. A major security overhaul was implemented following the Sept. 11 attacks, but the occasion has run smoothly for years.
The first sign that 2019’s celebration could be a little different came in a February tweet from Trump announcing a special “Salute to America” on July 4 that would feature “an address by your favorite President, me!”
Last week, a National Park Service official was quoted in The Washington Post saying the White House was planning a Trump speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the event.
But since that report, the White House and the National Park Service have refused to comment. Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst released a terse statement saying only that “We continue to work with the White House on creating a Salute to America program that will bring Americans from all over the country together in celebration of our great nation.”
Norton is predicting a security nightmare, with a new location and format being instituted on short notice and the president’s movements and security requirements causing chaos.
“This will be all sorts of headaches for security,” she said.
The confusion extends to D.C. activists, who are uncertain about how to respond to a July 4 Trump speech. Some see a golden opportunity to disrupt Trump in a way he’s not used to; others fear a trap.
Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the Code Pink movement, had planned to be in Havana on July 4 to protest the Trump administration’s new restrictions on travel to Cuba. But she changed those plans last week, and her group is now organizing a protest.
“It’s not that often that President Trump appears in a public venue in front of a crowd that’s not guaranteed to be friendly,” she said. “It’s going to be really hard for them to control. We’ll see what kind of trouble we can get into.”
Others fear that an attempt to directly confront Trump or disrupt the event could backfire.
Nadine Bloch, a local organizer with a decadeslong history of protest, said a speech would provide leftist activists an opportunity to appear before TV cameras and get a large audience for their messages. But she said there would be a risk that protesters could overplay their hand and end up being blamed for ruining the Fourth of July.
“It’s a delicate balance,” she said. “You could end up just making more enemies.”
Adam Eidinger, a prominent local activist, predicted that attempts to disrupt the speech will be easily suppressed, with security concerns as a justification.
“I fully expect the president to create a VIP section right up front where only his supporters are allowed in,” he said. “Any protesters will be reduced to a couple people shouting in the distance.”
Eidinger said he is leaning toward sitting out this event.
“I think it’s a trap to get the opposition to come out and mess up July Fourth,” he said.