Whistle stop

Last night my family and one of our friends saw Mr. Holmes at the Chicago’s Landmark Century Theatre. On our way out, we went with everyone else to pay for parking.


A cheerful man of maybe 60 was standing there. I asked if he was in front of us on the line. “No,” he replied, a bit oddly but with a friendly smile. “I would punch that machine. It’s crazy. It’s crazy out there.”

He asked my friend if she thought it was crazy out there. She replied, “I know what you mean.”

“I carry a whistle,” he told her, holding it up. “Do you carry a whistle?”

“Some people carry one on their key chain,” she replied. He asked to see her keys.

My friend understandably got a bit nervous. “I’m not going to show you my keys.”

I handed her the parking ticket, and said “Would you get on the line for me?” She went ahead to do that.

“That’s some whistle you have there,” I told him. “What kind is that?”

“A Thunderer. A policeman gave it to me. If you see anything that isn’t right, anyone who needs help, you blow the whistle. That way, people will come. I wanted to give it to her.”

He added, a bit embarrassed:  “She didn’t want to show me her keys. That’s good. You have to be safe.”

We chatted amiably. I asked if I could take a picture of it so I could buy one for my friend. I thanked him for the advice. We all happily went on our way.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect, tnr.com, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

11 thoughts on “Whistle stop”

  1. The reliable English police whistle much as Dixon of Dock Green carried, and a slice of urban life story to go with it. Nice post.

    1. I liked your post about Heros of Refraining. You should watch "The Tao of Steve," if bored. It's a good romcom and there is a relevant bit.

      I also think we need a list of Heros of Moderation. The unsung non-escalators amongst us. The few, the modest, the ___…

  2. Goodness, Keith; that's a reliable British football (soccer) ref's whistle, not a police whistle! As you must know watching all those British movies, the police whistle sounds different, and distinctive, because it doesn't have the little cork ball spinning around that makes the whistle in the post gargle. http://www.amazon.com/Acme-Authentic-British-Poli

    1. So, you're saying that, if you blow it, the bad guys will fall to the ground and writhe in simulated pain?

  3. One of the classic ghost stories is M.R. James' Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad. Link to full text.. Don't buy old whistles with puzzling Latin inscriptions; still less, dig them up in the ruins of Templar churches.

    Update In James’ High Table style, he doesn’t give the plebs a translation of the first part of the inscription, “Fur/Fla/Fle/bis”. Reading this as “Fur, Flabis, Flebis”: “O thief, you will blow [it], you will weep.” There are variant readings.

  4. It would also be nice to know what pattern of whistle sound to make — to summon help v. "fire" and so on. If there are any? I assume there must be. I remember reading in one of those adventure books about what sort of arm signal you were supposed to make, if lost in the wilderness, to get the water plane to land and come help you. Naturally though I have forgotten the substance! Luckily I never wander the Alaskan wilderness with bears chasing me. Still I'd like to know these things.

    1. Since you ask: the outdoors convention (at least in N. America) is three of anything is a call for help: three whistles, three smoky fires, three gunshots, etc.

      1. Thank you!!!!!!

        Three … *that* much I can remember. And, I did not know that. (Though we should reconsider the 3 fires bit, given the drought…)

  5. "Last night my family and one of our friends saw Mr. Holmes at the Chicago’s Landmark Century Theatre. "

    So how was the movie?

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