Labor Day, 1949


I DECIDED to take the family to the beach, and told Josey to pack a big lunch and get the three children ready for an early start. We knew there would be crowds — I have never seen a holiday weekend when there weren’t — so I had the helicopter all gassed up and ready the night before. But by the time we had all the stuff aboard and finally took off from the lawn, it was nearly eight o’clock.

The air was pretty crowded. Nevertheless, we made good time, at least at the beginning. The children were behaving, and I thought we might at last have some luck and get in a fine long day somewhere on a lonely strip of sand between the sky and the sparkling sea. on a lonely strip of sand between the sky and the sparkling sea.

We had planned on going to Mercury Beach, having had a good time there once before. But even before we got there we could see it was jammed. There wasn’t an inch of grass or sand that someone had not already claimed by setting his copter down on it. At a distance, the beach looked like a convention of sand fleas. Copters were hopping up and down and around as far as the eye could see.

We surveyed the situation for a while from offshore, and then decided to go on about fifty miles to Jupiter Beach. The children were a bit disappointed. “ We’ll soon be able to come down somewhere,” I told them, “and then we can all get in the water.”

The air cops at Jupiter simply shooed us on by. Josey was somewhat irritated by their brusque manner. “There is nothing to do except keep going,” I said.

The sun was already hot and getting uncomfortable. We passed over several rocky headlands, all covered with scrub pine, — no place for landing or bathing, — until we came to Venus Beach.

I came down pretty low and tried to squeeze in at several places. After bumping a few wing tips and being bawled out by half a dozen irate copter owners, I gave it up and we continued on toward Saturn and Mars beaches. We kept a constant lookout for some little cove where we might drop down and have a few yards of sand and quiet to ourselves, but someone had always got there ahead of us. Other places, probably privately owned, had big signs painted on the roofs or marked out on the grounds — “Private Property, Keep Clear, No Copter Landings Allowed, Anyone Landing Here Is Subject to Arrest.” That will give you an idea.

We’d done nearly four hundred miles by that time and the children were frankly rebellious. Josey, too, was growing rather peevish. Anyone might have thought that all our troubles were my fault.

Saturn and Mars beaches were no better, — worse if anything, — and though we hovered around for half an hour, craning our necks in every direction, we couldn’t spot a single unoccupied foot.

I was beginning to run low on gas. I told Josey we’d come down and stretch our legs and let the children go to the toilet and then we’d see what could be done. I talked to the gas station man and he told me it looked to him as if the whole of the Middle West had flown East for a swim in salt water. I asked him if he had any suggestions as to what we might do. He said the only thing he could think of was to try Canada or even Newfoundland. I explained that all we wanted was a few hours on the beach.

He said he’d never seen the air so full of brokendown old wrecks as it was that day. Everybody and his brother who had anything that could fly were out in it. The United States, he said, only had a couple thousand miles of beaches on the East Coast, but if it had been seven thousand he still didn’t think it would have been enough.

Another copter was honking at us to pull out of the gas station and let him in, so we left the attendant grumbling to himself. I took her up to about six thousand feet and we hung there awhile to cool off and hold a conference. Josey said the children were starving and she could eat something herself and couldn’t we do something besides just flying around? The day was half gone already, she said; we were a long way from home, and if we didn’t do something pretty soon we might just as well turn around and go back home and take a shower and lie down and listen to the radio or watch the television.

Since the children simply couldn’t be kept from the lunch any longer, she opened up the basket and handed out sandwiches. Finally I asked the children if there was anything in the sight-seeing line that they’d like. How about the Capitol at Washington, or the Blue Ridge Mountains, or the skyscrapers of New York, or maybe even Niagara Falls? No, they’d seen them all. They still wanted to dig in the sand and play in the surf and look for sea shells. Josey wanted to lie under a beach umbrella and read a novel. Of course no one asked me what I wanted. I’d have been happy merely to get in the shade somewhere and fall asleep.

The flight home was long and tedious. Traffic was heavy and often snarled. Josey just sat there and stared ahead into space. The children got restless and began to fight. Josey had to separate them several times. When at last I brought the old family copter down on our own front lawn, I was dog-tired.

The children went out in the garden and played with the hose. Josey retired to the davenport in the parlor. I put on ray old pants and went out to tinker a bit with the copter. Looking at the speedometer, I noted that we’d done about 1173 air-miles. And for what? Anyway, that is how we spent Labor Day, 1949.