©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia
My brother was recently in Thailand, where he rode an elephant through its beautiful countryside. I’ve never been to Thailand, but I can say that I rode an elephant at O’Hare Airport – the Elephant Beta. It’s the name of a specialty truck with a cherry picker and hoses that United Airlines uses to de-ice airplanes. For a story, I was allowed to photograph from the heated glass booths atop where operators are protected from being splashed by the propylene glycol. It was actually a lot of fun. Because the goal is to quickly and aggressively remove ice from airplanes, it felt like we were inside a robot playing a version of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em – hosing, splashing, moving left and right, blowing snow. All that was missing was a voice from the corner yelling “body blow! body blow!” It was a workout for me too. I was stuffed in behind the seat of the ramp serviceman, bent over doing squats for twenty minutes while being thrown left and right against the walls of the enclosed cab. But hey, I was smiling the whole time.