Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ones and Zeros

Well, we made it through another harrowing Christmas season without any terrorist incidents- no shoe bombs or exploding underwear threats. The TSA did their best Grinch imitation and confiscated a particularly suspicious looking cupcake, but the public was not fooled. They are not accepting the notion that baked goods are a sufficient threat to an airliner. But thirty nine years ago today, a brand new jumbo jet was lost over something which seemed equally innocous.

There wasn't a bomb aboard Eastern Airlines Flight 401 as it flew toward Miami on the night of December 29, 1972. The airplane itself was a Lockheed L-1011, brand sparkling new. Here I digress and interject that I refer to the L-1011 as the binary airliner, not only because her name is made of ones and zeros, but also because they featured the most sophisticated flight controls in the air at that time. The plane was full of ones and zeros.

This particular airframe had been delivered to Eastern on July 30, 1972 and was not yet five months old. She carried serial number 1011 (a most interesting and binary coincidence) and was the tenth passenger airframe completed. All of the earliest L-1011's went to Eastern, she carried tail number N310EA (one-zero again) in sequence with her sister ships. She had completed just 501 landings prior to that morning, when she departed Tampa to New York's Kennedy airport as Flight 164 where she would then turn around and return to Florida that evening.

The flight was by all accounts comfortable, luxurious and uneventful. The big L-1011 departed JFK at 9:20 PM and headed south. Captain Robert Loft put the bird in the sky and then turned on the autopilot, whose ones and zeros controlled the plane for most of the trip. The big Rolls Royce engines purred along, so silently that Eastern referred to their L-1011's as "Whisperliners". At only two-thirds capacity, the passengers stretched out. The L-1011 has always been one of my personal favorites- the power of the Rolls-Royce engines, the spacious cabin whose very high ceilings and wide aisles provided a great environment for flying. The night was clear, the winds calm. The passengers were Holiday travelers, returning from Christmas and preparing for the New Year.

Upon approach to Miami, a minor problem occurred. The landing gear was lowered, but the green nose gear light did not illuminate. Probably the bulb, the flight crew decided, but not wanting to risk their brand new airplane, they abandoned their approach. First officer Bert Stockstill increased their altitude to 2000 feet and turned the Whisperliner west over the Everglades. Captain Loft instructed him to reengage the autopilot, so the ones and zeros flew the plane while the flight crew diagnosed the problem. Soon the pilot, first officer, flight engineer and an Eastern L-1011 maintenance specialist were engrossed in attempting to replace a failed light bulb. So engrossed that no one noticed that First Officer Stockstill had nudged the control column and unknowingly turned off the altitude hold. The flight crew realized their error seconds before the big L-1011 flew itself into the swamp.

Amazingly, of the 176 souls on board, seventy five lived. One hundred and one perished, including the three man flight crew who became so obsessed with a failed light bulb that they somehow forgot to fly the plane. Survivors and victims seemed almost randomly disbursed, as if a computer were randomly assigning ones and zeros. In the end, there were seventy five ones, and one hundred and one zeros. One brand new fifteen million dollar aircraft, absolutely airworthy in every way except for a failed light bulb was destroyed. In the Florida swamp, investigators found the nose landing gear. It was down and locked.

To mark each anniversary, survivors gather to remember the experience, give thanks to the rescuers and honor the victims. They will reflect on how their lives were affected by the massive convergence of ones and zeros. Among those attending will be Flight Attendant Mercedes Ruiz, who wrote the poem below in February 1972 when the accident was still fresh in her memory:

Because I've been granted the gift of life
I want to live each moment to the fullest
I want to submerge my being much more than before
Into the wonders of nature and love.
I want to reach and feel,
because feeling in itself is a way of loving.
I want to tremble at the wildness of the storm,
and bathe myself with rain.
I want to touch the clouds
and hold the blue within one word.
I want to cry before the ocean waves
because they rush to me and kiss me
and then they leave.
I want the wonder of the starry night above,
the moon, a sigh, and each of all my silences.

The ones and zeros can change the course of our lives in an instant. Let us remember all of the souls flying back to Miami on that clear December night- those that returned safely to earth, and those for whom fate had other plans.

For those who desire to read more, here are two excellent sites:

Eastern 401 Homepage
Remembering Eastern 401

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Carols of Peril

December is a bit of a heavy month, what with the Holiday tucked in between some tragic anniversaries. So before any of you start to get down, let's change gear and go for some Holiday tunes. The cheerful folks at Jezebel tracked down their Worst Christmas Songs of All Time and entered them into a nifty NCAA style playoff (except without the bribes, as far as I can tell) and proclaimed the worst ever Christmas song to be "The Christmas Shoes," a ghastly guilt ridden tale of a little boy rushing to bring his hospital bound Mother a new pair of shoes so she can die. That's pretty happy, eh?

Here's the link but hide the sharp objects before clicking:

Okay that WAS pretty ghastly, but is it truly the worst? That sounds a bit like a dare, doesn't it? Off to the research laboratory. The Gizmodo folks even offer an strong alternative, a dreadful Bill Danoff tune called "Please, Daddy Don't Get Drunk This Christmas." This time, Mother is spared the relief that death can bring and has to be fully conscious while her children plead with their father not to wreck yet ANOTHER Christmas with his drinking. Cheerfully presented in a live performance folk format resembling the Peter Paul and Mary of Dysfunctional families. Ah, I feel warm.

Now who would have guessed that there would be TWO different songs called "Daddy's Drinking Up Our Christmas?" Well, maybe me, but I mean of you normal, well adjusted folks? The Commander Cody version is the more lighthearted of the two. In this one, Daddy quits his job, goes on a bender, wrecks the car and drinks every dime they have, to a zydeco rhythm. Ho Ho Ho!

And now the darker side, Same Title and different tune. This one, by none other than Smiley Bates himself, maintains the starving child and the overall theme but adds a shameless harlot across the street in the bar with Daddy, luring him astray while the family huddles in shame/ guilt/ tears/ vomit. You get the idea. Makes getting run over by a reindeer seem rather palatable.

As wonderful as they are, the drunken whore mongering Daddy songs are actually self-cancelling. We need something to cut through the clutter. If only, say, someone had taken the old Augie Rios novelty song "Mamacita, Donde Esta Santa Claus" from 1958 and remade it, maybe in a 1978 Disco Extended version with a wall of strings- that would have legs. Now who to do the vocals- what about, maybe, Charo?

Now we're getting somewhere. ladies and Gentlemen, my Aluminum Christmas Tree Champion Discoball winner- the 1978 Disco Remake of "Mamcita, Donde Esta Santa Claus" by none other than Charo.
Don't thank me all at once.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Clipper Maid

A very sad anniversary to recognize- it was twenty-three years ago today that a Boeing 747-121, bearing s/n 19646 and registered to Pan Am as N739PA took off from Heathrow and ascended into immortality. Clipper Maid of the Seas as she was known was the third and final flight of the day from London to New York and was filled with passengers anxious to return home to the states for the holidays. Among the two hundred fifty nine aboard were thirty five students from Syracuse University returning home after a semester abroad.

The fifteenth 747 ever assembled, Clipper Maid was delivered to Pan Am in February of 1970. Now well into her middle age, she had circled the globe for almost eighteen years without incident. That morning she had arrived at Heathrow from San Francisco and parked at Kilo 14 from which she would depart as Flight 103. She pushed back at 18:04 PM local time and was given take off clearance at 18:24. Pilot Captain James Bruce "Jim" MacQuarrie, a Pan Am veteran with over 4,000 hours of experience at the helm of the 747 pushed the thrust levers forward for the final time and three hundred tons of aircraft raced down the runway and lifted off.

Clipper Maid climbed to 31,000 feet and entered Scottish airspace at 19:00 GMT. Air control at Prestwick, Scotland contacted the craft. Captain MacQuarrie radioed back "Good Evening Scottish, Clipper One Zero Three. We are at level Three One Zero."

Moments later First Officer Raymond Wagner requested oceanic clearance. Pam Am 103 was flying normally at flight level 310, compass direction 316 magnetic, and airspeed of 313 knots. Everything was exquisitely ordinary. And then at 19:02.46.9, PA103 disappeared from radar.

