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Blogs by Robert A. Mills

DIPLOMAT OR DEMOCRAT – PART ONE
3/27/2010 9:43:30 AM    [ Flag as Inappropriate ]


My fascination with aviation began when I was old enough to appreciate the magnitude of Charles Lindbergh flying non-stop alone across the Atlantic in a rickety monoplane with five sandwiches, a canteen of water, and no radio. My greatest disappointment in the field was when the United States terminated its efforts to develop a Supersonic enterprise and France and Great Britain finally abandoned it altogether in 2003, grounding their fleets of Concorde aircraft, seemingly forever.

Of course, transportation by air has changed radically since the year 2000. No longer is it a luxury to be enjoyed by the privileged few—it has gone the way of the cruise ship, with the possible exception of certain trans-oceanic diehards. Board any commercial flight today and you’ll swim with bottom-feeding tilapia: hirsute tattooed Neanderthals in shorts, flip-flops and tank tops, most so obese they are required to purchase two seats in which to encase bulk that often defies description—not to mention their hysterical progeny who not only are beyond control and decorum, but actually smell bad.

Of course, none of these derelicts travel as I once did just for the sake of wanderlust. "For my part," wrote Robert Louis Stevenson, "I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." Old RLS was a man after me own heart!

One gorgeous fall day in 1977 I was nearly taken into custody in London for knocking on the door at No. 10 Downing Street and asking the guard if I might have a word with the Prime Minister. Unbeknown to me, James Callaghan was not in residence, and the whole episode was on a dare, anyway—the Bobby on duty, convinced I was just another irresponsible, irascible American, did not call for back up; he shooed me away, suggesting I get lost—or at least seek counseling at New Life Outlook.

Returning to my hotel, I received a call from an old friend, ****** ********, the District Sales Manager for British Airways. “Are you homeward bound tomorrow?” he asked, fully aware that we were, as he had, a fortnight ago, issued our first-class tickets himself. “If so, there are a couple seats on our Concorde with your name on them, if you’d care to switch over.”

I barely slept that night, in anticipation of the most exciting event of my life up to that point. Flying from London to Washington (Dulles) in 3½ hours, at 1,350 mph, at nearly twice the speed of sound, was to be my la plus grande aventure, my piece d’resistance!

British Airways kept its Concorde terminal, with dedicated customs and check-in counters, isolated and separate from other segments of its operation, even to the parking and drop-off facilities at Heathrow. Our flight was scheduled for ‘wheels up’ at 13:03 hours GMT—a flight, with sub-stratospheric headwinds, of less than four hours. We entered the antiseptic white and pale blue of the Concorde’s elite Club Churchill a full hour before departure.

I went to the first of four elaborate check-in counters and approached the most beautiful airline clerk I had ever seen, a dead ringer for Diana Rigg. Her name, revealed by the thin British Airways medallion pinned to her crisp, starched blouse, was Rosalyn Crumpe. Had I been a movie producer, I would have immediately cast her in every blockbuster on my agenda.

After she politely and solicitously did her magic with our old tickets and proffered passports, we were escorted to the exclusive lounge through double doors that, when closed behind us, shut out all sounds of airport activity; it was as though a thick, transparent and weightless marshmallow had suddenly surrounded us, and we were breathing the rarified oxygen of scrubbed, bathed and dry-blown luxury. I glanced at our tickets—Ms Crumpe had returned the passports, boarding cards and baggage receipts—and everything was now in rich black calfskin wallets embossed with gold British Airways - Concorde above our names in ornate script. Handsome waiters and comely waitresses seemed to appear from nowhere to offer champagne in crystal flutes, as well as canapés of caviar, lobster bits and sundry other delicacies on sparkling monogrammed china and Ecru hemstitched linen cocktail napkins.

We giddily joined the touristes gais as they munched and talked and laughed and drank while the other passengers relaxed about the room with anticipation and anxiety, modestly resplendent amidst wide leather chairs and gaudy sofas, or casually standing in clusters on dense Westminster broadloom, reveling in the good fortunes of affluence, be it fact or fiction. It was as though life’s dreary mantle of millstones had been shed at last; acceptance of circumstances over which control had long been relinquished were best left to the masses outside, doomed as they were to fly on odoriferous and lugubrious 707s, 747s and old DC-9s and de Havillands.

Woe to unlucky me, this was years before the Molton Brown Travel and Spa facility was available to British Airways’ Concorde passengers, and I was denied the joy of a massage and shower that later travelers could experienced while luxuriating in special ‘treatment’ rooms.

However, it was soon time to board the Concorde—looking out the broad bay windows at one end of the lounge we could see the great white bird, its majestic beak drooping as if awaiting the crack of the starter’s pistol, parked two hundred yards away. Suddenly, there was a vague, almost imperceptible jolt under the thick blue carpet as the entire room slipped away from the terminal building and advanced toward the plane on silent balloon tires the size of small cottages.

Crawling at the speed of an infirm snail, the Club Churchill delivered its passengers to the side of the Concorde with nary a canapé dropped nor a sip missed, and when an entire wall disappeared to give us access to the boarding ramp, we merely stepped from one lavish enclosure to another to find our assigned seats.

As we came aboard, an entirely new crew of ebullient and handsome servers relieved us of our champagne flutes, only to replace them with fresh ones.

Presenting our boarding passes, we were escorted to 4 A and B.

TO BE CONTINUED


Copyright©2010 by Robert A. Mills


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Poets' Designs On Parchment Moons by Jon Willey

This is the latest manifestation of two poet's collaborative/writing efforts. The result is rich modern poetry with thematic diversity from romance to philosophical interpretations..  
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