If I lived across from Queen of the Valley, I’m sure I’d habituate to the sounds of screaming ambulance sirens and the thumpa-thumpa of medevac helicopters bringing in patients.
Dire situations — lives on the line — would become part of life’s routine. Now pass the meatloaf.
But I don’t live near Queen of the Valley. I’m way over on the west side of town where the most disturbing sounds at night are choruses of coyotes celebrating I know not what. Fresh kills?
Last Saturday night, things got much weirder. We were in the last 15 minutes of watching “Maggie’s Plan,” a fine romantic comedy, when the sound from our TV was partially drowned out by a helicopter passing overhead. Very loud, very low.
Neither of us said anything. Then a minute later another one. And another and another.
Trying to make sense of things, I first thought “black helicopters.”
Years ago, the Napa Sentinel, a now-defunct weekly tabloid, was forever reporting mysterious black helicopters sweeping up the west side of the Napa Valley to a hidden base, possibly in the mid-Napa Valley.
While the Sentinel suggested that our government was conducting covert operations here, I was never convinced. Then again, helicopters had never flown over me during the concluding moments of a good movie.
By the time I’d counted five chopper passes, I chucked my dark ops hypothesis. This wasn’t a parade of helicopters. A mere one was making repeated loops over my house.
We paused the movie and took positions at windows. If the helicopter was spying on us, we’d spy back.
All I could see was a cluster of red lights attached to an exceptionally noisy flying machine. A dark flying machine, maybe even black.
Drawing on my years at the Register, I gave Cheryl my best guess: It’s the CHP on some kind of mission.
People are forever calling the paper to ask why a helicopter was circling over their neighborhood the night before. Almost always, it was a CHP helicopter in support of a police search.
Cheryl didn’t find this explanation especially comforting. Law enforcement has mobilized in our neighborhood? Call the police and find out what’s going on, she directed.
The hour was late. The newspaper had been put to bed. There was no sign of SWAT maneuverings on our street. We still had 15 minutes of “Maggie’s Plan” to watch.
For all these reasons, I declined to call the police. Instead, I turned up the TV volume.
The next morning, I emailed reporter Howard Yune and asked if he could solve the mystery of the circling helicopter.
Meanwhile, many Browns Valley residents had been checking in with Nextdoor, the social media site. All that helicopter action had been unnerving. Could anyone explain things?
“I had no idea what was going on so I shut everything down and turned on the alarm, was very scared as I was home alone,” a woman wrote.
“Rebobs?” speculated another west side resident.
Later that day, Howard posted an item on napavalleyregister.com that explained the situation. There had been a report of someone firing a pellet gun at a moving vehicle in my area. The CHP had put its helicopter into the air to aid with the ground search.
No one was found. The shooter got away. After 15 minutes of circling, the helicopter returned to its base at the Napa County Airport.
And that’s that ... but not really.
Cheryl and I are still mulling over what happened last weekend. A helicopter circling overhead — in darkness — is a loud, ominous thing. So is having a shooter out there in hiding.
If I had to choose, I’ll always pick coyotes.