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On August 2, United Airlines pilot Kenneth Henderson Jones did what millions of drivers have dreamt of doing – he took an axe to a parking gate, swinging it 23 times until the gate fell to the ground. The incident happened at Denver International Airport in Colorado. Why? Jones, 63, told authorities he “just hit his breaking point.” The airport’s administration has admitted that there have been problems with the gates.

It was no doubt one of the worst days of his life and I do not want to diminish the stress and anguish his momentary snap has caused him.

But in doing so the pilot unintentionally allowed the world to live vicariously through his deed. Paul Bunyan may have been able to create a lake with a few chops from his mighty axe, but the pilot struck 23 blows for drivers around the world when he slayed the mechanical menace that guarded the parking lot. In doing so, we found an unlikely hero. That’s the big picture.

I’ll be the first to admit it – I’ve been an axe in a trunk away from hacking a parking gate to death many times. And I’m not alone. Here are a few of the comments on a New York Post article about the incident.

  • “Good for him! Most gates are broken or slow. It’s 2023, come up with something better than what’s been in use since the 60s.”
  • “I think we’ve all had moments when we would have loved doing the same thing when stuck in a situation where you are trapped by the gate that is inoperable. Admit it!”
  • “This happened to us once and I just drove through at like 60 miles per hour in my SUV and the wooden gate arm snapped like a popsicle stick. It was hilarious and freeing at the same time. But honestly I was nervous afterward and got out of there.”

It seems like most people are on “Team Axe.” Almost all the 466 comments on the story echo these sentiments. Parking gates are universally reviled and the pilot’s chop job provided catharsis to those who learned of his exploits. Multiple drivers in the lot observed the attack; there were three lanes with six cars each waiting for the gates to work. Close examination of the video shows that the pilot was apprehended by airport employees. That means that, in all likelihood, none of the other drivers present called the police. Instead, they happily watched the pilot punish the gate. Only much later was he taken into official custody and charged with criminal mischief. When interviewed by the police the pilot explained that, along with hitting his breaking point, he was trying to “get rid of issues for everybody waiting.”

Some might ask: Why do people hate parking gates?

This is the wrong question. The right question is “How can people not hate parking gates?”

Parking gates already are what we fear artificial intelligence may become. They are cold, unfeeling machines that have replaced human beings. I preferred the chain-smoking parking lot attendants from days gone by. They sat in booths with transistor radios. You rolled up and paid in cash. The attendant pressed a button that raised the gate. We humans were in charge. Occasionally, a parking lot attendant would cut you a break and not charge you for extra time. I got to know a few, and we’d have casual chats about the weather, the Maple Leafs and other frustrations.

But those workers are all gone, replaced by tapping credit cards, thin paper tickets and apps. Now the stubborn parking gates are in charge and they take their own sweet time. The parking gate decides when you get in and if you get out. Those thin strips of wood or metal are a symbolic middle finger to our freedom and agency as human beings.

Damage for the broken gate is estimated at US$700. At 23 blows, that’s $30.44 per whack. The pilot has been put on leave by United Airlines, which is investigating the incident. Along with being able to sever a parking gate with 23 chops, at 63 years old he’s in extremely good shape. If he is looking for something to do, he may want to start up a training regimen with a name like “Axe Fit” or “Whackercize.” Clients could chop away their pounds while they hack away at their stress.

One thing is certain, at least we now know the answer to the age-old philosophical question: If a gate falls in a parking lot, everybody cheers.

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