“Timing is Everything” Sighed the Second Aviator to Solo the Atlantic

“Timing is Everything” Sighed the Second Aviator to Solo the Atlantic

A favorite affirmation of mine is “I’m loved, loving and loveable.”  It’s a sweet day when that wish becomes true, a triple dip on a waffle cone.  It was my treat on Father’s Day, seated at the head of the table, daughters and granddaughter by my sides, wife and son-in-law serving up the drinks and grub to the Maharajah for the day.  Two beers a burger and a frank later I felt more like Jabba the Hutt than the Aga Khan, but it was a lovely day.

The NY Times crossword puzzle reminded me that Father’s Day wasn’t a holiday until 1966, when Lyndon Johnson signed it into existence, so nostalgic memories of similar family Sundays back in antediluvian days when I was the dutiful son and my dad sat in the chair of honor, don’t exist.  In reality I don’t have many memories of time spent with Dad, but the memories I do have, are doozies.

It’s a PJs and slippers morning and my father is seated at the dinette table in the kitchen eating breakfast with my brother and me.  Earlier I had watched him effortlessly de-bone the smoked white fish bought the previous evening at the corner delicatessen, deftly cutting off the heads and tails, stripping the golden skins with the blade of the knife turned flat, halving the chubs with the nonchalance of a true master of the art.

Turning the pages of the Passaic Herald News between bites of the savory fillets and noisy sips of black coffee, an article attracts his attention.  He reads it, cocks a questioning eye at me and my brother, and then abruptly looks up with a broad grin that is simultaneously disarming and alarming.  “Boys,” my father cries out, “let’s take an airplane ride.”

His jaunty invitation comes as a surprise.  I know that my father lives in the same house as I do, along with my mother and older brother, but in truth I sense his presence rather than think of him as being there.  I have no idea where he goes or what he does when the door slams behind him in the morning!  For all I know we’re Pinocchio and Lampwick about to board the stage to Paradise Island.

My mother, perhaps more familiar with my father’s impetuous whims, smiles wanly, collects the breakfast dishes and shoos us off.  An hour later my father turns the family Chevy into the makeshift terminal at Teterboro Airport.

A world famous aviator named Clarence Chamberlin is barnstorming through North Jersey offering rides in a Ford Tri-motor airplane for $5 a person.  With the nation in the middle of a depression it is an expensive flight of fancy, but Chamberlin is a celebrity of sorts having piloted a monoplane from Roosevelt Field, NY to Eislenben, Germany in 1927, two weeks after Lindbergh’s flight.

Perhaps my father sympathizes with the lamentable timing of the pilot’s historical footnote because he coughs up the tariff without a murmur.  He is equally unfazed by the fact that in 1931 the famed aviator hooked this same plane onto the Pig Balloon featured in the Macy Day Parade, much to the horror of his passengers. (This is true!  You can look it up.)

As we wait on the tarmac before boarding, it’s apparent that Mr. Chamberlin’s offer of a ride in the air transport of the future has not caused much of a stir among the citizens of Bergen and Passaic Counties.  My father, my brother and I are the only passengers.  Nevertheless, our pilot is good-natured and obligingly takes us on a tour of the aircraft.

We run our hands over the plane’s shiny corrugated metal exterior, giggle nervously at the routine reference to passengers as “sardines in a tin can,” and soak up facts about wingspan, deadweight and price tag of $42,500 fully equipped.  The passenger compartment has two rows of five seats next to the windows, forming a narrow aisle leading to a bulkhead sheltering the captain’s cockpit, the door left open so we can see its imposing display of dials, knobs, pedals and levers.

Chamberlin tells us the plane is affectionately nicknamed ‘The Tim Goose,’ which elicits a chuckle from my father but does nothing to bolster my confidence.  The plane's rear is considerably lower on the ground than the nose and I have to grab the seat-backs to pull myself forward toward the front. Outside my window I can see thick flight control cables that connect the cockpit controls to the wings.

Aloft, the noise from the three 450 hp Pratt & Whitney engines is deafening and the heat in the cabin is approaching sauna level at the Russian Baths.  I have an odd sensation that the plane is fixed in place and it’s the ground that is moving but I suppress the queasiness and keep my nose pressed against the window, staring fixedly at the world below for the duration of the 15-minute flight.  My father’s interest has ebbed a bit; my brother is turning green.

Safely back on the ground, Dad pockets the souvenir pamphlet and does not question the empty co-pilot’s seat or the absence of the attendant in the passenger cabin as were pictured in the brochure.  When the indefatigable Chamberlin, still eager to please, asks good naturedly, “Well boys, how did you enjoy the flight?” I steady my wobbly legs and lie spectacularly about how eager I am to begin my pilot’s training in preparation for a career as a commercial pilot.

My brother is more honest in his response.  He staggers backwards, clutches his stomach and throws up a good portion of the morning’s fish.

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