Welcome friends, my name is John Reitmeier and I've been so fortunate to have experienced a lot of travel starting back in 1972. It's time to put the memories in some sort of order, and to add text and pictures to share with our friends and the many listeners to our radio programs. Thanks for coming along on this ride!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

2B or not 2B

I guess you finally accept the fact that you're getting older when you realize that things you miss weren't from last year, or a few years ago, not even in this century...and something I miss the most is the 747's that North West Airlines used to fly from Minneapolis to Amsterdam (and also to the Orient) were the greatest planes flying, then and now!  I've been on all the newer planes, but there's something about the 747, of which I liked the model 200 the best, that just is missing on any of the big Air Bus (380 exempted...haven't been on that one yet) jets and other Boeing such as the 777.  Very nice, but you know you're not on a 747!

Over the years I now have accumulated over 1,500,000 air miles on NWA and continuing on Delta.  I have spent 1,200,00 of them by the way.  Most of the spending has been in 100,000 or so, mile units to book a first class (OK business class, or world class or whatever you want to call it...to me if I'm not in the narrow no recline cattle car section, it's FIRST CLASS!)  Mix those flights with a few freebies, some buddy passes from a NWA pilot and several from a United Pilot and you can see that I've been back and forth across the pond more than every few years.   I remember one year I managed to get to Europe 4 times in 8 months.  AHHH the good old days!

Of course time and marketing strategy have marched on and first NWA stopped flying 747's to Europe in the winter, substituting various DC-10 type models, and finally only DC-10's and now mostly Boeing 777's.   All fine planes, but not the 747.  Early on I ended up sitting in Row 2 Seat B.  It is in the nose of the plane just one row back from the very front.  If you remember that's the lower level as the pilots and a few passengers are above us.  And then Seat B which is an aisle, with a HUGE GAP till the other 2 seats on the other side of the plane.  Because of the nose coming to a point, you can actually look over the shoulder of the person in 1A and look down the runway.  It's the most awesome seat on the plane in my opinion.   And then the top off to the seat is that it's 2 B.   As in Shakespeare's famous soliloquy that begins, "To be or not to be, that is the question..."  I guess no one else had figured that out over the years.  As I'd get on the plan and take a left at the entry door I was always met by the purser (the person in charge of the passenger portion of the flight) who always did the meet and greet with front cabin fliers.  I would always say, "I'm in the Shakespeare Seat, and would get 1 of 3 responses.  Some got it right away and just beamed and you could tell they had never figured that before, others took a while but when you did the famous line for them would give some response of happiness, and then there were some who didn't get it...and sometimes another flight attendant would lean over and explain it to them.

I wish I could have bought one of those seats!  What great memories, I even would change flying dates to get to sit in that seat.  NWA had about 8 of those planes at the time, I wonder if I ever sat in the same seat more than one time.

One purser came by my seat one day and said he had thought about it and decided that every seat on the plane was a Shakespeare Seat...."To be or NOT to be." (2B or NOT 2B) covered every seat in the plane.  We had a good laugh about that one.  I understand Delta now flies 747 400's only from Atlanta to the Orient.  Just one more time I'd like to book 2B and feel the power behind those 4 thunder jets and we lift off, knowing it will be almost 10,000 miles of distance and perhaps 40,000 feet in the air before we touch down.  747-200's are mostly in the bone yards now, or flying freight from some second rate carrier in a far off micro country.  But they'll always be new and red and shiny in my mind and I know that somewhere, some day there's a seat named 2B waiting to carry me to a distant land.  Goodbye old friends, thanks for your support over the years...and good years they were!

Monday, April 30, 2012

THIS IS PART 2 OF THE 1983 Paris/Germany Trip...read Part 1 posted April 27, 2012 first!

