CHICKEN LITTLE WAS RIGHT

Diversion is always welcome for commuters at bus stops, and in downtown Portland long ago my favorite was the construction of what is still Oregon’s tallest building. Forty stories sounds high compared to an attic apartment, but it’s only five hundred and some feet, about the same as base leg for most glider pilots.

While I was watching, one humongous sheet of wrapping material tore loose from somewhere way up top and drifted out over the street, proceeding to simply hover there as if it belonged — right in the throbbing heart of what scientists call a ‘heat island’. Laid out nearly flat like a beach blanket, the thing seemed unsure whether to go up, down, or sideways, trying each direction after the other. It even ducked around the corner to peek up a different street, then skulked reluctantly back stories lower.

My bus arrived on time, but the show was just getting started, so I waived it. Another’d be coming. Two curiosities held me: how long might this take, and why did no one in the multitude milling all around that intersection even notice? The first question I’ve now answered myself a thousand times over, and the second I long since dismissed, guessing maybe I’d rather not know.

Imagine this same object floating in your normal landing pattern, yes forty floors up. From that height, most conventional gliders can’t possibly stay airborne for more than five minutes without assistance — yet this performance had run for twenty, and was still far from over!

By the time my bus came and left again I was getting hungry. The silent object of all this public disinterest had fallen maybe halfway, and looked broad enough to completely smother a car if it ever reached the ground. Weary of watching in slow motion a crash that hadn’t happened yet, and wary of its aftermath, I decided to hop the next bus no matter what. Like leaving a ball game in extra innings with the bases loaded, easier to say than do.

The third bus creeping into view meant most of an hour had passed. Meanwhile that magic carpet was poising to lose its spell and tumble through crossed wires onto live traffic. Which would arrive first?

Slow outruns slower, so the bus won. Short story shorter, I flagged a cop, pointed up to what immediately ambushed his full attention, and boarded my ride at last. Through the rear window I enjoyed seeing individuals on both sides of the street begin to peer above their two dimensional world, soon prompting everyone to awaken almost at once! Some diversion.

And?

That’s when my bus rounded the corner out of sight. What happened next, you’ll have to ask them. For me, what I’d already seen is more compelling even now, than some blind debacle I had the fortune to avoid.