Of course we all know what happened, that a cowardly act of terrorism literally blew the 747 apart. And as tragic and horrifying as it was, today is a day to remember the victims and their families and not the perpetrators.

Twenty-three years ago today, Clipper Maid of the Seas was torn from the sky taking with her two hundred seventy souls heading home for the holidays. May their memory be part of us now and always.

Avonye, Nichole Elizabeth, flight attendant, 44 years, born 05.05.44, Croissy-Sur-Seine, France, French

Avritt, Jerry Don, flight engineer, 46 years, born 30.07.42, Westminster, California, American

Berti, Noelle Lydie, flight attendant, 40 years, born 24.12.47, Paris, France, American

Engstrom, Siv Ulla, flight attendant, 51 years, born 21.09.37, Berkshire, England, Swedish

Franklin, Stacie Denise, flight attendant, 20 years, born 16.02.68, San Diego, California, American

Garrett, Paul Isaac, flight attendant, 41 years, born 16.11.47, Napa, California, American

Kuehne, Elke Etha, flight attendant, 43 years, born 17.03.45, Hanover, Germany, German

Larracoechea, Maria Nieves, flight attendant, 39 years, born 03.03.49, Madrid, Spain, Spanish

MacQuarrie, James Bruce, captain, 55 years, born 30.09.33, Kensington, New Hampshire, American

McAlolooy, Lilibeth Tobila, flight attendant, 27 years, born 02.11.61, Kelsterback, Germany, American

Murphy, Mary Geraldine, purser, 51 years, born 14.05.37, Middlesex, England, British

Reina, Jocelyn, flight attendant, 26 years, born 26.05.62, Isleworth, England, American

Royal, Myra Josephine, flight attendant, 30 years, born 20.12.58, London, England, American

Skabo, Irja Syhnove, flight attendant, 38 years, born 03.07.50, Oslo, Norway, American

Velimirovich, Milutin, chief purser, 35 years, born 14.10.53, Middlesex, England, American

Wagner, Raymond Ronald, first officer, 52 years, born 18.01.36, Pennington, New Jersey, American

Pan Am Flight 103 Passengers

Ahern, John Michael Gerard, bond broker, 26 years, born 16.04.62, Rockville Center, New York, American, Seat Number 30C

Aicher, Sarah Margaret, playwright, 29 years, born 09.02.59, London, England, American, Seat Number 46C

Akerstrom, John David, 34 years, born 20.05.54, Medina, Ohio, American, Seat Number 25A

Alexander, Ronald Ely, businessman, 46 years, born 15.07.42, New York, New York, Swiss, seat number 42C

Ammerman, Thomas Joseph, marketing manager, 36 years, born 06.08.52, Old Tappan, New Jersey, American, seat number 16E

Apfelbaum, Martin Lewis, stamp dealer, 59 years, born 16.08.29, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, American, seat number 15H

Asrelsky, Rachel Marie, student, 21 years, born 26.11.67, New York, New York, American, seat number 38D

Atkinson, William Garretson III, engineer, 33 years, born 18.08.55, London, England, American, seat number 15A

Atkinson, Judith Ellen, art historian and consultant, 37 years, born 18.01.51, London, England, American, seat number 15B

Bacciochi, Clare Louise, hair stylist, 19 years, born 15.03.69, Warwickshire, England, British, seat number 50K

Bainbridge, Harry Michael, attorney, 34 years, born 16.11.54, Montrose, New York, American, seat number 4B

Barclay, Stuart Murray, businessman, 29 years, born 28.11.59, Farm Barnard, Vermont, Canadian, seat number 18G

Bell, Jean Mary, 44 years, born 16.03.44, Berkshire, England, British, seat number 5A

Benello, Julian MacBain, student, 25 years, born 28.12.62, Brookline, Massachusetts, American, seat number 23H

Bennett, Lawrence Ray, pharmaceutical chemist, 41 years, born 05.11.47, Chelsea, Michigan, American, seat number 15J

Bergstrom, Philip Vernon, army sergeant, 22 years, born 21.12.66, Forest Lake, Minnesota, American, seat number 46A

Berkley, Alistair David, professor of law, 29 years, born 11.04.59, London, England, American

Bernstein, Michael Stuart, lawyer, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Special Investigation, 36 years, born 03.07.52, Bethesda, Maryland, American, seat number 47D

Berrell, Steven Russell, student, 2O years, born 19.06.68, Fargo, North Dakota, American, seat number 46F

Bhatia, Surinder Mohan, businessman, 51 years, born 21.05.37, Los Angeles, California, American, seat number 34D

Bissett, Kenneth John, student, 21 years, born 19.12.67, Hartsdale, New York, American, seat number 31J

Boatman-Fuller, Diane Anne, playwright, 37 years, born 08.01.53, London, England, American, seat number 22H

Boland, Stephen John, student, 20 years, born 28.09.68, Nashua, New Hampshire, American, seat number 46 G

Bouckley, Glen John, sales, 27 years, born 24.02.61, Liverpool, New York, British, seat number 39K

Bouckley, Paula Marie, sales, 29 years, born 14.10.59, Liverpool, New York, American, seat number 39J

Boulanger, Nicole Elise, student, 21 years, born 28.10.67, Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, American, seat number 28B

Boyer, Francis, 43 years, born 22.06.45, Toulosane, France, French, seat number 9A

Bright, Nicholas, businessman, 32 years, born 29.08.56, Brookline, Massachusetts, American, seat number 13A

Browner (Bier), Daniel Solomon, 23 years, born 20.08.65, Parod, Israel, Israeli, seat number 21A

Brunner, Colleen Renee, student, 20 years, born 01.04.68, Hamburg, New York, American, seat number 44C

Burman, Timothy Guy, banker, 24 years, born 09.10.64, London, England, British, seat number 38G

Buser, Michael Warren, advertising executive, 34 years, born 08.08.54, Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, American, seat number 35B

Buser, Warren Max, civil engineer, 62 years, born 22.09.26, Glen Rock, New Jersey, American, seat number 35A

Butler, Steven Lee, teacher, 35 years, born 30.08.53, Denver, Colorado, American, seat number 36G

Cadman, William Martin, musician, 32 years, born 10.09.56, London, England, British, seat number 29J

Caffarone, Fabiana, 28 years, born 30.09.60, London, England, British, seat number 7B

Caffarone, Hernan, 28 years, born14.12.60, London, England, Argentinean, seat number 7A

Canady, Valerie, auditor, 25 years, born 29.06.63, Morgantown, West Virginia, American, seat number 24K

Capasso, Gregory, student, 21 years, born 12.12.67, Brooklyn, New York, American, seat number 48H

Cardwell, Timothy Michael, student, 21 years, born 05.07.67, Cresco, Pennsylvania, American, seat number 37D

Carlsson, Bernt Wilmar, diplomat, 50 years, born 21.11.38, New York, New York, Swedish, seat number 17H

Cawley, Richard Anthony, businessman, 43 years, born 09.07.45, New York, New York, American, seat number 16J

Ciulla, Frank, banker, 45 years, born 06.08.43, Park Ridge, New Jersey, American, seat number 11B

Cohen, Theodora Eugenia, student, 20 years, born 10.09.68, Port Jervis, New York, American, seat number 21H

Coker, Eric Michael, student, 20 years, born 23.04.68, Mendham, New Jersey, American, seat number 43B

Coker,Jason Michael, student, 20 years, born 23.04.68, Mendham, New Jersey, American, seat number 43A

Colasanti, Gary Leonard, student, 20 years, born 01.08.68, Melrose, Massachusetts, American, seat number 43C

Concannon, Bridget, 53 years, born 13.07.35, Oxfordshire, England, Irish, seat number 33H

Concannon, Sean, 16 years, born 18.02.72, Oxfordshire, England, British, seat number 33J

Concannon, Thomas, 51 years, born 21.11.37, Oxfordshire, England, Irish, seat number 33G

Corner, Tracey Jane, 17 years, born 04.05.71, Sheffield, England, British, seat number 33A

Cory, Scott, student, 20 years, born 27.09.68, Old Lyme Court, Connecticut, American, seat number 46D

