Man in Orbit
By ice rivers
I had been in my Blake Hall dormitory for about a month when I got a visit from Vin. We walked around the quad. In order to walk around the quad, the walker had to turn right outside my dorm... walk to and past the college center... turn left.... walk pastthe Wadsworth building.... turn left walk past the library turn left past the administration and then take a ralph past more dorms until the walk ended at the entrance to Blake Hall. About half a mile altogether.
This was in October of 1964, almost exactly 55 years ago.
At that time the moon was not a documented magnificent desolation but more of a benevolent mystery. Astronauts were learning how to maneuver in space while satelites like Telstar were orbitting the planet for the first time.
Vin observed that the quad walk "would make a beautiful orbit".
I didn't know what the hell he was talking about and asked for an explanation.
"Here's what you do, get a bunch of guys from your dorm. Send out one guy at a time to run around the quad. Time the run. Call every timed run an orbit. When one man completes his "orbit" have another guy take over relay style. Maybe make an aluminum ball that one orbitter can pass to the next orbitter. While in orbit, if the orbitter passes anyone they are required to say "beep beep" while passing. If you get the right guys, you might be able to keep that orbit going for a long time: hours, days, nights, weeks, months maybe until we land on the moon. You and the orbitters might make this quad famous if the media gets ahold of the story."
I liked the idea and told Vin that I would get an "orbit" going soon.
Over the next couple of weeks, I talked up the idea of the orbit to the guys in my dorm. I set a time and a date for the "launch". At launch time, we had the aluminum ball ready to go and an orbitter on the launching pad which was really the steps outside Blake Hall. We had gathered the usual 10 guys who counted down the launch. The first man in orbit was Butsh Conboy. At the call of ignition, Butsh took off. Everybody had a clear view of the launch and commented on it's beauty and how all systems were go etc. Up near the administration building, trees blocked the porch view of the orbitter. We all knew that blockage was coming so we had called it the dark side. I remember when Butsh disapeared from view. No one had ever entered the dark side while orbitting. Everyone was very relieved when Butsh emerged from the dark side and headed home for his landing. The next orbitter, Don Horner was waiting to receive the aluminum ball and begin his orbit. While Horner was in orbit half of the guys were watching his orbit and the other half were questioning Butsh who was in quarantine until Horner completed his orbit. In quarantine, Butsh was asked about the condition of the orbit. Was there a lot of debris? Did he notice any satelites. How many times did he beep? And then Horner was in the dark space until he emerged tothe cheers and admiration of porch monkeys and future orbitters.
The aluminum ball was passed many times but momentum began to wane after a couple of hours. Either the orbit would spred to another dorm or it would fade away. At that point a new guy entered the scene. He had been in the college center listening to the jukebox when he heard about the orbit going on. He had run cross country in high school and he thought he would be comfortable with multiple orbits until replacements could be found. He took off on his orbit when the sky darkened and the rainstorm began. Everybody ran for cover, the mission aborted except for the orbitter who to the amazement of all completed his orbit and then with lightning and thunder booming and flashing, he did the unthinkable. He went for one more orbit.
He completed that orbit. He was soaked to the bone. I met him on the porch. He handed me the aluminum ball. I saluted him and said "Mission Accomplished." I had never met this person before although I had seen him around a few times.
I asked him his name and where he was from.
He said "Wild Bill" from West Babylon.
The orbit had ended but my friendship with Wild Bill went on for days, night, semesters, years, moonlandings,decades, half centuries and lifetimes.