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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

I guess it's Les Nessman for me

The following (very morbid) story will make no sense at all until you've skimmed this website and this post in particular. There's no way I can trim this to 100 words, though — I'm just too damn longwinded to get it below 300 words, in fact.


The sudden, strangely familiar "Whump!" sound from my left front wheel well reminded me that while patrolling Hobby Airport's runways, taxiways, and the auxiliary interior roadways set aside for authorized vehicular traffic, I'm supposed to keep an eye peeled for debris, among many other things.

At three AM, though, my cruiser's headlights and spotlight rarely catch anything more than a jackrabbit. And before the tower had radioed me about an "aircraft/vehicular collision," there'd been no explosion or fireball like you see in the movies.

Still, as I continued toward the civilian aviation terminal, I had no trouble picking out the Gulfstream II. Badly skewed on its parking pad, something had obviously clipped one wing hard enough to quarter-spin it.

And indeed, over there in the grass was one of the old pickup trucks used by one of the airlines' contract cleaning company to drive their crews across the airport, from their supply depot over to the parked commercial jets that they mucked out in the wee small hours of every day.

But you don't see many convertible-model pickups. This one had no cab roof — and in fact, nothing at all above hood level.

My spotlight traced wheel ruts through the grass back to the parking apron. No skid marks anywhere. The pickup musta come in fast from behind. Sumbitch veered off an aux road onto the parking apron without noticing, and he obviously never saw the moonlight glinting off the blade-like trailing edge of the right wing.

"Looks just like a giant axe blade lopped the top off of this old truck," I was saying into my radio when the distraught cleaning crew foreman wandered up. I pointed to the truck. "Como un hacha — like a hatchet," I said to him, and I made a sideways chopping gesture.

"¡No, no, señor!" he replied, "¡Era como una guillotina!"

I suddenly remembered when I had last heard that "whump!" sound — backing over the soccer ball my oldest kid had left in the driveway. Damned ball shot sixty yards down the street.

I said, "Help me look in the tall grass, okay?" I pantomimed searching, then gestured for him to join me.

"¿Para qué estamos buscando?" he asked.

What was the Spanish word I wanted? I almost said out loud: "Una pelota." But then I remembered, and said: "Una cabeza, amigo. Una cabeza."


Apologies if, as is likely, my Spanish is rusty and badly mangled.

Although fictional (since I've never actually been an airport cop), this brief story is closely based on an actual case I had in the early 1980s.

I was hired in the middle of the night by the aircraft's owner to supervise the accident investigation; to prepare to defend against any potential claims by the decedent's family (none in fact were ever filed); and to sue the contract cleaning company for property damage to the jet.

As it turned out, the company's supervisors had given the decedent no training about airport driving — he didn't know a runway from a parking apron, spoke no English, and probably couldn't read. They'd let the guy drive regularly, despite knowing that he was unlicensed, prone to lean out the truck's window while driving so he could shout lewd propositions to female co-workers, and — both habitually and on that particular night — very drunk. Then they'd put him in a truck whose brake pedal had been missing for so long that the cylinder that the brake pedal was supposed to attach to had been worn down to a rounded nub coming out of the floorboard. But because they worked on airport premises, the cleaning company was required to have scads of insurance — which was a very good thing, given that both of the G-II's wings had to be replaced (at a cost well into eight figures).

By the time I got to Hobby a little before dawn, they'd long since located the decedent's missing part, and as far as I know nobody had driven over it. But otherwise, the accident happened in real life exactly as this story describes it.


Update (Wed May 18 @ 1:40am): Okay, I've come up with, and posted as a comment here, another story that fits the topic and comes in at 100 words exactly. I trust that my conservative friends will recognize and forgive me the parody.

Posted by Beldar at 11:33 PM in Humor, Weblogs | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to I guess it's Les Nessman for me and sent a trackback ping are listed here:


(1) Mark L made the following comment | May 18, 2005 6:45:59 PM | Permalink

You're back! I was afraid you had quit while you were a head.

(2) Mark L made the following comment | May 18, 2005 8:07:42 PM | Permalink

Here it is boiled down to 110 words:

"Whump!" That sound from the car’s front seemed familiar. “Damn!” I thought, responding to the tower’s nocturnal “aircraft/vehicular collision” report, “I'm supposed to watch for debris.”

I approached the terminal. Something had clipped a Gulfstream — hard. Then I saw the pickup. Everything above hood was gone. The pickup had come in fast. The driver never saw the wing’s trailing edge.

The foreman wandered up. I pointed. "Como un hacha — like a hatchet."

"¡No!" he replied, "¡Era como una guillotina!"

That whump. I last heard that "whump!" sound backing over a soccer ball. It shot sixty yards afterwards.

"Help me look in the grass."

"¿Para qué estamos buscando?"
"Una cabeza, amigo."

(3) Kent made the following comment | May 19, 2005 9:38:38 AM | Permalink

Well, that was completely different.

I am fascinated by the law, in no small part because, every time I start to see the logic behind it, something comes along that I don't understand at all:

What were the decedent's family going to sue the aircraft owners for? Negligently parking their Gulfstream at an airport terminal?

(4) Beldar made the following comment | May 19, 2005 8:51:36 PM | Permalink

Kent, that's exactly what we were concerned about. Part of my accident investigation was to document that the jet had been properly parked, wheels chocked, etc., to head off any contrary arguments that the jet's positioning had somehow caused or contributed to the collision.

Mark L: Obviously I should engage your services as an editor. Bravo!

(5) Mark L. made the following comment | May 20, 2005 5:08:06 PM | Permalink

Writing's my second income. (Day job is working as an engineer at a major aerospace contractor.)

One of my gigs -- sadly, just ended -- was editing hobby suggestions sent in by teen readers at a major youth magazine. Editing you was easy compared to some of that. But, oh, was that fun.

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