December 16, 2009
US Helicopter is a company operating out of a heliport a few blocks from my Wall St. apartment. They offer helicopter rides to the airport. $165 and you’re there in 8 minutes.
But it’s better than that! I went in there once, to ask a question, and saw that you get to go through airport security at the heliport, with just five or six other people, thereby skipping the line at the airport. This is because the helicopter is going to drop you on the tarmac, inside the airport, not out front like a taxi.
I first heard about US Helicopter when they started running ads on the top of taxis; the ads said — if I may paraphrase — “$165 to JFK. Bill that extra hour.” I laughed and laughed when I saw it; certainly the helicopter service will save you an hour or more. And naturally, you will spend that extra hour at the office, where you will bill at least $165 for it! Only in New York, I thought.
For the non-New Yorkers, though, keep in mind that a taxi to JFK or Newark (the two airports served by USH) will cost $45 for JFK, and at least $80 for Newark. There are trains and shuttles that go to both airports, but unless you live in exactly the right place, you will almost certainly have to shlep your stuff up and down numerous sets of subway stairs, etc., to even get on the shuttle or AirTrain. So, an extra $85-120 to skip taking your luggage on the subway, save you probably several hours, and allow you to skip the security line really doesn’t sound so bad. Also, you get to ride in a helicopter. I really haven’t mentioned that part enough. You get to ride in a helicopter! Right past the Statue of Liberty! Then to the airport! Also, I can walk to the helicopter from my apartment!
So, I have wanted to do this for some time. Readers of the blog have seen that I have recently traveled to Sweden, Edinburgh, and Toronto. There have also been trips to Virginia and Ohio in the last eighteen months or so. But every time, for some reason: no helicopter. Once, I didn’t realize until I had booked my flight that the helicopter doesn’t go to LaGuardia. Once, I didn’t realize that it doesn’t operate on weekends, at all (the Wall St. location and the “bill that extra hour” thing should’ve made the target market pretty obvious). And now, just as I am headed out for another trip this Friday, I was hoping to take the helicopter (to Newark! on a weekday!), except that all service has been halted for an indefinite period of time. Probably something to do with that target market.
The last time (and the first time) I rode in a helicopter was when I went on tour in the Middle East.
We (three other comedians and I) did two shows on the USS Enterprise in the middle of the Persian Gulf, and were flown by helicopter to the USS Gettysburg to do another show there.
For some reason, I found these buttons funny.
We landed on this!
The show we did in the tiny mess hall on the Gettysburg — I don’t think there were microphones, and the comics just stood behind a lunch table — I remember as being one of the best of my life. I’ve never heard a packed room laugh so loud. I still have a USS Gettysburg belt buckle, which I keep intending to put on an appropriate belt and wear in a non-ironic way.
I hope USH gets its act back together. Because I want to be in a helicopter as soon as possible. Thank you.
November 7, 2008
This picture of me in Africa in summer 2007 has just popped up. Turns out this Marine is a Facebook friend of my cousin….
November 23, 2007
Last night I appeared in Jeff Stark’s Where Have You Been? show, a sort of slideshow and panel discussion in which three guests discuss their recent travels.
I was there to talk about my three-week tour entertaining the troops in the Middle East on an Armed Forces Entertainment comedy tour.
The show took place in the progressive, collectively-owned Bluestockings Bookstore, but luckily no one shouted anything about blood for oil (or tried to shame me into veganism).
Here are the slides that were part of my presentation, with a couple extras that didn’t quite fit into the show. Some of these will look familiar to regular blog readers:
This airport looked “foreign,” in a way, but also had not only a Starbucks, but a Claire’s (the little-girl jewelry store).
Comedians trying a shooting simulation. Or, as Jeff Stark said, “Obligatory girls-with-guns photo.” Fortunately for the state of the world, the shooting simulations actually also test ethics and procedures; if you shoot an unarmed civilian, the “game” ends, and the legend “DEFEND YOUR ACTIONS” appears across the screen, at which point you must explain yourself to an actual, flesh-and-blood superior officer.
