right to fly


In my dream, Chatham, Massachusetts had a secret: in specific parts of the town, under ideal conditions, a person could find an upward draft of wind and briefly become airborne. The people of Chatham could fly.

It was not my first dream about flying. More typically, however, it would be a matter of some magical quirk — a fantasy by any other name. Douglas Adams described human flight as “the ability to throw oneself at the ground and miss.” My dream tried to lend an air of science to the phenomenon. Throughout the year, wind currents at the “elbow” of Cape Cod made for spectacular waves as well as dangerous storms. In Chatham Heights (which may or may not be a fabrication of my subconscious), it sometimes resulted in peculiar updrafts — some lasting for several seconds.

Among the residents of Chatham Heights, this anomaly of science was a closely-guarded secret. Neighbors refused to talk about it, even with one another. Occasionally children could be seen gliding through the air in their front yards — before being rushed inside by indignant parents.

Somehow the word got out. When our realtor took us to an Open House in the neighborhood, I couldn’t resist putting the secret to the test. It took patience to wait for the proper combination of wind strength and direction. Rather than leaping into the wind, one remained in position to ride it when it passed by, much like when surfing. Finally it happened — I was airborne for a few seconds, high-fiving my children and some curious neighborhood children. It didn’t take long for the spectacle to attract the attention of local adults, one of whom promptly called the police. Open House was over.

A few weeks later, I learned that Chatham residents passed legislation to make such “wind tourism” illegal — beyond the obvious issue of trespassing. The name of the law took a cue from similar ones that attempted to put a positive spin on what was clearly an act of restriction: the “Defense of Marriage Act,” for example, attempts to prohibit marriage equality on moral grounds, while “Right to Work” laws try to curtail union organizing. Chatham Heights outlawed the human flight of anyone who wasn’t a legal resident, calling it the “Right to Fly”.

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