When Flight of Fancy Meets Coach
Do you remember that first time you took notice of the white lines being drawn against the blue sky?
“Look mummy; there’s an aeroplane up in the sky.”
—Harry Waters (son of Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters), at the start of the song “Goodbye Blue Sky,” recorded for The Wall album (released in 1979), when he was two years old.
I was a kid on a car hood with my grandfather parked under the inbound flights at Cleveland Hopkins Airport when I first took note of the ‘metal birds.’ Although their wings eclipsed the sky, they were so low that it was the overpowering sound that stuck with me.
My grandpa told me stories about when his father took him to see The National Air Races, which were held in Cleveland from 1929 to 1949. He saw Aviators Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart fly there.
Humaned flight is ingrained in Ohio schoolchildren, considering the state’s long list of history-changing pioneers of the Heavens above. And it’s not just names like Armstrong, Glenn, and the Wrights, but Eddie Rickenbacker, Zachariah Lansdowne, Jerrie Mock, Jean Hixson, Judy Resnik, and Sunita Williams.
Imagine my excitement on a field trip to the airport to board a flying machine. It was the most luxurious plane I had ever seen. There were tables with lounge chairs and so much space to walk about. I couldn’t wait until the day I flew in such a fantasy.
But it would forever remain a pipedream.
Soon after that, I boarded a plane bound for Disney World with my parents and sister. I remember thinking, this doesn’t seem right. I craned my neck past the slow stepping torsos of the undead to see down the single-file aisle hoping for the lavish opening to come into view. Instead, we wedged into our bus seats fighting for the window.
“Take some gum,” Dad said, handing each of us a piece.
It was his trick to help swallow and “pop your ears” when the cabin pressure became too much during take-off.
“I’ll be right back,” Mom said as she disappeared to an empty seat behind ours. It was the dividing line between the smoking and non-smoking sections of the plane. But the smoke did not honor it.
When it came time for me to fly as a newly minted adult, I was joined by a bunch of northeast Ohio Army recruits at the Cleveland airport headed for Fort Jackson, South Carolina. In those days, anyone could come to the gate with you to see you board—the setting for so many saved relationships in romantic movies. Our gate was packed with crying mothers and shirtless teenage boys. The only security was a quick walk through a metal detector. I made my mom promise not to embarrass me by crying. She kept it … in vocals, at least.
On the flip side, I had a chance to come home on leave before jetting to Europe to finish my enlistment there. Our standard issue duffle bags didn’t seem big enough for what I was packing. I bought a super-sized duffle bag at the post exchange (PX). At 5’6”, I looked like a caricature hoisting that like-sized thing on one shoulder. That’s when I learned about size limits for luggage at the airport. I had no choice but to leave a good portion of my belongings in a trash can.
On the flight, I saw an old friend. It was quite a reunion. We managed to sit next to each other and order drinks like we wanted to fly forever and talk about old times (which were just a couple of years in the rear view mirror). The drinking age was younger back then. When we deplaned, we were holding each other up drunk. Our slack-jawed moms were at the end of the ramp to greet us. It was still the old days when you could hug someone coming straight off the plane.
When I departed West Germany a few years later (and just shy of the fall of the Iron Curtain), I was on edge. Weeks before take-off, our base was alerted to a terrorist threat to bomb an American flight out of Frankfort within the next month. I signed the cross after taking my seat on The Fourth of July! It was probably halfway across the Atlantic before I relaxed my sphincter.
After college, and after planning a national sales conference, I got in a Chicago cab, exhausted. There were several of us sharing it, so I sat next to the cabbie.
“Have a mint; they’re ‘curiously strong,” he winked at his clever reference to the tagline for Altoids.
My mom should have been in the back of my head saying don’t take candy from strangers, but it sounded like it would be refreshing. So, I snuck an extra when I dug into the tin between us. I’ll never know if I was slap-happy-to-the-max or if this dude had laced mints, but my co-workers were convinced of the latter. I boarded that plane as such a chatty Kathy, I was told—between laughter—to cool it, or they will throw me off the plane. Fortunately, we were in the sky when the flight attendant tried out her singing voice over the microphone to her captive audience (captive as in trapped, not captivating, to be clear). The Altoids finally wore off when the seatbelt sign came on before being tossed around like we were tied to a mechanical bull. All the clasped hands in prayer must have saved us.
