I was watching a TV documentary on Southern California recently and I noticed a Ralphs market on the screen.
So they still have Ralphs in Los Angeles?
Took me back. In 1941 I was employed in a Ralphs grocery store there, trying to work my way through UCLA, and one Sunday a guy in the delicatessen section shouted to me: “They just bombed Pearl Harbor!”
That didn’t have as much impact on me as you might imagine. I didn’t know who “they” were and I didn’t know what, or where, Pearl Harbor was. I was to learn quite a bit about the place before the day was out.
In addition, since I was a teenager in perfect health, I realized that Pearl Harbor meant that the U S Army Selective Service, known to its friends as The Draft, would soon come a-courtin’. And they did. I received a postcard telling me I had two weeks to wind up my affairs – though at that age I hadn’t had all that many – and report to the Army for induction.
I had earlier made application at the Navy midshipman-cadet academy in San Francisco. So I called them on the phone and said if they wanted me they should take me soon. They told me to fly up; they would pay the air fare. That was good to hear. At my grocery store job I worked three hours to make one dollar – I understand salaries there are a bit higher now – and money was something I didn’t have a lot of.
Believe it or not, it was to be my first flight. I was a child of the Great Depression and flying around was on the huge list of things I hadn’t been able to afford. So I looked forward to my first air trip with enthusiasm.
To be able to travel in one of the sleek ultra-modern commercial airliners of that time, streaking through the sky at a breath-taking 180 miles per hour, the whole countryside spread out below for my personal enlightenment and enjoyment! It was going to be unforgettable.
The first disappointment came when I learned that all the windows on the aircraft were sealed shut; passengers could see nothing outside. What with the war and all, plus the fact that the plane regularly flew over ship-building facilities and aircraft plants, the U S Government wanted to be sure that when I arrived in San Francisco I wouldn’t phone the Imperial Japanese armed forces and tell them where such operations were located.
Which I wouldn’t have done anyway.
So it was a pretty uneventful flight. It was like being in a small, unattractive room surrounded by small unattractive passengers, a room that jiggled about a bit for a while, which I took to mean that maybe we were taking off. Later, much later, it jiggled about again, which meant we probably had landed in S. F.
Anyway, the midshipman-cadet outfit took me. I was signed up, which meant that I could say to the U S Army: Sorry, fellas – maybe next time!
Also, it meant that if I played my cards right I could fight the war as an officer and a gentleman. Though when I later reported as an ensign aboard ship, other officers, in an effort to be helpful, informed me that an ensign was three steps below nothing.
But I digress. I want to get back to my momentous first flying experience. I had been careful to husband my resources.
In L. A. in those days, we rode streetcars. The airport was at Burbank – nobody had ever heard of an LAX Airport – and it cost seven cents to get a streetcar to take me there. Naturally I wanted to make sure I could pay for the ride home when I returned so I made the whole trip with another seven cents in my pocket.
That didn’t leave much for food. And I got hungry fast.
On the return flight – once again, you could see nothing outside – the stewardess came by and asked if I wanted lunch. I told her, no thank you. Later, I idly glanced through the leaflet that was in the pocket of the seat in front of me. It mentioned such things as what a great airline this was, etc., and in addition, that the meals were complimentary.
You mean when that nice lady had suggested lunch, it was free? Who could have known?
I looked wildly about, trying to locate her again. I planned to say something like: Well, whaddya know, I guess I’ll have that lunch after all. But by then the nose of the aircraft was sort of pointing down, which meant we were either going to crash or we were landing at Burbank. Whichever came first.
So I got off the plane and blew the entire seven cents on a streetcar ride home, where at last I managed to get something to eat.
I am well aware that the flight of the Wright Brothers was more important, more memorable, than my trip to San Francisco, but mine was pretty memorable, too – especially the memory of that free lunch I turned down.
1 year ago