copter01

In a cartography class for my GIS Master's degree, we were asked to opine on the limits of maps and name some situations under which traditional maps would not do a good job. Two stories immediately came to mind.

First, I had once heard about an advertising agency that had offices at the Sears Tower in Chicago when it was still the tallest building in the world. They gave directions to their office as simply “Sears Tower, ##th floor. The story went “if you can’t find our office, we don’t want you as a client.”

The second story was an experience I had as a news reporter in Little Rock.

In December of 1983, a terrible ice storm dumped two inches of freezing rain across the southern half of Arkansas, stranding hundreds of vehicles along Interstate 30 from Little Rock to the Texas state line. Once the storm had cleared, we were sent southwest to the town of Malvern, Arkansas, where a relief center for stranded travelers had been established at the local vo-tech school. Driving was still out of the question, so we had to go by helicopter.

One of our competitors, the NBC affiliate (KARK) loved to flaunt their very nice Bell JetRanger II in their on-air news promos, along with the senior reporter who was regularly assigned to do 'copter stories. So we were hugely amused to learn the aircraft we had rented for the day was none other than "Sky 4". It was the first good day to fly after the storm and I was really surprised Channel 4 wasn't using the 'copter themselves. Well, in the aviation business, a paying customer is a paying customer. Central Aviation definitely aimed to please.

"Do you want me to pull the Channel 4 decals off the side?" asked the hangar maintenance guy.

"You don't have to do that," I laughed, "we just want to get going."

"It's no problem," he said. He walked off, returned moments later with an electric heat gun and set to stripping off the decals in pieces. NOT my idea. First, we were stealing Channel 4's helicopter, now it was being defaced. We were two-for-two on the day so far, and it wasn't even 10 a.m.

We got our commandeered "Sky 4" airborne and flew southwest, getting video of the dozens of cars and trucks strewn all along I-30. When Malvern finally came into view, it suddenly dawned on us that no one had called ahead to see WHERE the vo-tech school was. OK, so what do we do now? Why, land and ask for directions, of course. The pilot chose the very large front yard of a house just off I-30 and gently set the 'copter down. I clambered out the door, went crunch-crunch-crunching across the ice-covered ground to the house and rang the doorbell.

"Hey, we're lost," I told the nice lady who answered the door. "Can you tell me where Ouachita Technical College is?"

She pointed off towards the distant highway. “Go down this street and you’ll cross some railroad tracks, and then you’ll see a sign for it,” she carefully explained.

“No”, I said, “what does it look like from the air?”  I jerked a thumb over my shoulder towards the idling helicopter going "whup whup whup whup" on the front lawn.

“Oh!” said the nice lady.  I couldn't imagine how she had missed seeing or hearing the 'copter, except maybe she wasn't used to obnoxious news types landing aircraft in her front yard. “It’s a big brick building with a water tank next to it.”

Gotcha. We took off and once we got some altitude, we immediately saw the water tank. It led us straight to our destination.

One area where I had no need of paper maps in those days, was to support my encyclopedic knowledge of the location of most every Wendy's hot 'n juicy hamburger joint in the state of Arkansas. We rarely if ever went to Malvern and I had no idea if there was a Wendy's there. I had briefly toyed with the idea of landing Channel 4's helicopter in the parking lot and strolling over to the drive-up window to order lunch for three.

Any video crew I have ever worked will tell you they've never gone hungry when they're out with Jeff. I've gotta tell ya', I was definitely conflicted. Landing a 'copter at a Wendy's drive-up is the kind of tale from which legends are made. It is also the kind of tale from which unemployment is made.