I Can Fly, I Can Fly, I Can Fly

You’ve got to hand it to the woman – she knows how to think up a good present. And she’s devious. We agreed to defer our Christmas gifts this year, and since until a few weeks ago I could work from anywhere with an Internet connection, Christmas came for me in late January via a trip to Chicago. Alison was there on business and I tagged along. We saw some friends, tried a couple of restaurants and pubs, and took in a show of Wicked. My real treat, though, came when Alison sent me up into the air.

Rotorzen Helicopters is a tourist outfit run out of Midway Airport. They offered a Groupon deal in January and, I was glad to discover, had a run of people who wanted to spend half an hour between buildings at 250 feet. Alison and I zipped out there on the L Saturday midday and one of the two partners in the company, Ryan, picked us up to drive us out to the office. That was a pretty terrific level of service, since we didn’t have wheels and weren’t sure where we were going if left to our own devices.

Once we got to the office, a nondescript building by the tarmac housing several plane and chopper charter services, we were welcomed and sat to wait for our pilot. I filled out a contact form and laughed when they didn’t have me fill out any kind of waiver of liability. The attorney in me, I suppose. I sobered a little when Alison pointed out that if anything happened, the pilot and company assets would be in a smoldering pile along with my young cremated ass, so there’d be nothing and no one left to sue. She stuck her tongue out at me and asked whether now I understood why she hadn’t bought two tickets.

Any nerves that little exchange might have engendered were quickly put to rest when Eric showed up. Alison and I were early for my flight and my co-passengers were late, so we sat in the reception area for a little while and talked. Eric asked whether I’d ever been up in a helicopter before and I responded that yes, once, I had been when I was overseas for a summer working in the Republic of Georgia.

“Oh, you were in Tblisi?” Eric asked. I did a doubletake – It’s rare that I tell anyone “Georgia” and they don’t think Atlanta and peach-themed names for everything. He knew the history, the politics, the personalities, and not just of Georgia but Armenia and Azerbaijan and Russian and Ukraine and the Baltics. His family is originally from Eastern Europe and he worked with the Russians during the Cold War and has been all over the place.

I know I’m going on about something that doesn’t matter to most people, but it was the deepest conversation into post-Soviet politics I’ve had since I graduated college. And it was awesome to know that I was going up with a Rennaisance man.

Eventually, two girls showed up – the other two passengers for my tour. They were in from Ohio. When we climbed into the bird, they introduced themselves but it wasn’t until we were up in the air that Eric brought up my half-joking request from earlier that we do barrel rolls. That’s when one of the girls allowed as how it was her birthday and this was a gift, but she was afraid of heights.

“So,” Eric quipped, “Remember the barrel rolls were this guy’s idea.”

“So,” she said without missing a beat, “I’ll know where to direct my projectile vomiting.”

I was okay with the idea of acrobatics, but I didn’t like the idea of some stranger puking on me midway through. I declined to put the question to a vote.

When we were sitting around talking, Alison was disappointed to discover that I’d been up in a helicopter before. But my previous ride in a converted Soviet military chopper was totally unlike this. I’d analogize my earlier trip to riding in a flying tank, while the Rotorzen’s R-44 was like skeleton – riding street luge naked and face-first down the streets of Chicago, except 200 feet above the city. The body of the helicopter is 75% canopy, so it’s almost like you’re hanging out over the city without any protection at all. I suspect the girls in the back seat didn’t get quite the same effect, but their acrophobia probably thanked them for that.

While it feels strange snapping shots of things important to me with my Droid, the resolution is decent and it was all I had. Here are a couple of my favorite shots from my trip up.

This one was fun. As we passed over Soldier Field, Eric told us, "You can tell everyone you flew over the field the day before the Bears went to the Superbowl." Genuine regrets, sir.

Living in Washington, DC, you learn to be skeptical of anything branded as “for tourists,” but this was an amazing experience. Douglas Adams whimsically wrote, “There is an art, or rather a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” Rotorzen threw everything in downtown Chicago at me, to great effect. Alison threw a gift at me and didn’t miss.

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