A Laundry Run

Now if only there were a helipad in the Laundromat parking lot…

Our place at Howard Mesa is 40 acres with about 1/4 mile bordering state land. The lot is pie shaped, with the pie “crust” at the top of a gently sloping hill. About 5 acres at the top of the hill is quite level — certainly level enough to land a helicopter.

PhotoLast year, when I worked at Papillon, I had my R22, Three-Niner-Lima, up here with me. Sometime during the summer, we had a load of cinders (volcanic gravel which is widely available here) delivered and we — well, mostly Mike — spread it out to make an oddly shaped landing pad. That’s where I landed Three-Niner-Lima, and this year, that’s where I’m landing Zero-Mike-Lima. The pad is less than 50 feet away from our trailer and its screened-in room. It’s also less than 50 feet away from the horse corral, where our horses go to drink and to eat whatever we throw down to supplement their grazing. As I sit here in the screened-in room, typing this, it’s right in front of me. I put a little fence around it to keep the horses from wandering in. That’s probably a good thing, because they’ve been itchy lately and scratching themselves on anything handy: the corral gate, tree stumps, the BBQ grill shelf. I can just imagine them scratching themselves on the helicopter’s stinger and cracking a tail rotor blade in the process.

Today, I flew down to Williams to do my laundry, check my e-mail, and do some grocery shopping. I loaded up my laundry bag and a few small bags of garbage (no garbage pickup up here), did a preflight, and climbed on board. Cherokee was in the corral, munching on some timothy grass when I started up. He didn’t look concerned until I brought it up to 75% RPM for my mag check. Then he bolted. I don’t know where Jake was. Alex the Bird and Jack the Dog watched from the screened-in room as I spun up and took off.

I did a quick circle over our property to make sure the horses were together. Cherokee really freaks out when he can’t find Jake. They were together, gazing about 100 yards from the pad. I was already forgotten.

I zipped out over the mesa, then dropped down on the north side. I circled Larry Fox’s house; if he’d come out, I would have landed and offered him a ride. But he was nowhere to be seen, so I headed south, to Williams. I flew out over the town once before landing at the airport. I dumped the trash, added 25 gallons of fuel, then started up again and repositioned to a parking spot. Then locked up and lugged my laundry through the terminal to the parking lot out front where my faithful MR-2 is waiting.

As usual, it started right up. I really love that car. I mean, how could you not love a car that is content to wait in an airport parking lot days, weeks, or months before you come to put it to work? A car that always starts when you turn the key? A car with 132,000 miles and its original clutch?

I did my Williams chores, angry with myself for forgetting the cooler. That meant I couldn’t buy ice cream. Not that I need ice cream.

The Laundromat was particularly weird for me. Laundromats are weird places, anyway. In Williams, the people who use the Laundromat fall into two categories: the usual folks who don’t have washers and dryers (normally apartment or trailer dwellers on the lower side of the income scale) and vacationers who have run out of clean clothes. Most of the folks there that day were in the first category. I was kind of a mix of the two, but I fit right in, driving up in my sad little Toyota, wearing ratty clothes because that’s all I had left. I was the only one who knew I hadn’t arrived in Williams in that car. And I’m pretty darn sure that I was the only one in the place who was living in a trailer with a helicopter parked 50 feet away from it. But I enjoyed the experience, especially listening to the tips offered by one woman about using the dryers: “Only put in a quarter at a time. Then pull out the dry clothes and add another quarter for the rest.” A quarter gave you 10 minutes of dryer time. She claimed that her clothes were often dry with only a quarter’s worth of time. She must have a lot of polyester and nylon; my 100% cotton clothes took 3 to 4 quarters to dry.

I bought a bunch of groceries at Safeway and a few odds and ends at the hardware store, then zipped back to the airport and loaded the helicopter back up. The broom and 5 4-foot lengths of half-inch rebar were particularly difficult to load up. (No, they didn’t fit under the seat.) By that time, the wind was howling at Williams — probably 15-20 knots from the south (where my tail end was pointed). I started up, warmed up, and hover-taxied over to the taxiway with a nice crosswind. Then I pointed into the wind, made my departure call, and took off into the wind, making a 180° turn as I climbed out. With the 30-knot tailwind I had, it took less than 10 minutes to get back. (Sure beats the 50 minutes it would have taken in the truck.)

Back at Howard Mesa, the horses were in the corral, hanging out by the water trough. I came in from the north, watching them the whole time. I think they were sleeping, because they didn’t seem to notice me until I was about 100 feet from landing. Then they walked out of the corral and stood beside the fence at the far side, watching me, ready to run if they had to. They didn’t have to. I set down gently and shut down.

It took a lot of trips to unload the helicopter. And a lot of time to put all the stuff away.

But at least I got my flying fix for the day.

What do you think?