My Great Escape

My Great Escape

leaving the” Wind, Sand and Stars” behind

I was sitting in the airliner cockpit when the armed security policeman stuck his head inside the door. He looked us all over carefully, nodded and then backed his way out of the cramped quarters. It was only then that I could exhale, he hadn’t recognized me. The aircraft was a stretched DC-8 belonging to Overseas National Airways (ONA), one of the many airlines contracted each year to fly Hajj pilgrims visiting Mecca, from (and back to) their native countries. How I came to be there, sitting in the jump seat behind the Captain, is the story of my Great Escape.

My dream job had ended in the mid 1970’s along with my marriage. I decided, by way of encouragement from a dear friend, to finish my art education by attending the Academy of Art College in San Francisco. But, my formal education in the art world came to a screeching halt in early 1977. I should have seen the head-on collision coming. My GI Bill and unemployment benefits had dried up. I had alimony and child support obligations to uphold; all without hope of making a wage in my alter ego’s fantasy world. Fortunately, I had more than one fantasy… be it Airline Pilot or Artist; one, left brain driven and the other right. I came to the fork in the road and as Yogi Berra instructed us to do; I took it. I needed a paycheck. Dreams don’t have a time stamp on them so I set the right brained idea aside.

The ad in the help wanted section of the San Francisco Chronicle read; Airline Pilots Wanted, Career Opportunity with fast growing international flag carrier. Call Ahmed.

I needed a job and had international flying experience. I myself spent seven years previously employed with Overseas National Airways, prior to being furloughed in 1976. I called Ahmed and was hired on the spot to fly the Boeing 707 for Saudia, the national airline, the flag carrier of The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I would be based in Jeddah on the eastern shore of the Red Sea.

The meager belongings from my studio apartment on Stockton Street in San Francisco were packed up and stored and promised to be shipped to Jeddah, once I arrived there. I then flew to Kansas City where I was trained by Trans World Airlines (TWA) to fly the Boeing 707. The training was good but uneventful; I was looking forward to having a paying job once again.

I arrived in Jeddah in the spring of 1977, an eight hour flight from London. The trips I flew in the 707 were mostly to Europe; London, Paris, and occasionally to Rome, Italy. Cairo was big on the schedule as well. There were day trips to Amman, Damascus, Baghdad, Riyadh, Khartoum, Sanaa in Yemen, and to the east as far as Karachi and Bombay. I did them all.

As you might expect it was a hot summer in the desert. My household effects shipment hadn’t arrived and our promised accommodations didn’t materialize. It wasn’t a deceit on the airlines part as much as it was a factor of their growing pains and inability to construct the housing needed in a timely manner; not to mention the difficulty in my acclimating to the culture. It wasn’t unusual to fly a scheduled trip to Rome for example and return to the airport the next morning to find members of the Royal Family had acquired the airplane for their personal use. We would then fly them to Morocco, Paris or wherever they desired; a fine way to run a scheduled airline. The saving grace… the royal family members were always generous with tipping… it was called baksheesh.

I soon realized there wasn’t a desired future for me in Saudi Arabia and began communicating with fellow pilot friends back in the United States. It wasn’t long before I learned of a cargo airline starting up in Miami using Lockheed Electra’s, a popular four engine turboprop well suited for the purpose. I had been an Electra Captain at ONA and was rated in the aircraft and was offered the job. But, the kicker was, I needed to get there soon. I had signed an employment contract with Saudia but they hadn’t delivered on their housing promise and the prospect of getting it anytime soon wasn’t looking good. So I wasn’t feeling any guilt and the planning for My Great Escape began in earnest.

An escape was necessary because, upon arrival in the Kingdom, your passport is confiscated until leaving for your next trip. Getting my passport back could be problematic if I wanted to leave on my schedule and not theirs. It was fortunate for me to need to leave during the season of the Hajj. There were many international carriers contracted to fly Hajj pilgrims in and out of Saudi Arabia. The remnants of my former airline ONA, was one of the carriers contracted for the 1977 Hajj. They had a few airplanes and crew still operating across North Africa.

The Hajj

theHajj_5x2The gathering during Hajj is considered the largest annual gathering of people in the world. An annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, is a mandatory religious duty for Muslims that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey. The numbers of people making the pilgrimage each year has grown substantially, especially since the advent of air travel. For example in 1920 there were slightly over 58,000 making the journey mostly arriving by steamship. In 2013 there were over 3 million. In recent years, because of the numbers of deaths due to stampedes, the number allowed on the pilgrimage has been reduced to nearer 2 million. Even with the restrictions in place in 2015 there were 769 deaths attributed to the Hajji stampedes. They’re working on it.

