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Dodged Viper

Claim:   Snake inadvertently loosed in car leads to an escalating series of accidents.

LEGEND

Example:   [Brunvand, 1988]

A woman got in her car to drive somewhere, and before long she felt something tickling her ankle. She looked down and, of all things, she saw a snake sticking out of the bottom of her pants leg.

Terrified by the snake, which was creeping rapidly up her leg, the woman pulled the car over, leaped out and began to kick in an effort to dislodge the snake. She failed and the snake crept still farther up her pant leg, she dropped to the ground and rolled around, hoping the snake would slither out.

A man driving by saw her contortions. "Oh, my God!" the man thought, "That poor woman is having a seizure!" So he stopped his car and ran over to help her.

Another man driving by saw the first man bent over the kicking, screaming woman. "Oh, my God!" this man thought. "That guy's attacking her!"

He stopped his car, ran over and punched the first man in the face.

 

Variations:
  • Sometimes the hilarity is caused by a snake that pops up out of nowhere, startling the driver, but sometimes the trigger is gerbil or hamster the woman was knowingly transporting to the vet that escapes its cage.
  • The hapless driver is always female, and her pair of rescuers are always male.

Origins:   We've traced this tale of escalating calamities back to at least 1967:
[Linkletter, 1967]

Some of the greatest embarassing moments are like avalanches. They start with just the smallest trickle of discomfiture, and then there's a crack in the façade of human dignity, and finally the entire personality collapses in dust and ruin. These are the funniest of all, because they are cumulative. One of them I heard about happened quite recently near San Francisco. A woman was driving along in her car with five children. One of them had a little pet lizard, and he put it on his mother's shoulder. Suddenly the lizard ran down into her brassiere! She screamed and pulled over to the side of the road, jumping out of the car, and started wiggling her body while in a bent position to see if she couldn't shake it out. Another motorist coming along saw her in these strange contortions and, thinking she had a seizure, stopped his car, jumped out, ran over, threw her down, and started pulling her tongue out of her mouth! A second man who was walking by thought that the first man was attacking the woman, so he got a club and hit the first man over the head, knocking him out. At this, the woman got up and gasped, "I was just trying to get a lizard out of my brizzard." Can you imagine the good Samaritan's expression as he stood over the prostrate man with a club in his hand?
The story uses the stereotypical woman who can be counted upon to flip out when confronted by a small furry or slithery creature. This stereotype commonly recurs throughout the genre.

Though in the example above, the tale is presented as an account of something that "happened quite recently" near San Francisco, that doesn't help much to date Cartoon of the legend it because urban legends are always told as true, local, and recent occurrences (meaning the "happened quite recently" statement should be taken with a large grain of salt). One postulation for the story's origin lays responsibility at the door of an unnamed law professor who might have concocted this tale of mayhem as an exam question designed to test students' abilities to sort out the various issues arising from a complicated incident. If so, that origin echos that of the famed Ronald Opus tale, a legend also coined as an exercise in logic.

Legend or not, sometimes elements of a tale do come true in real life. In April 2001, a woman in Columbia, SC, was startled to discover a 2-foot python on the dash of her rental car. No hastily pulled-over vehicles, women convulsing by the side of the road, or helpful Samaritans beaten insensible resulted.

Barbara "ungartered snake" Mikkelson

Last updated:   13 March 2010

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Sources:

    Larter, Paul.   "Snakes Make Three-Course Meal of Family's Pets."
    The [London] Times.   28 February 2008   (p. 47).

    Squires, Nick.   "Father Fears for Family After Snake Devours Pets."
    The Daily Telegraph.   28 February 2008   (p. 16).

    The New Zealand Herald.   "Giant Python Stalks and Swallows Family Dog."
    27 February 2008.