Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Celebrating Another Anniversary

The passage of time prompts many memories celebrated in an anniversary. Around this very week several decades ago, I traveled to the West Coast for the very first time.

Okay, my maiden voyage to SoCal didn't necessarily result in a picture like the one above. But, it came pretty damn close.

It started so simply. Just out of college and looking to be a star in Hollywood, even though I still barely could get out of Mount Vernon. Looking longingly at the West Coast, palm trees, and live studio audience tapings, I wanted to visit badly. But, given my recent graduate status, money was a premium. Actually, it was virtually non-existent.

But, from Heaven above, an opportunity landed from the clouds. Well, really, on the telephone. My college roommate and best friend had miraculously been the one to actually land a job in the profession he was pursuing. As a junior reporter, his assignment was to travel with an all-girls softball team to a tournament in Huntington Beach. He was getting there on cross country bus, but, once in SoCal, there was a hotel room that was easily shared. How fast could I get there?

Hmmm, let me see. An all-girls softball team and some of them were straight.   A free hotel room. A place near Los Angeles (this is prior to the days where I would learn that Huntington Beach is an hour away from anything worthwhile in Hollywood). And the word "beach" was in the city's name. How fast can I get there?

Is tomorrow too soon?

I quickly made plans to get a flight within the week. The logistics were met with my father's usual rousing support.

"What the hell do you wanna go there for?"

Thanks, Dad. One more time. Nevertheless, I forged ahead with what little scratch I had. In those days, you could get cheap flights if you flew on the red eye. In what would be the very first of many subsequent flights on American Airlines (I am a member of the Million Mile Club, thank you very much), I scheduled a Sunday night 9PM flight from JFK. And, begrudgingly, my father even offered to drive me to the airport.

Everything went like clockwork. Timex, not Rado, but clockwork nonetheless. 

Because I booked late, I did not have a wide choice of seating on the plane. In the center section. Right in front of the movie screen. In the middle seat. Next to an old and blind Spanish lady. Okay, I was looking for a trip to Los Angeles, not an on-board tryst in the restroom. Even if she was blind.

Take-off was smooth and, after settling into my cramped seat, I pulled out some of my spec scripts to read. Heck, one of the reasons why I was going was to be discovered as the next Larry Gelbart. And, I'd be curious to watch folks around me, watching me read scripts. "Hmm, who is that? Maybe the next Larry Gelbart?" Of course, I knew I'd get no reaction from the senora on my left.

The beverage cart came by and I got my Diet Coke. Well, back then, it was probably a Tab. They hadn't rolled it much further up the aisle when, suddenly, the flight attendants quickly pulled the carts back. Then, we hear glasses, etc. getting shoved back into the cabinets.


A few minutes later, the captain gets on the sound system.

"Sorry, folks, we're going back to Kennedy."

Groans all around. But, no reason why. Equipment issue? Weather? The co-pilot forgot his wallet?

We hadn't been up in the air for more than 45 minutes so the return trip to JFK couldn't be long. Apparently, we were somewhere over Pennsylania. Then, a little news from the flight attendant.

"We will be evacuating via the rear doors."

Evacuating? What happened to a leisurely exit? This clearly was evolving into something more than a busted food conveyor belt.

"Okay, folks, we will be evacuating via the slides."

As in slides that can be used as rubber rafts if you're in the water. For a moment, I looked for my rosary beads. Then, I remembered I wasn't Catholic.

"Passengers, please remove your shoes."


"Please assume crash landing position. Put your head in your lap."

And kiss your ass goodbye? I looked over at the old Spanish fossil next to me. Shoes on, blindly and literally looking off into space. I wasn't going to do anything about taking her Buster Browns off, but I certainly could help with the crash position.

I slammed her head into her lap.

We touched down at 9:58PM. I could see the time because my eye was right on top of my wristwatch. And then, as soon as we came to a stop, one word rang out through the cabin. Over and over and over.

"Go! Go! Go! Go!"

The doors were open. The slides were ready. In one fluid movement, you jumped into a sitting position and then slid. Down and down and down. Onto a tarmac at JFK that was literally fifty feet from the water. I managed the movie stunt easily. Others came flying off the slide in different directions. Some landing on the concrete on their ass. Others face down on the gravel. But, there was no time to linger.

"Run! Run! Run! Run!"

Outside. On the ground. With no shoes.

When we were all a safe distance from the aircraft, I looked at the scene unfolding before me. Fire engines, ambulances, and police cars speeding to the plane. It reminded me of the last scene from "Dog Day Afternoon." Where was John Cazale with the bullethole in the middle of his forehead?

Later on, we heard the details. A bomb scare had come in for our flight. It was allegedly to go off at 10PM. They had gotten us back with very little margin for error.

The eternal evening continued. Eventually, after walking around a terminal for two hours, we were allowed back on the plane (after the requisite dog sniffing for explosives) to get our stuff. Sometime around 2AM, they boarded us on another flight. Which had only enough fuel to get us to Cleveland. We refueled there on the runaway. After the plane switch, I had scored a window seat. I looked out at the Ohio blackness. This would be the only time I ever saw Cleveland. At 330AM.

What I didn't realize, in these pre-cell phone days, was what was happening in Los Angeles. As my friend waited endlessly for me to arrive, all the folks there saw on the arrival board were the usual words that signify a disaster.


He did and still learned nothing except that the flight had been delayed and was now due about 7AM. He, too, got to wander around an airport terminal as well. Except, he still had shoes on.

So, my first view of Southern California was seen through a pair of droopy eyes in his rental car. We got to Huntington Beach and both of us crashed on our beds. And did not move for the next 12 hours. By the time we woke up, the all girls softball team had already left. And, because I had used some of my spending money at the JFK Terminal, we later in our trip wound up trying to tour Disneyland on just ten bucks in our pockets. I even had to wire home for some dough so I could get back to the East Coast. My father still had unwavering support.

"What the hell did you want to go there for?"

Yes, Dad, I am safe now. Thanks.

Yeah, it's that week in late May where I remember this.

Dinner last night:  Pasta with Italian sausage and mushrooms at Casa Nostra.

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