The Plan

I was able to locate and make contact with old friends, the ONA crews I used to work with that were still employed working the Hajj and now laying over in Jeddah. They were operating trips to and from Dakar, the capital of Senegal located on the west coast of Africa. One crew was leaving again the next morning and I asked if I could ride in their cockpit jump seat to Dakar. I needed to be placed on the manifest as an ONA crew member and they agreed to do it. Fortunately, I still possessed my old ONA ID card and had it with me in Jeddah. I also borrowed a pair of ONA uniform epaulettes to change into once on board the aircraft. On a fairly regular basis there would be ferry flights positioning back to New York’s Kennedy Airport, the airlines home base. I was going try and make that connection once I got to Dakar.

Getting past immigration in Jeddah while purloining my passport could possibly get tricky. The plan was to suit up in my Saudia pilot uniform and go through customs and immigration, picking up my passport and proceed as usual to a ramp shuttle bus just like I was heading for Saudia’s flight operations. However, I would remain on the shuttle and get off at the ONA airplane parked further out on the ramp. The tricky part would be when the loading agent presented the passenger count to the cockpit and got a glimpse of me in the jump seat. He may, and hopefully wouldn’t, recognize me as a Saudia pilot and create a little foo-faa there in the cockpit. A foo-faa in Saudi isn’t a pretty sight; it could involve gnashing of teeth and very sharp blades being tossed about. The last hurdle of the three, as I saw it, would be the final check by the security police. That would be the guy with the gun.

A good bit of luck is involved here; I am happy to report all went as planned and off into the sunset I rode to live happily ever after back to the culture of which I was born. All of the faces in the picture below, as far as I know, are alive and well and still smiling. It is a picture of me (on the far right) with an ONA cabin crew dressed in their Hajj adapted work uniforms, taken some weeks before my escape. The smart looking blonde girl standing to the right of me is Christine whom I married the following year. We took our vows standing in Harrah’s parking lot, on the California side; at State line South Lake Tahoe. We have been together now for 38 years. On the right is another picture of Christine(circa 1976) in her everyday ONA Flight Attendant uniform. I was, and still remain, a lucky man… wouldn’t you say?

jeddahCrew_1

Homework… not for me!

Homework… not for me!

infinite fantasies from childhood

It started early, my Daydreaming. The artwork of NC Wyeth and Maxfield Parrish, both early 20th Century illustrators of the Classics by Robert Louis Stevenson and “Poems of Childhood” by Eugene Field put me in another world, a world that even at my ripe old age today; I haven’t as yet left behind. I can still look at one of their paintings and go there.

My earliest art training took the form of forging signatures and school grades on my report cards. This began sometime during the fifth and sixth grades during my early education out in the Township. I didn’t like doing homework and so I didn’t. And, I got away with it most of the time.

The reason I got away with it; my parents weren’t engaged and they trusted me. I don’t recall ever being asked if I had finished my homework and, if I was asked, I’m sure I probably said I finished it at school. I lived in my fantasy world and they lived in theirs. It happens. To them I was the perfect child and to me, I was never meant to be an academic.

I didn’t have a moral authority looking over my shoulder; a religious dogmatist that would influence my waywardness back to the straight and narrow, to that of being a proper and good student. Religion in our house was a battle of wits; my dad the good catholic and my mother (the not so good protestant) that never attended church herself. She did though enjoy the social life that the good catholic provided her. Friday and Saturday nights down at the corner bar dancing away the night or going to the movie theater now and again. As a child, raised in a strict religious environment, she was never allowed to socialize outside of the church. No movies and for sure… no dancing. All were considered habits of the devil. She left home when she was sixteen for the big city and never looked back.

As for me and my protestant education, my mother learned there were neighbors that attended the very denomination that she was raised in and then abandoned. Why would she send me with them to attend this Church? Had she learned that I wasn’t doing homework and forging her signature on my report cards… probably not? She meant well, I’m sure, but I hated the experience then, and it certainly had a negative effect concerning how I feel today about the intent of the world’s many religions… too many. I don’t question anyone’s faith, I consider it personal. What I do question is ones blind faith to them.

