Friday, December 01, 2006
Hey, Look At That Chimpanzee!
I have always thought that the word "chimpanzee" was a funny word. It looks funny, and it sounds funny.
Chimpanzees have been used in comedy schetches forever, too. The actual critter is funny!
I have seen chimps in zoos over the years, but I've only seen one chimp up-close and personal.
I worked for Delta Airlines at DFW airport, on the ramp unloading and loading planes, from May 1986 to February 1988. I transferred to a different group within Delta in 1988 and left the ramp for a couple of years.
I was working in the northernmost part of Delta's concourse at DFW; the concourses were like open parentheses, and lined up north to south. I think it was concourse E, but I can't remember for sure.
I was young, fit, and eager to please at the time, and one evening I was sitting in our break room resting, when one of my bosses, Mel, comes rushing in all excited. He stops, looks around for people, and finds only me sitting there.
I'm thinking, uh oh, I'm in trouble for something (I have a guilty personality, I always assume I've done something wrong, even when I don't know what it is I've done wrong).
But Mel grins real big, and waves his hand in the backward circular motion that is the universal sign for "Come here, and make it snappy!"
"Come here! Come here! You've got to see this. If no one sees this but me, no one will believe me. Come on!"
I jumped up and followed him outside to what was gate number 2 at the time. There was a Boeing 727 there that had already been loaded and Mel was the Delta ramp guy in charge of that gate that day. This meant that he had to take the paperwork he had filled out with what cargo had been loaded onto the plane up to the gate agent, who in turn gave this to the pilots. The pilots need to know what is loaded and where, so they can set their flaps on the wings and so forth to the proper place for takeoff. Proper weight distribution of the cargo and passengers and fuel is also helpful in making the plane fly in the most fuel efficient position in the air.
Anyway, I ran outside with Mel, and he had just taken his paperwork upstairs and saw what one of the passengers had with him. We went over to the jetway, the tunnel you walk down to get on the plane, and waited by the outside steps. Each airport gate's jetway has a set of steps and a door to the outside that is used for different reasons.
Mel said, "John, you have to stand here and be my witness."
So we stand there a minute, and watch the jetway door. In a couple of minutes, the door opens, and a Delta "Red Coat" comes out and holds the jetway door open...
...and a chimpanzee in a blue Hawaiian shirt and blue shorts and sneakers comes out the door. He has a can of Coke in his left hand, and he's holding his right hand up behind him and it turns out he was holding his owner's hand.
The chimp and his owner come down the jetway stairs to the ramp exactly how a father would hold the hand of a child to travel the same route.
The Delta Red Coat leads the pair around the front of the plane, and Mel and I follow. The Red Coat asks Mel for the cage, and Mel walks over beside the front cargo door and picks a large pet carrier up from the ground beside the conveyor belt loader we used to send luggage and cargo into the cargo bins.
Mel steps over to the rest of us standing there, I'm just watching this chimp in the Hawaiian shirt trying to finish the rest of his Coke, just like I would if our roles were reversed.
Mel set the pet crate down, and the chimp's owner reaches and unlatches and swings the door open, and says something to the chimp that I couldn't hear. (It's loud outside on the ground at a major airport, plus we had on hearing protection.)
The chimp lets go of the man's hand, stoops and walks into this pet crate, turns around, and you see his disproportionately long arm reach back out of the still open door and gently shakes the Coke can in the air. His owner takes it, and closes the door, and says some soothing things to the poor little guy.
I mean, by this time, Mel, me, Red Coat, and the Delta Mechanic waiting to use the tractor to back the plane backwards out onto the taxiway were all smitten. We all had that look on our faces when we looked up to make sure there were others who could corroborate our story that said "Awww. Can't the little guy ride up in the cabin?" But we knew better.
After the owner closed the door and bent over and spoke to the little guy, Mel and I picked the crate up (it was a big one like you would put a German Shepherd in) and placed it on the rearmost conveyor belt and sent it up to the guys in the rear cargo bin.
After we all watched him be safely pulled off the belt and into the cargo area, Mel turned to me and smiled and patted me on the shoulder and thanked me.
The owner and the Red Coat went back around and up the jetway for the owner to enplane.
But later I told Mel, "Thank YOU. I'm glad I got to see that, because I wouldn't know whether to believe you or not if I hadn't seen it myself."
Mel just grinned at me and nodded his understanding.
[As I reread this, attempting to check spelling and whatnot, I noticed I changed from calling him "the chimp" to "the little guy" along the way. I still feel sorry for him having to ride in the cargo bin after 18 years!
Also: Delta Red Coats are troubleshooters/information guys who you see when you first get off a plane. They can tell you how to get to your next connection, and they handle passengers needing special help or are causing trouble.
On Boeing passenger aircraft, the rear cargo bin is always pressurized and has air flow like the passenger cabin. So on Boeing aircraft, we always loaded live animals in the rear. The opposite is true for McDonnell-Douglas aircraft, the animals always are placed in the front cargo bin, which is pressurized and has air flow.]