Friday, November 16, 2007

Sasquatch at 30,000 Feet

"Good evening, folks, welcome aboard. Good evening, good evening, welcome aboard."

On a recent trip, The Flying Curmudgeon was standing at the entrance to the cockpit, greeting passengers as they boarded the aircraft from the jetway.

It was the usual mix.

Families off on vacation, businessmen hurrying home, hoping to make it to their sons' baseball games, commuting pilots, etc.

As the passengers filed aboard, the flight attendants were making their standard announcements about "...finding your assigned seat and stepping out of the aisle..." when HE appeared.

It was Sasquatch.

He looked a bit different from the famous photo, traipsing along the edge of that Northern lake, years before.

(In the photo, the irritated look on his face seemed to say, "Great, the jig's up. I can see it now. First, I'll be on 'Unsolved Mysteries,' probably make a movie about me. They'll come begging me to endorse their favorite beer or snacks. I won't get a moment's peace. Why can't these people just leave me alone?")

As he was coming down the jetway, he looked different, like he had lost some weight, a bit older perhaps - the hair going grey.

All of his hair, including the hair on his back, which was as thick as the front.

He was wearing a tank top. Muscle shirt. Wife beater - you know the kind. Bermuda shorts and flip flops. Sasquatch-sized, probably purchased at one of those specialty stores: "Sasquatches: Big 'n' Tall."

"Good evening, Mr. Sasquatch. welcome aboard. Where are you off to tonight?"

He mumbled something about a meeting with his agent and shuffled to his seat. First class, of course.

Since it was obvious he did not want to talk, TFC left it at that and returned to the cockpit, a single thought running through his mind.

"When did people stop dressing up before getting on an airplane?"

Years before, right after the famous picture was taken, Sasquatch would have been wearing a suit and tie to go see his agent.

Today, the only people who seem to dress up when they go flying anymore are business-people. For everyone else, it's "come as you are."

The Flying Curmudgeon has seen it all.

Bathing suits, pajamas, "Gangstas" with their pants so low, their New York Yankees jerseys barely cover their unmentionables.

It was not always like this.

One of the earliest recollections TFC has is going to the airport to pick up his grandparents...

Pressing his face against the chain-link fence, the small boy sees the lumbering, four-engine turboprop make its turn onto final.

The landing gear is lowered and as the aircraft grows larger, the hum of the engines grows louder, as well.

It's the late 1960s, and the Lockheed "Electra," the mainstay of many domestic airlines during the "Coffee, Tea, or Me" era, begins its "flare," and touches down with a "SCREEEECH," the tires adding to the rubber layered onto the concrete
, by countless other landings.

The massive propellers shift rapidly into reverse - "Beta," the pilots call it - with a loud "WOOOSSHH!" In a second or two, the aircraft is at taxi speed.

Taxiing clear of the runway, the marshaller standing on the parking ramp signals "Over Here," to the pilot with his two orange wands.

Between the perimeter fence where the boy strains to watch, and the aircraft taxiing into the ramp, there is a beehive of activity, as the ground crew prepares to receive the aircraft and its payload of passengers and cargo.

The aircraft creeps forward, as the marshaller begins to raise the wands by his sides. Slowly, he brings them together in an orange "X" over his head and the aircraft comes to a stop.

The airstairs are placed against the forward, left side of the aircraft, as the propellers wind down. Like many airports in the 1960s, there are no jetways here.

As the rest of the ground crew opens the cargo doors, and the fuel truck moves into position on the opposite side, the "stewardess" opens the main cabin door, one of those Jackie Kennedy-style "pill-box" hats on her head.

The passengers begin to deplane and the little boy waits. While each person descends, he studies them until finally, he sees his grandparents at the top of the airstairs and waves. They are dressed in their Sunday finest...

Back to the future.

Going to the airport to pick up relatives is one of TFC's earliest recollections of aviation. In addition to playing with his father's flight helmets, these early trips to the airport began a lifetime love affair with flying for The Flying Curmudgeon.

In the old days, commercial air travel was not as common as it is today. It was expensive and not something average Americans engaged in on a regular basis. For most Americans, flying was something special - a rare treat - and they dressed accordingly.

In the 30 years since "Deregulation," however, commercial air travel has become common-place, something within reach of people from every socioeconomic strata. For many people, the novelty has worn off, it's just not that big a deal anymore. Flying is just another way of getting from Points "A" to "B, " and they also dress accordingly.

In this, Deregulation has achieved its purpose.

Americans of all income levels are now able to travel, go on vacations, visit friends and family, see our nation's natural wonders.

Visit the beach.

The Flying Curmudgeon derives a great deal of personal and professional satisfaction from being a part of this.

Just one thing - save the "wife beaters" for when you actually get there.


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