There's no questioning the fact that if you want to be a famous street rod magazine staffer you have to get ready to spend more than your fair share of time flying the friendly skies. You will also develop a fondness for airports around the country, as you will visit them more than your in-laws--thereby proving that there is a God after all.
For starters, some of my best airline stories have come from either my life experiences or were told to me by former L.A. Roadster club member Jerry Cogswell, who retired after 30 some years of being a Captain for a major airline. At my favorite airport (O'Hare Airport in Chicago) I met Sharon Stone, well, at least made eye contact with her, saw Michael Jordan, and actually said a word or two to my favorite football coach Mike Martz of the St. Louis Rams.
My first story occurred back in the days when I was young and prone to being somewhat of a pain (man...things haven't changed!--says E.A. DS). There was a current song by Paul Simon about "Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover" and I was doing my best impression when a stewardess, trying to do her job by going through the passenger pre-flight safety check, stopped and came up to me. Apparently I was a disturbance, go figure. She politely stated, "There may be 'Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover,' but there are only four ways out of this airplane and if you want to know them--shut up." I got the drift.
Now, I am not saying that Jerry made these comments but I seem to remember him telling me these next two goodies..."As pilots are want to do, one came on the microphone and stated, 'We are pleased to have some of the best flight attendants in the industry...unfortunately none of them are on this flight!'"
The other story goes something like this, "Folks, we have reached our cruising altitude now, so I am going to switch the seatbelt sign off. Feel free to move about as you wish, but please stay inside the plane 'till we land...it's a bit cold outside, and if you walk on the wings it affects the flight pattern." Honest, it's a true story.
Flight attendants have their moments too, as I've been married to one. Honest to goodness, I heard an attendant say the following after a less-than-perfect landing. "We ask you to please remain seated as Captain Kangaroo bounces us to the terminal."
Okay, one last shot at the hardworking flight attendants who have had to put up with my sniveling for decades. I believe Jerry told me this story about a late night flight: "This Captain comes on the cabin sound system and begins to explain that he will be turning down the lights as we prepare for takeoff. 'This isn't necessary for any technical purpose,' he said, 'It's just been a long day and our flight attendants don't look as lovely as they did this morning.'"
Let's jump back in time to World War II and to heroes of the air. One such man was Butch O'Hare. He was a fighter pilot assigned to an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific. Once, after takeoff, he looked at his fuel gauge and realized that his fuel tank wasn't topped off. Knowing he wouldn't have enough fuel he received permission from his flight leader to head back.
Reluctantly, he headed back to the fleet. As he was returning, he saw a squadron of Japanese Zeroes speeding their way toward the American fleet. The American fighters were gone and the fleet was all but defenseless and he couldn't reach his squadron to bring them back in time. Nor could he warn the fleet of the approaching danger. Laying aside all thoughts of personal safety, he dove into the formation of Japanese planes. Wing-mounted 50 calibers blazed as he charged in, attacking one enemy plane after another. He weaved in and out of the now-broken formation and fired at as many planes as possible until finally all his ammunition was spent. Undaunted, he continued by diving at the Zeroes, trying to at least clip off a wing or tail, which would render them unfit to fly.
Finally, the Japanese squadron took off in another direction. Deeply relieved, Butch O'Hare and his tattered fighter limped back to the carrier. The film from the camera mounted on his plane told the tale. It showed the extent of Butch's daring attempt to protect his fleet. He was recognized as a hero and given one of the nation's highest military honors. And today, O'Hare Airport in Chicago is named in tribute to his courage. It's amazing what one can learn by walking around an airport.
We have all heard the expression, "Now, for the rest of the story..." Well, there's more about ol' Butch. I can't take credit for this story but Michael Fricano, Colonel, USAF Commander, AMC Studies & Analysis Flight, tells it well...
"Some years earlier (prior to WWII) there was a man in Chicago called Easy Eddie. At that time, Al Capone virtually owned the city. He was, however, notorious for enmeshing the city of Chicago in everything from bootlegged booze and prostitution to murder. Easy Eddie was Capone's lawyer and, in fact, his skill at legal maneuvering kept Capone out of jail for a long time.
"Capone paid him well. He and his family occupied a fenced-in mansion with live-in help and all of the conveniences of the day. The estate was so large that it filled an entire Chicago city block.
"Eddy did have one soft spot. He had a son that he loved dearly. Eddy saw to it that his young son had the best of everything; clothes, cars, and a good education. And, despite his involvement with organized crime, Eddie even tried to teach him right from wrong. Yes, Eddie tried to teach his son to rise above his own sordid life. He wanted him to be a better man than he was.
"Yet, with all his wealth and influence, there were two things that Eddie couldn't give his son...a good name and a good example. Offering his son a good name was far more important than all the riches Eddie could lavish on him. Eddie had to rectify all the wrong that he had done. He would go to the authorities and tell the truth about Al Capone and try to clean up his tarnished name. To do this he must testify against The Mob, and he knew that the cost would be great. But more than anything, he wanted to be an example to his son. He testified. Within the year, Easy Eddie's life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago street. He had given his son the greatest gift he had to offer at the greatest price he would ever pay."
At this point you're probably thinking, "What do these stories have to do with one another?" Well, you see, Butch O'Hare was Easy Eddie's son. And now you know the rest of the story!"
For those who insist there must be a correlation between street rods and my editorial--all of the men mentioned in this story drove, or still drive, pre-'48 cars.