Periodically I will tell a story (not necessarily fiction) from a page of the past. Or, maybe something about what’s happening now. Check it out…
My most recent adventure is certainly noteworthy, at least personally. I began April with my first Speak and Sign at Sunshine Booksellers in Marco Island, Florida, preceded by unprecedented press form the Naples Daily News and the Marco Eagle. This was followed by events at The Landings in Ft. Myers, Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore in Delray Beach, National Airlines Alumni in Boca Raton, and the legendary Books and Books bookstore in Coral Gables, to round out the Florida swing.
The attendance at these events has been remarkable, exceeded only by the response to DRAWING DEAD. Thank you friends and readers for your posting, daily now, of your inspiring comments about your impressions of the book. As an author, there is no higher praise. Thank you, thank you.
And then there was a song. It’s unbelievable that someone would write a song as a tribute to me and my book. But they did! Annabelle Hutson wrote the lyrics and Lynn Cisky adapted and directed an arrangement by Roger Emerson and the result was Ben’s Song: DRAWING DEAD. They performed it with their group, In Harmony, at the Ft. Myers Speak and Sign. It blew me away! Thank you ladies! I wanted you to hear it, so I placed it on Youtube, where the hits just keep on coming. Listen in!
March 13, 2012
Once again back in the seventies I was flying copilot on the DC-10 when a sweet LA trip hit the open time board. Non-stop both ways, with a Huntley House layover. Real sweet. I needed to fill out my time for the month, so I persuaded my old scheduling friend, Frank Gravitz to give me the trip. I didn’t have to ask who the Captain was. Another co-pilot had called in sick rather than fly with the cantankerous curmudgeon, Capt. Boots Shaw. Good for me, because I didn’t really mind flying with Boots. In fact, I’m inclined to agree with what Flight Attendant Sharon Rowe said about Boots after reading the previous piece about the lightning strike. She said Boots was a “rough tough cream puff.”
Boots and I walked into scheduling about the same time to report for the trip. He was unaware his original copilot had called in sick. “Hey Ben! Where you going?” Boots asked. He towered over me like a hundred-year-old sequoia. “I’m going with you, Boots,” I said. A genuine, giant smile stretched across his face. “Ben,” he boomed, “you’ve made my day!” He grabbed my hand with his mammoth meat-hook and gave me a crunching handshake.
Not too long after that Michael Patrick Callahan and I were working on a musical based on the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. Mike was on the staff at the South Center for the Arts School where the play, What Might Have Been, eventually opened. He was writing the book and I was writing the music and lyrics. Great, great, fun!
We were dealing with the part of the plot where the Jimmy Stewart character meets the Donna Reed character. Mike had given me the task of writing what he called a “like” song. “We can’t have a love song,” he said, “because the characters haven’t met.” Hmmm. Now, I had written many songs previously and went on to write seventeen original songs for this musical, but I was struggling to find my way with this one.
I left Miami on another trip to the west coast. I was not flying with Boots on this trip, but I did see him in operations. I remembered his crunching handshake and his booming voice extolling, “you’ve made my day.” At that moment, I knew I had it!
When I reached the Huntley House in Santa Monica for the layover, I sat down and wrote what is probably my favorite song. I believe in love at first sight, so for me, it really is a love song. And it was inspired by none other than Boots Shaw. And he never knew (R.I.P., Boots).
Here are the lyrics to the chorus:
You’ve made my day
Just a simple little smile
Seems to say
Could we visit for a while
Could we share some feelings too
Telling me and telling you
I feel special when you look at me that way
You’ve made my day
You’ve made my day
Feb. 27, 2012
Back in the middle seventies, National Airlines had 10 DC-10’s a day flying from Miami/Ft. Lauderdale to LaGuardia Airport in New York. These were new, state-of-the-art heavy jets that did most of the heavy lifting for the National fleet. They had large, comfortable cockpits, with huge windows, and were really fun to fly.