Like father like son, but his poison was sugar. It was our first big family vacation to … wait for it … Disney World. Our last leg of the flight was on a puddle hopper with a column of single seats. Behind me was my rambunctious boy and behind him was his new friend, and behind him was that boy’s father.
“Oh my god, we’re gonna crash!”
“Pull up—pull up!”
“Whew, that was close.”
“Ahhh, look, an alligator is on the wing!”
It didn’t matter how much the other father or I shooshed at them, locked in our seats, squeezing our faces between seat and window. These two kids were having the time of their lives.
In a post-Nine-Eleven world, airports changed. My wife and I knew to get to the airport early. But now, living in Cincinnati, the Cincy Airport was a good trek into Kentucky. Go figure. This meant crossing a bridge dubbed the second worst bottleneck in the country. So, we left super early to beat the morning rush hour. When we arrived, it seemed like a comedy sketch. None of the gate checks were open. No human being was there. Indeed, we were the only souls. Us and the old man on a riding carpet sweeper. He went in mesmerizing circles as if he were riding a Zamboni. I believe he slowed time itself.
We watched the luggage turnstile circle endlessly when we arrived at our destination. Our bags were nowhere in sight. Many bags turned to none, and none turned to many again but from a different flight. We had nothing except boarding passes for a weeklong cruise. I waved my credit card. We better get to a store for some clothes and luggage quickly! But my wife asked for direction, and we were pointed to a door and small room on the far wall nearly out of sight. Our suitcases were on the wall outside of it in a well-trafficked corridor for anyone to snatch.
Soon after this trip, we were on another when I became aware of the swell change exiting an airport. A sea of Uber or Lyft drivers pulled up and away with riders in a frantic efficiency. Three cabbies waited patiently at the end of the line before cussing something, getting in their empty company cars, and speeding off to join the 21st Century.
Like father like daughter. Our college girl was headed to Chicago to see a roommate she had at The Ohio State University. It was her first time flying solo. Silly me thought we could walk her through everything to teach the ropes right up to the boarding gate.
“No ticket, no entry!”
It wasn’t happening. So, I sounded like I was calling a play in a hurry-up offense with time about to expire, explaining to my daughter what to do from there on out.
“Sir, keep it moving.”
And off she went.
A news crew grabbed us and asked about our experience on what they claimed was the busiest flying day ever because of the way the Fourth of July fell with just a day between it and the weekend, allowing many to take a four-day trip. Well, it was only half of the story. Our girl’s return flight was canceled, and she was stuck in the Chicago airport. She reticketed for the morning. I told her by phone I was willing to drive there, but it would be several hours, or she could find some chairs or floor to sleep on.
Our spring break flight from a Death Valley trip was for the birds in a mostly post-mask but germaphobe world! It started okay even though our departure was set further and further back. It didn’t matter, six of one or a half dozen of another, because we had a very long layover, so it just made it that much shorter. We grabbed food and chairs and nibbled our way through the hours, waiting. I chuckled at some wall art, appreciating the sly humor. Two headshots were framed next to each other. One was Marilyn Monroe and the other Jacqueline Kennedy.
Before boarding the first leg of the flight, I had to go for a walk because my stomach was not agreeing with my airport food. It was announced that the plane’s carry-on luggage capacity had been exceeded, so they tagged luggage to be checked upon boarding. My wife and I couldn’t sit next to each other to boot. And to add insult to injury, I had a middle seat between a younger and older lady. We were in the air when pressure began to build …within.
At first, I thought I might be alright. Then, the pressure looked for alternative escapes. I wondered if the ladies touching my elbows could hear the noise of essentially farting inward rather than outward; we were so close. The pressure upped its game. I knew I was in trouble. I imagined what a sneak release might be like. I knew it would be anything but stealth. The older lady in the aisle seat was asleep. I nervously looked around. It was go-time.
“I’m so sorry, but I need to get up.”