Coursey, Willis Larry, military, 40 years, born 25.08.48, San Antonio, Texas, American, seat number 36K

Coyle, Patricia Mary, student, 20 years, born 04.06.68, Wallingford, Connecticut, American, seat number 20B

Cummock, John Binning, 38 years, born 31.05.50, Coral Gables, Florida, American, seat number 3A

Curry, Joseph Patrick, army captain, 31 years, born 21.03.57, Fort Devens, Massachusetts, American, seat number 44K

Daniels, William, Allen, research chemist, 40 years, born 28.03.48, Belle Mead, New Jersey, American, seat number 9H

Dater, Gretchen Joyce, student, 20 years, born 17.05.68, Ramsey, New Jersey, American, seat number 52J

Davis, Shannon, student, 19 years, born 19.02.69, Shelton, Connecticut, American, seat number 31A

Della-Ripa, Gabriel, Pan Am Airlines employee, 46 years, born 03.04.42, Floral Park, New York, Italian, seat number 2B

DiMauro, Joyce Christine, marketing director, 32 years, born 09.05.56, New York, New York, American, seat number 11J

DiNardo, Gianfranca, 26 years, born 14.10.62, London, England, Italian, seat number 20C

Dix, Peter Thomas Stanley, management consultant, 35 years, born 06.05.53, London, England, Irish, seat number 14B

Dixit, Om, college professor, 54 years, born 29.12.33, Fairborn, Ohio, Indian, seat number 24A

Dixit, Shanti, 54 years, born 14.12.34, Fairborn, Ohio, American, seat number 24B

Dornstein, David Scott, student, 25 years, born 03.04.63, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, American, seat number 40K

Doyle, Michael Joseph, accountant, 30 years, born 21.05.58, Voorhees, New Jersey, American, seat number 9B

Eggleston, Edgar Howard III, air force sergeant, 24 years, born 13.10.64, Glens Falls, New York, American, seat number 32D

Ergin, Turhan, student, 22 years, born 14.05.66, West Hartford, Connecticut, American, seat number 28C

Fisher, Charles Thomas IV, banker, 34 years, born 24.12.53, London, England, American, seat number 25K

Flick, Clayton Lee, businessman, 25 years, born 23.02.63, Coventry, England, British, seat number 50J

Flynn, John Patrick, student, 21 years, born 24.11.67, Montville, New Jersey, American, seat number 45A

Fondiler, Arthur, attorney, 33 years, born 12.12.55, West Armonk, New York, American, seat number 47C

Fortune, Robert Gerard, insurance executive, 40 years, born 24.07.48, Jackson Heights, New York, American, seat number 1A

Freeman, Paul Matthew Stephen, 25 years, born 02.04.63, London, England, Canadian, Seat Number 46B

Fuller, James Ralph, corporate vice president, 50 years, born 17.09.38, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, America, seat number 3H

Gabor, Ibolya Robertine, 79 years, born 14.06.09, Budapest, Hungary, Hungarian, seat number 26F

Gallagher, Amy Beth, student, 22 years, born 30.08.66, Pointe Claire, Quebec, Canada, American, seat number 23G

Gannon, Matthew Kevin, foreign service officer, 34 years, born 11.08.54, Los Angeles, California, American, seat number 14J

Garczynski, Kenneth Raymond, industrial engineer, 37 years, born 17.10.51, North Brunswick, New Jersey, American, seat number 47K

Gibson, Kenneth James, army specialist four, 20 years, born 16.02.68, Romulus, Michigan, American, seat number 48K

Giebler, William David, bond broker, 29 years, born 08.07.59, London, England, American, seat number 30B

Gordon, Olive Leonora, 25 years, born 09.03.63, London, England, British, seat number 45G

Gordon-Gorgacz, Linda Susan, 39 years, born 15.09.49, London, England, American, seat number 37A

Gorgacz, Anne Madelene, 76 years, born 27.09.12, Newcastle, Pennsylvania, American, seat number 38A

Gorgacz, Loretta Anne, 47 years, born 15.03.41, Newcastle, Pennsylvania, American, seat number 37B

Gould, David, college professor, 45 years, born 03.01.43, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, American, seat number 22C

Guevorgian, Andre Nikolai, businessman, 32 years, born 11.11.56, Sea Cliff, New York, American, seat number 11A

Hall, Nicola Jane, 23 years, born 03.02.65, Sandton, South Africa, South African, seat number 23K

Halsch, Lorraine Frances, special education teacher, 31 years, born 06.11.57, Fairport, New York, American, seat number 35C

Hartunian, Lynne Carol, student, 21 years, born 13.03.67, Schenectady, New York, American, seat number 44A

Hawkins, Anthony Lacey, businessman, 57 years, born 13.11.31, Brooklyn, New York, British, seat number 28K

Herbert, Pamela Elaine, student, 19 years, born 27.03.69, Battle Creek, Michigan, American, seat number 37J

Hilbert, Rodney Peter, 40 years, born 19.07.48, Newton, Pennsylvania, American, seat number 16H

Hill, Alfred, 29 years, born 29.06.59, Sonthofen, Germany, German, seat number 14A

Hollister, Katherine Augusta, student, 20 years, born 26.08.68, Rego Park, New York, American, seat number 54C

Hudson, Josephine Lisa, nurse, 22 years, born 14.05.66, London, England, British, seat number 50D

Hudson, Melina Kristina, student, 16 years, born 25.01.72, Albany, New York, seat number American 29A

Hudson, Sophie Ailette Miriam, 26 years, born 22.09.62, Paris, France, French, seat number 29H

Hunt, Karen Lee, student, 20 years, born 07.01.68, Webster, New York, American, seat number 31K

Hurst, Roger Elwood, marketing manager, 38 years, born 12.07.50, Ringwood, New Jersey, American, seat number 2H

Ivell, Elizabeth Sophie, dog handler, 19 years, born 21.04.69, East Sussex, England, British, seat number 19C

Jaafar, Khalid Nazir, student, 20 years, born 01.05.68, Dearborn, Michigan, American, seat number 53K

Jeck, Robert van Houten, 57 years, born 08.10.31, Mountain Lakes, New Jersey, American, seat number 4J

Jeffreys, Paul Avron, musician, 36 years, born 13.02.52, Surrey, England, British, seat number 38J

Jeffreys, Rachel, advertising executive, 23, years, born 29.04.65, Surrey, England, British, seat number 38H

Jermyn, Kathleen Mary, student, 20 years, born 27.12.67, Staten Island, New York, American, seat number 49A

Johnson, Beth Ann, student, 21 years, born 24.03.67, Greensburg, Pennsylvania, American, seat number 36B

Johnson, Mary Alice Lincoln, student, 25 years, born 14.06.63, Wayland, Massachusetts, American, seat number 33D

Johnson, Timothy Baron, student, 21 years, born 30.11.67, Neptune, New Jersey, American, seat number 26A

Jones, Christopher Andrew, student, 20 years, born 04.03.68, Claverack, New York, American, seat number 52K

Kelly, Julianne Frances, student, 20 years, born 27.06.68, Dedham, Massachusetts, American, seat number 21E

Kingham, Jay Joseph, pharmaceuticals executive, 44 years, born 03.03.44, Potomac, Maryland, American, seat number 5B

Klein, Patricia Ann, social worker, 35 years, born 16.06.53, Trenton, New Jersey, American, seat number 28A

Kosmowski, Gregory, marketing executive, 40 years, born 08.10.48, MiIford, Michigan, American, seat number 8H

Kulukundis, Minas Christopher, ship brokerage director, 38 years, born 17.12.50, London, England, British, seat number 51K

LaRiviere, Ronald Albert, 33 years, born 19.11.55, Alexandria, Virginia, American, seat number 20H

Leckburg, Robert Milton, engineer, 30 years, born 12.10.58, Piscataway, New Jersey, seat number American 34C

Leyrer, William Chase, businessman, 46 years, born 24.08.42, Bay Shore, New York, American 2J

Lincoln, Wendy Anne, student, 23 years, born 21.01.65, North Adams, Massachusetts, American, seat number 28D

Lowenstein, Alexander Silas, student, 21 years, born 25.02.67, Morristown, New Jersey, American, seat number 20D

