Thursday, March 17, 2011

Come Fly With Me

Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away.
If you can use some exotic booze, there’s a bar in far Bombay.
Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away.

Come fly with me, let's float down to Peru.
In llama-land, there's a one-man band, and he'll toot his flute for you.
Come fly with me, let's take off in the blue.

Once I get you up there where the air is rarefied
We’ll just fly starry-eyed
Once I get you up there, I’ll be holding you so near,
You may hear, angels cheer, ‘cause we’re together

Weather-wise, it’s such a lovely day,
You just say the word and we’ll beat the birds down to Acapulco Bay
It’s perfect for a flying honeymoon they say,
Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly
Pack up, let’s fly away…

© Cahn Music Company; Maraville Music Corporation

Are any of you old enough to remember when train travel was common and air travel was a big deal?  When a trip on an airplane was exotic and exciting?  When Frank Sinatra sang "Come Fly With Me" and you wished you could take him up on it?

Do any of you remember this scene?

Your dad wore his best brown suit and hat (well, back then he always wore a suit, although at the beach he'd at least roll up his pant legs and leave his coat and tie in the Buick) and your mom wore her new floral-print summer dress and lacy white hat.  Airport security consisted of a middle-aged guy with a nightstick and revolver and clip-on tie who looked like he'd eaten more than his share of donuts and rocked back and forth on his heels as he gave you a wink and a nod.  You strode out from the terminal building across the tarmac toward a gleaming, streamlined airplane with either a blue or orange stripe or two red ones, depending on whether you were flying Pan Am, American or TWA.  You ascended a set of air stairs that a coveralled mechanic had wheeled up to the plane and were greeted by a smiling stewardess (as female flight attendants were called in that less enlightened age), impeccably attired in a neat blue suit adorned with silver wings, and a smart, military-style cap.

The cabin wasn't cavernous, but only because wide-body jets weren’t yet invented, not because you were being stuffed into it like so much sausage by a bean counter corps trying to stave off bankruptcy proceedings.  Maybe your dad brought you up to the cockpit where the pilot (who likely flew B-24s during the War) pointed out what the various levers and switches and doohickies did and handed you a set of Junior Aviator wings that weren't plastic.

The biggest challenge for the stewardesses was your little brother wanting to zoom through the cabin with his toy F-86 Sabre jet.  Not business travelers refusing to turn off cell phones or surly men glancing furtively about, looking like they're up to no good.

Jet air travel was in its infancy.  You could get on a 707 or DC-8 for a trans-oceanic flight or major domestic route, but just flying was excitement enough and you felt a thrill, tempered with a bit of caution, as you looked out the window of the DC-6 or Super Constellation and saw the mechanic standing below the streamlined engine nacelle, fire extinguisher at the ready, and each propeller slowly turn before its massive Double Wasp or Turbo Compound radial engine caught and fired in a thunderous coughing fit and cloud of white smoke.  The booming cacophony calmed to a loafing, lopey idle until the pilot deftly eased the four throttles forward together with a practiced touch, unleashing ten thousand impatient horses to urge you free of the ground.  And then, leveling out at cruise speed and altitude, the engines settled down to a reassuring, steady drone.

It was still only 15 years since those same engines powered the Hellcats and Corsairs and Superfortresses that helped your dad and uncles whip the bad guys in the big war.  And even though they couldn't go down and have a big time in Havana anymore since that Castro clown took over, and even though the Russkies were rattling their sabers and sending stuff into space and you had to do duck and cover drills at school and your dad looked over brochures for backyard bomb shelters as he smoked his pipe, you still liked Ike and it was still an idyllic and exciting time, full of ideas and pregnant with possibility.  And on a day like today, bobbing on invisible currents of air between puffs of blinding white cloud in the achingly, impossibly blue heavens, even the Russians couldn't spoil it.

High Flight

Oh!  I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
my eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark nor eagle flew-
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

Pilot Officer John G. Magee, Jr
American flier with the Royal
Canadian Air Force.  Died in
aerial combat on December 11, 1941

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Briefly, On Government

Government should only be big enough and powerful enough to defend us from foreign aggression and criminal activity and to carry out those few essential functions that can't or won't be done in the private sector.  It cannot and should not try to make fair an essentially unfair existence, it should not try to guarantee an equal outcome for people of different talents, motivations and work ethics, it should not favor one group of people over another and it should not exist to create wealth and power for any individuals or political class.   It should offer minimal interference in the lives of those free people who can and do govern their own behavior.

More here

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Why The Wall

In August, 1969, my 23-year-old mother drove west with her husband and their month-old son in their ’68 Volkswagen from Ft. Campbell, Kentucky.  Back home to Kern County, after my dad’s year in Vietnam and honorable discharge from the Army, to make a home with her new family.

In the coming decades, my mom made that home, helped raise two sons and weathered the ups and downs, joys and sorrows of a typical American life.  She welcomed two brides into the family as daughters, cared for other people’s children and settled into a well-deserved retirement with my dad.  She’s the happy grandmother of four grandkids.  She’s lived most of her life, a lifetime, since 1969.