I consider myself spiritual in a day-dreamy sort of way. The daydream never goes away for anyone with a creative bent, it is the stimulus. My many nights aloft when crossing the north Atlantic, with me in my perch, the captains seat as witness to the infinity surrounding the stars that go on forever in the night sky. How can you not think there is something greater out there? This is where my faith lies and I pray toward the stars and hope something or someone is listening.

Caught

When I was in the sixth grade my mother became ill and took to her bed for extended periods; she was in her mid-thirties. People, from the church she didn’t attend, would come and pray over their sister Hart. It was a very somber event each time they came. Even then I still wasn’t doing my homework. One day Mr. Fisher, my infamous sixth grade teacher, called me out into the hallway (which he liked to do with me on a regular basis, it was he that accused me of having my father build my science project, a model airplane with fully functioning flight controls). He asked me why I hadn’t done my homework. I told him the truth; I had to do the ironing because my mother was sick in bed. Well, I learned, telling the truth is not always the right thing to do. I hadn’t thought it far enough ahead. Mr. Fisher said he was going to call my mother to verify my story. It was then I began to cry and told him that I had lied. It wasn’t true that I had lied of course, because the truth was, I didn’t want him to call my mother and I wouldn’t have done my homework anyhow, ironing or not. And, who wants their mother finding out they don’t do homework.

I wonder if Robert Louis Stevenson, Eugene Field, NC Wyeth or Maxfield Parrish, all creators of my infinite fantasies did their homework. Or, did they ever forge their mother’s signature on their report cards. Who would know… they were really good artists?

The Bad Boys of Winter

The Bad Boys of Winter

where are all the fun kids now?

So many kids, so much fun and where have they all gone and where are they now? I find it amazing to have such a vivid recall of their faces and those events of so many years ago. I am thankful that I can  have and share these memories. Please, everyone, do not tell the police or the Queen of England where I live.

Bobby Molson lived on the corner of Stanford and Banner. I lived just a couple of houses down the street. Ron Kryzaniak also lived on the same street at the corner of Telegraph Road. Bobby was a year older so we can blame him for not keeping us in line with the then accepted behavioral rules and practices for 12 year olds. Sharon Blackstone lived on the corner across from Bobby and tried keeping us out of trouble without much luck. There were the Findlay’s (Gari and sisters), the LaForge’s (Rosemary and Artie), the Lovette’s (Karen and Marlene), the Davis boys (Dickie and Bill) who lived on Colgate the next street over. Larry Winton lived on the corner of Lehigh and Banner. I went to church with Larry for a very short while… it was painful and didn’t help me much; that’s another story entirely.

Michigan is on the western edge of the Eastern Time Zone so summers for us meant long daylight hours. Our days of summer were mostly spent playing, going to (and coming from) our sporting activities; swimming at Seashore Pools, pickup baseball, basketball or football games. Some days I took the bus from Lehigh and Telegraph, changing at Michigan and Monroe by the Cunningham’s Drug Store, and then riding it all the way down Michigan Avenue to Briggs Stadium to watch the Detroit Tigers play; all for $1.25 which included a ticket to sit in the Bleachers. “Bleachers”… according to the Dickson Baseball Dictionary were named after wooden benches in the outfield that were “bleached by the sun.” The open seating areas, as early as 1877, were also called the “bleaching boards.” It’s a… just so you know.

Daylight hours were a different story during the winter months. We bad boys had a lot of fun in our neighborhood in the vicinity of Stanford and Banner streets in the Township where I lived. I have lost track of most of the kids from that era… the early to mid-1950’s. When I was ten I moved from the west side of Detroit(where I was notably a good boy) out to Dearborn Township where I attended the Edsel B. Ford Elementary School located at the corner of Penney and Gulley roads. My new neighborhood provided a whole new set of friends that proved to be an entertaining lot and it’s where I joined, and became one of, the bad boys of winter.

The seasons didn’t hinder our ability to find trouble; it was just easier in the winter because it became dark so much earlier. One of our winter atrocities was throwing snowballs at cars and running “for all get out” when chased for doing so. We had hiding places prearranged which were usually in someone’s backyard. There were no alleys in our neighborhood so we had to escape when necessary to the next street over by jumping the fences. Our most fun in the winter was riding car bumpers (hopping cars) on the snow and ice covered streets. To hitch a ride we would hide behind a car (or tree) in the vicinity of a street corner where a car would slow or stop for traffic. As the car came to a halt or slowed enough we would fall in behind and grab onto the bumper as it pulled away. Sometimes we could ride for nearly a block before we were discovered or just got tired of hanging on. This activity I’m sure played havoc with the bottoms of our rubber goulashes, but fortunately we outgrew them each year so parents weren’t the wiser. Our first warning that we had been discovered was when a cars brake lights suddenly came on… sometimes shortly after our grabbing onto the bumper. Sliding along with your rear end ever so close to the ground at increasing speeds… was for us, a very, very big thrill.

