Saturday, August 5, 2017

Before There Was BAYWATCH...There Was BREECH


Breech Academy Summer 1970
Admittedly, I would never be mistaken for David Hasselhoff, but some of the TWA 'hostesses' could easily rival the Baywatch beauties. Plus, we all had extensive ditching training. Uh, sorry I meant to say extensive 'water landing' training. When I think of this airline euphemism, I can imagine my late idol, George Carlin shouting with gusto, "We no longer 'stand by' for 'ditching'!" Then in a softer, more effeminate voice he continues, "We're going to have to 'get ready' for a...'water landing.'" And if you're wondering, no, I don't usually wear a life jacket at hotel pools. Behind me is Breech Academy, TWA's training center for cabin crews.

Call it what you want, an aircraft evacuation in a body of water is, in my opinion the most difficult safety maneuver to execute. In the calm of Breech's pool, it took all I had to pull myself up into the 25-man life raft. I can imagine how difficult it is to enter the raft amidst ocean swells.








On the other hand, when on terra firma, taking a ride down the 747's evacuation slide from 18 feet above the ground is a piece of cake. The dual slides even allow you to bring a buddy along. A velcro surface at the bottom stops you from spilling out onto the runway, grass, sand (whatever). 

If you enjoy riding in the upper deck of the 747-400 series, the secondary evacution route is from a height of 35 feet, or about 50-some feet of slide. Now that's a real thrill! So ladies, while you may want to see Hasselhoff at the beach, I can guarantee you'd rather be sitting next to me on a plane if things get rough.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

'Shaving Down My Bucket List'

   Bucket List items shouldn't necessarily consist of such feats as climbing El Capitan at Yosemite or milking cobra's venom in Thailand. No. They can be less risky and more accessible, like enjoying evening cocktails at the 107 Sky Lounge in Las Vegas, or renting an exotic car for an afternoon drive while vacationing in Miami.

For the past two years, my wife, Stacey, and I have manned a water station for the Price Hill Pacer's Charity Run, in neighboring Cincinnati. It was located on West Eight Street, in front of Grote's Barber Shop. There I noticed a window sign promoting 'Hot Towel Shaves.' Childhood memories of waiting for my turn in the barber's chair while watching men get those shaves came back to mind.
Hot towel shaves have become a relic of the past. Today, men tend to look at shaving as a necessary evil. Get it done-fast! Fine, but that's not what hot towel shaves are about. They're about relaxing and disengaging from your typical world for thirty minutes. Don't even think about checking your smart phone, or even talking, while a licensed expert glides a straight-razor against your face and throat--unless an ambulance ride is on your bucket list. For me a hot towel shave is the guy's version of a lady's spa visit.
Terry Grote has been giving hot towel shaves for over 40yrs.
By the way, ladies, perhaps you should consider pampering your guy to a hot towel shave for his birthday. It's the least we deserve after all those years of spa gift certificates.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A 4th of July Surprise

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen, Welcome to 
Ohio State University where the local time.....

  Not what you'd expect to hear when you book a flight from Chicago to Columbus, Ohio.

   Today, July 4th, marks the 50th anniversary of the landing of a TWA Boeing 707 at Ohio State University's Don Scott Field--Instead of Port Columbus!
   It was approaching midnight as Captain Chittenden, commanding TW30 from Chicago O'Hare to (supposedly) Port Columbus, descended the four-engine jet below the overcast, then announced he had the runway in sight. Yes. The runway for the WRONG airport. Land the plane, he did, on OSU's short 4400-foot runway, with 1000 feet to spare
   The east-west runway at Don Scott has roughly the same heading as the one at Port Columbus located some 10 miles southeast.

CMH Citizens Journal Front Page July 5th, 1967
   After the passengers were bussed to Port Columbus, another 707 was ferried from Kansas City to Port Columbus overnight, in order to be flown on a scheduled flight to JFK in the early morning. The strayed 707 was flown from Don Scott to Port Columbus later that morning by TWA's Superintendent of Flying.
   A week after the 'Don Scott episode.' I and two other TWA sales reps from Cincinnati attended a regional sales meeting at our Pittsburgh office. When the sales reps from Columbus walked in, my colleague Phil Pateneaude yelled out, "Did you guys fly in from Port Columbus or Ohio State?" We all had a good laugh--including the Columbus reps.

   Actually, airliner landings at the wrong airport are not that uncommon. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

And The Overwhelming Winner Is...



Many thanks to those who partook in our poll. I appreciate your many thoughtful comments. This was my favorite design. I'm glad so many others agree. We've been working on the cover designs with a couple in Long Beach, CA. They have fond memories of TWA, and I feel they captured that period in commercial air travel when flying was still glamorous.

By the end of the month we anticipate having our Advanced Reader Copies (ARC's) printed. Stacey has already arranged for me to attend book events in the Greater Cincinnati area. I'm really getting excited now!