Ludlow, Lloyd David, army sergeant first class, 41 years, born 06.02.47, Macksville, Kansas, American, seat number 51A

Lurbke, Maria Theresia, 25 years, born 26.11.63, Balve Beckum, Germany, German, seat number 52A

Mack, William Edward, puppeteer, 30 years, born 24.04.58, New York, New York, American, seat number 36B

Malicote, Douglas Eugene, army specialist four, 22 years, born 31.08.66, Lebanon, Ohio, American, seat number 48B

Malicote, Wendy Gay, 21 years, born 31.07.67, Lebanon, Ohio, American, seat number 48A

Marek, Elizabeth Lillian, actress and peace activist, 30 years, born 17.02.58, New York, New York, American, seat number 36C

Marengo, Louis Anthony, marketing director, 33 years, born 09.02.55, Rochester, Michigan, American, seat number 3J

Martin, Noel George, 27 years, born 31.05.61, Clapton, England, Jamaican, seat number 53A

Maslowski, Diane Marie, currency trader, 30 years, born 10.08.58, New York, American, seat number 8B

McAllister, William John, 26 years, born 18.10.62 in the Isle of Mull, Argyll, Scotland , Scottish, seat number 14E

McCarthy, Daniel Emmet, banker, 31 years, born 02.11.57, Brooklyn, New York, American, seat number 6B

McCollum, Robert Eugene, university professor, 61 years, born 12.05.27, Wayne, Pennsylvania, American, seat number 7J

McKee, Charles Dennis, army major, 40 years, born 03.12.48 , Arlington, Virginia, American, seat number 15F

McLaughlin, Bernard Joseph, marketing manager, 30 years, born 12.12.58, Cranston, Rhode Island, American, seat number 36A

Melber, Jane Susan, musician and teacher, 27 years, born 01.01.61, Middlesex, England, American, seat number 27H

Merrill, John, seaman, 35 years, born 11.07.53, Hertfordshire, England, British, seat number 37K

Miazga, Suzanne Marie, student, 22 years, born 31.07.66, Marcy, New York, American, seat number 23A

Miller, Joseph Kenneth, accounting firm executive, 56 years, born 27.05.32, Woodmere, New York, American, seat number 10B

Mitchell, Jewel Courtney, army second lieutenant, 32 years, born 14.06.56, Brooklyn, New York, American, seat number 27A

Monetti, Richard Paul, student, 20 years, born 11.09.68, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, American, seat number 20E

Morgan, Jane Ann, attorney, 37 years, born 19.03.51, London, England, American, seat number 42A

Morson, Eva Ingeborg, 48 years, born 29.04.40, New, York, New York, American, seat number 19G

Mosey, Helga Rachael, student, 19 years, born 21.09.69, West Midlands, England, British, seat number 22K

Mulroy, Ingrid Elizabeth, 25 years, born 22.04.63, Lund, Sweden, Swedish, seat number 34J

Mulroy, John, journalist, 59 years, born 01.04.29, East Northport, New York, American, seat number 34G

Mulroy, Sean Kevin, 25 years, born 03.05.63, Lund, Sweden, American, seat number 34H

Noonan, Karen Elizabeth, student, 20 years, born 26.12.67, Potomac, Maryland, American, seat number 20A

O'Connor, Daniel Emmett, U.S. diplomatic service, 31 years, born 22.09.57, Dorchester, Massachusetts, American, seat number 25H

O'Neil, Mary Denice, student, 2l years, born 02.04.67, Bronx, New York, American, seat number 38K

Otenasek, Anne Lindsey, student, 21 years, born 31.01.67, Baltimore, Maryland, American, seat number 45K

Owen, Bryony Elise, 1 year, born 29.04.87, Bristol, England, British, seat number 19D

Owen, Gwyneth Yvonne Margaret, student, 29 years, born 03.05.59, Bristol, England, British, seat number 19D

Owens, Laura Abigail, 8 years, born 01.01.80, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, American, seat number 35K

Owens, Martha, 44 years, born 02.06.44, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, American, seat number 35H

Owens, Robert Plack, 45 years, born 05.03.43, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, American, seat number 35G

Owens, Sarah Rebecca, 14 years, born 09.12.74, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, American, seat number 35J

Pagnucco, Robert Italo, attorney, 51 years, born 20.10.37, South Salem, New York, American, seat number 4A

Papadopoulos, Christos Michael, 45 years, born 11.11.43, North Lawrence, New York, American, seat number 17A

Peirce, Peter Raymond, architect and student, 40 years, born 28.09.48, Perrysburg, Ohio, American, seat number 47G

Pescatore, Michael, businessman, 33 years, born 06.09.55, Solon, Ohio, American, seat number 17J

Philipps, Sarah Susannah Buchanan, student, 20 years, born 15.08.68, Newtonville, Massachusetts, American, seat number 49C

Phillips, Frederick Sandford, student, 27 years, born 08.05.61, Little Rock, Arkansas, American, seat number 21F

Pitt, James Andrew Campbell, student, 24 years, born 06.11.64, South Hadley, Massachusetts, American, seat number 29K

Platt, David, architect, 33 years, born 13.12.55, Staten Island, New York, American, seat number 8A

Porter, Walter Leonard, musician, 35 years, born 10.03.53, Brooklyn, New York, American, seat number 25C

Posen, Pamela Lynn, student, 20 years, born 30.01.68, Harrison, New York, American, seat number 26K

Pugh, William, businessman, 56 years, born 29.02.32, Margate, New Jersey, American, seat number 21D

Quiguyan, Crisostomo Estrella, hotel cashier, 43 years, born 16.03.45, London, England, Filipino, seat number 30A

Ramses, Rajesh Tarsis Priskel, 35 years, born 26.05.53, Leicester, England, Indian, seat number 22A

Rattan, Anmol, 2 years, born 24.09.86, Warren, Michigan. American, seat number 24C

Rattan, Garima, computer programmer, 29 years, born 15.07.59, Warren, Michigan, American, seat number 23D

Rattan, Suruchi, 3 years, born 20.06.85, Warren, Michigan. American, seat number 23E

Reeves, Anita Lynn, 24 years, born 03.09.64, Laurel, Maryland, American, seat number 45D

Rein, Mark Alan, businessman, 44 years, born 12.02.44, New York, New York, American, seat number 2A

Rencevicz, Diane Marie, student, 21 years, born 13.07.67, Burlington, New Jersey, American, seat number 29G

Rogers, Louise Ann, student, 20 years, born 13.02.67, Olney, Maryland, American, seat number 29D

Roller, Edina, 5 years, born 24.11.83, Hungary, Hungarian, seat number 26D

Roller, Janos Gabor, 29 years, born 26.03.59, Hungary, Hungarian, seat number 26E

Roller, Zsuzsana, 27 years, born 21.12.61, Hungary, Hungarian, seat number 26G

Root, Hanne Maria, management consultant, 26 years, born 15.12.62, Toronto, Canada, Canadian, seat number 34K

Rosen, Saul Mark, businessman, 35 years, born 24.11.53, Morris Plains, New Jersey, American, seat number 32A

Rosenthal, Andrea Victoria, student, 22 years, born 05.02.66, New York, New York, American, seat number 35D

Rosenthal, Daniel Peter, student, 20 years, born 02.06.68, Staten Island, New York, American, seat number 21J

Rubin, Arnaud David, 28 years, born 18.05.60, Waterloo, Belgium, Belgian, seat number 39G

Saraceni, Elyse Jeanne, student, 20 years, born 01.06.68, East London, England, American, seat number 36D

Saunders, Scott Christopher, student, 21 years, born 20.05.67, Macungie, Pennsylvania, American, seat number 24D

Saunders, Theresa Elizabeth Jane, marketing, 28 years, born 24.10.60, Sunbury-on-Thames, England, British, seat number 14F

Schauble, Johannes Otto, 41 years, born 08.08.47, Kappellenweg, Germany, German, seat number 49K

Schlageter, Robert Thomas, student, 20 years, born 12.08.68, Warwick, Rhode Island American, seat number 28G

Schultz, Thomas Britton, student, 20, years, born 05.01.68, Ridgefield, Connecticut, American, seat number 45C

