My neighbor Jim and his wife came over one day this past summer. They have lived next door to me for just about two years. We have waved and even briefly spoken several times. I still don’t think that I would consider them “close friends.” Although I suppose this is how friendships start. Somedays I feel like a neophyte to this thing called “friendship.” It was still great that Jim and his wife came over to palaver. It is always nice to have visitors.
After a few hours of conversation, they got up to leave. Jim said to me “by the way; I made a helicopter.” Let me stop right here and repeat that. Jim said that he “MADE” a helicopter. He told me that he wants to take me up in this ‘whirlybird’ of his. However, as a wheelchair user who likes to be in control, my trepidation runs deep. I am not even sure why you would want to make a helicopter. We have all of this technology today that makes everything extremely safe. I suppose that if you desire “living on the edge,” just leave me out of it. I thought that, but I did not say it.
I guess that is part of having a friend sometimes doing things that they want to do as well. I am trying hard to rationalize my thoughts and feelings about this. My first ride in a helicopter will be in this creation of his. Naturally, I should not assume his skill level on building a helicopter. He may, in fact, know what he is doing. He may have done extensive research on helicopter construction. Jim seems like a smart guy and building a helicopter is a big deal. Any rational person would have started ten years ago learning everything that they could about aeronautics.
Later that next afternoon Jim came over to take me to his helicopter. “You should know that I have never been in a helicopter before,” I told him. “Oh, you’re going to love It,” he said. “When I am up there flying, I get a feeling of total freedom.” He explained. “I get that,” I said. “Since YOU are flying YOU are in control,” I said. I explained that as a wheelchair user I want to be in control. I pointed out that I made sure that my wheelchair had flip-up push handles. These handles keep people from randomly pushing me without asking. I explained that I have never had this problem, but I know wheelchair users that have dealt with this. “I tell you what,” he said, “If you would like I can start teaching you to fly my chopper.” He said. “That is nice of you, but first let’s see how today goes,” I said while smiling.
When we arrived at the airport, we stopped in front of a small airplane hangar. Although I think that it was a hangar for a single plane, it was still smaller than I expected. It looked like a real airplane hangar had a baby. As Jim opened the hangar doors the screeching doors and all of the rust reminded me that this building was pretty old. At the sight of this homemade beast, my fear settled deep. It felt like fear was a six-foot bodybuilder that punched me in the gut. This punch took the wind out of me. I was correct about his mechanical construction skills. This helicopter of his looked like he used spare Erector Set parts to build it. Let me say to any of my younger readers; you will have to look up “Erector Set.” The first Erector Set sold in 1913. Look up to see those early models. It was an excellent toy for kids.
He told me that he had done extensive research over the past year. He explained that he also had taken an auto shop class in high school. “Wait, what?!” I asked. “I would guess that you are my age?!” I said. “No, I’m younger than you are,” he said. “I’m only 39 years old.” He explained. “WHAT?” I said, “You took that class over twenty years ago!” I exclaimed. This conversation went on for several minutes. He explained that it is a hobby that he has been invested in since that shop class so long ago. He told how he could get a job doing airplane maintenances professionally. “The problem is that they have strict rules and regulations,” he said. He explained how those rules do not allow him to be creative.
The seat that he wanted me to sit in was too high for me. This elevation would not allow me to transfer onto this bench seat seamlessly. Jim said, “Jump in!” as he turned away to look at the flight controls. I simply stared at him with a straight face. I was trying like crazy not to crack a smile or laugh. After a few seconds, he looked back at me while talking. He stopped and had a look of terror on his face. Jim apologized profusely and then asked me how he could help. I began laughing out loud and told him how even my mom often forgot in the beginning. “I get to make fun of you for a while for this Jim!” I said while laughing. He saw that I had a sense of humor about my situation. At that moment he too saw the humor in it. From then on we both found the funny in everything. Jim, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” I said quoting Casablanca.
