Friday, July 20, 2007

Houston, We Have A Problem

A few weeks ago Michelle and I had a great idea- we would buy one of those portable canopies to put out by the pool. The unbearable hot sunny days were just starting, and while getting in the pool was refreshing, some days the sun is so searing even the pool water heats up like a warm bath.

I reasoned that if we got one big enough we could shade a portion of the pool as well as the patio. It was a great idea. I set out that very day to Academy Sports to buy one.

I bought the largest one they had- a 15 foot behemoth of a canopy with the special easy-set up system. It worked almost like an umbrella. I slid it out of the case (with built-in roller wheels), set it by the pool, and extended the aluminum frame after slipping the canopy cloth over it. I had it fully extended and shading me in under 5 minutes.

It worked beautifully. It shaded a good portion of one side of the pool, plus provided a great area on the patio to place our lounge chairs. We had it made in the…well…shade.

Everything was great until the disaster. About, oh, 48 hours after buying it.

Michelle and the girls were out shopping, as usual, and I was home readying to mow the lawn. I went through my usual preparation: Full gas cans- check, water-check, cigar-check, hat, sunglasses, goggles and particle mask- check, sunscreen- check. The Saturday tradition looked to be quite enjoyable this day as it was unseasonably cool and breezy. I headed out after deciding on my flight plan- this week I would do the cut at an angle running southwest to northeast and would start in the front.

I was making great progress running the mower at full speed and flying across the expanse of our front yard and enjoying the strong breeze that was hitting me every few seconds. The sun was bright, the cigar well seasoned, and the grass brightly green. “How could it get any better than this?” was what I was thinking when something caught my eye. My brain processed it somewhat quickly- something was moving near the house, and since no one was home, that just shouldn’t be.

I looked fully in the direction of the movement and was mesmerized. Our brand new giant canopy was hovering several feet off the ground and moving across the lawn. It moved so gracefully and purposely that it seemed someone was controlling with a remote control device. I stopped the mower and stared. Wow- that’s cool! I think that’s what I thought right before an updraft caught it. When the updraft caught it, I thought one other thing- I suppose I should have used the spikes and tie-down rope that came with the canopy.

It soared. And I mean SOARED. It shot straight up like a rocket, very fast and very stable. It reached above the treeline with plenty of blue sky between. I estimate the craft reached an altitude of somewhere between 60 and 75 feet high when something went terribly wrong. The wind died.

I felt it before the canopy did- the wind and weather at our house usually moves from west to east (like almost everywhere in the world I guess), and I was due west of the launch pad. I had great hopes that the canopy would, when its fuel ran out, float down gently like a parachute. I was greatly mistaken. As the breeze ended, the canopy stilled itself, and then tipped over and plummeted to the ground like a bullet, upside down and rushing to its death. It hit the ground and exploded into dozens of pieces of broken and twisted aluminum and plastic. It looked like a downed 747.

As I rushed to the crash scene I had grand hopes of saving the $75 I spent by trying to string it back together with various materials from my workshop in the garage. I even had a fleeting thought about taking it back to Academy Sports and telling them it was defective. When I arrived and saw the destruction I knew it was all over. My very next thought was wondering if Michelle would ask me why I didn’t anchor it down when I told her about it, and what I would say.

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