Friday, June 9, 2017

When Air Travel was Golden

Part of an Ad, From TWA Movie Clips, Vintage Photos on Facebook
Recently, the writer of an opinion article in the New York Times claimed there was no such "Golden Age of Air Travel," Much of the article dealt with economic factors cited by the Airlines for America Industry Trade group. He mentioned how the cost of airfares decreased (adjusting for inlation) since the "Golden Age". There was no mention though of the stagnation and decline of disposable income over those years for tens of millions of Americans. He also cites how many itineraries took longer than today, due to slower planes and multiple stops. I must say that our 747's in the early seventies, flying from Los Angeles to London, arrived just as fast as those today.

The Golden Age of Air Travel--as I define being during my time with TWA (1964-1974)--was not an economic era, but a cultural era. In this sense, it was the most flourishing period in the history of commercial air. Folks excitedly anticipated dressing up and getting on a plane. Smoking wasn't a big issue then as it is today in planes, restaurants, etc. Ample seat comfort and legroom was standard in coach, unlike today (see my earlier blog post). The transition from prop to jet was much more remarkable than the addition of WI FI and visual entertainment systems in today's cramped jets. Back then, folks on board didn't expect to be constantly entertained or occupied. They read, slept, knitted, and wrote letters--in cursive!
L-1011 Coach Lounge
Cross-country wide-body planes offered spacious coach lounges, offering passengers a place to stop by for a drink and some conversation. When was the last time you mingled around the bar in coach? Most flights over 90 minutes provided coach passengers with a hot meal, accompanied with real silverware.

Did one pay more then-adjusted for inflation? If so, so what. You definitely got more than you get on today's flights. Cheaper transportation in cramped seats was always available with Greyhound and Trailways.

Computer systems have vastly improved (?) since the Golden Age. Today, if you're flying on the lowest coach fare, the computers will mandate your seat assignment at the airport, possibly separating you from your family members or travel companions. It's all about the airlines' bottom line--not your comfort. And during a prolonged computer outage--something increasingly common these days--an airline suffers complete paralysis. So does its passengers! For one thing, there are no standard hand-written tickets capable of admitting passengers on board (as we had in the past).
Standard TWA Ticket
Most of my soon-to-be-published memoir, Up, Up and Astray recalls my life during that exciting period. It was fun writing it, and it was a real blast living it!







Friday, May 26, 2017

Is Air Travel Coming to This?


Operation Solomon-Photo Courtesy Patrick Baz/AFB/Getty Images
As if American Airlines hasn't enough customer service headaches along with other legacy and low-cost carriers, it chose to add more salt to its passengers' wounds. AA is decreasing the seat pitch in "steerage" class to a miserly 29". On flights with 30" and 31" pitches, I still get my kneecaps bruised by the person in front reclining an inch or so.

Normally I won't recline my seat in coach if my flight is two hours or less. After boarding a longer flight, I'll usually recline my seat first, just to make sure the person behind me didn't clip on a "knee defender." To assume the crash position with today's seat pitches one only has room to bend one's head and pray.

Not to be outdone, United Airlines announced (in a whisper) starting in May, it will increase some of its triple-7's present 9-across economy seat config to 10-across.
This will be troubling for those up front in their lay-down beds. How can they sleep, over the moaning and screaming of those wedged-in behind, fighting for armrest space?

Oh, For Those "Good Ole Days"

Wanna weep? Check out the snippet below, probably from an edition of TWA's Skyliner employee magazine in the late 1960s (courtesy Airlineguys Tweet)










What has been your experience in flying coach/economy? Have you had unpleasant experiences with fellow passengers? Do you see safety concerns in your perceived ability to get to the evacuation slides in time? Feel free to post your observations or suggestions.

If you enjoy reminiscing about these airline tales of yore, please share this blog with your friends.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

First Class Mom

Mother's Day 1969
On this Mother's Day, as usual, I think back to my loving mother who passed away only two months before we could celebrate her 90th birthday. Although mom and I had our share of tumultuous times, some of which are mentioned in my upcoming book, we also had some great mother-son experiences. Here's a photo of mom and I in first class on TW900 from JFK to Lisbon in May of 1969. I was already in a very congenial mood after several drinks, with my Camel regulars at the ready.

After arriving in Lisbon, I rented a car which was just a tad larger than today's Smart Car. I remember driving up a narrow street in an old section of town waving at the pedestrians who were flailing their arms at us. Mom remarked, "boy these Portuguese folks sure are friendly!" When we reached the intersection at the top, I realized that I had ignored the international road sign indicating One Way-Do Not Enter. We had a great laugh after that...

