Last night, dozens of people in starched collars and prom dresses convened at a Manhattan helicopter pad, to watch helicopters land, and to celebrate a startup made for ordering said helicopters. Silicon Alley hasn't mastered the SF startup party, but it certainly still knows luxury.
Blade—written BLADE by the company itself, but I'm sure not going to do that—is sort of like Uber's id. The startup took the most over the top, shamelessly 1 percenter thing Uber's ever offered (chopper flights to the Hamptons), and spun it into an entire business. Blade users can take out their phones and book a $3,000, 30-minute flight from Manhattan to one of three separate Hamptons landing zones. Or, if money is tight, there's no need to vacation somewhere affordable—Blade lets you "crowdfund" your trip by selling the vacant seats on the chopper, or buying a slot in someone else's reservation. In 2014, "the crowd" now includes people flying private to East Hampton.
That's all Blade does: fly the people with the most money to the most expensive place in one of the most expensive ways. Or perhaps formerly most expensive, as Warner Music COO and Blade founder Rob Wiesenthal explained to me at the company fete: Blade is "trying to democratize flying to the Hamptons." In 2014, democratization takes the form of $600 smartphone-confirmed seats in someone else's helicopter. Wiesenthal explained that helicopter pilots are an oft-mistreated subset of the labor force, and so far they're thrilled with Blade's casual reservation process and chummy clientele. Even happier are Blade's customers, who Wiesenthal says have already turned his company into a verb—"Let's just blade there." Our chat was cut short when a PR handler abruptly whisked Wiesenthal away, and then again when two model-looking Blade fans arrived. Luckily, there was plenty to do instead of talk: trays of oysters, sushi, and tiny lobster sandwiches passed with an an almost alarming frequency. Had they arrived by helicopter? It tasted so fresh!
Rather than taking a page from the Valley and hiring Travis Kalanick's girlfriend or Moby, Blade hired recording artist David Correy for the night. Fresh from singing at the World Cup, hopped out of the chopper and walked to a microphone by the smallish crowd. He reminded everyone of his name, and that he was once on X Factor. The crowd still seemed confused or unimpressed. Correy said he'd lost some weight. Some in the audience turned to look at a woman who was posing for photos, leaning against the hood of a Maserati—presumably part of Blade's car fleet, which it uses to shuttle passengers to the Hamptons in case of inclement weather.
The mix of models (or people with the arms of models) and hedge fund guys (or people with the faces of hedge fund guys) stood and watched the sun go down. A helicopter landed near the guests, demonstrating how a helicopter worked—though it was delayed due to another helicopter's presence, demonstrating what can potentially go wrong on your way to the Hamptons.
Towards the end, while in line for the bathroom inside Blade's helicopter terminal-cum-lounge, two of the models turned and asked me if I'd flown Blade before (not in the form of a verb).
"You mean, tonight?"
"No, not tonight."
They turned and entered the bathroom together, locking the door for about twenty minutes. The night and its guests were almost admirable for how little they pretended about changing the world or disrupting anything—finally, an indulgent luxury service that knows what it is. That's the East Coast influence at work, probably. But at that moment I wish I could have bladed home.