Scott, Sally Elizabeth, chef, 22 years, born 17.01.66, Huntington, New York, British, seat number 56G

Shapiro, Amy Elizabeth, student, 21 years, born 28.10.67, Stamford, Connecticut, American, seat number 37G

Shastri, Mridula, 24 years, born 12.02.64, Oxford, England, Indian, seat number 24H

Sheanshang, Joan, 46 years, born 16.12.42, New York, New York, American, seat number 41C

Sigal, Irving Stanley, research biologist, 35 years, born 23.05.53, Pennington, New Jersey, American, seat number 13B

Simpson, Martin Bernard Christopher, financier, 52 years, born 25.10.36, Brooklyn, New York, American, seat number 27K

Smith, Cynthia Joan, student, 21 years, born 06.10.67, Milton, Massachusetts, American, seat number 41A

Smith, Ingrid Anita, chiropodist, 31 years, born 12.11.57, Berkshire, England, British, seat number 4H

Smith, James Alvin, 55 years, born 11.03.33, New York, New York, American, seat number 27G

Smith, Mary Edna, army sergeant, 34 years, born 14.07.54, Kalamazoo, Michigan, American, seat number 34A

Stevenson, Geraldine Anne, 37 years, born 31.03.51, Surrey, England, British, seat number 22E

Stevenson, Hannah Louise, 10 years, born 23.09.78, Surrey, England, British, seat number 22F

Stevenson, John Charles, 38 years, born 13.09.50, Surrey, England, British, seat number 22D

Stevenson, Rachael, 8 years, born 01.09.80, Surrey, England, British, seat number 22G

Stinnett, Charlotte Ann, 36 years, born 07.02.52, Duncanville, Texas, American, seat number 19J

Stinnett, Michael Gary, army specialist, 26 years, born 27.05.62, Duncanville, Texas, American, seat number 19H

Stinnett, Stacey Leanne, 9 years, born 30.07.79, Duncanville, Texas, American, seat number 19K

Stow, James Ralph, businessman, 49 years, born 18.07.39, New York, New York, American, seat number 15E

Stratis, Elia G., accountant, 43 years, born 17.06.45, Montvale, New Jersey, American, seat number 1B

Swan, Anthony Selwyn, 29 years, born 15.05.59, Brooklyn, New York, Trinidadian, seat number 41K

Swire, Flora MacDonald Margaret, medical student and researcher, 24 years, born 22.12.64, London, England, British, seat number 39D

Tager, Marc Alex, 22 years, born 03.08.66, London, England, British, seat number 26H

Tanaka, Hidekazu, 26 years, born 13.05.62, London, England, Japanese, seat number 24G

Teran, Andrew Alexander, student, 20 years, born 31.08.68, New Haven, Connecticut, Bolivian, seat number 27D

Thomas, Arva Anthony, student, 17 years, born 26.04.71, Detroit, Michigan, American, seat number 19A

Thomas, Jonathan Ryan, 2 months, born 29.09.88, Southfield, Michigan, American, seat number 32K

Thomas, Lawanda, air force sergeant, 21 years, born 17.02.67, Southfield, Michigan, American, seat number 32K

Tobin, Mark Lawrence, student, 21 years, born 04.04.67, North Hempstead, New York, American, seat number 32G

Trimmer-Smith, David William, publishing executive, 51 years, born 26.04.37, New York, New York, American, seat number 12A

Tsairis, Alexia Kathryn, student, 20 years, born 06.07.68, Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, American, seat number 21G

Valentino, Barry Joseph, exhibit designer, 28 years, born 25.02.60, San Francisco, California, American, seat number 20G

Van-Tienhoven, Thomas Floro, 45 years, born 30.05.43, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Argentinean, seat number 2B

Vejdany, Asaad Eidi, 46 years, born 24.02.42, South Great Neck, New York, American, seat number 20C

Vrenios, Nicholas Andreas, student, 20 years, born 20.08.68, Washington, DC, American, seat number 46E

Vulcu, Peter, stockbroker and student, 21 years, born 01.08.67, Alliance, Ohio, American, seat number 20K

Waido, Janina Jozefa, 61 years, born 19.03.27, Chicago, Illinois, American, seat number 50A

Walker, Thomas Edwin, electronics specialist, 47 years, born 11.12.41, Quincy, Massachusetts, American, seat number 16A

Weedon, Kesha, student, 20 years, born 02.10.68, Bronx, New York, American, seat number 37H

Weston, Jerome Lee, engineer, 45 years, born 11.11.43, Baldwin, New York, American, seat number 10A

White, Jonathan, accountant, 33 years, born 14.07.55, North Hollywood, California, American, seat number 55J

Williams, Bonnie Leigh, military, 21 years, born 12.01.67, Crown Point, New York, American, seat number 46K

Williams, Brittany Leigh, 2 months, born 13.10.88, Crown Point, New York, American, seat number 46J

Williams, Eric Jon, army sergeant, 24 years, born 15.08.64, Crown Point, New York, American, seat number 46J

Williams, George Waterson, army first lieutenant, 24 years, born 17.05.64, Joppa, Maryland, American, seat number 33K

Williams, Stephanie Leigh, 1 year, born 23.05.87, Crown Point, New York, American, seat number 46K

Wolfe, Miriam Luby, student, 20 years, born 26.09.68, Severna Park, Maryland, American, seat number 21K

Woods, Chelsea Marie, 10 months, born 06.02.88, Willingboro, New Jersey, American, seat number 25F

Woods, Dedera Lynn, air force sergeant, 27 years, born 04.02.61, Willingboro, New Jersey, American, seat number 25G

Woods, Joe Nathan, civilian military worker, 28 years, born 05.03.60, Willingboro, New Jersey, American, seat number 25D

Woods, Joe Nathan, Jr., 2 years, born 24.09.86, Willingboro, New Jersey, American, seat number 25E

Wright, Andrew Christopher Gillies, site agent, 24 years, born 02.05.64, Surrey, England, British, seat number 55G

Zwynenburg, Mark James, investment banker, 29 years, born 14.10.59, West Nyack, New York, American, seat number 12B

Lockerbie Residents

Flannigan, Kathleen Mary, 41 years, born 26.01.47, 16 Sherwood Crescent

Flannigan, Thomas Brown, 44 years, born 20.12.44, 16 Sherwood Crescent

Flannigan, Joanne, 10 years, born 13.06.78, 16 Sherwood Crescent

Henry, Dora Henrietta, 56 years, born 27.03.32, 13 Sherwood Crescent

Henry, Maurice Peter, 63 years, born 18.07.25, 13 Sherwood Crescent

Lancaster, Mary, 81 years, born 12.01.07, 11 Sherwood Crescent

Murray, Jean Aitkin, 82 years, born 29.11.06, 14 Sherwood Crescent

Somerville, John, 40 years, born 31.05.48, 15 Sherwood Crescent

Somerville, Rosaleen Later, affectionately know as 'Rosalind', 40 years, born 31.05.48, 15 Sherwood Crescent

Somerville, Paul, 13 years, born 21.01.75, 15 Sherwood Crescent

Somerville, Lyndsey Ann, 10 years, 13.07.78, 15 Sherwood Crescent

Friday, December 16, 2011

remembering park slope

Fifty-one years ago today, on December 16, 1960, the residents of the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn were in the middle of a brisk winter morning when a most unwelcome visitor descended among them- a brand new United Airlines DC-8 Mainliner. The big jet, only a year old, had collided with a TWA Super Constellation in mid flight and was plunging to a premature end in a busy New York neighborhood. It happened much too quickly for anyone to react. A few miles away in Staten Island, a TWA Constellation on final approach to La Guardia was making a similar plunge.

Sadly, it wasn't the first time that such a meeting had happened. Just four years prior, an eerily similar accidental collision between a United DC-7 Turboprop and another TWA Constellation sent them both plunging into the Grand Canyon, where the wreckage remained for years.

