I think about my job as a Grand Canyon Tour Pilot and come up with seven things I think are strange about it and the people I meet.
No doubt about it. Being a Grand Canyon helicopter tour pilot exposes you to all kinds of weird things. Here are a few of the weird things I’ve witnessed lately, in no particular order.
A front seat passenger riding with her eyes closed. This happened today, so it’s pretty fresh in my mind. She was from England, an older woman probably in her early sixties. She said something to me as her friends climbed on board in the back, but I couldn’t hear/understand what she was saying. But when I asked if it was her first helicopter flight, she said it wasn’t. On takeoff, she held onto her seat bottom and the door frame. She leaned toward me when I banked left and away from me when I banked right. When we broke out over the rim on the tour, with the Grand Canyon and all its splendor spread out before us, she was holding on tight. When I looked at her face, I noticed her eyes were tightly closed. Okay, so she opened them after a few minutes and seemed calm enough. But for a while, I thought she’d do the whole tour with her eyes closed. Talk about a waste of money!
A passenger who made herself sick. I call her Captain Video. She was an American of Indian descent and that camcorder was turned on from the moment she sat down. Her eyeball was in the viewfinder nonstop for the first twenty minutes of the flight. Then she hurriedly reached for a barf bag and puked into it. It wasn’t the turbulence. It was incredibly calm that morning and there was no reason to be sick. Unless, of course, you were enjoying the view through a camcorder viewfinder. After having a good puke, she put the camera up to her face again. Five minutes later, puke. She did this for the rest of the flight. I think she must have puked seven or eight times. She even started a second barf bag. If she’d only keep the camera away from her face, she’d be fine. Heck, it was calm!
A woman who decided she was going to be sick before we even took off. While we’re on the subject of puke, I better do this one, too. She sat in the front seat and as soon as her husband got into his seat behind her, a hand came forward with a barf bag in it. She took the bag (we have them in the front, too) and turned to me. “I always get sick,” she told me. And sure enough, she did. About two thirds of the way through the short flight, she calmly opened the bag and made a deposit. And no, it wasn’t turbulent. Oddly, she did this the same day Captain Video rode with me. My first two barfs in one day.
People who remind me that they don’t speak English. Okay, so it’s always French people. Always. No one else has ever told me that they don’t speak English. It’s just French people and always women. What’s that about? The manifest I get tells me where everyone comes from and what language I should play the narrative in. I don’t speak French. I can only do my preflight briefing in English. And they seem to doubt that they’ll hear any French during the tour. But when I start up Disc 1 Track 9 and that French voice comes on, they nod, satisfied. You don’t think this is strange? That’s it’s just French people?
Working with people who are, on average, ten years younger than me. Wow. Was I like that when I was in my twenties and thirties? I don’t think so. I feel a little like a den mother. In the break room, they make bathroom jokes and watch surfing and skateboarding on television. They make rude noises to each other over the Canyon air-to-air frequency while we’re flying. They have nicknames like Clogger (think bathroom) and Crispy (I don’t know what to think). They make me feel old and out of place and rather glad that I built my life before I learned to fly.
Spending the entire day doing just two different tours in all kinds of weather. Talk about tedious. There’s the 25-minute tour and the 50-minute tour. You can make more money doing just the 25-minute tour, but I just can’t handle doing the same thing over and over all day long. Doing two different things all day long makes it marginally more interesting. The weather, however, is what keeps you awake. Springtime is full of winds gusting to 40 knots or more. (They call it quits when it hits 50 knots.) Summer is full of isolated showers and thunderstorms that keep you wondering whether you’ll find your way back to the heliport at the end of a tour. (They call it quits when visibility drops to zero, hail exceeds the size of a pea, or lightning strikes nearby make it impossible to refuel safely.) Who knows what autumn will bring?
Living in or near a tourist town. Although I don’t live in Tusayan, working here gives me a good taste of what it must be like to live here. A constant flow of people, most of whom do not speak English. High prices in every store (and discounts for locals in most, if you know the secret password). Limited nightlife, limited shopping, unlimited tee shirts, unlimited collector’s spoons. Overpriced, substandard housing. And some of the world’s most beautiful scenery, right in your backyard. But the weirdest part? Come September, the area’s population will shrivel up to a bare minimum — the year-rounders who actually do this all the time.
There you have it. Seven things. If I come up with more — which I’m sure I will — I’ll report them here.