Taking off in any airplane is always a few moments of exhilaration, perhaps a little fear, some joy (usually) at finally being on the journey, and that big, empty, "what's going to happen on this trip!" feeling, that moment of, "there's no turning back now.  If you're driving out of the yard, or are even a few miles from home, and forgot something, it's easy to go back, even with a bunch of friends, the ribbing and kidding pales in comparison to getting that most important thing that you forgot.  But when that big jet finally makes the long sweep and lines itself up on that 6000 foot cement slab, when it's sitting on the end of the runway, when those engines get the instruction to go to 100% and you're pushed back in your seat, at that moment you know there's no do-overs, there's no, whoops, there's no, "ahhh excuse me but I might have forgotten..."

At the moment this all happened on this flight, it was already dark in New York City.  The cabin lights were pretty much turned down and the view out the port hole window of a million lights was setting a scene that up to that time in my life, I really hadn't experienced.  Off to Europe with people I hadn't even met the day before, flying over the ocean, known to be icy cold with sharks circling like a world turned upside down and the shark/vultures were waiting, eye to the sky, hoping that we might be their next meal.  All this a build up to a never before experienced adrenalin rush such that I had never before experienced.  Headphones had been passed out and I was flipping through the different choices of music and all of a sudden there was THE MOMENT.   Chariots of Fire (the movie) was 2 years old, just old enough for the theme music to hit all the elevators in the universe, and here it was.   Dun Dun, Dun Dun, Dun Dun, Dun Dun, Dun Dun, we're blasting down the runway, Dun Dun, Dun Dun, Dun Dun, Dun Dun, Dun Dun, enough fuel to carry three quarters of a million pounds thirty three thousand feet into the air, and keep it there for some four thousand miles. Just at the moment when the nose gear lifted off and the rear wheels break contact with the earth, the big string orchestra kicks in with, Da Da Dat Dat Da Da Dum, Da Da Dat Dat Da Da Dum...and we truly are on the greatest adventure of my life up to that moment! No Hollywood script write could have possible made this all happen, timing to the second, taking into account the weight of the plane and the passengers and the luggage, and wind conditions, and humidity, and the state of the engines, yet it all came together for me right then for the only moment that would be my first moment of flying to Europe, ever.

The next couple of hours were pretty standard, drinks all around, some appetizers, and a pretty good meal.  Up to this time I had only experienced the first class cabin on short haul domestic flights, a nice seat and a free drink or two, maybe some snacks, but never the multi-course, heading to France so the wine better be quality, deserts served with a flourish meal that kept TWA in the top rated group of international carriers.  Dinner over, the cheese course served and cleaned up after and I notice that my American hating, French seat mate was drifting off into that, too many days in America, glad to be going home, didn't need those extra glasses of wine and all those carbs for dinner mental state, somewhere between awake and asleep, but leaning to comatose.  Remember this was still the days of polyester development, we had somehow forgotten that wool and cotton do make some pretty good clothes.  He had a mostly full glass of red wine in his right hand with his wrist nestled in that v made by his torso and his thigh and as he was falling asleep, his wine glass was slowly tipping, tipping towards his crotch.

Dilemma time for me.  As I was watching this develop I realized that I had three choices.  Based on his very verbal and repeating mantra of not liking Americans, of which I was one, I should have just quietly gotten up and make my way to the bathroom and spent enough time for what ever was going to unfold, to happen with no question that I had nothing to do with it, and wasn't in in a position to save the situation.  Or I could gently try to wake him up and hope he got control back before that red wine started changing the color of his pants forever, right at crotch central.  Or even another choice of reaching over and grabbing the glass from his hand and trying to level out the top so that the though the good graces of gravity, the wine would stay on it's side of the glass.  Of course that would involve my having my hand way to close to a mad Frenchman's crotch and a very importune moment, something that now I would just find funny, but that back then, would have been a great embarrassment.