In a souvenir shop in Bahrain. In such souvenir shops, I noted a shocking quantity of Christmas kitsch: ornaments, Santa figurines, a Christmas poem written in calligraphy on a slice of a log, even a cross-stitched Christmas stocking. Apparently, the locals find these items to be exotic Westernalia. One of the log mobiles, like the one pictured, included the misquoted platitudes: “A penny saved is a penny gained” and “An ounce of discretion is worth a pound of learning.”
September 26, 2007
Apropos to my last post, on the victory of earnestness over irony among our armed forces, here is something I am delighted to have taped.
At Camp L.S.A., Kuwait, two young soldiers stood out in the crowd because they showed up after I’d already begun my set, and because they had bothered to go back to their tents and change into civilian clothes. One even had bleached-out hair — they looked good, but a bit out of place. I teased them a bit from the stage, and when they came through the autograph line, they told us they made music, and asked if, should they go to their tents and retrieve their guitars, we would sign them.
That turned into this:
They performed two songs for us. Andrew, on the left, was charmingly nervous. I later received a MySpace message from Blake — his profile says he’s just 20! I know these young men have important and difficult jobs to do, but seriously: could boys get any cuter?
Blake and Andrew are thinking of moving to Nashville once they get out of the service. They don’t have a band name yet. Perhaps they are taking suggestions?
I have kept in touch and offered to find them a place to play when they come to New York, perhaps in January. I am inviting all my lady friends.
Andrew, Blake, and the girls in the USO.
Note the signed guitars.
The USO at Camp LSA was an air-conditioned oasis full of IKEA couches on an otherwise bleak desert base. (Even though it all looks very nice, keep in mind one still has to leave the tent and walk 50 yards through 125-degree heat to get to the latrines). Note the psychedelic decorating scheme — somehow the USO has co-opted the imagery of the Vietnam protest movement to provide today’s troops with the nicest tent in all of Kuwait.
Eventually, Blake and Andrew’s superior officers made us wrap it up — after all, it was nearly 9:30.
September 26, 2007
On my comedy tour of the Middle East, I was brought to realize many things.
Our military is a lot whiter than I had imagined. In fact, a huge swath of the US Armed Forces is made up of recent (Caucasian) high school graduates from Texas, Indiana, and Ohio.
At one point, I said to one of the other comics, “I thought the military had a lot more black people.”
He replied, “No, you’re thinking of Vietnam.”
(Update: A commenter has provided this link [downloadable PDF] to the relevant data).
Living in Manhattan for awhile will give you a skewed picture of American demographics. If I had to guess, I’d guess Manhattan was roughly fifty or sixty percent white people, but all of them relatively wealthy, while a large percentage of everyone else are recent immigrants.* Every very rare once in awhile, you see a homeless white person, and think: what, possibly, could be the excuse for that?
(*Side note: Manhattan has as high a percentage of recent immigrants as, say, Texas, but nowhere near the anti-immigrant sentiment, because it is so terribly obvious that without hardworking recent immigrants, some of them illegal, we wouldn’t be able to afford to go out to eat, get our nails, laundry, and dry cleaning done, our food delivered, and many other services. You ever try to get your nails done in the suburbs? Try making an appointment and paying $35! A million small things are cheaper in New York thanks to a constant influx of immigration).
On Army and Air Force bases, we often did shows to crowds of 600-700 soldiers, many of whom would line up afterwards for autographs. They hadn’t known who we were before the show (well, there was one guy whose wife loved my work on McSweeney’s — dear god did that make my evening!), but there was literally nothing else to do, and an acute shortage of women.
The McSweeney’s note was especially unusual, as the entire remainder of our tour was free of irony and of any appreciation of irony. As well, perhaps, it should have been, as earnestness may be a necessary means of bolstering oneself for peril.
At Camp Buehring, Kuwait — a training base where soldiers are stationed for a short time just prior to deployment in Iraq — we did a show for an audience that was both armed, and shipping off to Iraq an hour after the show. One officer, observing the mood of the crowd, explained that much of the audience wasn’t laughing out loud because “Twenty or thirty of these guys are going to get blown up just on the way there.” In the autograph line after the show, one soldier took his signed photograph of Laura Rosenberg and showed us where it would be taped to the butt of his rifle, to keep him company in combat. Is it 1944? I thought, and then Well, goddamn.