Doorbell ringing was our next featured venue. We crafted it into a fine art and we learned which buttons to push and which not; all from experience of course. You had to be able to quickly get far enough away and still be able to see the door and porch lights come on. Why we thought this was funny is still a mystery to me. Ringing the same doorbell two or three times in a row was really a riot and risky… it provoked the use of words by our victims we had no knowledge even existed. We weren’t aware that in other parts of the world doorbell ringing was a severely punishable crime. Had we known of course I feel quite certain we would still have done it. It was way too much fun and the Queen of England wasn’t known for her sense of humor I’m guessing.

From a Law written in the UK from about 1847:

Every person who willfully and wantonly disturbs any inhabitant, by pulling or ringing any door bell, or knocking at any door or who willfully and unlawfully extinguishes the light of any lamp:  

Penalty on persons committing any of the offences herein named:

Every person who in any street, to the obstruction, annoyance, or danger of the residents or passengers, commits any of the following offences, shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding for each offence, or, in the discretion of the justice before whom he is convicted, may be committed to prison, there to remain for a period not exceeding fourteen days.

Our next activity to share might be a bit off color; we bad boys called it “Window Peeping.” What provoked our doing it is something a psychologist might have fun trying to unwrap even today. I have no idea what it was we wanted to see but we wanted to see it just the same. It was probably just a curiosity at how other people were living their lives. At our ages life was still very much a mystery… it was after all, a time before reality TV. I don’t know how many people we may have scared or if we scared anyone? We certainly didn’t come upon anything worth seeing. Bathroom windows were way too high off the ground to see anything going on in there. There was a lot of knitting and people reading books and magazines. Can you imagine how exciting it can be to watch someone reading a book or knitting? Surprisingly, just watching TV hadn’t caught on and not everyone had television sets anyhow. Those were the days.

At about twelve we were just of an age when boys discover wrestling with girls could be fun. You just had to pick the right girl. Marlene Lovette was much bigger than I and could just sit on me if she got me down. Her younger sister Karen on the other hand was just right, although she was a very tough wrestle; lots of grass stained knees back then. It didn’t hurt that Karen was also cute as hell.

Where have they gone?

It’s funny how kids and their families would disappear from the neighborhood seemingly overnight. Arlene Rhea, a cute freckle faced Irish girl, lived on the corner of Stanford and Bailey just across the street from Karen and Marlene, and then one day, she just wasn’t there anymore. There are many others I can vividly recall even after all these years; Mary Christian lived across from the school, Terry Lipsky lived with his Aunt across from Tony Hernandez on Annapolis. There was little Mike that lived at Pat’s Trailer Park, also on Annapolis at the corner of Telegraph. Mikey had so many brothers and sisters and they all lived in a little trailer at the Park, and I was never able to figure out where they all slept. They also just one day disappeared.

I visited my old Detroit neighborhood some years ago. The house at 5217 32nd Street, where I lived for nearly ten years before moving to the Township, was no longer there. In fact, there weren’t any houses nearby. Everything as I knew it had disappeared. The Bar across the street, where I used to sit at a table drinking my orange soda while eating pretzels, and listening to the Mills Brothers sing Harbor Lights on the Jukebox, was gone too. The corner grocery store, where we bought cookies out of a box on the floor by the pound, vanished. The Polish bakery on McGraw that dipped cupcakes into chocolate and served them upside down, demolished. However, the sewer line that was connected to our kitchen sink, where Dad caught us emptying our glasses of milk, surprisingly was still there. I guess if the sewer lines are still intact it may not be hopeless for the neighborhood to return one day. Everyone needs a sewer.

The Andersen Family

The Andersen Family

taking Telegraph Road east

Elizabeth “Bette” Andersen (my birth Mother) was born on April 1st, 1921 in Independence, Missouri.

Bette’s father Harvey Andersen was the son of Danish immigrants that arrived in this country in the late 1880’s. They settled in the region east of Kansas City (Jackson County), Missouri. Her mother, Elizabeth Giles, was the daughter of Harvey Giles and Emma May Luke. Grandfather Harvey Giles emigrated from Wales in 1884, her grandmother Emma was from Wapello County, Iowa.

