Portland Attacked!

We were sitting in Bob’s living room. Rocky and Bullwinkle reruns were on but the sound was down. If he wanted to, Bob could have recited the dialog if he wanted to. “See?” he said. “That’s one of the things that drives me nuts.”

“What is?” I asked.

“That!” Bob pointed at the television. “I grew up watching this stuff. It’s not the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, it’s Rocky and His Friends. I mean, first of all you have to watch a cartoon that’s a half century old to find one that’s funny, and even when you do, they can’t leave it alone. They gotta change it’s name so children aren’t emotionally traumatized because they don’t know by heart who Rocky’s friends are.”

“Who are Rocky’s friends, anyway?” I asked.

“Boris and Natasha, Dudley Do Right of the Royal Canadian Mounties, Mr. Peabody and his Way Back Machine. Fractured Fairy Tales, except I guess that’s not a friend of Rocky’s, just a part of the show. C’mon man, you mean you don’t know this stuff?”

“Not like you do, no.” I said. Bob sighed.

“Well, I guess it’s time. Let’s go.”

“Go where?” I asked, but Bob was already outside, climbing into his 1964 Renault R8. Bob loved that car. Looking like a box on wheels, it had been imported through Canada and had a Gordini motor in it that wasn’t legal for a car imported directly into the US. I had no idea what disqualified it and, as near as I can tell, neither did Bob. He just loved that the car sped like a raped ape, faster off the line than a Corvette or Mustang. In the stretch the big iron would take him, but drag racing light to light won him a ton of bets. The R8 cars shipped to the US all had the standard four banger fifty five horsepower motors. The Gordini was supercharged and packed a hundred and twenty horses. This, in a car that weighed just over a thousand pounds. Bob was able to buy the car because he was the service manager of a Renault dealership and was able to see inventory dispatches from Renault dealers from Vancouver, British Columbia to Los Angeles. When he saw the R8 show up he called the Vancouver dealership and bought it over the phone at dealer to dealer wholesale for the princely sum of eight hundred bucks. It was used and had about 15,000 miles on it and had an atrocious paint job that Bob adored. It was a very light gray with a wide racing stripe that ran over the center of the car that made it look like a Christmas ornament from a medieval prison. It was factory built as a rally model and had wide, deep dish rear wheels and tough gas shock McPherson Strut suspension and ultra heavy duty sway bars.

We pulled out of the driveway and scooted down Fourth Plain Boulevard in Vancouver, Washington, following it to the I5 freeway. We took it over the Portland-Vancouver drawbridge and into downtown Portland. I followed him as he visited a number of toy stores, looking for something in particular but he wouldn’t say what it was he was hunting. I know he got annoyed when a clerk finally told him that the object of his search could be found at most chain grocery stores. I found out what he was looking for as we stopped at three different Fred Meyer stores on the way back home, buying up the stock of little toy soldiers sold in bags of twenty. At the last Fred Meyer he also bought some heavy thread and a box of plastic garbage bags.

Back at his place he had me help him cut out one foot diameter disks from the garbage bags and then use thread to make them into parachutes for the toy soldiers. We spent the afternoon and into the evening turning the little molded men into paratroopers while watching sitcoms on television. “Be here tomorrow at ten-thirty.” he told me as I left to go home. I looked at the three foot by three foot box jammed with five hundred plastic shock troops and promised I wouldn’t miss this –whatever ‘this’ was– for anything.

The following day dawned with typical Portland area weather. There was an overcast at 3000 feet and a generally damp feeling to the humid air. It was about 70 degrees with hardly any wind. We stuck the box of soldiers in the back seat and Bob drove us to Evergreen Airfield on Mill Plain. The little airport was populated mostly by antique airplanes and antique pilots which, like the airplanes, came in male and female versions. Bob had learned to fly at that airport, and was taught to fly with stick and rudder in tube and fabric airplanes. None of this fancy aluminum crap sitting on tricycle landing gear. He checked out an Aeronca Champion, a two seater that was made three years after Bob had been born. It had been rebuilt a number of times and was as stout and proud as the day it was minted. Bob checked the plane from front to rear and back again, and then had me climb into the back with the box of toy soldiers. I’d already figured out that we were going to simulate an airborne assault, I just didn’t know where. He was commemorating the ten year anniversary of his becoming a paratrooper. A jumper with the 101st Airborne Division, Bob had spent most of his time as a parachute rigger, packing parachutes and throwing everything from people to crates, to tanks, to cows out of airplanes. Only for a seven month period in Vietnam did he do something other than work aerial delivery, he picked up a rifle and fought the Viet Cong with the 326th Infantry. He actually volunteered for the duty, the dipstick.

The take off was uneventful and Bob swung east and flew across the Columbia River before turning south towards Portland. We were directly over the center of downtown at 2000 feet when Bob slid open the window and yelled “Okay!”

“Okay what?” I yelled back.

“Dump the soldiers!”

I held the box up by the window and grabbed the plastic parachutes by the handful and tossed them out while Bob turned a tight circle. This kept the airborne assault team from being spread too thinly and also gave us a good view of the target from the highly banked airplane. It took me about fifteen or twenty seconds to get all of the little soldiers out the window. I yelled to Bob they were all away and he leveled out the plane and flew back northwest and then crossed the Columbia back into Washington and east to Evergreen. Our total plane rental time was forty five minutes. When Bob discovered that, he aborted his landing and flew over to Lacamas lake and did a few loops before returning to the airport with an hour on the clock.

Back in the car I looked over at Bob and asked “Was that legal?”

“Was what legal?”

“Throwing those soldiers out the window.”

“What soldiers?”

“I guess not.” I said. Bob looked at me and told me that sometimes I made no sense at all. “Look who’s talking.” I said.

It was a slow news day, which meant that the stations were desperate for stories of local interest. KOIN TV Channel Six did a short piece that spoke of Portland enduring an attack of midget parachute troops and even had a little footage of the sky between downtown buildings that showed little dark splotches falling. Then they showed a few of the little soldiers as they lay in the street and on the sidewalks, their little parachutes mostly flat and still. Some were mildly inflated from the gentle breeze. The camera cut to someone from the sanitation department complaining that they had to run a street sweeper with a few men armed with brooms to get the toys off the sidewalk. The sanitation guy claimed that there were “thousands of the little things” spread over two blocks.

“He’s probably the guy who changed the name of Rocky and His Friends.” said Bob.