Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pinehurst - A Space Odyssey

The south veranda at Pinehurst Country Club overlooks the huge practice putting green which is guarded day and night by the iconic statue of the Little Putterboy. His realm of dark fairways and bunkers lay just beyond, in the late twilight. My target star Fomalhaut, the Eye of the Fish, twinkled dimly just above the horizon. Nearby a group of about eight young male resort guests were finishing their beers at a veranda table. "New England", I guessed, by their accents.

I was glad that I had chosen valet parking since the parking lots were filled for the annual Pinehurst Pro Shop "Member Preview Sale" which had started just a few minutes ago. Already there was a line of shoppers stretched from the St. Andrews banquet room which had been turned into a clearance warehouse, all the way down the hallway. A friend would be waiting for me at 6:30 at the other end of the building in the Members' Club which was featuring their immensely popular Spaghetti Night. My scales this morning told me I was back to 187 pounds and so my diet would be forgotten for the night. A lot of the resort food tastes like resort food but the spaghetti is the best I've ever had, even my own homemade. After dinner I would try to find some bargains on the 65%-off tables at the pro shop sale, but I had something to do before any of these things.

According to my atomic watch which is accurate to one second in 300 million years, it was time, and right on time I spotted a yellowish dot of light moving northeast in the northwest sky headed right over the heads of my beer-drinking new buddies.

"Any of you guys interested in satellites?" I asked, pointing to the sky above them. They saw the orbiting International Space Station right away and amidst the obligatory oohs and ahhs I answered their questions about its altitude, distance, and so forth. They were obviously impressed and watched until the satellite faded from view as it entered the 200-mile-high twilight zone. They were gracious, and effusive in their praise.

"Now if you liked that, I've got something more impressive to show you," I said, checking my watch. "Another satellite is heading our way and for TWO SECONDS it will become twice as bright as Venus over there" as I pointed to the very bright planet-beacon which was low in the western sky. "It will happen in two minutes, at 57 seconds past 6:27 pm" and I pointed to a spot in the sky that was a handspan higher than Fomalhaut which we could see, directly above the Little Putterboy. After the Iridium Flare I would have only two minutes to walk to the Member's Club to meet my friend.

I pointed to the sky and counted down the seconds aloud. When I got to ten a faint dot appeared under my finger, clearly visible, everyone saw it, and it began to get brighter. In two more seconds it looked like a flashbulb had gone off in space. You could have read a newspaper by it, I thought. After about two seconds it faded away and I waved my goodbyes to the resort guests and strode off to make my appointment amidst the pandemonic barrage of cheers, applause, and side comments -- some of which bear repeating:

"Hey, where'd he go?" "Who was that guy, a member or a rocket scientist?" "Maybe he was God!"

You really must try the Pinehurst spaghetti sometime.

-- Dalton Hammond