The New Yorker - USA (2022-01-31)

(Antfer) #1






he current civic mood is one of dis-
gruntlement—flight attendants be-
ing harassed, shoving matches in testing
lines, anti-vax protests. (“It’s a violation
of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Section 2,
if you don’t let us sit down in the Olive
Garden in Times Square!” one sit-in par-
ticipant was heard screaming recently.)
It’s easy to blame the peevishness on the
pandemic. But maybe everyone’s just ir-
ritated by all the helicopters? In the year
before COVID, 311 received three thou-
sand helicopter-noise complaints; last
year, it received twenty-six thousand.
Blades f ly sorties to J.F.K. and East
Hampton. Tourist convoys patrol Cen-

“So the industry said, ‘Thank you very
much, we’ll go to New Jersey,’” Benepe
said. “Governors Island is like our early-
detection outpost now.”
On the waterfront, preparations were
under way. Official hats were distrib-
uted, binoculars produced. Radar was
consulted. Someone held a decibel reader.
Bogeys appeared from across the river,
where FlyNyon, a major tourist outfit,
operates. The first helicopter thundered
toward the landing pad. Everyone braced
against the wind. “Ninety-nine decibels!”
someone bellowed.
When the next helicopter swooped
in, the group released a volley of boos
and thumbs-down. One man yelled,
“Have you heard about how sonar hurts
the whales? Well, we’re mammals, too!”
As they scanned the sky, intel was
exchanged. “I can tell an N.Y.P.D. from
a FlyNyon,” Wood said. “The N.Y.P.D.
is sort of flatulent,” Norris said. A man
named Ken Coughlin added, “I can
tell a Sikorsky from a Bell.” Someone
else warned, “If you hear an R44, duck
for cover.”
Disaster scenarios were reviewed. “I’m
thinking about a fully loaded Sikorsky
f lying down Flatbush Avenue into a
school,” Benepe said. A woman fretted,
“Somebody could drop poison into the
reservoir. I’ve seen them hovering low.”
The assembled appreciated a cer-
tain esprit de corps. “I feel like no one
believes us,” Wood said. “But it’s just
this idea that thousands of New York-
ers can be disrupted so that five tour-
ists can take a shoe selfie over the Em-
pire State Building.”
Another flight zoomed by. A man in

goddess of war, Minerva. Elisa Duni-
vent, who has lived in the village for
more than a year, said, “I call it my home.
Outside these gates it’s a lot worse. I
live here with my boyfriend and his pet
rooster. I spend all day here cooking and
cleaning. I went to culinary school.” She
came to San Francisco after getting sick
from mold in her house in Modesto.
Outside the village, people camp on
the sidewalk. “Good morning!” Gilbert
said. He passed a man under a red blan-
ket. “We wouldn’t bother this guest till
a little later, after the sun comes up,” he
said. “We might come back and say, ‘Need
a coffee, need a bagel?’We don’t really
like calling the police on the guests.”
Some San Franciscans want to recall
the progressive district attorney, Chesa
Boudin, for, they argue, selectively en-
forcing only laws he deems righteous. “I
understand why people are frustrated,”
Gilbert said. “Right over here, a lady
jumped out of her wheelchair and started
beating a little kid.” He continued, “The
police come down this street, maybe they
blow the horn, but they don’t want to
stop and do the paperwork to arrest them.”
He headed back to headquarters.
“After my shift, I’ll go kick back, smoke
a blunt, decompress, look at a lake, hear
my heart beating, hear my thoughts
thinking,” he said.
—Antonia Hitchens

tral Park. One chopper picked up pas-
sengers in a vacant lot in Crown Heights,
then buzzed the Verrazzano; an N.Y.P.D.
helicopter pursued it into New Jersey. “Is
it legal to do what’s been done?” the pilot
asked, in the Daily News. “That we will
figure out eventually.”
Caroline Wood lives in Chelsea, within
rotor-wash range of Hudson River com-
muters and Empire State Building sight-
seers. By the summer of 2020, she re-
counted, “I thought we were under attack.”
At first, Wood, a screenwriter, aired her
grievances on Twitter. Some replies were
hostile. She shrugged them off. “The next
thing that happened is we started getting
these phone hangups,” Wood said. “Our
caller I.D. would identify them as ‘New
York Helicopter.’ I’m usually not a para-
noid person. But that was definitely odd.”
“I kept telling her she was going to
get kneecapped,” her partner, the play-
wright Bruce Norris, said.
Wood said, “Not to be dramatic, but,
when they’re circling directly above our
building every day, that is a particular
sensory experience. I think almost any-
one would associate that with warfare.”
It was time for a counter-offensive.
At 1600 hours on a recent Sunday, Wood
and Norris joined a ragtag corps of air
observers to scan the skies along the Hud-
son. A command post, consisting of bi-
cycles and an anti-helicopter sandwich
board, was established in hostile territory,
just outside the Thirtieth Street heliport.
The troops, about fifteen in all, were af-
filiated with Stop the Chop NY/NJ, a
group seeking a federal de-helicopter-
ized zone (with exceptions for police,
media, and medevacs). The mission: scout
the enemy, gripe, commiserate.
“We’re all volunteers,” Melissa El-
stein, Stop the Chop’s chair, said. “You
have people like me spending, I would
say, all of my free time on this. People
are suffering. Their homes have become
uninhabitable. So they’re sitting inside
with the radar to track the misery.”
“We’re not normally crazy,” Adrian
Benepe, a board member, added. “This
has turned us crazy.” Benepe’s radicaliza-
tion had occurred during his day job:
he’s the president of the Brooklyn Bo-
tanic Garden, which sits directly beneath
the J.F.K. and Hamptons flight paths.
He blamed the inundation on foreign
invaders—in 2016, New York restricted
the number of flights from city heliports.
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