Sunday, July 09, 2006

5 January 1955

Dear Folks

After our rather hurried farewells, I dashed onto the plane (which, incidentally, was not a super constellation, just an ordinary one), turning twice as I climbed aboard to see you at the window. When I got to my seat, directly behind the wing, I again looked for you but you were gone. I surmised that you had gone to the roof to watch my plane dashing down the runway & winging its way dramatically into the sunset. I hurriedly fastened my seat belt & waited for the coughing roar of the engines. So I waited. And waited. I looked out the window to see if I could see you, but a rival airliner inconsiderately blocked my view. So I waited. And waited. The stewardess came by with magazines. I took one. And waited. The pilot used the intercom to apologize for the delay, visualizing Eastern’s customers rushing to rival air lines next time they went anywhere. It seems that one of the baggage doors in the belly of the plane wasn’t shutting properly—a small light in the cabin that told the crew when the door was safely shut hadn’t gone on. Fifteen minutes later they came to the conclusion that the light (costing approximately 10 cents at any leading dime store) was burned out.

Long before this discovery, the plane that had been blocking my view had taken off & should, about then, have been over Saigon, & I saw your wind-swept little crew atop the building.

So we took off—I waved like mad, but you didn’t see me. When the stewardess announced that we would arrive in Indianapolis in forty minutes I had a peculiar (but familiar) feeling in the pit of my stomach. My knowledge of geography had failed me for a minute & I thought I was on the wrong plane.

Came Indianapolis, & the man beside me, who had been working on a crossword puzzle diligently ever since he got aboard, left, & a woman of about fifty or so got on & sat beside me. She was flying to Miami for the winter & had just closed her apartment—she’d been flying down for the past eight years; before that, she drove, but driving is so tiresome, don’t you think?

At Birmingham, where we arrived an hour & a half late (neatly lousing up everyone’s plane connections), the steward said there was a plane for Pensacola leaving in ten minutes—there was a mad stampede as everyone who had missed their planes tried to get a seat on it. However, we were informed that a heavy layer of fog was flowing in from the Gulf & may close Pensacola & Mobile, forcing the plane down at Montgomery. I thanked Heaven that I’d decided to come back a day early (Many didn’t make it back till Tuesday morning). We who already had reservations decided we’d just as soon be stranded in Montgomery as in Birmingham, so off we went.

The Montgomery airport building evidently was constructed from two old chicken coups—a cheery place, you can imagine. Fortunately, they said the fog had either dissipated or gone back out to sea, & we arrived back at dear old Pensacola at 9:00.

Pensacola without the Navy is a seaport without a sea. Much as they may dislike us, we have a certain charm they can’t resist—money. The west is not the only place with ghost towns.
Our plane unloaded the first NavCads to return to the city—among the first, at least. We wandered down the streets; a few white-capped blue waves running across the bare shore. By the next day, a small stream of blue & white was again flowing through the town; by night it had become again the familiar river, swirling around the street corners, running into the stores, & bringing with them the ever-welcome green. A waitress where I ate supper admitted that it was dead around town, but added that it was also peaceful.

Monday night the fog was back, making haloes around the streetlights; it was really pretty—the neon lights looked as though they were painted—they had no sharp outline, but just melted & faded into the grey. I took a cab back to the base.

Today is Wed. & the fog is still with us—it comes at night & stays until around noon. Then the sun comes out & the day is beautiful; no need for a jacket at all. Now that’s the way I like it!
At last we’ve started! I still haven’t been up yet, but I got into one & was showed how to raise & lower the wheels. The instructor sits in the rear seat at all times, & though he can control & fly the plane, he can’t raise or lower the wheels. Even a simple thing like that is complicated. First you press a lever which is on the floor on your left side, about even with your thigh. Then, by your left knee, there is another lever with a head like a gas cap. It slants to the front of the cockpit. You pull forward on the cap & then pull back on the lever. This brings the wheels up. To make sure they’re up, look out the cockpit & on both wings there is a small window—through these you can see a pin (or should see it) which tells you they are locked. To put them down, press the cap-lever forward, look at the two wing-windows, watch two little tabs beside the lever to see if they move back, & listen for the "wheels down" buzzer.

And so it goes. Tomorrow I go to the bail-out trainer. I’ll tell you about it after.

Got to get to bed now.

Till later, I am

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