A Pilot's Perspective.

By Barry Meek.

June 2015 

Thunderstorms and a Peeping Tom

HOW A THUNDERSTORM SOLVED A PIZZA JOINT PARKING LOT PRANG (With help from a “Peeping-Tom”).

There are times when you start something and as it develops or moves along, the end result becomes something that you couldn’t have imagined at the time you started it. This is the tale of one of those adventures.

The heat of a late summer afternoon in Kamloops, B.C., was generating a giant thunderstorm, the likes of which are killers of small airplanes. This one was predicted to be a fairly moderate disturbance, with rain, thunder and lightning. As it approached, it became evident that it would be worse.

“We need the rain”, was the common wisdom among the folks who had been enduring a summer of dry heat. The farmers were more than worried, the fruit growers were rationing the precious water on their crops. Most people actually had high hopes that this would be the storm to turn the corner on the long, hot season.

The pilots around the airport kept a close eye on the monster approaching the field. The tie-downs were tight on the airplanes out on the ramp, and hangar doors were secured. I had a partnership in a little Cessna, and that particular day, my partner, Trevor, had departed for Kelowna, about 80 miles to the southeast. I knew he would be scrambling to get back home ahead of the storm, and my fingers were crossed that he would make it in time.

The balcony of my sixth-floor downtown apartment was a great vantage point for watching the approaching storm. As well, it faced the direction from which Trevor would be flying home. So there I was, high up on the building, with my binoculars and a portable radio, scanning the southern sky, searching for the little airplane.

There was a good view of the surrounding city from that balcony. Traffic and pedestrian movement, many other buildings close by, and even the hospital and its activity were always interesting. In the ally below, the regular dumpster divers provided entertainment. At the end of the block there was a pizza joint. On that particular afternoon as I stood watching the sky, I happened to notice a vehicle move through the lane and turn onto a side street beside the pizza place. Somehow, it proceeded onto the sidewalk and entered the restaurants parking lot, then smashed into a parked car. By then, my attention was fully on things below. The driver got out and walked around surveying the damage he’d done. For some reason my suspicious nature took hold and I began to wonder if he might just leave the scene and the victims vehicle with the bashed in front end. Fortunately, I thought, I had my binoculars in hand and was in a perfect position to record the license plate on his car.

I wasn’t totally surprised when the driver did exactly what I suspected. He took a look around, got back in his car, which had only minor damage, and drove off.

Since the victims’ vehicle was obviously in bad shape, I had a moral decision to make. Although still concerned about my airplane and the storm coming in, apparently at about the same time, it seemed appropriate to keep an eye on the sky. But it did occur to me that the owner of that broken car might up-chuck his pizza when he returned and found it. After considering the options, I decided to head down to the pizza joint and provide my evidence (the other guys license number) to the owner for his upcoming police report.

The owner of the damaged car turned out to be a very nice older man. He was from another town, and that day he and his wife were visiting the city. Quite alarmed about their vehicle, they immediately called the police, and politely requested me to provide my information directly to the officer when he arrived. In the meantime, I was welcome to join them for a slice or two of the pizza they were eating. So, what else could I do. It was getting close to dinner time anyway.

When the police showed up, it soon became clear that the somewhat overweight officer was more interested in the free pizza than getting the business at hand done. He eagerly accepted the offer to join in the little dinner party as information was exchanged. When it came time for me to give my statement, I had my fingers crossed for my partner and our airplane. “Trevor, you’re on your own buddy”, I thought. This was going to take a while. Another pizza had just arrived, courtesy of the restaurant.

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When I got to the part about the binoculars and standing out on the balcony, things suddenly went quiet. The cops expression was serious when he looked at me and said, “Just who were you looking at?”

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By that time, the big storm was pelting down the rain, even a bit of hail. The police beat must have been slow, which suited our attending officer. He was thoroughly enjoying the pizza while writing down the details of my statement. When I got to the part about the binoculars and standing out on the balcony amidst several other apartment buildings, things suddenly went quiet. His expression was serious when he looked at me with raised eyebrows. “Just who were you looking at”? he asked.

The real answer would have taken a while, and it was somewhat apparent I would have had a hard time convincing this cop that it was the truth. The fact is, there had been recent reports of a “Peeping Tom” in the neighborhood. This wasn’t looking good for me!

The entire chain of events had occurred over the space of about forty five minutes. The suspicious cop was slowing down with the pizza and beginning to turn his attention to the aforementioned “complaints about the Peeping Tom”. Just then, by a sheer stroke of luck (for me), my cell phone rang with a call from my pilot partner. Trevor was calling to say he was safely on the ground and the airplane was in our hangar. He repeated the news over the speaker phone for the benefit of the cop, and apparently that satisfied him about my “binoculars on the balcony” story. I was off the hook.

A few days later, someone from the police department called and informed me they located and charged the driver who had hit the vehicle in the pizza joint parking lot. Not surprisingly, he was a “known-to-police” perp. They thanked me for my community service and passed along the other party’s appreciative comments. My airplane was fine, the overheated locals, farmers and orchard owners were happy with the rain, and all was well. I also made a decision never to step out on the balcony with binoculars in my hand again.

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