February 27—Flyin' High
by Lenny Hughes
March winds are on the way, and we're high as a kite.
Well, not the kind of “high” you're thinking about—we're literally taking to the air.
“Wait'll you see what Ben's got,” Lewis told me provocatively as we boarded the Bus Saturday in Wilmington, Delaware.
Back between the bunks, our tour manager was cradling a spidery plastic drone, no bigger than an old telephone.
“We're going to fly into the stadium,” Ben was saying.
Outside the Blue Rocks' Daniel S. Frawley Stadium where we were parked, the wind was cold and relentless. The drone didn't look like one of those commercial, suitcase-sized flyers they use to find lost hikers and enemy snipers—it seemed like a toy—but when Ben fired it up, it levitated in front of him, hovered motionlessly like a hawk on a column of air, and waited for its next command.
By now, Lewis and Jeff Stilson were looking over Ben's shoulder at the joystick and his cellphone with a perfectly clear image of whatever the drone was looking at.
Lew and Jeff checking Ben’s drone
View from the drone
It shot straight overhead, almost disappearing into a speck. Then it descended to the front of the stadium, rose up over the front wall, and settled out of sight to the baseball field, which you could see on the cell screen.
“It has a range of a mile and a half,” Ben said, and explained that tiny cameras on the “wings” tell the device when it is in danger of striking an object, enabling it to avoid a crash on its own.
“When it went over the wall, there were some air-conditioners on the roof that I couldn't see,” he said, “But it corrected, and flew right over them.”
This mind-blowing instrument is produced by a company called Skydio. The Web site for the company shows impressive demonstrations. With an optional feature, a “Beacon,” you can get it to follow yourself, or whomever has the Beacon.
We'll use it to film aerial videos of happenings on the tour and post them on lewisblack.com, eventually winning an Oscar for short-subject documentaries.
We may have to dub out our bald spots.
Flying into the stadium
Meanwhile, you may recall, we were in Florida recently, winding it up in Sarasota.
Before the show, Ben filmed promotions for the next cities, including Lewis pretending to prepare for the UNC-Duke game, slurring his speech, bottle in hand.
“I'm ready for &%^$!!! you @$#%*, and the **&#$@$!!! So, @$$#$&*%#$!!!!”
Ben films promo with Jeff
Prepping for the game
Well, he may have been pretending then, but later that night, when his Tarheels lost to the much-hated Blue Devils, they could've heard him all the way from Sarasota.
After a weekend off, we resumed in Wilmington for a show at the Grand Opera House, then headed off the next day for the McCarter Theatre in Princeton.
James Salkind, our tech-pro, pointed out some sites, including the street where he grew up, and Princeton's chemistry department, notable for being one of the stumbling blocks for F. Scott Fitzgerald, who famously flunked out of the school before writing at least one of the greatest novels of all time.
Last time we visited the McCarter Theatre, they had to hold the curtain because a bat had cruised into the house and landed on the curtain. This year, the nearly sold-out show went off without a hitch, hilarious and bat-free.
We finished the weekend at the Ulster Performing Arts Center in Kingston, New York.
While we were setting up, Ben gave me some distressing news.
“I crashed the drone,” he said solemnly.
The attempt to fly the thing inside the darkened theater failed, because those little alert cameras can't see obstacles in the dark.
Fortunately, the hapless drone just flipped over and landed on a padded chair, with no fatal consequences.
This Friday, the last weekend of February, we rolled down to Virginia Beach, Virginia, for the show at the Sandler Center for the Arts.
On the way, we stopped at Owings Mills to see Lew's mom—always a highlight of the tour. She looks great and is still doing standup.
Ben, Lew, and I drop in on Mrs. Black
“Lenny! What are you doing now?”
Lewis responded, “He's still working for me.”
“A couple of NUTS,” she said with a grin.