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With Duane Swierczynski
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- ebook (Digital original) $3.99 $4.99 CAD
- Audiobook Download (Unabridged)
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around March 7, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Come, fly with me.
That’s it—up, up and away. Don’t be afraid. I’ve got you. Everything’s going to be all right.
We float up one story…two stories…three stories…and there, we’ve just cleared the edge of the rooftops.
If you’re nervous, don’t look down. Just look out…at the skyline of Philadelphia, my adopted hometown. Falling away below us is my neighborhood, Spring Garden, just on the fringes of Center City.
Let’s soar a little higher, shall we?
(Don’t worry. I’m not going to drop you.)
It’s just after eight, which means lots of people will be making their way downtown for work. Prime people-watching time.
An endless variety of people—millennials with their gelled hair and too-tight jeans, probably off to work at some start-up with exposed beams, reclaimed wood, and a foosball table. Lawyer-types in their fine suits and even more expensive shoes who will spend their days in air-conditioned conference rooms. Ordinary Philly dudes in jeans and button-down shirts, trying to make it to 6 p.m. as fast as they possibly can.
Or take a look at the middle-aged woman just below us. She’s probably in her late forties or early fifties, wearing business attire that’s at least a decade out of style. Maybe she moved to Spring Garden full of excitement twenty years ago and never quite figured out how to leave. She walks like her feet hurt. The last thing she wants to do is shuffle downtown to an office where she’s ignored or undermined at every turn.
She stops at the corner of 19th and Brandywine, looking up at the bus route sign, then seems to think better of it. Instead, she continues down 19th.
Go, girl, I want to tell her. Fight the good fight.
But all too soon, our time is up. We must glide back home. Which is a sad proposition as much as it is a delicate one.
Because if we don’t stick the landing in just the right way, we’re going to end up splattered all over the side of this building.
No, you weren’t just floating along with a friendly neighborhood guardian angel. I’m not dead, and you’re not a ghost.
Those glorious city views are courtesy of my personal drone, Amelia. I send her out every morning and evening to see a bit of the world that I can’t.
I pilot Amelia using an app on my smartphone. The controls are super sensitive, so getting her to zoom back in through my rear window without knocking off a propeller takes a bit of finesse. When I first bought Amelia, she bumped into the side of my brownstone building so many times I’m surprised she’s still in one piece.
Some lucky drone owners are able to go outside into an empty field and launch their quadcopters straight up into the air.
But not me.
My name is Tricia Celano. Call me “Trish” at your own peril. I’m twenty-five years old, live in a small but sweet studio apartment at 20th and Green, and if I step outside, the sun will kill me.
No, for real.
I have a condition called solar urticaria, which is a rare allergy to the sun. Yes, the same ball of swirling gas ninety-three million miles away that gives everything else the gift of life wants to give me a severe case of death.
My symptoms were minor back in college—hives, itching, burning. But soon I was breaking out in severe body rashes that made me look like a lobster–human mutant hybrid. By senior year, the condition was so severe that I stayed in my room to finish classes remotely and even had to sit out my graduation.
All of which turned me into a twenty-five-year-old shut-in—confined to my apartment all day, every day.
But you’d be surprised how easy it is to live your entire life indoors. Before the internet, I’m sure I would have withered away and died. But now I can order pretty much everything online—food, clothing, entertainment—and have it delivered, downloaded, or streamed straight into my apartment.
As for other forms of entertainment…well, sometimes I’ll pull a Jimmy Stewart and spy on the people coming and going from my building. I especially like to watch the hot dark-haired guy who lives upstairs in 3-D. I’ve gotten to the point where I recognize the way he clomps down the stairs toward the entrance of the building just a few feet from my door. Usually it’s a mad scramble to the peephole to catch even a tiny glimpse of him, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen his entire face. But the parts that I have seen…
Anyway. You might say, But Tricia, if you’re allergic to the sun, why don’t you just go out at night?
Because…well, life really likes to stick it in and twist sometimes.
In the three years since graduation, I’ve also developed this oh-so-charming phobia of the dark. The very thought of stepping out into the night paralyzes me with raw, naked fear. Logically I know I’d be fine. But try telling my subconscious that.
Friends from college will try to coax me out for a drink, but…I just can’t. Once I was even showered and dressed, make-up and hair done…and then broke down sobbing in the vestibule of my building.
I miss the outside world so very, very badly. Chatting through social media or even Skype doesn’t quite fill the void. I yearn to be out in the world again, eating it, drinking it, bathing in it.
So, as I did with my other challenges, I came up with a technological solution.
Amelia—named after legendary aviatrix Amelia Earhart—is a ready-to-fly quadcopter with a built-in camera and absolutely no problems with the sun. She cost me a shade under three hundred bucks, but who can put a price tag on the feeling of being part of the world?
