It’s Friday evening, (11-12-21) and Lisa’s Birthday. To celebrate, we’re going to see “A Night With Bill Maher” at the New York Comedy Festival (we’ll be socially distanced, in an opera box). He goes on at 8:30PM and my last class on Fridays ends at 05:25 (in New Haven CT). We had to hurry.
We have our bags and we’re hustling out the dorm gate loaded down like a couple of tourists. “We want to be on the island (NYC) by 7:30 for our dinner reservation.” Lisa said. I gave her a quizzical look, checking my watch, “It’s 6:18,” I said doubtfully, “we’ll NEVER..” “Yeah, we will,” Lisa interrupts, “we’re taking a helicopter ride!” “Whaa.. REALLY??” I gasp. “Yeah,” Lisa grinned, “my dad arranged it, his treat.” “Thanks DAD,” I say, as we climb into our Uber.
An Uber off-loads us by a helicopter 15 minutes later (at Tweed Airport). I knew the blue and white grasshopper-looking whirligig didn’t have a mind - that it wasn’t capable of feelings or eagerness, but the blades were spinning and it seemed eager to escape earth - like a bug afraid of birds.
After we boarded, a guy in a yellow vest and helmet said - above the noise - “Buckle up!” and pointed to our seat belts. The “seat belt” was a harness that made an “X” across our bodies. Once the doors were closed it became surprisingly quiet. The cabin could hold four but we were alone, facing forward, Lisa seated next to me.
The earnest-looking pilot turned to us and said, “37 air minutes to the 34th street heliport,” but before he could close the little plexiglass door to our compartment, Lisa said, “Afghan takeoff please!” He nodded and closed the window, it got quieter still.
The pilot throttled up, the jet engines whined, the rotors became frantic and we lifted up into the air - just a few feet. I held tightly to my seat sitting perfectly still, as though the helicopter were a frightened animal I didn’t want to startle. “Relax,” Lisa said, with a BIG grin, “You’re going to LOVE this.” The helo rotated 180 degrees, “Woah,” I said.
“Wait for it,” she giggled. The back of the chopper suddenly rose, my body pressed forward, hard, against the harness. I went bug-eyed - about the time I thought the whole shaky contraption would roll forward end-over-end and we’d die in a fireball, we sprang into the air like a rollercoaster ride. When we lurched skyward, I had to fight the urge to hurl but Lisa roared with laughter.
After a moment we leveled out. “That wasn’t funny.” I said, still trembling and deadly serious. I opened a bottle of water, took a big swig and I felt myself relax a bit. “I almost threw up!” I wiped my hair away from my face. “I’m sorry,” Lisa said in a pouty, baby appeasing way. I glowered.
“Seriously,” she said, in a more reasonable voice, “I HAD to do it - I COULDN’T resist.” Unbuckling her harness she scooted over by me and took my hand. “It was a little mean, I know. I SWEAR, I’ll never, ever, EVER, trick you again.” She said, adding a girl scout salute that morphed into a pinky promise and we were suddenly whole again.
“I mean, it only works ONCE - and your FACE! - GOD!, I should have videoed that,” she laughed again - I just rolled my eyes and turned to look out into the darkness.
Maybe it was that take-off, but at first, all I could think of was falling to a watery death. I never get nervous on commercial flights, they feel like solid, white noise filled living rooms but this chopper was small and trembling, like an economy car or a hayride.
There was a TV screen that showed our altitude (9,000 feet and climbing) and airspeed indicator (140 knots) - I had to remind myself that trustworthy physics was at work somewhere behind this clippity-cloppity contraption our lives depended on.
The view of Long Island Sound, just after dusk, WAS amazing and soon I began to enjoy it. I counted 30 ships and barges lit up like birthday cakes against the watery darkness - and the approaching lights of New York City looked like a glittering tiara being worn by the horizon.
Ok, I thought, I have to write about this.
a scary first ride for me