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On Not Riding in a Helicopter

After a week and a half in Hawaii, my traveling buddy and I got into a huge, ridiculous fight.

Our shared vacation plans now in upheaval, I was also nursing both a really bad cold and the remnants of the anger, pain, resentment, and regret that such blowouts leave in their wake.

I vowed that nothing was going to stop me from enjoying paradise, though. I had heard from several sources that a helicopter ride around Maui was a not-to-be-missed event, which I readily believed after a couple of days exploring the beautiful island.

The rental car was in my fellow traveler’s name, a fact she had happily pointed out to me, so the next morning I found myself at the hotel’s shuttle counter booking transportation to the helipad with Concierge Rod.

Rod appeared a bit new to the task of booking shuttles – he had some trouble navigating the company’s electronic interface – but he was nice and helpful.  We chatted while he figured out what he was doing. He asked me about my trip, where I was from, what kind of work I did.  I told him I used to be a teacher and he told me he moved to Hawaii seven years ago.

Things didn’t start to get weird until after I told him I worked for the Navy in D.C.

“Oh!  Do you have a lot of psychics?”

I have something of a poker face (or so I’ve been told), which is lucky because these encounters with near-lunacy happen to me with some frequency.  I think I kept the same expression I had during the perfectly normal and bland portion of the conversation, but my mind was spinning.   How I could possibly answer this apparently earnest question without saying something insulting?

“Well, I don’t do that kind of work …” I looked for his reaction; he was looking at me with interest. “But I do think it’s very interesting!” I added eagerly.

He looked back at the computer screen and said he would phone a cabbie friend off-line to see if he could get me a better deal.

Then, he told me, in a tone that conveyed how odd he thought the idea was, that he knows the Navy doesn’t employ psychics.  He shook his head, as if to say, “silly girl.”  I smiled, and he continued talking.

He didn’t mean my line of work.  He meant my geographic location.

“I’m a psychic. A lot of us in Hawaii are.”

Oh, brother.

Well, he was trying to get me a discount.  So, I took that opportunity to babble on about how I’d been itching to get my palm read, and there are A LOT of those in the D.C. area, and he seemed pleased.

He then appeared to want to practice his hobby on me.  He started easy (“It looks like you’ve got a bit of a cold!”), then moved on to more challenging feats: my age.

“What are you … about thirty-two?”

My eyes might have bugged out on that one.  Thirty-two!  What a ridiculous notion!  Psychic, indeed.

Now it was confirmed beyond a doubt that he was nothing but a crackpot, but I responded with a bright smile.

“Actually, I just turned 30.”


The ride from the hotel to the helipad takes about 45 minutes.  I was sharing the shuttle with what I think was a family, but I couldn’t quite figure it out.

Behind me were a man and a woman, who I think were married.  Behind them was a girl, who I think belonged to the man and woman I think were a couple.  Next to the girl was another woman – an aunt?  or a best friend?

Everyone was nice and friendly enough, which was good because my coughing had kept me up all night and I was especially tried and irritated.  The family apparently had plenty of time before their flight and good-naturedly told the driver to ensure I got to the helipad first as he had been late picking me up.

I noticed that the aunt/friend seemed to take more of an interest in overseeing the girl than the woman I thought was the girl’s mother.  I began speculating on their various relationships and finally convinced myself that I was in the company of polygamists.  The Sister Wife was disciplining the child, so the mother seemed not to care.  Clearly, this was a Big Love situation.

Our driver – I’ll call him Tony because I can’t remember his name – kept up a running commentary of local fun facts, but the only thing of mild interest that occurred during the drive was when the kid had to pee – bad.  Tony, slightly befuddled, said he would pull the van over to the side of the road “if it was all right with all the passengers.”  I was a little annoyed at my arrival being even more delayed, but I wasn’t going to be a jerk and object – the polygamists were super-nice.

So the dad/patriarch and the girl hopped out and then, soon after, hopped back in, the girl beaming.  The whole thing probably took less than 90 seconds.  Oh, the innocence of children.  In many ways, there’s been a cosmic shift in me since I went from saying “when I have children” to “if I have children.”  But it’s kind of nice that kids can still annoy me as much as they ever did, and still amaze me with their unspoiled view of the world.

Oh, and Tony seemed to like me.  We had been chatting during the drive, and before he dropped me off, I asked him if he would be my driver on the return.  “I hope so!” He responded.

I laughed.  “You can listen to my coughing all the way back.”

“Oh, I love your wheezing!” he said, low and appreciative.  “So nice!  Soooooo sexy!”

I gave him a big tip.


Tony wasn’t my driver back, because I left the helipad about twenty minutes after I arrived.

The helicopter ride, I was informed, was canceled.  Mechanical issues.

I was angry, and worked myself up into a barely-contained rage.  First the cold, then the argument, and now this?

It was made worse because, although the helicopter company refunded my trip in full, it didn’t want to take responsibility for the not unsubstantial transportation costs on the shuttle.

I fumed (and coughed, and wheezed, and blew my nose) the entire way back to the hotel and then complained, loudly, to everyone at the concierge desk.  Although I continued to feel sorry for myself, I knew I would regret it if I nursed this self-pity too much.  So, I went to get some frozen yogurt and then sat on the beach.

Everything turned out just fine, as always happens with these things.  I got my refund, eventually, after I returned home.

By then, I didn’t care much about the money anymore.

I found out later that evening that “mechanical issues” barely covered it.  The tour an hour before mine had crashed into the side of a mountain, killing everyone on board including the pilot and two couples.  One couple was on their honeymoon.  I thought about that and about how they didn’t have any children, and the change from “when” to “if” in my mind didn’t seem like such a cause for mourning anymore.

What would have happened if my friend and I hadn’t fought?  If we had taken our rental car, together, and together gotten on the helicopter ride just an hour before?  I think of my mother describing to me how she saw the crash on the news, and I don’t think much more about that.

When I make it back to Hawaii, I don’t know if I’ll take the helicopter ride.  I don’t know if I’ll fight with my friend, or if I’ll catch a bad cold.  I don’t know if, at night, I’ll sit under a canopy on the beach, protected from the light rain, with the taste of mochi and coconut frozen yogurt still in my mouth, and read by the light of my iPhone until the words and the breaking waves soothe me to sleep and a brief respite from my runny nose and hacking cough and oozing self-pity.  I’m a dreamer, and a planner, and it irritates me that I don’t know these things.  But sometimes it’s good to be reminded that what I don’t know and don’t understand and can’t predict – those mechanical issues I fret over and fight with, and try to get refunds from, and kill with over-the-counter decongestants – sometimes those things are the very reason I’m alive.

Photo: Trees in Hawaii, October 2011
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