I can fly Amelia within a half-mile radius of my apartment, and her camera feed is sent straight to my cell phone in real time. She’s my amazing, soaring window on the world. Or at least my tiny sliver of it.
Technically, I’m breaking the law. There’s this thing in drone culture called “line of sight,” or LOS, which basically means that you’re supposed to keep visual contact with your drone at all times.
But the Philadelphia Police Department has bigger fish to fry than tracking a lonely girl’s renegade drone. Which is a good thing. Because what started as a hobby has turned into a bit of an obsession. And now I’m not sure how I’d live without it.
I work as a marketing associate for an entertainment company with offices in California, Scotland, and Germany, so I find myself working at odd hours anyway. My day is broken up by Amelia flights, at least three per day. They span eleven minutes each, which is exactly how long her batteries last.
First flight is usually during the morning rush, when there’s a lot of people to watch. Same goes for the evening commute. But lunchtime has become fun, too. I like to take Amelia downtown, just beyond the tightly packed rows of Victorian homes, where you can make out the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It’s modeled after the Champs-Élysées in Paris and is usually full of a mix of tourists and homeless people.
When darkness falls, however, it’s game over. It’s too risky to fly Amelia in the dark, and not just because of my phobia. The images on my phone are too dim to help me avoid the obstacles out there.
Night is when I feel most like a prisoner.
But this is a bright Thursday morning in early September, and it’s time to send Amelia out into the world to see what’s up.
Or down, as it were.
If you’ve ever used an app on your phone, you already know how to pilot a drone like Amelia. There’s a little gray circle on the lower left that controls her altitude, and a bigger gray button on the right that controls her horizontal movements. If you hold the right button down, you can spin her around. Working all these buttons in tandem, however, is the tricky part.
I tap the green Fly button at the bottom of the screen, and we’re up, up and away.
I send Amelia zipping down Green Street, then tweak the controls so she makes a smooth, gliding right onto 19th Street. Turns are the hardest thing to master. Play with the buttons too much, and whammo, you’re kissing a brick wall.
When I want to play it safe, I take Amelia over the rooftops. But up there, it’s too hard to see what all the people with real lives are doing. So I try to keep her no more than two stories above the sidewalk.
Amelia zooms down 19th Street, toward the Free Library. Along this path there’s a stunning amount of new construction—condos and restaurants, mostly. It’s crazy how fast this stuff goes up. Sometimes I send Amelia out and I really have to study the images on my phone to figure out where the heck we are.
But instead of checking out the cranes and the construction guys—who don’t catcall or wolf-whistle at a drone, by the way—I steer Amelia to one of my favorite places in the neighborhood: the old Philadelphia & Reading Viaduct that’s currently under construction.
Most Philadelphians have no idea this thing is in progress. That’s because its only access point is an unmarked opening on the block between Hamilton and Callowhill on 19th Street. But go past the caution signs…and it’s basically a wonderland up there. And in the daytime, it’s all mine.
I only happened upon it last month, and it took me a few weeks to work up the courage to fly Amelia directly above it. Even now, the very idea sends a flutter through my nervous system. Back in the late 1800s, it was a bustling railway that would carry steel to the Baldwin Locomotive factory. But then the twentieth century happened and it was no longer used. By the 1990s, the tracks were torn up for scrap. A few years ago, a group petitioned the Reading Railroad to turn the area into a public green space. In the meantime, however, they’ve sealed it off.
Too bad they can’t seal it off from Amelia…
From above the abandoned space, I watch the sunlight cast its rays through the sidewalk grates. It’s dim in the early morning light, but the space is brightened by the wild plant life that’s already started to grow here. Some quick googling helped me identify the goldenrod, foxglove trees, and even a weird Southern magnolia that sprouted up in a lonely corner, as if in defiance of the northern climate. It’s amazing.
Each time I visit, I push Amelia a bit further. I move her along the viaduct, hoping to catch a glimpse of something new.
Today does not disappoint.
Shockingly, there are two people here, right off the main chasm in clear violation of SEPTA rules. Now I’m sure urban spelunkers explore this place all the time, but I’ve never seen anyone here in the daylight hours. What could they be doing?
I pilot Amelia into a kind of hover mode up in the sky. I don’t want to get too close and spook the people.
Keeping Amelia steady, I zoom in with her camera to take a better look. Are they punks, here to tag the construction signs along the viaduct? Or perhaps they’re lovers who have snuck away for an early morning tryst?
Standing on the rock-strewn ground is a woman in business attire…and a few feet away, there’s a man on his knees. If this is a tryst, it’s clear who’s boss in this relationship.
“Steady, girl,” I tell Amelia, as if she can hear me. I zoom in closer, which pixelates the image a little. “I promise, if things get racy, I’ll pull you out of there. Don’t want you scandalized.”
- On Sale
- Mar 7, 2017
- Page Count
- 144 pages