View From Lodi, CA: Up, Up and Away? No, Thanks!
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I have taken my last airplane journey. My recent trip to Pittsburgh convinced me once and for all that air travel is either for those who must do it to earn a living or those with more fortitude than I.

If any one wants to visit me, let them endure the frustrating search for airport parking, the long counter lines, the humiliating security check, the surly personnel and the endless delays. 

My trip began on a magnificently clear day at the Oakland Airport. We boarded on time and were promptly advised that we would take off right after the last of the baggage was loaded.

Minutes slipped into an hour. Now we were waiting for mysterious "paper work" to be completed. Nervous passengers checked their watches. Finally after two hours, we took off—our connecting flights in Chicago in serious jeopardy.

We arrived in Chicago with fifteen minutes to spare. Too bad our connection was in Concourse C, gate 36. That's about a mile away from B-10 where we landed.

We made it though with a couple of minutes to spare. But it was a case of hurry up and wait. The flight to Pittsburgh sat on the ground for a half an hour.

On the return via Houston, our pilot alerted us that the ground delay was caused by weather that he described as "rain showers".  Experienced travelers know that, in the summer time, "rain showers" translates to "violent thunderstorms."

And so it was. Although I have been home over a week, the Texas deadly rains continue.

Two hours late into Houston meant a corresponding two-hour delay getting out of Houston. When we finally limped into Oakland, it was the middle of the night.

Each of the four legs of my trip was late. All the seats were taken. No food was served.

Air travel is a disgrace. And for those of us who remember it when it could be called fun, it is particularly painful.

Years ago, employed by Merrill Lynch, I flew more than 50,000 miles annually. The main domestic carriers—United, American and Trans World Airlines—were at each other's throats for business.

At one point, on the heavily traveled New York-Chicago route, each airline offered an hourly flight, no reservations required. One left on the hour, another on the quarter hour and the third on the half hour.

As my cab pulled up to the curbside, I'd look at my watch to figure out which carrier to take. Then, without security checks of any sort, I'd march briskly toward the gate.

The competition among the big three was so intense that on meal flights American offered large pastrami or corned beef sandwiches and beer poured fresh from a keg. And this, mind you, was in coach.

For international passengers, Braniff Airlines was always a kick. What color would your plane be—yellow, red, orange or any of a dozen other shades? Whichever it was, Henry Miller designs matched. The crew, to round out the Braniff experience, dressed in color coordinated space age uniforms.

Finally, the pinnacle of air travel was reserved for those lucky passengers booked on Pan American World Airways. Nothing matched it.

Pan Am's fleet of Jet Clippers was modern and meticulously maintained. The pilots, fresh from their layovers in Rio, Acapulco or San Juan were tanned, handsome and smartly decked out in their white hats with scrambled eggs on the brim.

And the stewardesses, as they were then known, were also bronzed and glorious.

Those were the glory days of air travel when passengers actually dressed up before boarding a plane. No one dared wear a cut off t-shirt or low slung jeans that exposed too much flesh.

At least I have my memories. For now, however, I'm restricting my travel to points I can reach comfortably in my car.

I understand, for example, that Bakersfield—a mere four-hour drive from Lodi—is particularly lovely at this time of year.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.

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