Towards the end of the tour, we did a show on the USS Enterprise, and the ship’s media officer did taped interviews of us for the ship’s local TV channel (when they don’t have something like a rerun of last night’s comedy show to play, it’s just a blue screen with motivational messages scrolling by). Despite all the (wry, offbeat) quotes that could’ve been extracted from those interviews, when the ship’s newsletter came out the next morning, it was peppered with made-up (unfunny) quotes purportedly from the comics, things like, “Performing for the troops who are defending our country makes me proud to be an American,” and, “Entertaining the hardworking men and women of the USS Enterprise is the greatest experience of my life.”
We did not say those things. But we forgive the “media specialist” responsible.
September 26, 2007
This recording starts mid-joke, but it’s pretty decent for a digital camera in an outdoor setting. This was actually from the first day of the tour, 8/23, in Kuwait.
September 24, 2007
Now settled in after my Mideast tour, I’ve finally found time to scan some souvenirs.
I bought this greeting card in Kuwait. It came from a whole line of greeting cards featuring cute cartoon burqa-clad women and dishdasha-clad men doing things like barbecuing, riding on a magic carpet, and in one case, being visited by space aliens.
In Djibouti, I found myself saving everything that said “Djibouti” on it. Iced coffee is not well-known outside America, but the hotel staff at the Djibouti Kempinski was quite enthusiastic about making me one (for what looks on the receipt like $700!) The beverage I received was laden with heavy cream and had been strained over ice, but was served sans ice, making its temperature only infinitesimally lower than that of the hotel at large. Like a cool bath. In a glass.
I purchased a bowl decorated with elephants at this shop in Djibouti. The proprietors were really adamant about giving me their business card, which had been faintly xeroxed and badly cut, but basically got the message out about HAPPY SHOP. And now it’s on my blog! So next time you’re in, say, Somalia, go ahead and take a detour to Djibouti. The bowls are great.
There is a coin shortage on US military bases. Instead of actual metal currency, you receive these cardboard “pogs” as change. Annoying! I’m stuck with seventy-five cents’ worth. I’m going to mail them to my mom so she can see if they’ll take them at the Navy Exchange back home. I’ve always wanted to buy my mom a pack of gum.
These are my alcohol ration cards from the Army bases in Qatar and Djibouti. There’s a three-drink a day limit, although that seems to be something of a formality for performers, perhaps especially female performers. I think I could have obtained really as much alcohol as I personally desired to consume.
Just add meat and milk cards for that old-time World War II feeling.
September 20, 2007
Specifically, a Learjet from Kuwait to Qatar.
More specifically, a Learjet that was sent from Qatar to Kuwait to pick up four comedians because, after the comedians woke up at 2am for a 3am call for a drive to a secured military airstrip for a 7am (non-Learjet) flight, it was discovered that the pilot of said 7am flight had arrived at 3am, dropped off four passengers, thus making room for the comedians — and then promptly departed. Calls were made. Comedians were tired and annoyed. Naps were taken. A Learjet came. The part of the video inside the jet is really loud. It’s kind of hard to talk in a Learjet, even though you sort of feel like a financially successful rapper.
I don’t know what a Learjet flight runs the military (you can charter one yourself for about $2K/hour), but somebody cost the taxpayers some bucks on this one.
“Ninety percent of your body is water — very little of it is land.”
September 19, 2007
Other comics on the Mideast tour were extremely interested in the technical details of how a plane lands on the deck of an aircraft carrier, which is much shorter than a runway.
Me? I was very interested in the largest paper bag EVER.
Christina Lopez is a doll for playing along.
September 14, 2007
As I was leaving on this tour, people asked whether I was scared.
“No,” I would say. “I have no problem doing dangerous things. I have little fear of death. What I do fear is discomfort. I’ll happily jump out of an airplane, provided at the end of the day there’s a chaise lounge and a nice Shiraz.”
So, basically I want to be James Bond.
Alas. Instead, try three weeks of very little danger and constant sweaty, buggy, ill-lit, breakfast-skipping, desert-trek-to-the-bathroom, cargo-plane-riding discomfort.
Here you go:
…and in Djibouti.