The "Star of Sicily" was a Lockheed Super Constellation, model L-1049. It had entered service in 1952 and was just over eight years old with 21,000 odd hours in flight. It carried registration number N6907C and had departed Columbus, OH at 9 AM bound for New York's La Guardia with 39 passengers and a crew of 5. The triple-tailed Turbo Propeller driven Super Constellation was the backbone of TWA, a design from the immediate postwar era which had been the staple of air travel in the fifties, but was just now being outpaced by the new jet airliners entering the market from Boeing and Douglas.

In contrast, the United Airlines Douglas DC-8-11 Jet was nearly brand new. N8013U was only the twenty-second DC-8 off the assembly line. It had been completed in 1959 but not delivered to United until after the DC-8 received its Airworthiness Certificate in August of that year. The plane had only 2,434 hours in the air at the time of loss. Its powerful Pratt and Whitney JT3-C engines allowed it a cruising speed that was nearly double that of the Connie. Ironically, this aircraft carried the name "Mainliner Will Rogers", after the beloved orator who, tragically, had been killed in an air crash hinself in 1936. N8013U had departed Chicago O'Hare Airport at 9:11 AM bound for New York Idlewild with 77 passengers and a crew of seven.

The flights appeared to proceed routinely for both aircraft, except for limited visibility due to clouds and some fog. The United Flight was under the control of New York Air Route Traffic Control Center, which had guided them to a holding pattern point known as Preston and governed their descent from 25,000 to 5,000 feet, at which point they would be advised to contact Idlewild Approach. Unknown to NYART was the fact that N8013U's VOR radio receiver was misbehaving, meaning that their ability to hold their precise assigned course was less than certain. In fact, they were eleven miles off course and instead of circling Preston, were headed directly for Miller Field on Staten Island. In addition, they were traveling at just over 300 knots, despite being assigned an airspeed of 250.

At the same time, TWA Constellation N6907C was under the control of La Guardia approach and was also heading in the direction of Miller Army Air Station, while preparing for an ILS approach at Runway 04. The flight was descending to 5,000 feet when it was advised of "traffic at 2.30, six miles northeast", which was the misplaced DC-8. No acknowledgment came back from the TWA crew.

At 10:33 AM, both aircraft were flying inside cloud cover when suddenly, at an altitude of approximately 5,200 feet, the DC-8's number four engine sliced through the upper fuselage of the Constellation. The Connie's fuselage broke into three pieces and the wreckage fell about one mile onto Miller Field. The DC-8, badly damaged, continued for approximately ten miles before plummeting into the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn with the huge tail section coming to rest at the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Sterling Place. Victims and airplane parts rained from the sky. A church, a laundry, a funeral home and several apartment buildings were destroyed or badly damaged. Several people on the ground were killed, including occupants of a car that was crushed by the DC-8. All in all, over 130 people lost their lives in what was, at the time, the worst air disaster in American air space.

For a moment, there was a bright spot as rescuers found a survivor- eleven year old Steven Baltz of suburban Chicago was badly burned but alive. To many it seemed miraculous, and the whole city of New York prayed for him, but his injuries were too great. His lungs were badly damaged by the fire and the child succumbed to pneumonia the following day.

The tragedy was heartbreaking. The very first crash of a passenger jet in American airspace was a thoroughly avoidable collision of two totally airworthy craft. Two neighborhoods in ruins, and the greatest death toll in American history, and all ten days before Christmas. The heartbroken city dug out from the rubble, buried its dead and carried on. The tragic 1956 Grand Canyon crash had led to the "black box" data recorders on commercial aircraft, and significantly, this incident marks one of the first times such data was utilized in investigating a mishap. And there was one more significant development from this tragedy-then newly elected President Kennedy created a task force for Air Traffic Control that created the basic system that we use today.

One year ago this morning, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the tragedy, the Park Slope Neighborhood Council and Methodist Hospital held a memorial service at Greenwood Cemetery and unveiled a granite memorial to those lost. It is a tragic reality that the development of safe passenger air travel has a human cost. This was not a wartime accident, this was a civilian accident in peaceful airspace. The victims were ordinary citizens. The child who survived briefly could have been any eleven year old in the country. Just people in their daily routine of travel, and the time of year certainly compounds the tragedy and adds a poignance. May the victims never be forgotten.

New York Times Park Slope Series Here

A reminiscence from Steven Baltz' Younger Brother Here

Life Magazine Photos of the Crash Scenes Here

50's Travel Photographs taken by Dean Bowen, TWA Co-Pilot lost in the crash, Here

Saturday, November 12, 2011

cabbages and kings

For Caroline and Carlos

My cousin Caroline is my modern day Mary Ann Singleton. She came to San Francisco on vacation and found her life waiting for her there. Caroline fell in love with the city, went home to Michigan, packed up and moved. She and I are kindred spirits in a way- she nearly repeating my own journey to Los Angeles of twenty years ago. We are the exceptions- of the nigh on thirty first cousins of our generation, we are the two that fled the furthest from the rust belt town of our youth. After eight years in the Bay, she is much a part of San Francisco as a cable car.

Cabbages and Kings, my Father calls it- the wanderlust, the need to go out into the world to find the life that fits. It's not easy to leave the security of home and family, but for some- it is a necessity. And unlike the poem, we've thus far evaded being devoured by any walruses and carpenters that loiter on mythical seashores.

Last night I sat in a pew in the Swedenborgian Church, a lovely old stone structure with a hand hewn wooden roof. We watched under candlelit chandeliers as Caroline walked down the aisle in a vintage ivory lace and satin dress to be married to the love of her life, Carlos. They both looked radiant. I represented the western side of the family, along with her brother Robert from Boise - we call him the runner up in our wanderlust competition. Her mother, sister Christine, and brother Stephen all made the trek from the midwest to be part of the celebration.

We remarked at the reception just how far we have come- both geographically and emotionally, from the rust belt of our childhood. Although it permeates us and helps define us, it does not control us. Her life is in San Francisco, just as mine is in Southern California. We both traveled to where our lives told us they needed us to go, but the family bond is still strong. We are of each others kind, and always will be, even though we followed the voices that spoke of Cabbages and Kings.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

yellowed newspaper clipping

This is a repost from 2007. I was completely enveloped by the story when I first heard it. Only after posting it did I realize that the woman I wrote about had the same maiden name as my mother. Dedicated to the memory of the two Patricias.

My neighbor Ron is someone I would have to describe as an Auto Rights Activist. He has personally saved more old cars from destruction than anyone I have known. Think of him as the antidote to a demolition derby, dragging home wrecks and restoring them to glistening beauty. Usually these cars represent a chapter of his youth, and lead to a story about life with his family in Lubbock, Texas. From the assemblage of veterans on the block, it appears that his family tended to favor Ford products.

For example, one time, Ron showed up with a totally sun baked 1950 Ford sedan. The body and chassis were remarkably intact, but the car simply looked like it had been parked on the sun. This one reminded him of his Grandfather, who had an almost identical car back in Texas in the early sixties. Ron recalled how his Grandmother referred to it as the "little gray Ford". Another time it was a green and white mid-fifties Ford sedan with factory air conditioning, but that one reposed in the driveway for only a short period of time.

Ron's mother Sue passed away recently from cancer. He went back to Lubbock to the little mid-century house he grew up in, only the second house of her adult life, and began the task of sorting through belongings that had been accumulating there since LBJ's first term. Clothes, shoes, books, photographs, papers, catalogues, magazines. Some recent, some not. In the cedar chest were the family papers. His Grandfather's Military Discharge papers were there, along with his Parent's Marriage License, almost every document pertaining to the lives of her four boys, and a yellowed newspaper clipping.

He carefully unfolded the clipping. It was dated September 30, 1957. The headline read "Four Killed on Area Roads". It was published on a Monday and told how four people, three adult women and one nine year old child, were killed the previous day in three separate crashes. There was a black and white photograph of a mangled 1955 Ford sedan. One could not tell the color but Ron knew instinctively that the car was light green. It had belonged to his Aunt Patsy.

Ron does not remember his Aunt Patsy, his father's second-youngest sister. He was only two years old when she died. She was only twenty-seven years old herself. He had grown up keenly aware of her absence. He heard his family talk about her over the years, especially his Grandmother and his Aunt Bobbie. There is a picture of him on his first birthday in her arms. He does not recall this photo being taken.

