Like a walk in the park

Don opened the trunk of his Toyota Camry and removed a large two foot by two foot box that was maybe 8 inches deep. He set it to the side and closed up his car, and grabbing the box by a conveniently cut in handle, he carried it suitcase style out to the large park. He faced a fairly vast open area with pretty well kept grass, considering it was an outlying city park. What with the budget cuts all over, that they had money to regularly mow the parks was kind of surprising. He wasn’t the only one there. It was a pleasant 72 degree day with no real wind, maybe the occasional zephyr danced by and little clusters of people dotted the 15 acre recreational area. Don liked to fly is model planes in the park, except for the odd decorative tree or a pair of backstops delineating baseball diamonds, there were no obstructions to threaten his flying.

He found a nice little spot far from any of the other visitors and set down his box. Opening it up he pulled the AR.Drone quadcopter out and began to prepare it for flight. He’d only had the quad for about a month, buying it from Amazon for the stock price of $299. The price of the quad hadn’t changed in the few years they’d been out, and his was a version 2 with the update that allowed him to strap a pin drive that would record the view of flight from the quad’s perspective. He pulled his iPhone from his pocket, and after connecting the battery to the quad, he used his phone settings to link his phone to the quad with wifi. Pilots controlled their drones with their phone or iPod. The aircraft responding by going in the direction that the phone was tilted, making it very easy to control. All of the lights were the right color and he could see through the nose mounted camera of the quad on his phone screen, so he stepped a few paces backwards and pressed the “Takeoff” button.

The quad’s motors revved up and the drone hopped up to four feet of elevation and then hung there, fully stable and awaiting the pilot controls. Tilting the phone, the quad took off and gained altitude as he pressed the climb control. At about 100 feet he let go of the climb control and tilted the phone to the left causing the multirotor craft to swing left and circle back towards him. The quad zipped over his position where Don made it turn again, this time to the right. His control had drawn a large figure eight in the sky. The view on his phone was great. He could see Mount Spokane rising in the background, while the foreground showed the manicured park with the Spokane River flowing lazily by in a serpentine path off towards Idaho in one direction and down to Spokane in the other.

He stopped watching the quad from the ground altogether, instead directing the quad by looking at the display on the phone which gave him a first person view from the craft. It was as though he was in the little four rotor aircraft, a GI Joe doll fastened into the cockpit flying missions against villainy and evil. Enjoying the perspective, he flew higher and higher and watched as the Spokane Valley opened up in a wide vista before him. His gentle turns painting a travelogue on the screen. Higher and higher he went, the aircraft responding nicely to the tilt of the iPhone in his hands. Until it didn’t. Don took his eyes from the display screen and looked up, but the drone was high enough it had disappeared to the size of a pinprick and he couldn’t make it out. He looked back at the screen and saw, to his horror, the message “Connection Lost.” The screen image was a frozen photo of the last view the aircraft had before too much distance claimed the wireless connection between Don and his three hundred dollar toy. “Shit.” he cursed.

He jogged in the general direction his quad had been flying, his face turned to the sky and his eyes scanning for any sign of the copter. So engrossed, he failed to notice the family on a blanket with different foods set out to make a picnic. His right foot stomped into a plastic bowl of macaroni and cheese, splashing it across the shocked faces of the two children as his left foot claimed a bowl of raspberry Jello that painted the faces and chest of the parents. Don failed to notice his faux pas and kept right on running, looking a bit crazed. The father took one look at his now tearful children and the look of distaste on his wife’s face and yelled “sunnavabitch!” and rose to his feet, Jello dribbling from his chest. He set off in chase towards Don who was still oblivious to his party crashing, his focus still on the heavens.

Don had a moment of hope when he saw a pinpoint of darkness against the puffy white clouds, but it turned out to be a bird, probably one of the gulls that hung around fishing the lakes and the river. Maybe a crow he thought before deciding it didn’t matter. It was a damn bird and not his AR.Drone quadcopter. His pace slowed and he finally stopped. He was in the process of coming to grips with his fly away loss when Mr. Picnic tackled him and forced him to the ground hard enough to knock the wind from both of the men. They lay in the grass gasping and trying with little success to get their breath back.  In a few moments both men were finally getting some air as a County Sheriff’s car pulled right up to them on the grass. The door opened and a deputy extracted himself and adjusting his Sam Browne equipment belt strolled over to inquire what had prompted the melee.

Both men began talking at once, the deputy looking back and forth like a tennis judge before he finally snarled “One at a time!”  and pointed at Don. He was just beginning to get the story when his radio buzzed with static and caused the deputy to hold up a finger in a ‘wait one’ gesture. The radio noise, illegible to either of the combatants was apparently understandable to the deputy who cautioned them to behave themselves and told them he had to go investigate a traffic accident on Harvard Road, just north of the I90 freeway. “Some bird fell out of the sky and broke the windshield of a motorist.” he said over his shoulder to the now kneeling men. “Ran off the road and hit a tree.”

Grousing, but for different reasons, the men got to their feet. The picnic dad stomped back towards his waiting family and Don toward the parking lot and his car. Of course, Don was pretty sure he knew what had caused the traffic accident that had just kept him from a likely trip down to the jail for public disturbance. It was like destiny was calling him with the intent of causing some relationship between Don and law enforcement. He put his car in gear and headed for Harvard Road to see what was left of his AR.Drone and to take responsibility for the bad luck and trouble he’d caused some innocent guy who was probably driving to the hardware store. No doubt carrying a Honey-do list of chores.

There were a couple of Sheriff cars parked at canted angles, their red and blue lights strobing away. An ambulance rested quietly at the roadside. A dark blue Nissan truck leaned against a tree, it’s hood an accordion atop a steaming motor. The truck’s windshield had a spiderweb centered right in line with the drivers eye position in the truck. He looked about for the bright orange and green color splash that would be the remains of his quadcopter, but saw nothing of the sort. There was a deputy standing next to a man who was seated on the back bumper of the ambulance, holding a clot of gauze to his forehead. Another deputy had a kid sitting in the back seat of his car, the door open with the deputy leaning in to talk to the kid. The boy was crying.

“What happened here?” Don asked another of the people who were gathering to watch the activity. The man told him that the kid in the car had been throwing rocks at road signs and missed, one of his projectiles hitting the Nissan’s windshield. “Well, hunh!” smiled Don, who started back to his car with a growing smile on his face. He thought about the $300 loss he’d be taking what with his AR.Drone gone off to the land of pixies and rainbows –likely stuck at the top of one of the towering evergreens so common to Washington state.

“Coulda been worse.” he mumbled to himself. Putting his car in gear he drove home.