Old Stories Never Die

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I recently saw a post in another venue regarding an alleged accident purported to have happened to a friend of a friend (the usual loose assoctiation characterized in urban legends). I have a couple of personal examples of the age of some of these new occurences.

The story in question: someone was doing some roof repair and decided a safety line wouldn’t be a bad idea. So, they rigged a line attached to the bumper of the car out front, tossed the line over the peak, then tied themself off and began work on the back side of the roof. The spouse of the DIY’er, unaware of the project in process, needed to run some errands, got in the car and took off.

I’m sure you can fabricate any number of unpleasant or hilarious endings to the story. The significant point is I heard this in 1973 or ’74 when I was in ZAU and it was purported to have happened to one of our coworkers. I later found out the alleged victim had left the facility before I got there. I didn’t think much of it until I heard the recent version attributed to a close acquaintance.

Under the heading of insurance report comes the story of a worker completing a tiling project on a roof and having a surplus of tile to deliver to the ground. The worker loaded a barrel attached to a rope rigged through a pulley, and attempted to lower (from the ground) the excess tiles. Apparently, the weight of the barrel and tiles was greater than the worker, so he was lifted toward the roof as the barrel hurtled earthward. Halfway up (or down—depending on perspective—the worker and barrel collided, injuring the worker, who nevertheless, retained his grip.

When the barrel reached the ground the worker simultaneously reached the pulley, jamming his fingers in the sheave. While reacting to that pain, the barrel broke apart from its impact, and the worker now being heavier than the barrel, followed Newton to the letter and began to fall. Halfway down, he hit the ascending barrel remnants, further abrading parts of his body.

Finally, the worker hit the pile of bricks on the ground, stunning him. As his grip on the rope relaxed, the remainder of the barrel up at the pulley was free to complete it’s Newtonian destiny and crashed to earth on the fully insulted body of the worker.

I heard an audio tape of this story played in a training session at ZJX, probably in 1969. I distinctly remember Boomer Boutwell being the proctor at the session, and having no knowledge to the contrary, assumed it was a true story. It was probably twenty years before I heard/read it again, by which time I had become thoroughly aware of urban legends and greeted each subsequent occurence with precisely the skepticism it deserves.

To be fair, stories such as these could have happened, but given the universal urban legend characteristics of the stories (friend-of-a-friend relationship to teller, unverifiability, holes in narrative, etc.) are highly unlikely. Given the circulation they enjoy, it’s hard it imagine them going viral before the advent of the internet to the extent that they have.

This isn’t an urban legend, per se—just an insert subject here story that could be told about any workplace. I heard a recent variation on Country's Family Reunion in a Bill Anderson song. The story to follow is based on the premise that there is usually a rivalry between the different specialties in an ATC facility—Low East hates Low West, Terminal hates High Altitude, everyone despises the North Wing. You can find the same interplay in hospitals (ER vs ICU), schools (English vs Phys Ed—well, everyone against Phys Ed), police departments (day shift vs night shift), etc. Below is my version:

So this sweet young thing calls her parents to a meeting in the living room and announces she has a fiancé. The parents are initially delighted but she cautions them, “there are a few things you need to know…”

“He has a bit of a past. He got a girl pregnant in high school…” The parents covered their mouths and gasped. “…but he’s taken responsibility for his mistake and is providing regular child support.”

“Well,” her father says, ”you have to give him credit for standing up for his child.”

“That’s not all, though,” the young lady continued, “right after high school, he and some friends kind of took a car for a joy ride and wound up wrecking it. He got caught and spent time in juvie.”

“Oh, my,” her mother swooned, “but, if he can survive a youthful indiscretion by paying his debt to society, I guess we can’t be too judgemental, so long as you’re happy.”

“Well, he did take some courses in college to get his life back on track, although he started distributing drugs among some of his friends…” A collective gasp from her parents… “but we did an intervention with him, and after rehab he’s been straight for two years.”

“Well,” said her father, “that shows some strength of character. I think we can learn to accept your young man and his weaknesses and strengths. So long as you’re happy.”

“There’s just one other thing I have to tell you. He’s an air traffic controller.”

Her mother, bursting with joy, exclaimed, “oh, darling, after all those other horrible things, an air traffic controller will be the least of your burdens.”

“Wait a minute,” her father challenged. “He’s not High Altitude, is he?”

The Bill Anderson song? It’s about songwriters. In it he relates how his mother was concerned about him being out at all hours and having acquaintances of questionable savority. He told her he was a drug dealer, and she said “thank god you’re not writing songs.” I told you—you can make it fit almost any profession.

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Last updated: 13 September 2010