She has raven black hair, dimpled cheeks, and a big smile. She is a beautiful young woman. He has seen other pictures of her also, including one of her in her casket. Her son Donnie appears in a similar photograph. Ron recalls that he knew better than to ask his Grandmother about those photos. He knew almost nothing about the accident which claimed their lives. His Grandmother was unable to discuss it. According to Aunt Bobbie, Grandmother had to be heavily sedated to even get through the funeral.

From his Aunt Bobbie, he knew that Uncle Tommy, a baker in downtown Lubbock, had worked part of the day that Sunday. His mother had offered to help the young family buy a badly needed bigger house, so Patsy and the kids picked her up at her house in Cone, Northwest of Lubbock, and drove to the bakery downtown to get Tommy. They spent a long afternoon touring and looking at potential new homes.

When the day drew to a close, they dropped his mother off at about 8:30 pm and headed back to Lubbock on Highway 82. It was a busy two lane road and Patsy was driving. Tommy was in the right front, and nine year old Donnie was seated between them in front. In fifties highway etiquette, the eldest got first dibs on the front seat. They were nearing home when a car being driven by a twenty-one year old man from Fort Worth pulled out to pass and hit the green Ford sedan head on.

For the first time, Ron was holding an article which calmly reported a family tragedy. According to the newspaper, Aunt Patsy was thrown through the windshield. Both she and Donnie died at the scene. Tommy suffered broken ribs and other injuries. Their daughter Nancy, age four, and six year old Jack were both in the back seat. Also riding in the car were two of their neighbor's children who had come along for the Sunday drive. They all survived, as did the young man and his girlfriend in the other car. He suffered a broken leg in the crash. Neither car was equipped with seat belts. The newspaper reported that the victims were taken to three different area hospitals. It then went on to detail the other two accidents, duly noting that one of the victims was, in fact, a negro.

Aunt Bobbie offered more detail. She herself had stopped by the bakery that day. She was running errands with her own mother-in-law, Lucille. Lucille was a brassy woman who was often hired by local farmers to find water on their land with a divining rod. She was known to have a sixth sense. She waited in the car while Bobbie ran into the bakery. When Bobbie came back , Lucille cast her eyes on the green 1955 Ford sedan. "That's Patsy's car, isn't it" she asked. "Yes, it is, you've seen it before" Bobbie replied. Lucille said nothing more, but continued to eye it with a troubled expression as Bobbie pulled away.

Ron admitted to me that the green and white 1956 sedan he had purchased began to remind him too much of Aunt Patsy's car. Virtually identical in styling, he believed it was even the same color. That's why it remained in the fleet for such a short time.

Aunt Patsy and Donnie were laid to rest in the family plot next to her father. Her mother joined them there in 1984. Ron's own parents are a couple of rows away in the same cemetery. Uncle Tommy eventually remarried and moved out of state. Ron grew up with only a peripheral awareness of his cousins' existence. Fifty years have gone by. The babies are now middle aged. The smiling young adults are now old, and Patsy's brothers and sisters are joining her one by one. The passage of time does nothing to erase the tragedy of lives cut short on a Sunday night. The newspaper articles are clipped out and placed in the cedar chest where they yellow, but they are not thrown away.

It is all but impossible for us to understand such a loss in the context of its own time. To imagine an era where ladies wore single strands of white pearls and dainty hats, but then could be suddenly thrown through the windshields of pastel colored sedans is beyond our ability to comprehend. It bemoans the limitations of technology at a fixed point in time. And while it may seem to us to be primitive, it was the state of the art at the time. These were just the risks one assumed in daily living. Life changes in an instant, and this fact is as true today as it was in the late summer of 1957. Perhaps that is what makes the memories so precious.

On the nightstand next to Ron's bed, there is a framed photograph of a smiling young woman holding a one year old boy. She has raven black hair and dimples in her cheeks.

Monday, July 11, 2011


Five years later. The memories are still clear, but less obtrusive. We're pretty much all still here somehow. The last five years haven't been the greatest, but I wish you'd stuck around for them. I don't cry anymore, I don't scream anymore. I think I'm just numb. Does anyone really get over this kind of a loss anyway? We go on, but do we ever really get over it?

Be at peace, John. We'll never forget you.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

sudden storm

Very tragic news this week as a category 5 Tornado smashed into the town of Joplin, Missouri, cutting a swath of destruction through the center of town and even hitting the local hospital. The tragedy has claimed 139 lives so far, making it the deadliest single tornado recorded and surpassing the prior record from 1953, an event which preceeded my own birth but nonetheless had an enormous impact on my childhood.

My hometown of Flint, Michigan was hit by a category 5 tornado in June of 1953. It descended on a muggy Midwestern summer night with almost no warning and mowed through hundreds of homes while it meandered eastward at a rate of approximately 30 mph. The storm left an entire neighborhood in ruins and cost 116 persons their lives. Sadly, almost half of the victims were children. The tragedy is recalled as the Beecher Tornado.

Both of my parents were young adults at that time, and the disaster had a lasting effect on them. My brother was born five years later in 1958 and myself in 1960. While the Beecher Tornado had long since passed, we were keenly aware of what had happened. My mother told stories of the rescue efforts and recounted stories of those who survived and those who did not. I vividly recall her telling the story of the woman who outran the tornado in her 1949 Buick, with the speedometer reading 100mph as the wind repeatedly lifted the back wheels off the ground. Her six children cowered in the back seat in fear but the car made it to safety.

When my brother and I were older, she showed us home movies my uncle Bill had taken the day following the storm. It was virtually impossible for my five year old consciousness to discern what the piles of rubble in the movies had once been. We were raised with a very healthy respect for the destructive potential of nature, a respect that I believe we shared with every schoolchild in the city of Flint.

Mother was particularly nervous on humid summer nights, the kind that hung in the air and produced the thunderstorms which hatch tornadoes. While she never tried to cause needless alarm, she kept a keen eye on the skies as she watched us playing in the lush Michigan grass. It was universally understood in our neighborhood that a weather siren meant the immediate cessation of playtime and a dash for shelter. Many a summer evening was spent listening to the rain in the basement, waiting for the all clear signal to be broadcast over the little blue transistor radio.

It was not until adulthood that I actually looked at a map of the destruction and discovered what Mother had always known- the Tornado touched to earth almost exactly two miles north of the bedroom I shared with my brother. She was keenly aware of that fact every time a humid summer night occurred, it was a line on her brow. However, she somehow never imparted that knowledge unto us.

Of course, storm warnings matured rapidly after the tragic events of 1953, and the truth is that we were dramatically safer at all times than only a few short years before. But this terrible sudden storm in Joplin reminds us that the need to be vigilant does not dissipate with time, and natural disasters do not fall out of fashion.

The passage of time has not diminished the memories of the citizens of Flint, nor has it lessened the tragedy of the loss of a hundred and sixteen lives when the winds dashed the houses against the Michigan clay. We will remember always.

Monday, May 23, 2011


I'm worried about the Heirloom. Although its trunk looks thick and healthy, the buds seem to wilt too easily in the sun. The Chrysler Imperial alongside seems indestructible in comparison, and the neighboring Antique has exploded in bountiful pink blossoms, but the darn Heirloom gives me daily fits.

It is an essentially optimistic statement to tend the rose garden in a rented house, an act made all the more transient when the property is for sale. The daily watering and tending is juxtaposed with nice lady realtors in Lexus SUV's showing the property to prospective new owners. Whoever they turn out to be, I can't help but hope that they have a fondness for roses.

I guess I'm surprised that I've seen then this far along already. I cut them severely back to twigs in February, and wondered if I'd even see then start to grow back. But roses want to grow, and given the most rudimentary care, will bounce back. The new shoots started to appear within two weeks. I had buds for Easter, and a multicolored cascade of roses for Mother's Day.

I wonder aloud who will care for them when I move on. I'm only here for what seems like a momentary respite, and in that short time, these living things have grown dependent on me for basic care. Perhaps I depend on them as well for a reminder that I can still make an impact, albeit a tiny one, in this spinning green orb.