In the month Mom was coming home on Route 66 to begin the next phase in her young life, a happy-go-lucky neighbor and Wasco High classmate two years her junior was beginning his tour of duty as a combat medic with the U.S. Army 5th Special Forces Group, Vietnam.
Had he survived his tour, his story from that point wouldn’t have been the same as my mother’s, but probably wouldn’t have been all that different.  I don’t know if he would have gone to medical school, or Bakersfield College, or to work as a Pontiac salesman.  Maybe he would have married and had children and grandchildren.  Maybe, having seen and done more than most people twice his age, he would have left his hometown behind and burned brightly across the firmament.  Or perhaps simply made a quiet, honorable life in small-town Kern County.  Maybe he’d have found a cure for cancer or maybe just vanquished the crabgrass.  But no matter what twists and turns his life would have taken, he should have had a life, should have lived, like my mom, a lifetime beyond the year 1969.

After all, he was just 20 years old then, barely a grown man.  Not old enough to vote or even take a legal sip of beer.  But on December 1 of that crazy, climactic year, as my parents got ready for their baby’s first Christmas, at a time when this young man’s life with all its unrealized promise and possibility had just barely begun, it ended in an mortar attack in the Quang Duc Province of the Republic of Vietnam.  And instead of Who’s Who in American Business or the minutes of school board meetings or the Family Practitioner section of the Yellow Pages, the name Stephen Leon Ragsdale is etched in Panel 15W, Line 014 of a long, black granite wall.


There are at least 1,006 other names that will join Sgt. Ragsdale’s on Kern County’s own Wall.  Each one represents a life full of limitless potential that should have been lived to the fullest but instead was cruelly abbreviated.  Each is a story never finished and never told.  Like my mother, each should have experienced his share of successes and failures, love and loss, satisfaction and regrets.  Each should have been entitled to graying hair, growing waistlines and the other unwelcome trophies of middle age.  Each should have been remembered not only in faded photographs and eight millimeter home movie film and the failing memories of elderly parents and middle-aged siblings and high school friends, but in adult accomplishments and ceremonies and good times and milestones, and in the hearts of children and grandchildren.  Although they achieved much, their lives were too short for any of their names to be engraved on a Lifetime Achievement Award.  So let us, the people of Kern County, engrave them on something meaningful and lasting and worthy of their sacrifice, where we and our children can come and reflect on the meaning of service, the importance of gratitude and the fragility and brevity of life, and where we can let them know they are still not forgotten.  Let’s all give what we can to finish the Kern Veterans Memorial Wall of Valor.

Kern Veterans Memorial Foundation
(661) 201-3987

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Duke Snider, 1926-2011

In the 1950s, New York was the Capital of Baseball, and three teams, the New York Yankees, New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers seemed to hold sway over the game and the imaginations of fans (back in the pre-internet/24-hour cable news coverage/overexposed superstar days, when fans' imaginations were an essential part of experiencing the game).  Three of the biggest stars of the era were the teams' respective center-fielders, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Edwin "Duke" Snider, who died Sunday at the age of 84.

To the casual fan, Mantle was the game's greatest slugger, Mays, its all-time greatest all-around player, and Snider... well, the name is vaguely familiar but does not really compute.

Too bad, and not only because for the throngs of fans that lived and died by the outrageous fortunes of "Dem Bums," whether scaling the centerfield wall to snuff out home run hopes, knocking a hard but graceful liner over the right field wall, or donning top hat and monocle to ham it up for the camera, Number Four, The Duke of Flatbush, was royalty.  During the time when the three of them played concurrently, big, powerful Snider led in home runs and RBI, and though which one was the best centerfielder of the '50s is a debate for the ages, the Duke himself stated at his 1980 Hall of Fame induction that since the three of them were now there, it didn't really matter.

More important to me than his stats, and they were good, is what he represents.  He is the last regular position player of Roger Kahn's famed "Boys of Summer" of the Dodgers of the '50s to pass on, joining Carl Erskine, Carl Furillo, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese. He was one of the last living links to a time when kids dodged cabs and played stickball near open hydrants in the streets of Crown Heights and Bensonhurst and sat on fire escapes or in open bedroom windows to listen to the Dodgers on transistor radios when they weren't sneaking into Ebbets Field to catch a Saturday doubleheader.  (Back when working families could afford to go to big-league games and kids actually could sneak into a major league ballpark).  A time before Walter O' Malley ripped the heart out of Brooklyn and became a hero to grateful Southern Californians.  Before free agency strained the moorings between players and fans, before the designated hitter sheltered American League pitchers from having to stand at the plate and take their cuts, and before unnaturally augmented sluggers looked like linebackers and fouled the record books with asterisks.

That's why baseball fans everywhere are sad at the passing of Duke Snider.  So long, Duke.  Say hi to my grandparents (die-hard Dodger fans) for me.  You'll find them at that great Ebbets Field in the Sky, probably chatting to Campy from behind home plate.