I hurried to the plane’s rear and hung out for a while. Then I returned to my seat. About three nerve-racking minutes later, I had no choice but to roust my aisle lady again. This trip to the back saved me. When I returned to my seat, both seatmates went from strangers to chatting companions. I wondered what they knew. I wondered what was said between them in my absence. In any case, they seemed friendly. I was relieved.
Now for the rest of the story …or connecting flight.
I was reunited with my wife. She won the window seat. I was directly across from a rather unhealthy-looking woman. She even had a hospital bracelet wrapped around her wrist. Once we were in the air, it began. A cavernous cough from deep within whooped with no discretion. And it kept whooping …and whooping …and whooping. I figured whatever she had; we’re all getting. Thirty minutes later—no exaggeration—she stopped to eat and drink. Then, it kicked in again for another 30 minutes without a minute to catch her breath. I thought for sure I would be on my death bed within the week.
My mind drifted to that old pipedream. If only this airplane had the space to walk about like the luxurious plane, I boarded for that childhood field trip.
By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun
“The Last Road Trip” is a
Farewell to Another Generation’s
Traditional Family Vacations
The all-American family vacation harkens images of the Griswold’s out on the open road trekking cross-country in a station wagon to the sound, Holiday Road. And it repeats with each generation. It’s a rite of passage that comes and goes in about a 12-year period from when the kids are old enough to remember something to old enough to fly the nest. But it goes by in the blink of an eye. Thousands of dollars are spent seeing places like Disney, Yellowstone, and countless other destinations and attractions. Littered along the way are tourist traps and roadside gimmicks to lure the weary family and break up dad’s power-drives to get somewhere special.
In the end, what does everyone remember? The moments between geological wonders and architectural gems. The unexpected.
After a dozen years of summer vacations, we decided to take one more before our daughter headed off to college. Some call this the senior trip. In all likelihood, it marks the end of an era. Never (most-likely) will just the four of us be packed in a car for two weeks, forced to get to know each other better. It wasn’t always rosy times, but even the meltdowns are remembered, fondly. Every trip, I’m good for one, earning the nickname – Travel Dad.
“Uh-oh, Travel Dad just got behind the wheel,” could be uttered from the backseat when I grumble out loud about a traffic situation.
Alas, it really is about the journey and not the destination. Here are some of the more memorable experiences our family had together over this blip in time. I’m sure our stories are your stories or at least they’ll get you talking about yours, too.
Our first real vacation had us flying on a small, bumpy flight with one row of single seats on one side of the plane. I sat in front of my six-year-old son and behind him was another six-year-old. The seatbelt sign was on. We descended before our stomachs. That’s when I heard two remarkable imaginations echo through the hollow tube with a play-by-play for everyone to hear. “We’re going to crash!” One boy yelled at the other. “Ah, that was close.” “Holy moly, there’s an alligator on the wing.” The plane bucked in the air and then tilted to turn. “The alligator is gone, but seaweed clogged the engine, and now it’s smoking.” I tried to squeeze my face in between the back of my seat and the metal wall with desperate “SHHH” noises, but these two were on cloud nine all the way down.
On a long driving day, we approached a small town I had read was one of the 100 you had to see before you died. The distance was deceiving, and it came in and out of sight as we rolled over hills and turns for about 10 minutes as we neared it. Coming closer, we “oohed and ahhed” looking for a place to pull off and snap some photos. In town, I had stopped and started at a few signs and lights before a flashing light caught my attention. When I found a place to pull over, it was revealed in short-order that this popping mad policeman was in silent, slow pursuit of us for …miles. After he spits his displeasure and ripe words at me he returned to his cruiser to write my ticket. That’s when my young daughter wondered out loud if I was going to prison. I unconfidently replied, no.
In a desolate part of the country, I was proud to have found a motel close to a remote national monument that Triple-A didn’t even know existed – and for a good reason. Our cinder block accommodations overlooked nothing for as far as the eyes could see. There was a cluster of puddied-over bullet holes head-high in the door. The “inn-keeper” fetched my son his bead (cot) from a shed and when she turned to leave, I asked for the room key. She said there was none. There was a pause between us before she turned away, laughed, threw her arms in the air and said, “Besides, where ya gonna go?”
