“Fifteen more minutes,” Al Pistarelli assures me as he passes for the fourth time in 10 minutes. He’s been huffing back and forth between a group of emergency services workers, who are assembled on the small street between our office and Beacon Brook Health Center, and the center itself, where he works as a community outreach representative, for the better part of the last half hour.
Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right? Hey, did’ya hear the one about the EMT, the news reporter and the nursing home? No?
Rest assured, though. I’m not here to tell you about some mass calamity that’s stricken our elderly neighbors to the south. Indeed, my notepad is in my pocket, and our not-so-trusty Nikon D1 is slung around my neck, but I’m outside to snap some photos of a much more positive event that, when Al had mentioned it a week before during one of his regular visits to our office, drove me into a giddy state of excitement: a helicopter landing.
No, I’m neither too old nor too mature to still get excited about such displays—especially ones that involve big, loud gas engines, aeronautics and free hot dogs afterwards.
I have also learned to wear my excitement under my sleeve, rather than on it. Call it what you will.
The LifeStar chopper, which is landing in the Beacon Brook parking lot as part of National Nurse’s Week, is delayed in Seymour. It was supposed to be here at 10:30. It’s 11.
Al keeps imploring me to wait it out, hang around, don’t go anywhere, as if it’s somehow an inconvenience to be granted reprieve from updating this year’s Town Guide to stand in the sun 200 feet from the front door, in anticipation of something so fundamentally awesome.
“They’re taking off from Seymour now,” he says. I’m trying to do the math. Helicopters go how fast? How far are we from Seymour?
A line of Beacon Brook residents, many of them in wheelchairs, are lined up on one end of the parking lot, their patience standing in sharp contrast to the eagerness of the several children whose parents have brought them here to witness this miracle of aeronautical engineering—and of Igor Sikorsky’s genius—in action.
Parents attempt to placate their children’s impatience. “It’ll be here soon,” they say. The Beacon Brook folks appear wholly unconcerned, by comparison.
Finally the whir of propeller rotors becomes faintly discernible as the helicopter draws near.
“Here it comes!” relieved parents tell their children. Young and old alike shield their eyes as they turn them skyward, and before long espy the chopper, at first but a speck on the edge of vision, beating its path toward the borough from the south.
The bird orbits the landing zone several times, in ever-tightening concentric circles, the buzz of its propellers turning to an ear-splitting throb as it hones in on its target.
The chopper hovers over the parking lot for a moment before beginning its slow descent, when the raw power of its propulsion system becomes immediately apparent.
The machine’s thrust bends not only the lean branches of surrounding trees but also tests the strength of their very trunks. They are each one bent at the waist, leaves waving helplessly in the ferocious current of air.
The great gale sweeps an intrusive plume of dry dirt and debris into the faces of onlookers, most of whom immediately turn away, throwing their arms across their eyes.
I do so at first, as well, but turn back before long, knowing it’s a great photo-op and, as long as I keep one eye closed and the other shielded behind the camera’s body, it should be fine.
Mostly, it is. I’m snapping away, hoping the lens will withstand the grating sandblast a little better than my eyes—I can feel that one contact lens is now ajar—as the helicopter settles on its landing skids and the propellers slow, abating the windstorm and dust cloud.
In the interim, as the propellers slow to a stop and the engine changes from a roar to a whine and finally to a whisper, people turn back and look on.
The experience was clearly too much for a few of the children, who are crying, faces buried in parents’ shoulders, pained in either body or spirit after the violent landing.
Moans and sobs turn to cries of delight, though, as the noise fades and the dust settles. Once the propeller stops for good, the pilot welcomes onlookers to come closer and examine the rotorcraft in more detail.
Elderly Beacon Brook tenants and young children alike—and everyone in between—variously walk, run and wheel closer to the sleek, blue-and-white aircraft, which transports and services critically ill or injured patients who require immediate attention in an emergency room. There’s something to be said about the service, which renders a technology so well-suited to warfare a medical lifeline and conduit of welfare.
I, for one, am glad to see the chopper land in an exhibitory capacity, rather than under more dire circumstances.
The 50 or so people who watched the bird touch down crowd around, posing for photos and questioning the pilot about the rotorcraft, the service and aeronautics. Children proudly don flight helmets, which I expect is infinitely more fun than enduring a sandblast to the face.
Some sit or stand at a distance and simply admire the machine quietly.
They all trickle away, slowly, and turn toward the free hot dogs and chips provided by Beacon Brook. Before heading back to the office to reapply my contact lens—and after enjoying said free hot dog, of course—I encounter Al once more.
“That was pretty neat, huh?”
“Yeah, that was something else.”
“Well, thanks for sticking around,” he says before moving on.
My pleasure, I’m thinking, I would have waited all day for that.