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A Day in the "Not So Glamorous" Life of an Extra

Photo Courtesy of Dayton Daily News
If you squint and look real close you may see a portion of my left arm. Not quite the mark I was hoping to make on the big screen. Let me start from the beginning. My wife thought it would be fun to go to an open casting call for an upcoming Robert Redford movie set in the seventies era. We dressed up and headed to Xavier University with about 1,000 of our closest friends. (There's a reason these are termed Cattle Calls). After about a two-hour wait we had our picture and measurements taken, then sent on our way. I had almost forgotten about the whole ordeal when I got a call asking if I was available for a shoot May 1st. I initially asked if this was a joke but they assured me the call was legitimate. I arrived at 7am in Dayton for hair and makeup.




I expected to be a bank patron, which sounded pretty exciting since the movie involved a bank robbery. But things soon changed and I would now be part of a street scene in an old Ford Maverick. (I guess they didn't want me upstaging Mr. Redford.) My new task was to drive around the block of the bank passing Redford in an oncoming Blue Olds Cutlass. His car was equipped with a mounted camera on the passenger side, (but they forgot to put a camera on mine). We did this about 10 times with a lot of waiting around in between. About midday we broke for lunch which you are served after the crew has eaten, but I managed to jump right in with the regulars. I spent the rest of the afternoon back in the car waiting for my cues. I was beginning to feel like it was a remake of "Driving Miss Daisy". After about a 12 hour day we were dismissed signed our paperwork and left. After taxes I will clear under $100 dollars, not even enough to keep the lights on. But what the heck it was a fun ride! Now I'll just wait and see if my scenes make it thru editing. If we all get 15 minutes of fame I think I still have about 14 minutes and 59 seconds left on my tab. #theoldmanandthegun

Monday, April 10, 2017

Cuba - The Shortest Flight I Never Took

Harbor in Havana

It's no surprise one of my most requested travel presentations this year is my trip to Cuba. I've flown several million miles, but never once flown the short 90 miles from Key West to Havana. The travel ban had already been in force when I started with TWA in 1964. Fortunately, the travel restrictions were lifted, so my wife and I took a week-long cruise from Miami to three ports in Cuba last October. Cruising is not my favorite way to travel, but given the complexity of traveling in Cuba this was a great way to see the island without all the hassles.

It was a pleasure for me to disembark the cruise liner, Adonis, at the Havana harbor this past October. Back in 1961, while in Marine Corps boot camp in Parris Island, our DIs told us we may be "disembarking" navy landing crafts for an invasion of a Cuban beach. This, of course, was during the time of heightened tension between the U.S. and Castro's Cuba. Some 50 years later I feel very fortunate to visit Cuba as a tourist and not an active Marine.

Santiago de Cuba



55 Chevy
Cuba is like stepping back in time. It's a beautiful landscape that has not been cluttered with billboards, skyscrapers, neon signs, fast food, and all the trappings of modern day living. The people are very friendly and anxious to learn all they can about Americans. My travel audiences love the photos of old cars, and the sneak peek into a world forbidden for so long. My presentations are to retirement communities, so I imagine most of them will only see Cuba through pictures. For the rest of us I hope many will get to see the island in person. My next Cuba presentation is May 10th 7:00pm at the Evergreen community on Galbraith Rd.
Maple Knoll Presentation

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Manuscript Completed!

(First Draft, that is)

Just turned the first draft of my memoir over to my editor, all 652 pages, double-spaced. Next comes the rewrite while Stacey is getting quotes for cover design and printing.

For me, and I expect, for many serious writers, the art and craft required in good writing can produce bittersweet emotions. I felt guilt while walking my dog, working out at the gym, or cleaning the bathroom, while aware that I was really doing so to postpone my difficulty in outlining the next part of my narrative or describing a specific setting.  Akin to that is the frustration involved in remembering clearly a past occurrence and the characters involved, yet describing it in words which will provide the reader with the same experience I had.  A good example of this was narrating an event which occurred in Dayton in 1971. I was set up to be the honored guest at a party attended by several hundred people, while posing as a Russian diplomat from the Soviet Union's Los Angeles consulate. This episode involved several locales and my interaction with a British con man, a deadheading TWA flight engineer and many minor characters.

Another vexing experience I occasionally encountered was the painful act of deleting a part which--after rereading--either doesn't seem to move the book along properly, or isn't likely to interest the reader that much. Often, these "deletes" may consist of more than a thousand words and several hours of writing. I must confess though, that some hoarding instinct has prompted me to move my deletes to a separate file for possible reconsideration.

But there's also the positive feelings I've experienced; like thinking of a smooth transition in a part that I'm writing as I'm doing something so routine as cutting the grass or driving to the store. The satisfaction of completing one's intended writing project, no matter how brief or lengthy--as long as it's done well--is pleasing to any writer.

I started this book in earnest two years ago, at age 75, and am already contemplating writing another. Hopefully, I'll be an inspiration to some of you in your fifties and beyond to begin your writing venture.