I was co-pilot on one of these New York trips on a cold winter’s night with Captain Boots Shaw, a huge man, and a cantankerous curmudgeon who some co-pilots tried to avoid. I was not necessarily one of them because I would tell Boots that the Flight Engineer was a closet smoker, so Boots would ignore me and scrutinize the FE the entire trip.
A winter storm was pounding New England and air traffic was backed up and stacked up because of moderate to heavy snow at all three NYC airports. We were on top of the weather in a holding pattern over Deer Park, northeast of La Guardia. Lightning flashed from the clouds beneath us. Boots was flying the airplane and I was working the radios and looking over possible alternate airports, because it appeared a diversion was a definite possibility.
Unexpectedly, a flight attendant rushed through the cockpit door. “Boots!” she shouted. “We have a passenger who’s having a heart attack. There’s a nurse across the aisle from him and she says it looks like a heart attack to her.”
Following Boot’s command, I declared a medical emergency with New York Center. They switched me to LaGuardia approach control and to my surprise we were cleared direct to the airport with an immediate descent for an approach.
Boots pulled the throttles to idle, extended the speed brakes, and accelerated toward max speed as we dived toward the airport. I was extremely busy talking on the radios and adjusting the radar, and was concerned about the weather between us and the rapidly approaching airport. My main concern, however, soon became the high speed at which Boots was flying. I was worried about having to do a go-around because we would soon be screaming through the final approach course or the glide path. I was thinking just how I was going to tell Boots to slow down.
KA-BOOM!!! A lightning bolt struck the nose of the airplane directly in front of my face. How big is a bolt of lightning? I can tell you this one was at least three feet wide. I was temporarily blinded by the flash that cascaded throughout the entire airplane.
After what seemed like an eternity, I regained my vision and was surprised to see that all the components of the jumbo jet appeared to still be functioning. Boots had a vice-grip on the control yoke and appeared unfazed.
“Boots,” I said. “You can slow down now. If the man has a weak heart, that lightning strike surely killed him. And if it didn’t kill him, he’s going to be just fine.”
Boots slowed the aircraft and did a nice job landing the big jet on the snow-covered runway. The passenger indeed had a heart attack, but was given exceptional care by the paramedics and the nearby hospital, and survived.
Good job, Boots.
Feb 14, 2012
Have you ever experienced a seemingly insignificant moment that changed your life forever? I’m not talking about the occasional pop quiz that life will spring upon you, such as an accident, or an illness, or in my case being involved in an airline hijacking or two. I’m talking about an insignificant occurrence that makes a profound difference in the rest of your life. It happened to me when I was seventeen years old.
I graduated with sixteen others from Sneads High School, a small school in a small farm community west of Tallahassee. My only goal in life was to be Drum Major of the Marching Chiefs. Beyond that, I didn’t have a clue. I was a freshman at Florida State University immersed in tryouts for the Marching Chiefs before the upperclassmen reported for the fall semester. Because the band, the football players, cheerleaders, etc. needed to have particular times available to practice, the university had a special registration for them to select their classes before the rest of the student body flooded the schedule.
I was in line with a few others being assigned my required classes by a nice lady who was helping with the registration. After the usual English, math, etc., she asked, “What about ROTC?” I was perplexed and no doubt a little embarrassed. Finally, I garnered my courage and asked, “What’s ROTC?” The lady very graciously explained to me that every able bodied male at land grant universities such as FSU were required to take two years of Reserve Officer Training Corps classes. “So what will it be, Army or Air Force?” she asked. I remained perplexed.
Suddenly from behind me a young male student that I had never seen before and haven’t seen since spoke over my shoulder. “Take Air Force,” he said. “The Army guys have to polish brass and carry a rifle when they march.” “Air Force,” I said to the lady. “I’ll take Air Force.”
And that statement led to an interesting and rewarding career of a lifetime with the Air Force and three major airlines. All because of an off-the-cuff remark by a complete stranger.