I got an invitation from Mayor Jerry Larsen of East Hampton this past October inviting me to fly down for the afternoon of December 10, two weeks before Christmas, to meet the kids of his town face to face. It was a rare opportunity for me because I am only away from the Pole on Christmas Eve and at that time, of course, kids are asleep. So, of course, I accepted.
The invitation said the mayor would have all the kids assembled in Herrick Park, which is in the center of town, but looking into this, we found that the park was not big enough for my sled, the elves and the eight reindeer to land and take off. So, it was decided instead that we’d land at the East Hampton Town Airport where they’d have a helicopter waiting. They’d take us up, and then after circling around, land in the park where I could have my picture taken with all the kids.
Things went well at the airport, sort of. We landed there around 11 a.m. not far from their parked helicopter, which I now realized would accommodate me but not my 10 elves, so the elves, although disappointed, had to sit and play games inside the terminal for two hours of waiting until I got back. Meanwhile, the reindeer, would, by prearrangement, be put up in stalls in a barn nearby with lots of hay.
I’d never been up in a helicopter, and it seemed pretty intimidating. But there were two pilots, Dennis and another guy who never gave me his name, and there was Erin, an EMT, who, for the flight, put earphones on my head because, as she said, this was going to be loud.
Then she sat on the gurney in the back next to a seat for me. Apparently it was an airborne ambulance. Which allowed me to joke that if I got panicky, they’d have all the medical gear in there to get me better. Certainly, everybody wanted me in tip-top shape for December 25.
There was a wait because some private helicopter had just landed and then had, in spite of orders from the control tower not to, simply taxied across the various runways sideways, which our pilots and the tower on the radio said was stupid and dangerous.
In the end, the tower ordered that chopper off to one side — downwind from the barn — and off we went.
We went straight up, which felt like being in an elevator, but then, not that high, we tipped at a 45-degree angle, pretty scary, and flew off to the west over what I thought was The Clubhouse building in the woods but which I soon realized was a Ross School building.
Zooming around, we passed over Wainscott — there were ships just offshore busy installing their wind farm electricity project — and then we went over the Atlantic Ocean where, after another tippy turn, we flew over Lily Pond Lane and Georgica, east along Montauk Highway with Town Pond below, then north over Main Street, turning left above the Ladies Village Improvement Society building and Herrick Park, beyond to where I could see what looked like a thousand kids behind ropes set up at one end of the park below.
But we didn’t set down. Instead, we did a terrifying loop above the Stop & Shop, flew south down Newtown Lane, then west on Main Street — I thought I could almost touch the top of the steeple of the First Presbyterian Church — and then back to the park where, this time, we did set down.
I took a deep breath, jumped out and then walked around the helicopter, waving to all the kids to where a small chair, all by itself, had been set up on the grass of what was, I saw, the outfield of the sandlot baseball diamond.
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The kids, 50 yards away, were then let loose and told to walk slowly toward me to form a big line on both sides facing some photographers so they could take a group picture, but, to my delight, that never happened. Instead, all these 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds and their parents, cheering and yelling, simply raced out to where I sat and surrounded me sitting in my chair in a great happy mosh for a long, long time.
I will never, ever, forget this. They were so happy to see me. And I was so happy to see them. Of course, I could hardly move in there. They were everywhere. Indeed, my face, at sitting height, was directly opposite the faces of all these little kids I love so much. “Were you the pilot?” one kid asked. “I learned after we took off,” I replied. I kept asking everybody if they’d been good.
Absolutely all were good. I started to touch little noses with my index finger. Tap tap tap. Squealing, they hugged me. This went on for a good 10 minutes. Behind them, adults held high a forest of smartphones taking videos. Finally, some authorities broke through and, saying “Gangway,” stood me up and escorted me out and off to a waiting police car, with all these little kids leading and following, and I got into the passenger seat, rolled down the window, and as we slowly pulled away and onto Newtown Lane, waved and shouted “Merry Christmas” to everybody.
Two police officers on motorcycles with lights flashing escorted us on a tour through this beautiful town until we got to the movie theater, where they stopped and ushered me inside to a chair by a Christmas tree in the lobby to sit and greet still more kids who were arriving to watch a Christmas movie — The Polar Express I was told.
Here, once again, the kids, hundreds of them, came over to tell me they loved me and that they’d been good, while I told them I loved them and presents would be along in two weeks.
I got lots of hugs. I hugged back. Lots of pictures were taken. Somewhere in there, a 5-year-old handed me a dollar. Then ran off. What should I do with it? I tried to give it to the next kid but she wouldn’t take it. Up here at the Pole, I still have it.
I will never forget this trip. God bless the children of East Hampton and all the Hamptons.