I had turned 30 that October and, if you can believe what I was writing in my journal, I was making the most of the freedom that being young and single would offer. I lived alone—mostly—and it suited me. Others of my age and position were engaged in starting a family and/or still trying to find themselves in life, location, and work. I was exploring my own possibilities as well as recognizing certain proclivities. Some of these made sense and brought pleasure, confidence, and hope. Some were on the shady side, some overly daring, and some just plain wrong-headed and stupid. “Thirst-quenching” was kind of both.
March 27th, 1979 My journal entry—sketched in red felt-tip pen—begins with a sequence where a lone vagrant goes drinking in a number of seedy but welcoming taverns between Ponders and downtown Tacoma, Washington. Yes: me. Having earlier dropped off my grades at the college, I was celebrating the beginning of spring break. I had recently acquired a shiny used Corvette (because I had fallen deeply in love with a beautiful woman who came by hers in a divorce) and was cruising to nowhere in particular stopping every few miles to sit at a bar, drink a beer or so, people watch, play country-western on the jukebox, and red pen my thoughts. Maybe come up with something out of the ordinary.
The increasingly scribbled account of that dark damp evening tells the story of my increasing intoxication as the ideas and possibilities for adventure flowed forth with the beer. Sometime after midnight I apparently felt I was sufficiently equipped to drive to SeaTac airport, park the car, walk up to the Continental Airlines desk and ask when the next plane took off. The nice agent lady wisely asked, “To where?” I told her it didn’t matter. I was quite serious. And she sold me a (non-smoking) seat (21F) on a jet (727) leaving for Portland in (25) minutes. It cost 17 dollars. I still have the boarding pass fastened to a page in my journal amid the by then indecipherable scribbled narrative.
This story tells of a young man who was harboring a fear of flying. My last airplane ride was five years previous as I remember. I was returning from a student dental meeting in Atlanta. Since the university was paying for it, I decided to route my return through New Orleans having never been there. I posted a note on the student bulletin board at Georgia Tech and scored a lift to Louisiana which only cost me my share of the gas. And spent two evenings on Bourbon Street—you guessed it—drinking, listening to music, and meeting people just to hear them talk in patois. Connecting through LAX, I changed planes and found a window seat in a brand new 747 that was about 30% full.
The reason for my flight anxiety these years later is unknown. I speculate it arose from my uptight and demonstrative mother and brother and their clear distaste for air travel on several family vacations in the fifties and sixties. Just as likely it was only a lost familiarity with the concept of riding in a fragile aluminum tube five miles overhead. Either way, I found a helpful solution on this evening to help me face my fears as the plane took 45 minutes to take off and land without even leveling off. And I was cured.
It was 2:30 a.m. when I told the sleepy-eyed taxi driver—and I remember this quite clearly—to “drive me to the cheapest hotel he knew near the Portland railroad station.” A total dive! It was just perfect! My diary reports checking in with a duffel bag, a half empty quart bottle of Olympia Beer, a ten dollar bill (from which I was given change), and making long distance phone calls to a couple girlfriends back home to tell them I was alright. They knew better though. As if they cared.
The next day I rambled the scruffy backside of Portland with my fellow streetwalkers and paper bag-toting ‘outdoorsmen.’ I laid out three bucks for a multi-colored tweedy sport jacket at St. Vincent de Paul and just kind of ambled along smoking a cigar, smiling a wtf smile, and handing out carnations that some poor waif was selling on the sidewalk and a few dollar bills when the carnations ran out just to be annoying. It was kinda like I was exploring the bottom so in the future I would know when I hit it. At 2:30 the Amtrak arrived to roll me to Tacoma. I don’t remember how I got from Tacoma to the airport parking lot. But on the drive home (or to wherever I went) I’m sure I thought about how much I now love to fly. And how fortunate last night’s “next flight out” wasn’t a red-eye to Cleveland.