It's not lost on me that caring for the roses is allegorical, that in tending flowers in a transient rose garden I am somehow symbolizing so many people whose world has spun out of control and who are trying to reclaim even the tiniest parts of it again. I can't undo the damage caused by unchallenged greed on Wall Street, and I can't find jobs for all who need them, but I can make flowers grow in the garden and talk to them and tend them for whomever comes along next. I'm not saying we can heal society with such singularly insignificant gestures, but perhaps we can begin to heal ourselves.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

kate and patsy

They were much more like sisters than mother and daughter. For starters, they were only twenty one years apart. Also, they didn't act like mother and daughter per se- they were lifelong best friends, and all but inseparable. And neither of them exactly acted like a grown up all that often.

In over a year of writing, I can't believe I hadn't written about Kate. My brave and pragmatic Missouri born Grandmother. The one who married too hastily, and focused her energy on the children she loved. She played the hand she was dealt with laughter and courage. She all but lived with us during my childhood, while always maintaining an apartment to ensure her independence.

They both loved to surprise the other. Like the time in 1979 when we moved to a new house and Patsy didn't tell Kate. She knew we were planning to move, of course, and was rather dreading the whole thing. So when we had the opportunity to move up the actual date, we conveniently forgot to mention it. I picked her at her apartment and drove her to our house, stopping off at the new house to check on something. And there we were, all moved in and set up. She just about fainted. Score one for Patsy and I.

Then there was Kate's birthday that year. Mom had taken her for her birthday weekend to the brand new Hyatt Regency hotel in Flint. They had a formal dinner on Friday night, and were enjoying a casual luncheon in the atrium on Saturday when the Gorilla appeared with the birthday balloon bouquet. Fortunately, there just happened to be a photographer there to record the presentation for history. Score one more for Patsy, with another assist to yours truly. I still have the picture.

And that led to the Big Party. Of course, Kate wanted to return the favor. She and I talked the family into a big surprise birthday party for Patsy. We had made plans that bordered on military precision involving refreshments, decorations, and even staging the guests down the block at a rendezvous point to preserve the element of surprise. Kind of a challenge doing a surprise party for Mother in her own home, you see.

We sneaked supplies and decorations into the house for weeks. All went well until the afternoon of the party, when Mom was unexpectedly home. I fidgeted, looking out the window at my poor Volkswagen so full of booze that it hunkered down on its axles.

"Not to worry", said Kate. She put all the butter down the garbage disposal, then began making chocolate chip cookies. "Patsy, we're out of butter" she called out in angst. Mom couldn't believe that the butter she had just purchased was already gone, but somewhat reluctantly agreed to go get some more. That have us the crucial time we needed to unload the car and set up the basement decorations.

Three hours later, I went out for a walk and met approximately 40 guests at the cul de sac. We all walked to the front door, lit the candles on the cake that happened to be in my hands, and rang the bell. Mom answered the door in absolute shock. The party proceeded downstairs where everything had been prepared in secret- food, a punch bowl, a fully set up bar- in short, a gigantic party, totally under the radar. We got her good that time. A big one for Kate and myself as raconteurs. It was a fabulous time.

This is my fourth Mother's Day now without either of them, and it doesn't seem to get any easier, just more remote. The only thing that makes it bearable is the thought they are together. And wherever they are, there's laughter and mischief. That's what happens with pranskters like those two around.

Happy Mother's Day Kate and Patsy, my darling girls. I'm so grateful for all the crazy and wonderful times we had together. I love you both so much.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

back to the broiler

The last time I visited, the place lay in ruins. An illegal demolition attempt had been halted just in the nick of time before the buildin was totally lost. I was there the next day and surveyed the ruins of Johnie's Broiler, nee Harvey's, a much loved landmark in the City of Downey, CA. On that day, local mulled around and stared at the debris. Many fought back tears. The Broiler was a proud architectural landmark, a place that had become part of the fabric of the community. Nearly everybody had a connection to the Broiler and a story about it. Countless couples had been on dates there and raised their families in the shadow of the red Broiler sign, and there it lay in ruin.

And then something amazing happened. People didn't give up. The Friends of Johnie's and the Los Angeles Conservancy and other conservation groups worked with the city of Downey to find a way to restore the Broiler instead of allowing demolition. Rallies and fundraisers were held. The pressure was kept up until good news was announced- Jim Louder of Bob's agreed to lease the property and the City participated with development funds. The unanticipated result is that the Broiler rose from the ashes.

I was there on Sunday taking pictures, and was so captivated by the flavor of the resurrected Broiler that I went back Sunday night to capture the signage. It looks great, it feels like the old Broiler again and it was packed with people. It's not a perfect restoration but rather a very sensitive adaptive re-use. The look is great and the functionality is actually improved. Wow, this story actually has a happy ending. Many thanks to all who took part- the City of Downey, the Los Angeles Conservancy, the Friends of Johnie's, and the Coalition to Save & Rebuild Harvey's Broiler. It's a bitchin' place!

More photos of the demolition here

And of the restored Broiler here

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Serena sleeps at the foot of my bed. She lies on her side somewhat like a capsized ocean liner, her pudgy paws are stretched out in front of her. In her dreams, she is a panther. Her adventures seem to take her far from home. She runs and runs through the jungle, her little paws moving back and forth on the bedspread. She talks excitedly although I am not sure who she is speaking to. Her tiny heart races. The moon reflects on her glossy black coat.

Some nights I wonder if I should wake her, as if the pack of lions chasing her are too close or if the vine she was swinging on suddenly snapped or maybe the giant wooly mammoth she was pursuing almost stepped on her. Or perhaps she was uncertain which of the goblets before her was the Holy Grail. Some nights she seems to cry out. I worry that there is sometimes a fine line between an adventure film and a horror flick? Who gets script approval? Do cats have nightmares?

Am I in the dream? Does she pull me off the railroad track right before the 5:18 from Phoenix comes roaring by? Or am I the superhero that swoops down and rescues her just in the nick of time? Is there some kind of a role reversal going on? Some mornings she wakes up and looks at me, and I feel a tinge of disappointment in her eyes when she realizes that she has not yet grown large enough to eat me. Maybe tomorrow, she almost seems to say to herself.

I wonder where her nocturnal adventures have taken her, and marvel at how they always manage to bring her home just before morning. The sun rises and shines on the glossy black coat of the little ten pound cat, lying on her side at the foot of my bed. In her dreams, she is a panther.

Friday, March 11, 2011


The sun disappears behind the mountain at four o'clock in the winter, and the Deepwell neighborhood begins its lazy descent into twilight. I water the ficus hedges and the rosebeds, and once the greenery is sated I start out on my walk.

The neighborhood is a study in fifties geometry- long low ranch homes and tall majestic Palm Trees. The homes are a mixture of sweet old lady originals and glamorous restorations. The picture windows are either hidden behind yellowing draperies or else wide open with Bertoia chairs and Eames lounges on proud display.

It is twilight and the light of the day is fading, although darkness has not completely taken over. The jet trails stand out in the rapidly fading skies, the crescent moon almost directly overhead. A neighbor walks his dog, hurrying to get home before dark. A little blond girl on a bicycle calls out to her mother not to go so fast. Yard lights and porch lights awaken. Dramatic yard lighting highlights certain Palm Trees like movie stars at a premiere. The only sound is the crickets. It is peaceful and exquisitely ordinary.

I wonder to myself, was it like this last night in Japan? Did the people clear the dishes and fold the laundry with no inkling of what was about to happen? Was it this exquisitely ordinary, and can it all really change that quickly? Are we that fragile?

The skies have gone dark, with only the moon to guide me as I walk home under the silhouettes of the Palm Trees.

Monday, February 28, 2011

ooh, shiny!

Canned hams, polished Airstreams, Atomic wonders and even a homemade truck camper- some original, some restored, some reinvented to indulge an owner's fantasies- as individual as hot rods once were, these are the retro trailers from the 2011 Airstream Show at Palm Springs Modernism Week.

They are famous and luxurious names like Airstream and Spartan- and some lesser known like Airfloat and Road Chief. There's even an super modern Holiday House, a little known venture from the founders of Harry and David. They range from the late thirties through the early seventies, and each has a story to tell- of places visited, families hosted, and adventure together on the open road.

Hook one up to the Country Squire wagon and let's go!

See more photos here