What to do, what  to do.  As each of the three possibilities were snapping through my mind, not unlike a carousel at a carnival midway, but rather than the next horse coming into view, one of the three possible choices presented itself to me, as the glass was slowly but with great certainty getting to the level  where the wine and the glass would part company forever.   Dilemma, what to do, why didn't I just steal away and make it NOT MY PROBLEM, but my country boy, Lutheran upbringing just couldn't leave my seatmate to his own situation.  WAY to late in the game, I make a quiet attempt to wake him up.  Of course you know what happened next, as he came awake, he realized that he had a wine glass in his hand, he realized that it was at a precarious angle, but he wasn't quite conscious enough to determine just what angle would be the correct angle, and most of his glass of red wine ended up in a one foot circle centered right over his crotch, red wine, off white pants.  Of course at that moment our French friend decided that it was my fault that it all happened.   OH WELL, I guess I learned that next time I'm going to be conveniently gone/absent when this situation comes up again.  Especially when it's a Frenchman of proven anger!  I should have tried to sleep that night, as our plane was thundering on to Paris, but with all the different excitement moments, and the though of being in Europe the next morning, now just a few hours away, there was no chance.  This I was going to pay dearly for in the coming hours and days.

Six hours later we safely landed at the yet considered new Charles de Gaulle Airport. I was in Europe, I was in France, I was in Paris!  Actually considering that I thought Boone's Farm was wine, and the livers of geese were to be disposed of in the harvesting process, Paris really had no big allure for me.  If only the same trip presented itself to me now!  The load us all into an oversize Mercedes bus at take us to our hotel.  Le Grande Hotel across from the Opera House (now called the  InterContinental Paris).  The room I had, with a cross the street view of the Opera House is now over $1,000.00 a night and sadly the reviews of the place include rodents, dirty linen, and most disturbing, an uncaring staff.  I always wanted to go back and relive those days, but not for that money!!!   What?  Our rooms aren't ready?  What a surprise, OK Back on the bus, 5 hours touring Paris.

I know that I've been on a 5 hour tour of Paris.  I've seen the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Quartier Pigalle,  Champs-Elysees, and Montmartre, I know I have because I've seen pictures of me in front of these places, HOWEVER I have absolutely no recollection, no memory at all of being in front of these places.  I could pass a lie detector test without flinching and say no to each question, yet there are those pesky photos.  HMMM.

I'm sure we had lunch somewhere, but again no recollection. Finally we get back to our hotel, our wranglers tell us we have a 2 hour break. I need some sleep but first a bath. I fill it with water, I climb in, I lean back, and just keep going. Never before have I been in a bathtub where I can completely lie flat and toes and head don't touch the ends. Of course I'm completely underwater before I can catch myself. Wonderful, I'm underwater and gasping for air before I can recover. Out of the bath, dried off and between the sheets. AHHH welcome sleep. How many minutes had gone by, I don't know, but not that many when I hear a KNOCK KNOCK "Monsieur, monsieur, a gift from the manager!" So I'm bolted awake and out of bed, I'm at the door opening it (did I mention the not clothes on part?) and here comes a french room attendant (male thankfully) with a big basket with wine, champagne, fruit, cheese, sweets, the works. As I'm waking up I'm realizing that, HMMM i'm a guest in a foreign country, and now a gift from the hotel, perhaps this calls for a TIP. However clothes/wallet are on the other bed. So here we are, hotel room door open (out to a commons area not a hallway, me unclothed, opening my wallet to pass on a tip to this delivery boy, with an uncountable number of people walking by and looking in. Truly, it was a "welcome to France moment!" a couple of hours sleep, jump into some clothes, into some French cabs and we're whisked off to http://www.vagablond.com/121/ rue St. Louis-en-l’Ile and La Taverne du Sergeant Recruteur, Paris. What an experience! A food joint that was from the far past. A place originally used by military recruiters to attract young French men to have some food and adult beverages, perhaps some private time with some young French lasses, and in the morning the realization that they were now in the French Foreign Legion! Fortunately those days are long past, but the place really hadn't changed much. An incredible meal, many courses, lots to drink, but served so different than anything I had experienced in the US. The salad was a big basket, cut of what you want of the veggies you want! Hands unwashed, didn't seem to be a problem. More cheese? Just use your knife and take what you want. Sadly I got word in the spring of 2012 that the Taverne is now closed forever. Another victim of escalating prices and to many tourist choices, even in a city the size of Paris! But a memory that I'll hang on to forever! MORE ON THE PARIS TRIP, the TGV France's high speed train, and a rough flight back, coming up!