As the “helicopter” took off Jim yelled: “We’re off to see the wizard!” Funny enough, his sporadic flight path made me think more of flying monkeys. The engine made a noise that sounded like ice in a garbage disposer. The loud “crunching” engine sounds made me glance at Jim with a look of consternation. He seemed to have a lackadaisical attitude towards all of these irregular helicopter sounds. “I think this is exactly how it feels to be in a flying blender,” I said. Jim looked at me and said, “How did you know that I used a Kitchenaid blender to make the engine?” He said with a straight face. After a few seconds, he began to laugh. I told him as I also laughed “You should not make jokes like that until we safely land.” He quickly said, “I thought that you put your ‘big boy’ pants on before this flight?” We both laughed. Other than the semi-regular crunching sounds, the ride was not bad.
He explained how the view from this height is unmatched. “Even in a small two-seater airplane you cannot hover in place to get a better look at something,” he said. We flew around town for a while. As we flew along in his helicopter, I began to hear a different sound. This sound was louder than all of the sounds before. I looked at Jim, and he quickly said: “Everything is okay.” Now I am not a panicky person. My friend has been in nearly ten helicopter crashes in the Marine Corps. The fact that he was in these helicopter crash landings and survived helped me not to be afraid.
Eventually, this louder clanging turned into a slight “helicopter wobble.” I looked at Jim while smiling and said: “I used to wobble when I walked and it wasn’t good then either.” “It’s okay we were heading back anyway. Things may be rocking, but as long as the rotors are spinning correctly we’re good,” He said trying to reassure me. It felt like he was trying to encourage himself as well. We were over an open field, so there was no significant concern. However, soon we left the open area.
Jim began to follow the roads and fly lower than one would expect. These were the back roads, so we did not scare that many cars. As we came to the airfield, the helicopter began to ‘sway.’ We crept up to the location for our landing, and we began to descend slowly. At four feet above-the-ground the rotors just stopped. This action caused us to drop like a rock. This plummet was short, but it shook us both pretty hard. My head was ringing. I began to check all of my body parts like a robot going through a systems check. After what seemed like an eternity, Jim called out, “Scott, are you ok?” I quickly shouted: “I’m good! Are you OK?” “I’m OK, thanks.” He proclaimed. After we both sat up, Jim carefully stood up. He was unsteady on his feet like a fawn taking its first steps.
The First Responders moved faster than 75 inch TVs for $100 at a Best Buy Christmas sale. They ran to us expeditiously with medical bags in hand. They began to check us over methodically. I told Jim while smiling “a crash that you can walk away from is always good in my book. However, if I can walk away from it, then it’s a miracle.” Jim laughed and then said “this wasn’t a crash, it was a rough landing. Don’t worry though I will get this chopper running again in a couple of weeks. Then we can go up again.” He said honestly. I smiled and said, “Let’s play it by ear.”
A few days later I visited Jim at home. I handed him a gift wrapped in brown paper. “What’s this?” he questioned. “It’s not my birthday.” He said. “Just open it. It is self-explanatory.” I said while smiling. As he ripped the package open, he found a book on aeronautics. Inside the front cover was a note that said “I think you missed a chapter. Now you can go back and reread it.” “That’s not funny. I’m the smartest helicopter pilot that you know.” He said while laughing. “That’s not saying much. You are the ONLY helicopter pilot that I know” I exclaimed while tears of laughter rolled down my face. His wife walked into the room and said: “you two have problems!” He and I continued to belly laugh. True friends just ‘get it.’
So my first helicopter ride, to put it mildly, was “less than stellar.” I think that Jim changed my world a little that day. I don’t readily socialize and make friends. However, I made a good friend that day. He extended a hand of kindness to me and brought this introvert out of his shell. He did not hesitate to share something that was important to him. He shared it with someone that he barely knew. Maybe we helped each other that day. I reciprocated his kindness. I showed how trust builds friendships. We trusted each other, and our faith in each other made a difference in our lives.
Some of this story is fact, and some of it is fiction. I said a while back: “life is better with hiking boots” and that is still true. However, life is much better with great friends. I lost some friends because of the move. I am working on gaining great friends since the move. In life, great friends are worth their weight in gold.