Tom was stuck and hanging 100 feet above Fremont Street, angled like Superman, and tethered only to the narrow ribbon of wire in a harness. Unable to twist and look up at why he was stuck, he looked down at the street instead. A sea of tourists moved below him as if he was just another attraction. A small boy let go of a smiley-face balloon and started to cry. A bald dude stared at him in a peewee muscle shirt. A ragged homeless man bumped the crowd begging for a dollar. A topless brunette in a devil’s costume waved at everyone while holding a red fan over her exposed breasts.
Mark had promised fame and fortune at the end of the zip line. He failed to mention this.
“We tie you in and then the accelerator pushes you up to 30 mph. It releases and you fly down the line. At the end, you get your picture taken and we buy you a drink,” said Mark to the three people preparing to experience the high line. Tom had barely listened to the zip line attendant. He was worried more about the height and his weight. He had topped the scales at three pounds short of the maximum 250 and he worried he would drop like a sack.
Now as he dangled above the street, his fear of falling accelerated. A blonde-haired girl, slightly tipsy, pointed up at him and laughed. Others formed a crowd around her. A couple of guys exchanged bills. Tom felt certain they were gambling on him dropping like a rock.
He shifted his weight and from 30 yards behind he heard Mark yell, “Stop moving. You’ll fall.”
Perfect, Tom thought. He hung perfectly still and focused on the Devil’s red fan. People below took his picture. His nose itched. He slowly pulled his arm up to scratch it. Before he could reach his nose his photo was posted on Instagram. His fame spread with his discomfort and in minutes he had become a Twitter trend. Tom only noticed the crowd growing below him and shouting for him to stretch out his arms and pose; a Las Vegas celebrity stuck mid-flight.
“Buddy, where’s your cape?” a drunk asked. “You planning to hang up there all day?” asked another. A party was forming. Families were having their pictures taken with Tom hanging in the background.
The wire took a sudden dip and Tom felt his legs drop and his head bumped into the wire. He let out a gasp as his legs jetted downward. He looked behind and saw a rescuer working his way hand-over-hand onto the wire. As the man moved toward him, Tom bounced up then down. Was this prudent? He judged safety should have been his first concern.
He heard a distant siren and to his left he saw an armada of lights. A red car led the parade followed by a ladder truck and a massive red ambulance. Behind them were two police cars and a smaller ambulance. His situation was embarrassing and precarious but for the first time Tom considered maybe he was hanging above his death. Surely, this was overkill.
The police cars arrived first, splitting the crowd, and emptying the street below. The tipsy blonde tripped on her six-inch heels and fell backward into the arms of two guys happy to catch her. Directly below Tom was the ladder truck with four firemen in coats and hardhats looking up. Tom waved and the firemen waved back. The truck moved forward then stopped with a lurch. At the back, the ladder man began inching the ladder up to the dangling man.
A hand grabbed his leg and Tom jumped. Behind him his rescuer had a familiar face. Mark was hanging attached to the wire by a climbing rig and harness.
“Your accelerator failed and you sort of petered out,” said Mark. “And now we have to get you down,” he added with a perturbed tone, as if Tom had planned to be hanging midway on a wire forever like a piñata.
The white basket inched below him attached to the ladder and the fireman inside looked up. “You ready to end this ride?” he asked. He positioned the basket directly below Tom. “I’ll bet you’re ready for a blanket.” Tom noticed a cold breeze.
“This almost never happens,” said Mark, who was still dangling behind Tom. “You’re just lucky, I guess.” Tom didn’t feel lucky as the fireman released the harness and let go of Tom’s waist. He dropped down into the basket with a thud. Mark was left dangling. “We’ll be back for you,” the fireman said to Mark. “No worries. I’ll coast down myself.” As the bucket descended, Mark tucked down and began sliding down the wire.
On the ground, the crowd cheered and Tom waved. He was escorted by two officers and a fireman to the waiting ambulance where he was wrapped in a blanket and handed a steaming paper cup filled with chocolate. He clutched the cup and a shiver snapped down his back. He looked up at the wire and noticed the height. “It seems a lot higher up from here,” Tom said. “Yup. And the view’s not as good on the ground,” the fireman said.
The ladder truck pulled away followed by the remaining rescue vehicles. The crowd slowly filled in the street and crossed behind the ambulance. A few people pointed at Tom and whispered. Others just walked by as if nothing had happened. On the corner where the small boy had let go of his balloon, the girl in the devil’s costume was still posing for photos. Tom stood up and draped the blanket on the ambulance door.
“You good,” asked the driver. Tom replied, “Yeah, I think I’m going to live.” He dropped down to the sidewalk and walked over to the topless girl.
“You think I can get a picture?” Tom asked. The girl smiled and drew closer. Tom sucked in his stomach.
“You draw quite a crowd, you big bear,” the girl said. “Considering all the tips I just made, I think I can fit you in.” She giggled and drew him closer.
Tom snuggled up and the devil dropped her fan. Tom snapped a selfie and smiled.
“Best time I think I’ve had,” he said. He kissed her on the cheek and took a quick look over his shoulder at the zip line.
The crowd thinned out and nobody noticed him. Tom embraced his transition from celebrity to anonymity with a shrug. He smiled and disappeared into the crowd.