Tuesday, June 05, 2007

If It's Not True, It Ought to Be

A headline from Monday’s news made me remember this story. One of those stories that make me snort laughter when I think about it. Not only because it’s funny, which it is, but because it brings up memories of living with Beth during the summer of 1998 when we were goddesses on Alegria. We told story after story every night while sitting on her porch drinking club soda and wine and trying to stay cool. And nobody…nobody…tells a story like Beth when she’s on a roll.

Beth was a television news reporter in Little Rock, Arkansas circa 1990, her first job out of college. Before she was assigned to cover politics, and a certain Governor Clinton, she was assigned more local-interest type stories.

So it’s a SLOW day in the newsroom when she gets a call from an absolutely hysterical woman who is SCREAMING at the top of her lungs.


Beth is pretty alarmed and tries to get a word in to ask her what’s wrong.


Blink….blink, blink…blink…


Beth said she can hear hollering and kids screaming MAMA, IT’S A DRAGON! IT’S GONNA EAT US in the background.

Beth yells at the woman to call 911 who says she has but they hadn’t yet responded. No doubt because this woman sounded like a raving lunatic. Somehow the lady thought to call the local TV station and was put through to Beth.

Beth gets the address and grabs her cameraman and they head out in the station van to a very rural, isolated part of the countryside way outside of Little Rock, figuring that this was a prank. But it was a slow news day so it gave them something to do. The drive was one of those deals where they had to turn right at the red barn, then left when they see the hay stack in the field, kind of thing, but they somehow find their way and eventually drove up to this ramshackle double wide in the middle of nowhere.

When they step out Beth can hear the screaming inside. She and her camera man slowly start to walk up and all of a sudden the door swings open and the hysterical woman tells them to GET IN HERE FAST, THE DRAGON IS AROUND BACK TRYING TO GET IN THE BACK DOOR!

So Beth in her little skirt suit, hose and heels goes hot footing it across the gravel and she and her camera man jump inside where chaos is in full swing. She said there were about six children, all under the age of 10, just wailing and clinging to their mother. Beth finally peers around the cluster of people and looks outside the sliding glass door going out of the kitchen onto the back yard.

She said she jumped back and screamed “HOLY MOTHER OF GOD, WHAT THE HELL IS THAT THING?” She was looking at a gigantic 10 foot long…dragon.

Her language sort of stunned all the little kids quiet. You just have to know Beth and watch her reenactment to know how funny this is. While she didn’t admit it, I think her second reaction was probably to throw one of those little children out in the backyard to act as a decoy so that she could safely bolt out of there, back to the van.

But the camera started rolling and Beth is trying to collect herself and report on the story, but she keeps getting distracted by crazy wailing kids and the fact that there is a mean looking alien animal 3 feet away from her that might possibly be capable of breathing fire. She calls someone from her station, explains the situation and tells them to send out animal control.

While waiting for help, Beth tries to check the thing out – its giant tongue was flicking on the glass, and she swears it was is 6 feet long and a foot and a half tall. It looked like a Komodo dragon, but it was the type of giant lizard that had one of those collars that flares up around its head when it is defensive. That collar thing was in full flare, it’s big tail was curled up and it looked mighty menacing.

So animal control shows up and the same scenario ensues with them dashing into the double wide, then not believing their eyes. They don’t know what to do about it, so they call the zoo, which sends people out and they go through the same thing of rushing in, only to stare. The zoo then called the wildlife department and the same scenario played out. Beth said that by the end of it, there were about 30 people all jammed into this ramshackle trailer with everyone yelling and screaming and not having a clue what to do. The owner of the house kept shouting SHOOT IT! JUST SHOOT IT!

Finally, someone takes control and they decide to shoot it with a tranquilizer and then this whole funny scenario ensues about how they picked the person that was going to have to go around back and do the shooting while 30 faces are pressed up against every window on that side of the double wide watching in horror.

I think the brave soul with the tranq gun got in a pick up truck at the front of the house and drove around back and shot it out the window, then peeled away when the dragon ran towards him before the drug took affect.

I don’t remember where it went from there but the zoo ultimately carted the beast away for observation. And Beth got her story.

When she got back to civilization, Beth researched the history of that area and discovered that the University of Arkansas used to have a biological/zoological research center near there that had long since been shut down. She figured that maybe the animal escaped or had been let go from that place, which had been closed for 20 years, and had been living in the Arkansas jungle all this time until it stumbled up onto the double wide.

There are a couple of Beth’s stories from her reporting days that get me laughing hard. This one, the one where a Slavic band of gypsies slaughtered and roasted a goat at a local Motel 6, the time she went with the DEA to report on a drug trafficking story on the border and ended up in a Mexican jail, and of course when she was an embedded reporter in Saudi Arabia for six weeks during Desert Storm.

Is it any wonder she eventually chose the relative safety of public television? The most dangerous thing Beth had to worry about there was avoiding being goosed by the pervy, old donor, and surviving the waitress at the Hole in the Wall (our lunch hot spot) who used to ball her out for being a bad tipper.

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