The listed occupations of head of household, according to various censuses, were listed as coal miners. Missouri was the first state west of the Mississippi to produce coal commercially, in 1840. By 1881, coal mining had become a major industry in the state, with Missouri coal largely fueling coal-fired locomotives. Once the demand for the high-sulfur coal declined in the mid 1920’s, the family (seeking reliable work) migrated eastward toward the manufacturing industries of Detroit.

Coming together

U.S. Route 24 (US 24), by act of congress, was one of the original designated United States Highways of 1926. It originally ran 1540 miles from Pontiac, Michigan in the east, to Kansas City, Missouri in the west. Independence is an eastern suburb of Kansas City. Our 33rd President, Harry S. Truman, is buried on a hill overlooking US Highway 24 near his Presidential library there.

Until recently I had no idea that my birth mother, Bette Andersen, was born in Independence, Missouri which is near the western terminus of US 24 (Telegraph Road as it was known to us in Michigan). She was laid to rest in 1989 at the very other end of Highway 24 in Farmington Hills, Michigan. During our lifetimes we both unknowingly lived just a few miles apart but within a block of the very same highway. There is something to be said about being born at one end of a major US Highway and your final resting place, it turns out, is located at the other extremity of the very same highway. Yes, there is something to be said about that, I just don’t know what it is that should be said?

At about the same time as the new highway system was put in place (in 1926) a fellow known as Eddie Anderson Stinson Jr., with the help of the area business community incorporated the Stinson Aircraft Company in southwest Detroit. He built what was then called the SM-1 Detroiter at a place called Romulus Field; which later became Wayne-Major Airport and then much later, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport as it is known today.

Late in her teen years Bette, as she was known, was employed by the Stinson Aircraft Company. During this period, in early 1940, she became acquainted with one Harold W. Kuhn. I have no idea how they met but I do know they met and it was probably an intimate sort of meeting. I was born nine months later in Wayne, Michigan. Theirs was a brief relationship, married in July of 1940 and parting a few days before Pearl Harbor in 1941. The intervening period is still somewhat of a mystery to me and there are no records of my whereabouts or care until I show up on the family Hart’s doorstep at 5217 32nd Street in Detroit. At which place my infant driver’s license identity morphed from Ronald Arthur Kuhn to Ronald Arthur Hart.

The Stinson Aircraft Company hasn’t quite left the picture for me… not just yet anyhow.

The burden of children having children is generally heaped upon the young mother to be. Bette, for example, without support either financially or emotionally is left alone to deal with the absence of responsibility by the fathering entity. The father, more often than not, manages to escape. I can’t imagine what it must be like as a young girl to be in a situation where for nine months all you have is hope but knowing full well it isn’t going to be as you dreamed or wished. As for myself, I wish I’d known a father that could have taught me about the responsibilities concerning the fathering of children. I too was a party to children having children in my young life and was responsible for abandoning a young girl left with the sad burden of being unloved. I am not proud of this period in my life and so not in a position to point fingers. My birth father Harold and I, in our younger years, not only looked alike but acted alike in so many ways.

Eddie Anderson Stinson

Eddie Anderson Stinson learned how to fly at the Wright Flying School in Dayton, Ohio in 1911. He died in an airplane accident in 1932 at the Jackson Park Golf Course in Chicago; he was demonstrating one of his Detroiter models that he had flown from Wayne, Michigan. He was 38 years old. He didn’t get to enjoy the success of his company which went on to build over 5000 Stinson aircraft and contributed in large part to the US World War II effort; then later to the general aviation market when many of the pilots trained during the war returned home and wanted to continue flying privately.

A second cousin also named Harold, one of those pilots from the war, came to Detroit, Michigan and purchased one of the new Stinson Aircraft and took me for my first airplane ride. I was of course hooked on becoming a pilot. American Airlines was one of the first Stinson Aircraft customers that put in service several of their models during the 1930’s that included the famous Stinson Tri-Motor. The stories finale shows me retiring, after thirty-two years as an airline pilot, from American Airlines.

Telegraph Road, US 24, the highway that brought the Andersen family to these woods is still there in Dearborn Heights and thriving. I don’t know whether Eddie “Anderson” Stinson was in some way related to my Andersen family roots (or not), but I haven’t yet investigated that possibility. Keeping in mind, we are all in some ways… related.