It is the graveyard shift, home of the Twilight Zone, where strange events are witnessed by strange people. Who won't argue that things aren't just a shade different in the wee hours of the morning?
I have spent a lot of time in the dark of the morning this summer, and there is one night that stands far above the rest. It was during the warmest week of this summer that I decided that my two hour catnap in Newark would be more comfortable in the airplane than in the pilot room. Laying across the seats of the airplane isn't anyone's idea of comfort, but the pilot room is so hot and stifling that I thought the outdoors would be better.
I was wrong. There is more room across a Caravan's front seats than there is in some airliners, but it was still cramped and still hot, and still stifling. What was I thinking?.. I was trying to stay cool in the middle of what was once a great swamp. It was the home of the mythical Jersey Devil, and the final resting place for generations of gangland murder victims.
It was hot and humid and the air was dead still. I was not the only creature that was left struggling for a cool breath; it was a tough night for the flying creatures too. I could hear them lumbering about, whooshing, gasping and making long shrill whining noises. Near-by, they congregated in long lines under bright lights and exchanged boxes of booty which they had collected on their earlier rounds. They took long drinks of an oily liquid distilled from the flesh of other monsters that had roamed long ago.
I gave up on sleep and watched the goings-on. In the eerie lights and shadows they moved through the mists of the humid night. I saw long and skinny four pod Douglass monsters and their younger and larger brethren, the ones with a pod below each wing and a third pod grown awkwardly and incongruously from its vertical fin. There were the pudgy two pod monsters which had migrated from another continent, and two of the Boeing monsters, one with three pods at its tail that the others seemed to call grand- dad and the huge pileated Boeing. It had four giant pods below its wing and a strange lump on top of its head.
Their moves were ponderous but deft, as though there was some sort of invisible and inaudible form of communication among them They seemed majestic, if not quite graceful, as they moved among lighted and dark areas and among the vapors. When they had passed completely from the light, their movements could still be watched in silhouette against the lights of the giant cranes which stood thickly among the freighters moored at the waterfront.
Despite their size and power, and despite their fluid ease once they were able to take flight, this was no more a comfortable night for the monsters as it was for me. They had trouble breathing too; the thinness of the hot air was aggravated by the humidity that further displaced their precious oxygen. Their pods would roar and shake but the usual strength just wasn't there.
As the monsters took flight, their wings found less lift in the torpid air. The pods could not produce their usual power and the wings could not produce their usual lift. Some of the monsters... the tired ones, the ones that were chock-full of booty, and the ones that had to fly far away seemed barely able to stagger into the air.
I wasn't the only one admiring the great monsters that night. Adjacent to my parking spot, and just off the end of the runway, several acres of small colorful four-wheel critters were parked in long orderly rows. They belonged to the people who work at the airport, and most of the owners had outfitted their little friends with theft and break-in alarms.
The little critters were excited to see such great creatures fly so low over their heads. They waited in silence as each monster started its two- mile run towards them. Most of the time the passage overhead was uneventful, but several times an hour, one creature or another would roar at full power just a few hundred feet above them. The force of their straining pods created a spectrum of loud noises and sub-audible vibrations which would shake things just as though they had been grabbed and rattled.
I could feel the anticipation build as these monsters loomed closer, and their roar shook through my chest. At first only one or two of the most sensitive critters would start to chirp or whoop, but soon the whole area would come alive with excited noises. The critters would shreik, whail whoop, honk and squawk in delight as these great monsters roared overhead.
For minutes afterwards they would continue their appreciative and frenzied cacophony, gradually quieting down as their frenzy dissipated into the humid night. Like spectators at a baseball game, they would erupt in excitement at a great performance, and then gradually settle into a patient wait for the next thrill.
Since that night I have cast my lot with the guys in the pilot room. One of them snores, another always lets the door slam, and another few have alarm clocks that ring too loud and too long. It is peaceful though, in contrast to trying to sleep in the midst of a monster's circus.