Take To The Sky

En Route by Westbye
En Route, a photo by Westbye on Flickr.

We always flew Delta when I was a kid. The Old Man was a travel agent, and we made the pilgrimage to Disney at least once a year. These trips were the start of a life-long love of travel, adventure, going someplace else and coming home, and this romance is for keeps.

Our trips began at PWM; Portland International Jetport. “International Jetport” conjures up images of Jetsons-esque space flight (or at least early ‘60s post-modern optimism) around the world, like the swoops of latitude on the old Pan Am logo. In fact, “international” means maybe one flight per day to Montreal, and the airjetport was, until very recently, an extremely small, extremely dated relic. Sit in the Staples parking lot next door for five minutes and you may see take-offs from JetBlue, DSL and a Cessna taking a father-and-son hobbyist team to the north Maine woods for a camping trip. Still, it was and is my home point of departure, and I’d umpteen million times rather be at PWM than Hopkins in Cleveland.

The ticket counters were always a haze of impending adventure and cigarette smoke. I’d hand over my bag to a sky cap in a blazing red blazer, and we’d hit the escalator. There was a restaurant at the top level called Jonah’s Place, and the J was a fish hook. Clever. On the other side was a news stand, and then the terminal, with endless rows of vinyl seats embroidered with the Delta logo. We were on our way.

It was mostly 727s back then. I liked the planes with the symmetrical Delta logo on the tail-fin, the navy and red widget forming a perfect triangle like on the front of the plane and all signage. But I really liked the ones with the more angular widget, with the bottom apex of the blue about ¾ of the way over to the right side of the fin. This logo was much sleeker, and suggested that our plane may get us there much faster.

Regardless of logo angle or plane speed, the cabin décor was seemingly always 1970s gold. The seats were a gold and red, a scheme I would imagine Marco Polo would have approved. I always got a Coke, a set of pilots wings and a pencil, and I could amuse myself for hours reading the safety placards and the vomit bag.

We almost always had a layover at Hartsfield in Atlanta, and in addition to all the wares featuring the logo of the Atlanta Braves and this new-fangled (Ted) Turner Broadcasting System, there was a guy in the terminal selling a Styrofoam plane called the Super Looper. He would throw the plane while giving a spiel like Vince from ShamWow, and the plane would do a loop and return to him. It was equal parts boomerang, model plane and infomercial, and it was magic.

Eventually we would get to Disney, and those trips were always great. But I remember getting there as much as I do being there. I was fortunate to have these trips during my formative years, when life-long loves and habits and associations are made. An airport means the beginning of an adventure. A plane means escape. A logo means a brand you trust, in spite of drastic changes to the company and the industry. (There were no frequent flyer miles then, but I now have maybe enough to get from PWM to LaGuardia.) I’ll never have a free lunch and peanuts on a plane again, but Delta still means flying to Disney and getting free pilots wings and going to that magical, mystical somewhere else.

And I still look for the Super Looper Guy every time I’m changing planes at Hartsfield…

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32 comments
  1. You seem to have great childhood memories Brian. I wish that I could have afforded the trips to Disneyland when my children were young. It’s a regret that I will keep with me always.

    • I definitely was fortunate. My dad was a travel agent, so he got comps. That’s the only way we could have afforded it all. We were definitely not society class. 😉

      I’m sure your kids have great memories of the little things with you, and nothing can buy that.

  2. Another wonderful story. How’s that coffee table book going?

    • Hah! Westbye on the table next to Vintage Ballparks and Perennials of the Southeast! Love it! 😉

      • I’ll be your first customer, and we don’t even have a coffee table at the moment. 😉

  3. Score!!!!

  4. Hey Brian, I was going to write about childhood memories of plane travel for my “Time Travel” tuesday. Something tells me that yours will be a little better than mine! haha! Maybe I’ll save mine for next week : )
    The one thing I remember, and I’m older than you, is that we would dress up for the flight. My mom would buy us new matching outfits. We flew ‘Yellow Bird’ to Florida, so I guess I am a bit older! haha! Still, you’ve conjured up the same feelings. Thanks!