September 13, 2007
Don’t buy a sickly camel! This is me negotiating for camels in the PX at Camp Arafjan, Kuwait.
One fun fact I learned in my brief time in the Mideast is that citizens of oil-rich nations such as Kuwait and Qatar don’t have jobs. (Why bother, when you receive reverse taxation from the government?) They also, judging from the shopping I saw in the airport and in two malls, buy a tremendous quantity of Bulgari, Burberry, Hermes, and other designer goods.
This means that all of the actual work in countries like Kuwait is done by Indian and Southeast Asian people. I bought a dress from a Filipina woman in Kuwait who closed her shop every time the call for prayer came around — and then she just hid inside the shop, arranging racks of clothes in front of the glass windows.
When visiting a foreign country, one’s contact with locals often comes in large measure from interacting with servicepeople. In Kuwait, however, since none of the servicepeople are locals, and there are taboos against men talking to strange women, and it hardly seems inviting to test out the English skills of a woman who keeps her face covered and carries a $2,000 handbag … a person can spend a long time in Kuwait without ever talking to a Kuwaiti person.
Another consequence of reverse taxation is that it’s really pretty difficult to purchase a souvenir of Kuwait. Kuwaitis don’t make handicrafts. You can certainly, however, go to Kuwait and buy something from an Indian vendor, imported from India, with a picture of a camel on it and the word “Kuwait” stamped on it by Indian laborers. But that’s as close as you can get.
How terribly unfair that India didn’t get any oil. And how baffled the Indian vendors on base must be when mistaken by Americans for Kuwaitis.
Update: The Intrepid Young Journalist points out that India is lucky it didn’t get oil, because instead it got democracy. To explain: the “resource curse” is the phenomenon by which states that are rich in resources do not have to negotiate with their people for wealth and productivity; thus, resource-rich nations typically rule absolutely and have no need to develop the means for democracy. When oil is free and the government owns it all, the people had better shut the hell up and just collect their checks. This creates a quite different dynamic of power than in states in which elected leaders have to campaign and extract taxes from working people in order to rule. As a result, they rule — to put it mildly — less absolutely.
September 12, 2007
At the urging of Gunner Honeywood, I took up a dare to qualify as a female Marine by doing the flexed-arm hang for 70 seconds.
Incidentally, I did this AFTER having done seven pull-ups. I can’t say this is the most eventful of videos; in fact, I don’t move for seventy seconds.
September 10, 2007
Camp VIRGINIA? Who knew? This is one part of Virginia I have no desire to visit. I’ve been enjoying your blog. This is a cute picture. There’s enough fabric in your skirt to make a lot of hotpants.
Please sign the petition to convince my mom to start her own blog.
You know, the photo above looks all sunny and nice, but it was actually so painfully hot and dry — 127 degrees, like being baked on a cookie sheet — that I could barely stand out of the shade for long enough to shoot a photo. The first couple attempts looked like this:
September 10, 2007
September 6, 2007
Guns and wind, guns and wind!
After flying into Bahrain, we immediately were flown onto the USS Enterprise, 200 miles into the Persian Gulf. This required sitting in the tiny, windlowless nose of a plane, wearing a helmet, earplugs, and a harness (hot!), and, of course, landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier. We later watched this process, which is pretty amazing — each airplane has a hooked tail that drags behind it, catching a cable, which keeps the plane from flying right off the other end of the aircraft carrier. If the plane fails to catch the cable, it is very important that the plane keep going full speed so it can fly off the other end, without falling into the water, and try again. Therefore, the planes landing on the flight deck don’t slow down — in fact, they speed up! And their little tails catch this rubber-band thing and just stop them cold. It’s a little jarring from the inside.
After doing a show in the Enterprise’s hangar later the same evening….
…and then a 9am (yes, a.m., oh-nine-hundred) show the next morning for the guys who work nights, we were transported by helicopter to the USS Gettysburg for an afternoon show in the mess hall. Um, how cool is that? The helicopter’s door stayed open the entire time, with a big gun poking out of it. On the way back, the guy who operates the gun had his shirt off for the whole ride. (It certainly was hot, but it might have had something to do with the all-women comedy show).
Here’s a video from the deck of the USS Gettysburg: