Guy Harrington was enormous. A former heavyweight high school wrestler from Nebraska, he tipped the scales at just under three hundred pounds. I affectionately referred to him as, “The Big Guy.”
I had wrestled in college at 133 and hadn’t grown much since. Not surprisingly, he called me, “The Little Guy.”
We worked for an educational company that specialized in project-based teaching and learning. We were setting up for a conference at a hotel in Downtown Atlanta. The hotel was located at the top of a tall, steep hill. We were using bellman’s carts to haul in books, handouts, brochures and projectors.
As we were wrapping up, I turned to Guy and said, “Dude, I’ve got a project idea!”
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Let’s ride one of these luggage racks down the hill. It would be like soapbox derby!”
“How’s that a project?” asked Guy.
“We could estimate the time to the bottom based on slope, distance and mass. We could talk to teachers about other variables like wheel diameter, friction, wind velocity and barometric pressure.”
“And stupidity,” added Guy! “You obviously weren’t a physics major!”
“No,” I admitted, “but it would be a real-world project. We could talk about it in our session tomorrow.”
“People don’t ride luggage racks in the real world!” said Guy.
“It would be fun though,” I replied with a devious grin.
“True,” said Guy. “OK, but just one run…”
The Big Guy squeezed into the front of our makeshift toboggan. I pushed off and hopped on the back. Within seconds, we were barreling down the hill.
“We’ve got too much inertia,” I cried!
“You don’t know what inertia means, do you?” replied Guy.
“No,” I said, “but we are out of control!”
The wobbly little casters on the cart, obviously not designed for high-speed racing, shrieked in protest, and the rickety aluminum frame bucked like a tempestuous bull.
I tried to steer (pun intended), but gravity would have none of it (Damn you Sir Isaac Newton!), and the rubber soles of my Chuck Taylors were useless as brakes. We were on a collision course with a busy intersection at the bottom of the hill. We would surely be squashed like that frog in the popular video game from the 1980’s. I had to act fast!
With all my might (and 133 pounds), I thrust myself against the back-right post. The cart abruptly twisted on its axis, and I was tossed from my coxswain’s perch. Without my weight, the luggage rack took a nosedive and plowed into the pavement. The Big Guy was catapulted into the air like a massive projectile from a trebuchet. As he tumbled across the sky, pedestrians screamed and frantically dialed 911, small children pointed up and peered in wonder, and squirrels and pigeons scurried away for cover. I know it was inappropriate, but, lying on the street, I couldn’t help but crack a smile at the absurdity of the scene.
Guy landed with a tremendous “Thud!” and skipped across the asphalt like an errant cannonball on the deck of a sailing ship from the Napoleonic Wars. He finally stopped at the curb, just inches before the intersection.
All the skin from his arms and legs had been flayed off. He looked like the carcass of a salmon that had been mauled by a bear and then picked over by ravenous eagles and ants. It was not a pretty picture. But, he was alive!
I ran up to the mountainous, bloody mass and cried, “Are you OK?!”
“What the &%$! do you think ya little shit?!” grumbled Guy. “You tried to kill me!”
“No,” I retorted. “I saved your life! It was a John F&%$ing Kennedy Profile in Courage!”
“Courage my ass,” said Guy. “You bailed! If I could move, I’d pummel ya right here!”
I kept my distance.
To this day, Guy and I still debate the legitimacy of my heroism…
Note: My “real-world” project presentation, with its mangled bellman’s cart and ex-friend in tow, was a huge success!
Folwell Dunbar is an educator and artist. He’s looking for his next project. If you have any ideas, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org