The Travel Channel presented an historic glimpse of Buffalo, New York; it being a major port on the Great Lakes supplying a means of getting grain from the Midwest via the Erie Canal. Ten story grain elevators stood like giants frozen in time longing for a chance to prove their worth now that grain finds its way to the Atlantic via the St. Lawrence.
Manual labor was used to off load all that grain, that is until Joseph Dart figured out how to convert a conveyor belt into a grain carousel, adding large scooping bins to dig into mountains of grain and carry it up to the top where it could be redirected into storage bins. Progress in off loading grain turned a three day job into a matter of hours as ships were emptied of their cargo in a much more efficient manner.
Inside the grain elevators there was a similar conveyor contraption, this one for hauling workers up and down the ten storied buildings quickly; the man lift. Instead of attaching large scooping bins to the conveyor belt a small platform about the size of a milk crate was bolted, just large enough for a pair of shoes to fit. Holes were cut in each floor to accommodate the vertical conveyor and small hand grabs also bolted to the belt. The idea was for worker to time the continuously moving belt, step onto the platform and ride until you’d reached which ever floor you wanted, time the arrival and step off; all without breaking your neck.
I mention this piece of history because, as a police officer working an extra employment opportunity at a large professional office building in downtown Houston, they had a multi-level parking garage with a continuous feed belt operated man lift for parking attendants. The apparatus, while fairly simple in design, was very efficient, a little daunting to use at first; but very efficient.
I figured if parking attendants could do it, why not a cop? Once the timing was figured out, watching the handle appear followed by the arrival of the platform, it wasn’t much different than stepping onto an escalator like you’d use at the department store; well maybe just a tad different as I noticed how small the narrowness of the hole through which you had to pass between floors.
Working as a police officer at the parking garage lasted for an extended period. I got to know many of the parking attendants, at least on a casual basis. I could tell who would always be working minimum wage jobs and who would eventually climb the ladder to more rewarding careers (no pun intended; man lift/ladder, never mind).
There was a quiet young fellow who stayed to himself and didn’t get along with almost anyone; his name was Tyrone. For some reason Tyrone felt more comfortable talking to a young traffic cop than to his fellow parking attendants. There was something unsettling about Tyrone, like a time bomb quietly ticking as his eyes would dart about as if startled by a shadow unexpectedly coming too close for comfort.
One afternoon, after I’d left for the day, Tyrone used the man lift and retrieved a pistol from his car. He traveled back down the lift, one hand holding the grip while the other had his pistol. Upon reaching the entrance level and stepping off all in one motion, he emptied the pistol into one of his fellow workers; killed him dead, as they say around here. Tyrone placed the pistol on the ground and calmly waited for the police while the body was hauled away to the morgue.
I learned about this the following day from the officer who made the arrest. Tyrone explained that he’d waited until I left, out of respect; didn’t want to upset me by shooting the other attendant in my presence. How’s that for friendship? When asked why he shot the other guy, Tyrone said it had something to do with being given “the evil eye”. The deceased apparently looked at Tyrone the wrong way, made him feel bad or at least, worse than usual. Like I said, Tyrone was a ticking time bomb; hope they gave him a pleasant room at the State hospital; prison would have been too dangerous for other prisoners.
The original Dirty Harry movie was on the other day. Near the end, where Harry chased the bad buy through the gravel yard, jumped on the conveyor belt and exchanged gun fire, riding along being raised to each successive level, looking into the dust and shadows for a target; I thought of Tyrone riding down the man lift and finding his target; just like stepping off an escalator.
What’s the lesson in all this? Well for one thing, make sure you tip the parking attendant and thank him for providing excellent service. The next time you open a box of cereal you might consider the effort that went into hauling the grain, getting it off loaded via a fancy grain elevator with conveyor systems. Buffalo’s brightest days may have come and gone; but if not for the man lift Tyrone would still be out there parking cars.
The Moral Liberal senior editor, T.F. Stern, is a retired City of Houston police officer, self-employed locksmith, and gifted political and social commentator. His popular and insightful blog, T.F. Sterns Rantings, has been up and at it since January of 2005.