    • Yellow Bird: that was the theme of Northeast Air, right? (My mom was a ticket agent for National: I grew up in a house of flight!)

      Can’t wait to read yours! Don’t hold back on my account…

  5. Your memories astound me, Brian! I have so, so many questions.

    1) Is it common for Portland kids to go to Disneyland? My only other Portland-born friend (well, he’s more of a colleague, at best), also went to Disneyland every year.

    2) Did you travel a lot as a child? It sounds as though you did travel some, due to your father’s business.

    Let me start with these questions first.

    • Those are great questions! To start, just to clarify, I grew in Maine and we went to Disney World Orlando, and I didn’t know anyone else with the same luck. Guess I was a trailblazing kid without even knowing it!

      And we never really went anywhere else for vacations, other than returning to Maine for summers and Christmas when we lived in FL…

  6. Oh, d’oh! Portland, MAINE. Gotcha. (I was trying to figure out why you all would be detouring into Atlanta?)

    Florida must have been quite a shock after Maine. What was that like?

    • What was it like visiting or living there? Visiting: loved. Escapism, beaches and palm trees. Bliss! Living there: hated it. Spent four years inside with the AC on missing snow and pine trees like crazy. 😉

      • I cannot wait to hear that story someday. I’m really excited about this direction you’re going right now.

  7. More to come, Bluebird!

  8. Sarah said:

    Love your writing Brian. LOVE. IT!!

    • !!! I love my fans!!!

  9. Such nice memories. I remember when I was a kid, they also had these sticky little pipe cleaner things you could make shapes with, and sometimes those magnetic iron filing pictures… you brought back some memories for me too. 🙂

    • Awesome! I love bringing back the good stuff!

  10. metan said:

    I always remember long roadtrips with my family as a kid. We were never lucky enough to fly anywhere but mum and dad would pack up the old station wagon and off we would go. Great memories, now I do the same thing with my kids and they love it too. Even the dog gets excited when we start packing the car 🙂 A great post, makes me want to go right now!

    • Let’s go, man! I’m so in!

      We had plenty of road adventures as well, some of which will probably make it here one of these days…

      • metan said:

        Don’t tempt me! I’m eyeing off the sleeping bags as we speak 🙂

  11. I love this line you wrote, “I was fortunate to have these trips during my formative years, when life-long loves and habits and associations are made.” So true. Though my experiences are different from yours, this sentence captured exactly how I feel. Beautiful story yet again. 🙂

    • Lisa, I’d love to hear your formative years stories. Talk to me!

  12. Your posts make me dream and reminisce about small pleasures of life – it is wonderful 🙂
    Beautiful story
    And thanks for subscribing to my blog, I hope it reaches your expectations

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

    • I’m so happy to read this, Choc: thank yoi so much! Great to have you here.

  13. Can’t believe I’m the first to say it.
    Getting there can definitely be half the fun.

    Not as much on todays flights, but still. Great images above, as always!

    • I believe Clark W. Griswold already said that, Guap…

      • Well yeah, but I think he was just saying it to compensate…

        And I haven’t seen the Great Gris in your comments yet…
        (Sheesh)

  14. I remember flying with my mom and sister to Disneyland. Ah the memories of childhood, you helped bring mine back with your post!

    • I love reading this, Christie. Thank you so much!

  15. free penny press said:

    I always say I’ll know if it’s a good read if somehow I became part of the scenario.. I was in that airport, on the plane right along with you..
    My childhood was full of travel as well and thought I was Miss Sassy pants that I could fly, ALONE, from Va. Beach to Baltimore..

    (ps-I actually found a set of those wings not to long ago).

    Great story!!

  16. VA Beach to Baltimore?!? What was that, a minus five minute flight?!? I mean, congratulations on establishing your independence so young!

    Thank you so much! I’m so glad you’re here and sharing.

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