Attack from Below

Shoshoni Punks.

Today I flew my drone several times on the way to Casper, Wyoming for a recruiting trip. One of my “sorties” was in the small town of Shoshoni, Wyoming. As I was driving through town, I saw that the old “downtown” area where they leveled the derelict buildings was mostly vacant, but the community appeared to have built a nice little basketball court with a fence around it—and their were some young males playing there. I didn’t get a good look, but if I had to guess, I’d say they were freshman or sophomores in high school.

I pulled over at the public restrooms located a little farther down the main drag and decided I would fly my drone over the railroad track until I reached the new basketball court and capture a couple images of the new recreation space.

The drone was about 60-70 feet high as it made its way toward the court—higher than any trees in town. I could see through the drone’s camera that the young men/boys must have heard the drone because they stopped suddenly and looked up as they started walking toward the other end of the court where the drone was. Although I wasn’t over the court, I must have been close enough that they heard the whirling props.

One of the youth took the basketball and threw it in the direction of the drone… not coming close at all. But then I could see that the other boys were squatting down on the side of the court and suddenly came running toward the drone with a throwing motion—no doubt, probably picked up some rocks and were heaving them in the drone’s direction.

Naturally, I flew away and found a couple other things to photograph before bringing it back to the rest stop and continuing my journey towards Casper.

But, that little incident stayed with me as I made my way down the road—considering the action from Shoshoni’s youths. I was reminded of the old movies about aliens visiting Earth and how humans are often portrayed as violent and militant in their first contact of those things that are a mystery to them.

I wondered, if I had walked down their with a camera around my neck, would they have thrown rocks at me too? Probably not, but something less familiar to them like a drone was immediately perceived as what… a threat, someone spying on them in their public basketball game? Maybe they just wanted to see it crash, but I found their vicious reaction a bit disheartening.

I thought of myself at the same age and wondered if I would have reacted the same way. I’d like to think I would have only stopped and observed—maybe even a little wave at the small aircraft suspended overhead.

Many people who are born and raised in Wyoming often display or express suspicion of those who aren’t the same. If I was given $100 for every time someone told me to “go back to Ohio, Arizona (or even California),” I’d be a rich man by now. Perhaps these youth in Shoshoni had simply illustrated that same, small-minded temperament.

Moving Forward, Looking Back

February 21, 1997
on the road to Billings, MT

My dad bought a brand new Ford station wagon in 1966. It had a 289 V-8 with a dark green body—sans the wood paneling down the side. Somewhere between the ages of six and ten, I remember riding in the back of the wagon, facing the rear window. I always liked riding in this fashion no matter where we were going. At first it was a little awkward in tight traffic or at a stop light because I was forced to look directly at the car behind us and its forward-facing passengers who couldn’t help but look at me. However, once I mastered a couple of silly faces, I didn’t even mind the stop lights and heavy traffic.

Often I pretended the car was a World War II bomber. As its tailgunner, I watched the world rush up and around my head and slowly disappear into the horizon’s infinity. But, no matter how carried away my imagination would get, I would eventually stretch out and fall asleep as the world continued to shoot by. Sleeping in the car was easy and became an enjoyable experience for me. I would venture to say that the best sleeping I’ve ever experienced was in the family wagon on long vacations out West.

Today I traveled to the city with a large group of students in a full-blown, Greyhound-like bus. This particular model has a row of seats in the rear facing backwards. I unconsciously selected one of these seats for the two-hour journey. I was astonished by the comfort I found in this location of the bus. Yes, it did remind me of my childhood, but my thoughts drifted far beyond the old ’66 Ford. I started searching for the source of my contentment. Why was I so comfortable in this particular orientation of travel—moving forward, looking back?

While muddling over my attraction for riding backwards, a sense of contentment came over me as we rambled down the road. I was reminded of romance as the whining resonance of the anterior-based engine became as intimate as a lover’s breathing. It didn’t take long to tune in to the delicate variations of frequency and pitch as the bus moved through its gears resulting in the slightest changes of velocity. After a while, the whine transformed into a lullaby—seducing the community of riders into a blanket of sleep.

It’s rather surreal to watch the world go by when you’re looking back. Here you don’t see anything coming—there’s no time for preparation—it just hits you. Without warning, a huge billboard demands your full attention, but slowly—even the obnoxious oversized advertisements blend into the landscape until it is reduced to a single point on the horizon. I’m reminded of how we sometimes fall in and out of love. We never see it coming but often we have plenty of time to watch it fade slowly and eventually out of our lives.

Most of us probably prefer to see something coming so we can prepare for its arrival—I guess this is why our eyes are mounted in the front of our head. However, living in a world that changes everyday with blinding speed, I suspect we have grown accustomed to things springing up on us out of nowhere. And it is only after the surprise attack that we have the luxury of watching its aftermath drift slowly out of our lives.