Check this story out in the current issue of Hamptons magazine.
As I step outside and march toward the awaiting mass of steel, I’m nearly deafened by the roar that welcomes me. The blades loom ominously close, cutting the air a mere inches from my head, and I pause, trying not to notice the cold sweat collecting at the back of my neck. I take a deep breath.
How the hell did I wind up here, anyway?
“Here” would be the 34th Street Metroport, a helipad on Manhattan’s east side—not some 18th-century-style beheading in France. And instead of walking somberly toward the guillotine, I’m approaching the nearly-as-menacing blades of the helicopter that’s purportedly waiting to whisk me off to the Hamptons. “It’s the only way to fly,” my editor had assured me before shooing me off to my seemingly enviable assignment. But from my vantage point right now, standing before this diminutive craft that looks no more imposing than my own five-foot-two-inch frame, I’m suddenly convinced that flying’s overrated. I think I’ll walk, I decide. The view of the ground is so much better up close. But instead I climb gingerly up the wobbly steps. After all, I’m wearing heels.
Earlier, while I’d passed the time before my flight in the Metroport’s plush waiting area—which, by sheer coincidence, of course, just happened to be generously stocked with copies of Gotham and Hamptons—I chatted with Metroport line supervisors Vic Garha and Tariq Shaffee. With nine years of helipad experience between the two of them, I figured they’d be the best people to ease my growing concerns. “You’re much safer flying than driving,” Shaffee had said. Back then his words had sounded comforting; now, with the blades hovering overhead, I’m wondering just what kind of a driver he is.
And so, on a glorious Friday evening, as the rest of Hamptons-bound Manhattanites creep on to the Long Island Expressway, I clamber into a luxury BlueStar Jets helicopter alongside company president, Todd Rome. Pilot Chris Blanton greets us with a movie-starrish smile…. I’m captivated. This guy is hot. Short blond hair peeks out beneath his cap, a pair of thick black sunglasses obscure a set of what I’m sure must be beautiful eyes, and his forehead creases as he concentrates on the commands coming through his headset, then responds through an exquisitely chiseled jaw.
Suddenly, I love helicopters.
“You ready?” asks Rome as Pilot Hottie prepares for takeoff.
5:55 P.M.: And we’re off. The craft leaves the ground with a seemingly shaky start, but neither Rome nor Hottie appear the least bit concerned, so I convince myself this is normal and focus instead on the water right below us. Wait. Right below us? Isn’t that too close? What are we doing? I CAN’T SWIM!!!
But all of a sudden we’re soaring up, up, and up, until we’re level with the towers of some of the tallest skyscrapers in the world. The sun hovering over the west of Manhattan peeks out from behind the buildings, and up in my tiny bubble I feel both insignificant and infinitely important, all at once. I resist pulling an “I’m the Queen of the world!!!” move à la Leonardo—I am, after all, a sophisticated journalist quite accustomed to such luxuries; besides, that scene might be a bit dangerous to recreate in mid-air. I finally sit back and enjoy the ride.
This particular ride is BlueStar’s Eurocopter, and the more Rome talks about it over the din of the engines, the more at ease I feel. After all, since BlueStar is the largest air charter organization in the world, and they average 20 flights a day to East, South, and Westhampton in the summers, what’s there to worry about? Their clientele is split evenly between leisure travelers, corporate executives, and celebrities—my kind of people. I’m at home, here amid the clouds, on a seat that might have cushioned the rear of Russell Simmons or Andy Roddick.
With 45 gallons of gas, at $5-$6 a gallon, fueling up the tank is an expensive proposition in itself. “Can you smell the gas burning?” asks Rome with a mischievous grin. “You thought money smelled different, right? Now you know.” Gas is just a fraction of the equation—the total price of my half-hour excursion to Southampton? A sweet $2,950. Wow. “The helicopter is the most expensive luxury item there is,” says Rome. So I see.
6:09 P.M.: “We’re almost halfway there now,” Rome announces. What? But we just left! I see expansive (and expensive) Long Island estates dotting the landscape below me, and the water melts into the horizon on my right. This is the coolest thing I’ve ever done. Suddenly I wonder if I get cell phone reception up here—yup, four bars. I quickly (and hopefully, discreetly) send a mass text to all my friends: “Hi from a helicopter,” it reads. So much for sophistication.
6:19 P.M.: I’m freezing. What does one wear on a helicopter? I’d asked myself before my trip, wondering if my blue jeans, suede jacket, and brown tote bag were appropriate. Turns out I’m underdressed—as in, a thick parka would have been better suited for the near arctic temperatures inside the chopper. So what if it’s a breezy 70 degrees outside? In here my teeth are chattering so hard I begin to speculate if I can expense any resulting dental work I might need.
6:22 P.M.: “It’s like sitting in the back of a car, but with more noise,” says Rome. A lot more noise. And with 2,000 feet between you and the highway. But as we peer down from our perch at the cars clogging the LIE, I smirk just a little. No road trip can compare to this.
6:34 P.M.: We begin our descent toward Southampton. “Isn’t it amazing? It’s like coming down from heaven,” says Rome. The beachside manors become bigger and bigger, and flocks of birds separate as we swoop down from the skies toward the Meadow Lane landing pad. Water surrounds us on all sides but before I know it, we’re hovering right above a nondescript patch of asphalt.
6:35 P.M.: Touchdown. Despite the roar from the helicopter, the setting still seems enchantingly quiet and serene. “This is the best entry into the Hamptons,” says Rome, welcoming me to the East End with a big smile.
After I step off the chopper, my feet a bit unsteady as they reach for solid land, I look up and catch my breath. The setting sun casts a golden hue across the island, and I instantly agree with Rome. This trip has spoiled me—ground transportation is so last summer. Sightseeing from the sky… there’s nothing like it.