Friday, April 20, 2012

Airports of my youth

SEA-TAC circa 1952

A group of us now senior citizens got tripping down memory lane recently about airports -- as they once were. My memories were of the Albuquerque and Kansas City airports mostly.

And one of the earliest was when my father came back from Korea. He was an US Air Force officer. Military flew free in uniform then. It would have been just about the same time this picture post card of the Seattle airport was taken. Passengers walked off the plane on a rolling set of stairs and across the tarmac to people that waited just behind a railing outside. See if that would ever happen in these high security times.

Anyway Dad was one of the first passengers off. I was sure it was my daddy but Mother assured me Dad was almost always last to deplane because as a pilot he felt the tail seats were the safest. But Dad got off first that day because he had flown the commercial prop plane from somewhere outside San Francisco when the pilot and co-pilot came down sick from food poisoning: "Is there a pilot on the plane?" Actually it was done a bit more quietly than that, "Major Binford," the stewardess said quietly, "our manifest shows you are a pilot and our captain has invited you to the cockpit." I broke through the rail and ran to embrace my dad home from war. Do that today and you would be hauled off to jail even if you were just seven.

Yes, Dad was a pilot and for years I thought that was why a Sunday outing often included the observation deck of the Albuquerque Airport as I was growing up. Yes, Virginia, airports used to have open observation decks often crowded with people in their Sunday best waiting for planes. Nobody flew in anything but good clothes in those days. And airports had some of the best restaurants. Until 1968 they were likely operated by the Fred Harvey House.  The one at the Albuquerque airport was the best place to get seafood because it was flown in daily.

My old high school friend remembers that restaurant for their French Toast. I had forgotten it till she mentioned it on a comment in Facebook. There has never been French Toast quite like it. Meals out when I was young was not McDonalds. It was the Hacienda Restaurant in Old Town or Fred Harvey's at the airport. And Dad always got us a window seat that overlooked the planes coming and going. Dad took us to the airport for the landing of one of the first ever jet planes. It landed close to sunset with the loudest roar I can remember. But the take off after dark with the red coming out of the propless engines was awesome.

I hate airports these days. They are like maximum security prisons. You never even get close to the planes unless you are taking off in one and then you are more likely to see just the inside of them. The outsides when they are connected up to those sucking jet ways. If you meet an arriving passenger you cannot even get close. I don't even park any more but pick up my friends outside the baggage pick up area. Rather like picking up a released prisoner outside the prison walls.

NOTES: I actually did fly through SEA-TAC in the early 1970's on my way to Alaska. They still had the observation deck. There had been a few hijackings before then but nobody had flown a plane into a building deliberately so once by the metal detectors you were adjudged safe. I got to fly a lot before metal detectors. That is probably another blog.

And I even met Fred Harvey's Son before his suicide and the death of the Fred Harvey company. He was managing the La Fonda Hotel, one of the companies last great flagships, in Santa Fe at the time. We seldom recognize the significance of the passage of events when they happen.

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