John Carlson: Where’s the Droning Noise?

Until I learn to fly it, my little drone will be powered by one hand and hope. Photo by Nancy Carlson.Until I learn to fly it, my little drone will be powered by one hand and hope. Photo by Nancy Carlson.

By John Carlson—

We seem to be living in the Era of Drones, a time when those remotely controlled flying machines are used for everything from firing missiles and clocking speeders to aerial surveys and offshore shark patrols.

That’s why I got one.

Well, OK, I didn’t actually get one. I was given a drone by my friend at Ball State University, Dean Paaige Turner. Why? It might have something to do with BSU’s “We Fly” campaign. Either that, or it was in grateful recognition of my selfless efforts as a journalism student long ago to contribute huge sums of money to what is now fondly remembered as the “Golden Age” of that campus saloon, “The Chug.”

No need to thank me, folks. Somebody had to step up and do it.

Anyway, as soon as I received word my new drone was coming, I got all happy inside. That is because I’ve always been nuts about flying machines. Indeed, I have had one form of pilot’s license or another in my wallet since I was a lad of fifteen.

Given that, let’s just say I was confident I could handle my new drone as adroitly as I can scratch an armpit without even having to look for it. That was a good thing, considering the way my mind was racing with drone ambitions.

Like, I could see it on garden patrol, guarding against an wave of deadly bunnies. I could see it transporting a propane container to the gas grill on our back deck when the old one petered out under some half-cooked hamburgers. I could even see it delivering stacks of frozen pizzas from my neighborhood Payless to my kitchen during paralyzing snowstorms.

Then my drone arrived, Nancy having spotted it in our mailbox.

“Our mailbox?” I said doubtfully, as she tossed me the envelope.

Right then I knew that if my drone ever delivered me a pizza, it was gonna be a pepperoni Bagel Bite. But since preparing my little drone for flight, I have learned that appreciating it is a simple matter of scaling back my expectations.

First I had to charge it, which involved electronics. Electronics have been a sore subject around our house for thirty years, ever since our son was a rookie 4-H’er tasked with building a simple light switch. Chuckling good-naturedly at the poor little guy’s bumbling efforts, I told him to step aside and let the old man lend a hand.

How’d that work out?

Let’s just say, until he was called up front at the awards ceremony, I had no idea they even handed out black ribbons.

This, of course, got me in very deep doo-doo with Nancy, who was a respected 4-H leader at the time. In dooming our son to winning the “did not complete” award, I saddled him with the most embarrassing level of 4-H failure possible. To hear his mother describe it, my screwing up that simple switch was as bad as helping him raise a pig that went berserk and attacked a class of visiting first-graders. Put another way, thanks to me, at just seven years of age he was already known as the 4-H’er least likely to go to Purdue for anything to do with electronics, unless some day his car battery crapped out near West Lafayette on I-65.

So now, as a matter of personal pride, I was determined to get my drone airborne.

And I did pretty well, if I must say so myself. I figured out how to strap the wrist controller to my right hand and make the little gizmos on its control panel light up. Even more impressive, I figured out how to make the bigger gizmos on the cowlings surrounding my drone’s four black propellers flash, as if I were some seasoned drone pilot.

There was art involved, too.

Reading the operating instructions printed with letters the size of amoeba, I started memorizing the hand control motions that were the key to my drone’s successful operation. These were graceful moves of a visually poetic nature that called to mind the dancing of no less an artist than ballet legend Rudolph Nureyev, my hand swooping left and right, ascending and descending as my drone followed suit.

That was the plan anyhow.

So what did this intimate mating of man and machine feel like?

Beats me. My drone stayed stuck to my desk like a swatted fly. Try as I might to master the movements directing it through the air, with me at the controls, it looked more like Rudolph’s no-count brother Booger Nureyev was trying to fly that sucker.

Half-an-hour after beginning my quest I gave up, instead flying it around my man cave like a kid with a new model airplane, holding it in my hand while making spitty engine sounds with my tongue poked between my lips.

That doesn’t mean I’m permanently grounded, though. With a little more practice I will get the drone Paaige so kindly sent me into the sky. That’ll be the day when my drone becomes as reliable a dinner table companion as the napkins and the silverware.

I just have to remember to keep its load appropriately light.

“Care for another Cheezit, my dear?” I’ll casually ask Nancy at the other end of the table, and if she says yes, I’ll fly that Cheezit taped to a thread hanging from my drone to her plate, lickety-split.

Should she ask for another teabag, I’ll do the same.

Ditto for, say, an olive.

And should Nancy start sniffling with guilt at my kindness, despite her bitter reaction years ago when I stuck our son with a black ribbon for screwing up electrical switches …

Well, I’ll just drone her a Kleenex.


A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.  John’s columns appear on every Friday.