Friday, April 27, 2012

It was 1983, I got a free trip to Paris (and on to Frankfurt) because I was the only one at the radio station that had a passport.  Actually when they called to ask if I had a passport, I didn't!  But with the good fortune of having my friend and mentor visiting Las Vegas in his plane, (from LA) and me being smart enough to ask him if I had a passport before I told my boss that I didn't, well...life changing events started to unfold right at that moment.  I put my hand over the mouthpiece and said to Bob, "they say they'll send me to Europe on Monday (this was Friday) if I have a Passport.  He quickly responded, "then tell them you have a Passport!" So I told them I have a passport, hung up the phone and turned to my mentor and say, "OK what now!"  In his usual fashion he said, I don't know, let's find out what it will take to get you a passport...long pause...by Monday!"  I mostly live in Crookston Minnesota, my 4th generation home, I'm working in Las Vegas, he's from Los Angeles...so we start with a phone call to the Court House back home.

Sure (remember this is WAY before 911) they say, do you have your Drivers License?  Of course, do you have your birth certificate with you?  WOW lucky break, I do...take that to the Clark County Court House with 2 Passport quality photos and they will do a  bunch of paperwork, then take that to the Embassy, "let's see the nearest embassy to you is in Los Angeles." Wow again a lucky break.  We went to get the photos, went to the court house, got the paperwork done and Bob headed to his airplane.  Flew home, paid a young man to stand in line starting at 6AM on a Saturday morning, was the first one through the door when it opened and at noon Bob was flying back to Las Vegas with my brand new, ready to go, Passport in his kit.

Monday, 4:30AM I'm at LAS,  meeting TV and newspaper folks, and our TWA hosts/guides for our trip.  They had carefully told us that if we wanted to fly in the front of the airplane, that it was MANDATORY that we dress in formal suits.  HEY no problem here, anything to sit in a bigger seat and have upgraded food and booze and service, and yet, a couple of the "stars" of TV in Las Vegas showed up in polo shirts and no suit coats.  BACK OF THE PLANE BOYS!  I think they were surprised!  I however was smartly dressed and ready to take my fancy seat.  In those years there weren't direct flights from Las Vegas to New York, so even though we were guests of TWA, we had to go to Phoenix first, wait on the ground about an hour, and then off to NEW YORK CITY!  My first visit there.  We arrived in the early afternoon because of the time change, and since there was about a four hour wait for our ocean flight, we were put into cabs and whisked off to the twin towers of the WORLD TRADE CENTER!  WOW this being a news report on a 'Fam' trip just gets better and better.  At the time, TWA was a partner in a hotel that took up about 20 floors and so we got a tour of that, and then off to the Windows on the World restaurant for some light supper and drinks.  I of course was gathering interviews all the time, on 2 heavy cassette tape recorders and got to a pay phone and called in a couple of 5 minute stories, along with some sounders (30 second teasers) about my upcoming trip to France and a ride on the high speed trains!

The cab ride back to JFK was a bit surreal in the fact that the cab driver had to be an identical twin to Carrol O'Connor's character Archie Bunker.  Looks, haircut, accent, especially accent.  What a hoot!  Then to JFK, board the plane, L1011, 4th row back, window side aisle.  French man sitting next to me, did NOT like Americans and wasn't afraid to let everyone around him know!  Where are we going with this you ask?  Stay tuned for the flight, the landing, the first hours in Paris, and an awesome evening at a restaurant that just closed now in 2012.