Helicopter Heaven: Where to Land in the Hamptons

I think the towns out here do a very good job of allowing different people with different activities to share access to our beaches. For instance, in East Hampton you can run your dog on the beach before 9 a.m. After that, you’re gone and it belongs to the beachgoers. In Southampton, there’s surfing out by the Cooper’s Beach jetties to the right, but there’s no surfing where the lifeguards sit in the center. There’s also a place for sport fishermen.

One interesting multiple-use-of-a-beach takes place out at the western end of Meadow Lane in Southampton. Just before you get to the county park out there, there’s a spot where four-wheel-drive vehicles are allowed to roam, bringing sport fishermen, surfers and picnickers out onto the sand. This spot is called Picnic Beach. And local folk have been out there in the summertime for close to a century.

There are also magnificent oceanfront mansions along this stretch that look out at Picnic Beach. The owners of them tried a few years ago to get the town to kick the locals off Picnic Beach, but the effort failed. The locals were there long before anybody built a house out there. You can’t just come along Johnny-come-lately and kick people off who were there before you.

I also think it failed for another reason. Picnic Beach might be very blue collar. But right across from it, on the bay side of Meadow Lane, is an insanely noisy operation, which the very rich have staunchly defended for more than 20 years. Again, it was there before the homeowners got there.

This activity is a helicopter landing pad, a 20-yard-wide by 20-yards-deep piece of asphalt with a big white bulls-eye circle in the center of it. The landing pad is hard by the road so it doesn’t jut out into the wetlands and bay very much. And it’s the only place to land a helicopter in Southampton.

Those who use it have numerous times deflected proposals to close it. It sure is a huge racket when choppers come in. The helicopter flight plan was altered a few years ago to bring them in from the north so that there is less disturbance to the homeowners and for safety reasons that they don’t fly in over the beach. But it’s pretty much a no-win for the homeowners. They’ve got Picnic Beach in front of them and the choppers coming in behind that, and they knew that when the bought the vacant plots. C’est la guerre.

Late last Thursday afternoon I was out on Picnic Beach, writing stories on my laptop in front of the wonderful slow surf that day, and after I finished I packed up, drove down the beach and out the sand road to the gravel parking lot by Meadow Lane.

There’s activity there as well. There’s an equipment shack, and beside it an air tank with a rubber hose you can use to air up your tires after you come off the beach. When I arrived in this parking lot, somebody in a baseball cap was doing that. Nearby, a guy in jeans and t-shirt was dismantling his rod and reel, getting ready to put it into the trunk. There were also two other cars there, parked. I guessed their owners had walked out to the sand with their gear. Across the road is the helicopter pad.

At that moment, I heard a chattering sound in the sky. It was from a rather large helicopter coming in over the bay toward us.

In less than a minute, it was hovering over the pad, not 50 yards from all of us there in the parking lot, blasting out noise. Everybody stopped what they were doing to watch. You could see there was a pilot in the cockpit and also a co-pilot. Both had big metal earphones on and were concentrating fiercely on what they were doing. On the side of the fuselage of the helicopter facing us were three windows. There was also a door, and next to it a second door. The only other markings on this chopper were the usual big black letters the FAA requires.

I think all of us in that gravel lot were looking at this for three reasons: One because of its noise, two because we wanted to see it land—it’s always interesting to see a pilot set down a 10,000 pound piece of aircraft—and three because we wanted to see who would be getting out. It appeared to me that this was a six-seat aircraft.

When the chopper dropped down to within six feet of the pad, the pilot revved up the engines to better steady it. Then, as he touched down, first with the two back wheels and then the nose wheel, he changed the pitch of the propellers, causing them to emit a huge gale-force wind parallel to the ground. It flattened the eelgrass on all sides of the pad, caused everybody in our lot to grab our hats, and it also blew open the little chain-link door that was how you got past the four-foot tall chain-link fence that separated the pad from the road. Then, after settling right in the center of the pad, the pilot put the chopper blades on idle, opened his pilot’s door, hopped out to the asphalt, and went over to the passenger door. Now we would see who this was.

The first thing that appeared in the doorway was a little King Charles Spaniel. It looked around and wagged its tail, then hopped down. It was on a leash. The next thing out was one naked female leg, upon the foot of which was strapped a single red platform shoe. The pilot offered the owner of this leg a hand, but it was not taken. The rest of her got out just fine. And that was it. She was the only person in the helicopter.

I looked to see if I knew this woman. She wore a white floppy summer hat and large, white-rimmed sunglasses. She had on a white top and short white skirt. She also had bling, a necklace and numerous rings. She was perhaps 30. I did not recognize her.

She seemed to look at us across the way. You couldn’t really tell with the dark glasses. We looked at her. Then she began walking toward the gate, steadily and carefully. She had mastered these shoes.

The pilot then turned around and walked back to the chopper and opened the smaller door, taking out three pieces of matched pink luggage. He picked up two suitcases, and put a third, a smaller one, under one arm. And then the cars arrived.

The first was a black SUV, coming westbound up Meadow Lane from town, to stop in the middle of the road just short of the gate. Two men in white shirts and black pants got out, left the car doors open and walked over to attend the gate. Behind us, further in our gravel parking lot, another black SUV—it had been there all the time—stirred. It backed out of its parking spot, turned, and moved quickly to the entrance of the lot, where it too stopped, its grille facing the street. Two uniformed men got out of that.

As these men converged to the gate, one of them rushed in past it and over to the pilot, struggling behind the woman with the luggage. He’d take it from here. The pilot handed it over.

You could not help but be impressed with the efficiency of all this. One SUV effectively blocked Meadow Lane westbound. The other, at the edge of our lot, could move forward to block Meadow Lane in the other direction.

The woman on her red platforms, with her little dog trotting alongside, now arrived at the gate, where she was ushered along and then was across the street and into the side door of the SUV on the gravel there.

As quickly as all this came, it all went away. The chopper went straight up, the two SUVs went off single-file westbound, and the guys in the lot went back to what they were doing. The man went back to putting air in his tires, disassembling fishing rods, putting away surfboards. Then they too went away.

Then a seagull landed on the very center of the white circle of the landing pad and pooped. Then he too was off.

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