By Larry Teren
If you were born in the 1970’s or later, there is a chance you don’t remember much about your first airplane ride. You were a kid or maybe even a baby. I, who was born when Truman still had a couple of months left in his presidency, didn’t go higher than the thirtieth floor of a skyscraper until after I graduated college.
In the 1950’s and 60’s, flying was relatively expensive. It was mostly for business travelers or those who had money to burn and needed to get somewhere quickly. The rest of us either took a train or went by car. If you don’t count taking a commuter train or the Chicago Rapid Transit (yah, sure) , I’ve never, ever been on a train to go from one city to another.
My first flight was in 1978 to go to a resort in the Catskill Mountains in upper state NY. In those days, the FAA did not prevent air traffic over the downtown areas of major cities. I requested and got a window seat. I remember as we were still rising, floating maybe ten thousand feet in the air, that I looked down over the Merchandise Mart along the Chicago River marking the northwestern edge of the Loop.
Funny thing about New York. In order to get to upper state from the five boroughs of New York City, you have to go through New Jersey. I’m not sure if it is a punishment or just someone having a laugh on the people east of the Hudson River because they talk funny.
From La Guardia Airport, I took a Greyhound type bus that went over the George Washington Bridge from the upper west side of Manhattan into New Jersey. A few years later, I found out that they only charge tolls for going eastbound into NYC and not at all for leaving. Hmm…
After a while, we were told to get off the bus in some small Joysey city that began with a P- was it Piscataway, Parsipanny, Paramus, Passaic, Paterson, Plainfield? After what seemed a long wait in an alien environment, we got on another bus that took us all the way to our final destination. The two bus method took four hours total, more than an hour longer than the plane ride to go a third the distance. I made an immediate decision upon arrival to order a limo for the return trip seven days later.
Now, don’t think I was rolling in dough. A limo did not mean that I was going to be driven in style all by myself in the backseat of a late model, black colored fancy sedan. I found out very quickly that all it meant was that I was sharing a ride in relative comfort with a handful of others in a private station wagon car.
The driver spoke a foreign language- Brooklynese. At one point he stopped the car at a toll booth and asked the attendant, “is der a gastation nea hea?” The person sitting next to me looked at me and shrugged his shoulders. I said, “I think he said ‘is there a gas station near here?'”
My parents had been to the resort a few years earlier for an insurance company convention. My father had sold enough policies that he had earned the right to go to the premium vacation option. They told me that one day i also had to go and indulge at the same world famous resort. They had also taken along the “baby” in the family. My kid brother, born in 1966, flew on a plane a few years before I did. Here I was, a guy barely 20 having to ask a 6 year old what it was like to be in an airplane.
When the family went on vacation in the 1950’s or 60’s, it was always to nearby states such as Indiana or Michigan. It meant loading up the car parked on the side street in front of’ our two flat apartment building in the middle of the night, trying not to make a disturbance nor unintentionally announce that our place would be vacant for several days. Not that there was anything worthwhile to steal.
Our nighttime excursions meant taking the Calumet Skyway and then the Indiana Toll Road to somewhere different each time. We didn’t get off the ground but how could you beat taking in the unique smell of Gary, Indiana refineries and steel mills? But, that’s another story.
We’d like to hear about the first airplane flight you took however old you were and are.