Tim Mope—Unreadable

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Not his real name, and unimportant to the story—but those who were there will know. I’m sure some will call this racist, but please remember the tenor of the times. One time, as reported elswhere here, it was necessary to arrange a basketball game between the East Terminal and the West Terminal—the athletic metaphor of “King of the Mountain.” Tim was a tall—perhaps 6' 6"—black man. As arrangements were being made for the game, I asked him casually one day if he’d be playing. We had no equivalent ringer in the West Terminal, so I was kind of scouting the competition. Tim replied that he’d never played. “How unstereotypical,” was my thought at the time. Let’s leave it at that.

Because each area had a sector that adjoined (PLANO in the WT and South Departures in the ET) there was sometimes occasion to have to coordinate with each other (the areas were physically in different aisles), for which we used our landline telephone system. The process was to depress the button (“punch the line”) on the console labeled with the name of the sector you were calling. On the other end, a light would illuminate on the controller’s console and his mike was made live (not to the radios—just the interphone). The function was described as the “override,” which was what you usually said when you activated the circuit.

The reciving controller would respond, “go ahead, green” or “go ahead, light&rdquo or just “go ahead” and you would conduct your business just like on the telephone, usually saying “radar contact” or “approved” or whatever was appropriate for the transaction.

With Tim, however, there was a problem. Let’s just say Tim had grown up in the inner city. Cabrini-Green, if you know it. As with all of us, he had an accent, but like many in the projects, his accent was thicker and closer to a dialect than just an accent. Actually, not all that different a phenomenon from the Ware County boys at ZJX I’ve desribed elsewhere.

But Tim also had an unusual voice which coupled with the dialect sometimes made him difficult to understand. On the landline (the override) it was next to impossible. In fact, one of my friends and I used to joke that it was like Charlie Brown’s teacher in the Peanuts cartoons. If you’ve seen them, you’ll understand. The teacher is never seen (no adult ever is), but you can “see” the sound waves from an upper corner of the screen accompanied by a “wah wha wha, wha whaaaa, wha” sound— probably generated by and sounding exactly like the wah wah sound made by a trumpet modulated by a mute.

The faux exchange created by us would have transpired thusly:

(Tim calling) “Over ride.”

(one of us answering) “Go ahead, light.”

“Wah wha wha, wha whaaaa, wha”


The implication was that no one could comprehend what had been said and an observer would therefore question how we could possibly approve that which couldn’t be understood. Of course the uncharitable contemporaries might suggest that Tim didn’t understand much of what he was doing anyway, and we’d just work around whatever he was up to.

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Last updated: 09 February 2010