Once a familiar face at Bluehour, Saucebox, and Zefiro, Matt Halperin was feeling service industry burnout when he struck upon his new career while watching Russell Crowe in Proof of Life. Now he's been piloting helicopters for seven years, flying all over the West Coast with huge loads of logs or water (fire season just ended). With a two weeks on/two weeks off schedule, Matt's nesting instinct kicks into high gear when he's at home. There you'll find him plying the babes with bitchin' cooking worthy of Bruce Carey: The garden of his handsome bachelor pad is bursting with fresh herbs and outfitted with a Japanese Shinto smoking shed and mood lighting, and his vodka infusions are on par with Saucebox's.
Why is your flight helmet covered with dents?
The type of flying we do is very physical and beats the crap out of you. Take a load that weighs as much as the aircraft, attach it to a 200-foot line, then go ripping out of the forest. There's a lot of bouncing and jarring and it induces nausea in almost all of the new pilots. I wanted to throw up for the first year.
I threw up once on my birthday. What happens is you get provisionally hired and then you get "puke-proofed"—they send you on a job and see if you can keep your lunch down. If you can't, you can't cut it.
Best part of the job?
Flying is a pretty amazing thing. We walk on land; the sky is a whole other element and it's exciting to learn how to interact with it. At its best it's a beautiful artistic pursuit with no limit as to how far you can expand your knowledge of it.
I had a lot of fun last month in the right seat. The left seat is all focus and stress and flying really fast; the right seat you record production and keep an eye on the gauges, but basically it's your time to relax. I bought a box of Twinkies and some duct tape and a box of ChemWipes and I made parachutes for the Twinkies and parachuted them to the guys on the ground.
Anytime you almost kill a guy on the ground it's pretty scary. The idea is you pick up a bunch of logs and they're stuck together in one little unit, and you never fly over persons or property. But of course what often happens is the unexpected, especially when you're learning. You don't know how 10 logs on different lengths of cable are going to react to each other. Add to that the fact that we're often operating at the extreme limits of the helicopter, so if you make a mistake, you're not going to be flying, you're going to be falling.