Monday, October 24, 2005

Felt Like an Alfred Hitchcock Movie

(written Saturday October 22nd on the train to Chicago...)

For the last few weeks, The Bride™ and I have been noticing massive flocks of birds flying around Bentonville and often lining mile-long stretches of power lines. When I say flocks, swarms is more like it. I don't know what they are, but they appear to be some sort of blackbird; except a little smaller than the blackbirds we used to see scaring all the little birds away from our birdfeeder.

I'll see a swarm of them about a half mile off in the air, and I swear the swarm will stretch for thousands of yards. I've never seen so many birds together in one place.

As I was killing some time after finishing my work before the end of the day, I was driving along Central Avenue and started noticing the birds lining the power lines along the south side of the street. I saw the sun setting back behind me and thought I'd finally pull over and take some pictures of the birds swarming around in front of the pink and purple sky.

I pulled down S Street, kind of like a driveway into one of the many Wal-Mart distribution complexes around town; feels like an industrial park. There was no traffic so I just parked my car against the curb in the road and got out to take a few pictures. I walked up close to the nearest power line, hoping to scare the birds off and get them swarming away. I got a few shots and noticed that the birds were covering the lines, almost all the way down to the end of the street. It was so thick that you couldn't even see any power line, just birds.

I hopped back in my truck and just as I set my camera down and shut the door I hear a massive explosion. I look up, and the junction of a line across the street has just exploded into white-hot flame and sparks, sending the birds flying. (and setting quite a few on fire). Just a half second later, the other end of the line on the other side of the street near a transformer/fuse explodes just the same, except this time a flame travels the length of the line, back across the street, and sets a grounding wire on fire.

The flaming wire drops to the ground, starting a small grass fire at the edge of the road and the fence surrounding the Wal-Mart trucking building. I consider running up to stamp out the flames, but I'm a bit leery of stepping under the previously exploding power lines. The birds are now thick like a massive black fog, flying all around looking for a new place to sit. Some are flaming to the ground, and I can see some laying in the road and the ditch.

So I found myself in the rather strange situation of alerting the fire department to spot news, rather than showing up about 10 minutes afterwards, asking what happened and trying to document the situation. I called 911, told 'em what happened, and waited for the fire truck. As I waited, Wal-Mart folks came out with fire extinguishers to put out the small fire.

The fire department guys showed up and I told them what happened before leaving. By far, one of the craziest things I think I've ever seen in person. If it would've happened about 10 seconds earlier, you would've seen the massive explosion at the bottom of the first picture. That's about where it was. I took that photograph just seconds before the explosion.

The second photograph I took after everything unfolded. Who says birds are dumb? After the explosion, did they find a safe, friendly tree to go and sit in? Nope, they just piled themselves onto another huge cluster of power lines.

On another note, the Bride™ and I are sitting in our very own deluxe sleeping car on an Amtrak train bound for Chicago from Kansas City. I'm writing this, not knowing when I'll find an internet hookup to post it. We're going to have a pretty relaxing agenda in Chicago, so I'm planning on posting a couple of updates while we're there.

I'll also put some pictures up this week, but those will be on my regular flickr site. If you'd like the link and you don't have it, you can email me and I'll pass it along. I'd rather not post it up here as I use my ultra-secretive "real name" on the flickr site.

While I'm mentioning the idea of internet hookups, what's up with fancy hotels charging for what should always be free? We stayed at the Hyatt Regency in KC last night, and I was going to hook up real quick just to post this before we left. I hook up the provided ethernet cord, and open my browser, and a page comes up telling me I can get a day pass for internet usage for "only" $9.95! What a steal!

If you stay at a bargain-basement Motel6 these days, you get free internet access. Shoot, nearly every hotel I've stayed in for the last couple of years has given free internet access, sometimes even free wireless. Everything cost money at the stupid Hyatt. (which was very nice, much nicer than the Radisson we stayed in last time) Parking would have been $10 or something overnight, but I parked next door at the Crown Plaza where weekend parking is free. Even coffee this morning would have been $1.50, but Rachel managed to get it for free somehow. "You have not because you ask not."

What really cracks me up, is the concept of the T-Mobile Hot Spot. If you go to Starbucks, you can only get wireless internet access if you pay $30 a month for T-Mobile wireless access. I think they sell a day pass for like $5. What a freaking rip-off. If you go to your local friendly coffee or sandwich shop, they have it for free. When will the starbucks dumbasses figure out that internet access doesn't cost that much and free access brings people into your store. Why pay for what you can have for free? That one really mystifies me.

Anyway, gotta save some juice on the laptop. The Bride™ is sleeping above me as we just passed through La Plata, Mo. We'll be in Chicago around 4 p.m. Train travel is the way to go. We paid about $190 total for two round-trip first class tickets from KC to Chicago. Includes everything, even the ultra-expensive breakfast (which was delicious) and lunch or dinner. I'll share some more about the Amtrak experience later. This is the first Amtrak ride for either of us, after cutting our teeth on European train travel, which is fantastic. (Russia and Ukraine in 1995 were quite a different story...)

More to come on the trip to Chi-Town.