There’s nothing like hiking to the top of a mini rock mountain searching for Petroglyphs when lighting strikes. What had been a careful ascent due to the multiple “Beware: Rattlesnakes” signs became a mad dash for the car. The winds and rain whipped up, but we managed to get to our four-wheel shelter before the brunt of it nailed us. Winds still churning albeit it not as powerfully, I rolled down my window trying to get a better look at an anomaly headed our way. “Roll up the window!” my wife screamed, but before I could, a wall of sand slammed into our faces and all over the car.
I withdrew some cash before stepping out of our hotel and into the early morning sun …and the chest of a homeless man. He asked for forty-nine cents or some odd number like that. I only had twenty dollar bills. When I said that I couldn’t help now but certainly would later, he yelled and threatened, “You won’t always be together,” waving his finger at my children in a threatening manner. Now I know he probably wasn’t playing with a full deck, but I couldn’t help myself. I stopped, turned around and said, “Did you just threaten my family?” He proceeded to shout at me and called me this and that for an entire block. He crossed a street, so we walked a bit more before we crossed. But first, I paused to see which way he was going to head on the other side. He turned and scanned my side of the street until he found me. Then he waved me over in sharp motions as if to say, “Bring it on!” I laughed to myself, and we walked away.
After police confiscated all of our water before entering a building (plus snacks, sunscreen, you name it), we walked for miles from one site to another on a record hot day all over a city. But if you ask anyone in our family, what was the best thing you ever ate on all of your trips, the answer is unanimous. Frozen lemonade from a food truck. We scrounged up just enough coin to splurge on one five-dollar frozen lemonade. The four of us lined the curb, each taking a spoonful of heaven and passed it down. We were that desperate and elated.
A cottage stay put us on what amounted to a cul-de-sac street in the woods with every cottage in the cluster having been rented out by college kids, partying like there’s no tomorrow. Every cottage except ours and one other, kitty-corner from us. Ours was remarkably soundproof so as long as we could sleep, I wasn’t complaining. But kitty-corner family had this to say, “In the middle of the night, my worst fear came true,” said kitty-corner dad. “Someone was banging on the back door yelling, ‘let me in.’ I yelled back, ‘You better get out of here, this isn’t your cottage, now go away.’ To which the drunk on the other side pleaded, ‘Come on dude, stop mess’n with my head and just let me in.’ This exchange repeated a few times before the stranger at the door fell silent.” The father of that family couldn’t open the door in the morning because the college kid had passed out against it.
While waiting at a street corner, a strange sight grabbed our attention. A lady was walking backward ever so casually at a pace somewhere between not too fast and not too slow. I quickly reminded the kids (and myself) not to snicker when she neared. We missed our “walk” sign and stood still, gawking, as her back-side passed us and now shown her front side. She kept walking backward, looking at us, us looking at her. She crossed a couple of streets as if she had eyes in the back of her head and finally turned a corner, all the while walking backward. When she finally tuned out of view, we looked at each other and said in unison, “Well, you don’t see that every day.”
The stories go on and on. There’s the time we were trapped on a back road trying to navigate through a herd of wild bison. There’s the coffee cart sermon from a crazed vendor talking about end times as he waited on a long line of snickering, but caffeine-addicted customers. The coffee was to die for by the way. Then there was the white-knuckle Cliffside drive up and down a mountain dirt road. Oh, and who will ever forget those black flies and cockroaches! Falling off a horse charging through the water was a good one. And there are the slap-happy moments where you laugh so damn hard you think you’re going to be asked to leave a restaurant. But the time together always leads to the most memorable times of all – conversation that tighten bonds in ways that only a family vacation can.
My favorite memory was from a generation ago when I was the kid. My mom was reading a plaque inside a museum aloud to my sister and me. We lost interest just like Dad and faded back. Filling the void came interested tourists hanging on my mom’s dramatic reading. Soon, we couldn’t see Mom because a whole horde of folks gathered around her. When she finished, she turned to see the sea of people gathered around her. Without missing a beat, she waved her arm and said, “Now if you follow me over here…”
And so it goes, another generation experiencing the all-American family tradition. Happy travels to you and yours.
By Rocco Satullo, your tour guide to fun!