Friday, December 08, 2006

My Wildest Ride

I have been a gyrocopter pilot for many years and always thought that gyro flying was the most exciting thing I've ever done, and it was, until I had a ride in a New York taxi. All else pales in comparison. Talk about exciting...the taxi ride was heart in the mouth, white knuckles,and prayer time all rolled into one.

I had been invited to attend a gyroplane conference at Hofstra University in New York. Because I had been flying gyros since the early days of the Bensen gyrocopter era, I was considered a gyro pioneer and as such I was asked,along with about 18 or so other old timer-gyro pilots,to attend the conference where we would be honored as pioneer gyro pilots. I was to attend the banquet Friday night where the awards were to be presented and the next morning I was scheduled to give a speech on my years of gyro flying.

I was accompanied on the trip by my daughter Donna and granddaughter Lynette. Our flight landed at JFK exactly one hour before the banquet was to begin...panic city! Here we were, our first time in New York, almost already late for the banquet and still 20 miles or so to our hotel near the University.

We scrambled about for a taxi...there were lots of them about, but there were more would-be customers than there were taxis . We found one, asked the driver if he knew where the town of Hempstead was. "Yes, yes", he said ,as he loaded our luggage and the three of us in the cab then after a discussion with another driver, he admitted to us that he did not know where our destination town was so, luggage and weary traverlers were put back onto the sidewalk and the search was on again for another taxi...the clock kept ticking away during all this and our time was running out.

Then another driver stepped up and vigorously answered ,"yes, yes", when we asked if he knew where Hempstead was. He loaded the three of us and our luggage into his taxi and we set off. OHMYGOSH!!!! He took off like the devil was after him. I live in Southern California where wild driving is the norm, but this was a whole new experience to me. Crazy driving is taken to a new level in New York. I knew it was going to be the longest 20 mile ride of my life and I began to wonder if we would survive it.

Mind you, it was rush hour and the traffic was bumper to bumper. When he approached a stop, the driver slam on the brakes and would stop maybe 1/4 inch from the car in front of him. Turns he took on two wheels, and the three of us in the back seat would slide as one to the other side of the car. There we would be packed together like sardines until he turned a corner in the opposite direction at which time we would slide across to the other side...meanwhile the clock was still ticking down.

We drove up one street and down another...he would get on the road again then take an off ramp, saying in his very limited English,"this the way". A few minutes later we would be back on the main road again and looking for another off-ramp. He called his dispatcher and got directions then we were off again on more side trips. Finally, my granddaughter Lynette, said to him, "You don't know where Hempstead is, do you". "No", he admitted. He was lost. Lynette had been questioning him along the way, asking if he knew where the heck he was going, etc. As he drove, the driver drove spent more time looking over his shoulder talking to us in the back seat than he did looking at the road.

Finally,Lynette said to him, " Give me your cell phone and the number of your dispatcher". He didn't quibble, but just handed them over. She called the number and told the dispatcher that we were wandering all over Long Island and she wanted correct directions to Hempstead and further more, she thought we should get a discount on the price quoted for the trip because we were being inconvenienced because of the driver not knowing where he was going. She got the right directions but no discount.

Thanks to my take-charge granddaughter getting the right directions, the driver finally found the town he was looking for and , would wonders never cease, he found our hotel. We untangled ourselves from the back seat, gathered up our luggage and then we rushed inside and got the key to the room , rushed upstairs and dropped off the luggage, rushed out to find a ride to the University , found a shuttle bus and finally ,all of us out of breath, we walked into the banquet room just as the guests were being seated.

That was definitely the most exciting ride of my life. As a memento of our wild ride, the girls gave me a refrigerator magnet with the image of a New York taxi.

The gyroplane conference was organized by Dr. Bruce Charnov , who is a professor at Hofstra. The conference was in honor of the 78th. anniversary of the invention of the gyroplane. Bruce did a fine job of putting the event together and gathering so many early gyro pilots together.

Johnnie Miller, a gyro pilot of the Pitcairn and Kellet autogiro era was one of the attendees. At the time Johnnie was about 98 years of age. we met his daughter and she told us he had driven the two of them to the conference, a distance of 95 miles. That surprised me, but then his daughter said, " Hey, the man still flys" . I guess you just can't keep a good gyro pilot down.

I visisted with my gyro friend Teddy today and tomorrow evening I'm looking forward to having a BBQ dinner with him and new gyro pilots, Tina and Dave.

Till next time
Marion Springer