For most of the seventies, I must have averaged 60 miles per hour, 24 hours per day. My work called for jetting across enough time zones to keep my circadian rhythm steadfastly botched.
The first week on my new assignment at corporate headquarters in Connecticut, I "red-eyed" to California and woke up the next morning in a room at the Century Plaza Hotel, disoriented. My gosh, it's almost noon back at the office. I grabbed for the phone and dialed my new boss. Push-button dialing was years in the future.
"You're in Los Angeles!" exclaimed the voice on the phone.
"Meeting got called yesterday, Don. Sorry, but I didn't have a chance to -- "
"Let's get something straight," interrupted the Chief of Staff. "If we are going to have a viable relationship, you must learn never to telephone me for the solitary purpose of saying where you are (click)."
The management team of this huge, multinational company had set a goal of growing at the rate of one billion dollars per year -- per year! My responsibilities included providing a "corporate overview," according to a memo I found on my desk. As far as travel was concerned, it said, "you have an unlimited budget" -- an oxymoron, of course.
Countless meetings and plant visits jammed each week. In between, were the shriek of jets and the bustle of hotel lobbies. I saw much of the world through venetian blinds. Our travel department would whip up the arrangements, our secretarial staff linked us back together again by phone.
Then, too, there were the corporate jets.
We had five of them. Three SabreLiners, a French Falcon, and -- tah-dah! -- the Gulfstream II. Faster than airliners and convenient but for me hardly a perquisite. Corporate jets are mighty cramped for long trips.
Two factors helped, though. One was the poker games.
"Shut up and deal."
"Deal me out."
I put down my briefcase and studied the numbers. "Don't tell those executives I asked this, but which way is Rochester from here?"
The line boy tore off the receipt. "South, about 75 miles. Unless you mean the one in New York; that's back east somewhere, I think."
Chronic "jet lag" was an occupational syndrome. One particular trip by corporate jet -- an exceptionally short one -- gave new meaning to the expression.
It was after six o'clock on the day before a scheduled plant visit to a semiconductor factory. The five-man acquisition team held a caucus that afternoon. Our meeting was about to break up.
"Where is this place, Jack?" asked Don, pulling on his coat.
Don, the consummate staff guy, was my neighbor in New Canaan. He turned to me. "Want to car pool it?"
My definition of a staff guy is one who, if his bed catches on fire, rolls over and complains to his wife, "We must do something about this." Whereas line managers are known to "point with pride," a staff guy only "views with alarm." My neighbor, Don, appeared to suffer from a funereal funk. I learned it was merely a studied affectation. The man was still in his forties. I nodded. "Pick you up at seven, Don."
Jack, the organizer of this particular exercise, spoke up. "We'll be taking a company plane."
Don grunted. "You gotta be kidding. Wappingers Falls is this side of the Hudson near Poughkeepsie, less than 50 miles from where we live."
Jack slapped himself on his balding pate. An energetic man in his fifties, he flipped through his Rolodex and reached for the phone. "Damn!" he exclaimed after a time. "No answer. And our hosts will be waiting for us at the airport. With cars."
Monty had flown in that day from California to join our task force. He grinned at Jack. "I'd just as soon drive."
"Too late to cancel the plane, I suppose," commented George, the fifth member of the team. "Which one is it?"
"The G-2," said Jack grimly. He hurriedly dialed Flight Operations at White Plains. "Missed 'em," he said with a snap of his fingers.
I glanced across the conference table. Monty is an engineer-turned-manager, a distinguished author in the computer field. He has a quick and jovial mind, but he can be intensely serious too. I knew him to be a confirmed aviation non-enthusiast, for he had respectfully declined any number of invitations to go aloft in Two-Four Fox. "Get yourself an airliner," he had said.
Don, who never grinned, expressed a staff-guy thought about driving to White Plains from our homes in New Canaan. "White Plains is actually the same distance -- away from Wappingers Falls!"
Jack stood up. "See you all at the hangar, gentlemen. Seven sharp, if you don't mind."
"We have a little problem," said our pilot. He was kneeling in the aisle of the Gulfstream II as the five of us came aboard. "Wappingers Falls is reporting 'wind calm'."
"What does that mean?" Monty asked me with a laugh not born of mirth.
I shrugged. "The runway must not be long enough for the G-2."
Jack looked even more chagrined than last night.
"Wind," said George, a veteran of corporate life and a student of all subjects including aviation, "wind effectively shortens the required landing distance."
The pilot nodded. "We would like to have at least 10 knots, this morning, okay?" This man had the only job in the company I truly coveted. He reminded me of someone, but I couldn't remember who, and I didn't catch his name. From his appearance it should have been Scot or Chuck or Buzz. He commented cheerfully that the flight would be short. "Which means, with our fuel load, the G-2 will be landing heavy."
"Great," said Don. A staff guy never uses that word unless in sarcasm.
"Can't you off-load some fuel?" Jack asked.
"O'Brien is checking on that right now," answered the pilot, referring to our co-pilot. "It will take quite a long time, though. I recommend that you notify the people who are meeting you, okay?"
Jack shook his head. "Can't reach 'em." This was the seventies; although predicted by some of us, cellular telephony was decades away.
Monty grinned at Jack. "I'll go get my rental car."
"Let's go ahead and fly up there," suggested I. "If a wind comes up, fine. We won't have waited around here to off-load fuel, and the plant tour can take place as planned."
"And if there's still no wind?" asked Monty.
George yawned. "We would have to fly back here."
"And then drive to Wappingers Falls," added Don.
"That's not what I had in mind," I said edgewise. "If there is no wind, we can just fly around playing poker and burning off the fuel."
"Sure," Monty grumbled. "You would like that."
George folded his New York Times in quarters and set to work on the crossword puzzle -- with a ballpoint pen. He is famous for solving them left-to-right, top-to-bottom, while carrying on a conversation on any subject.
"The guys waiting for us on the ground will see us in our goddam G-2," Jack said ruefully. "They'll really wonder what the hell we're up to." Knowing Jack, he probably added the s-word.
George shrugged. "What else is there to do?"
Don shook his head grimly. "Great."
The Gulfstream II blasted into the sky. No sooner had the gear doors thumped closed and we were at a couple of thousand feet -- as high as we would go. Next thing you know, the gear is coming down again and we are descending. Just like that.
The pilot's voice came over the cabin speaker. "Gentlemen, the surface wind at the airport is still reported to be less than five knots."
Ripe epithets were expressed by Jack. Don slumped in his seat, grimacing. Monty made a sound something like laughter. George, glasses low on the bridge of his nose, made marks in his puzzle.
The plane banked and I looked down at the tiny field a thousand feet below. Sure enough, there were two limousines parked side-by-side near the ramp, all doors open. Standing beside them in their three-piece suits were our hosts for the plant tour. You could see them gazing up at us, shading their eyes against the morning sun. I described the scene for my colleagues.
Another round of salty unquotables from
There we were, the five of us, bathed in self-importance, indignant to be suspended unproductively aloft, caught with our gear down, meandering around the sky, will-powering up a breeze for the Wappingers Falls airport.
Jack crouched his way forward to discuss the matter with the flight crew. Whatever was said surely increased the psychic pressures on that pilot. The tragic consequences of dramas such as this one are well documented. You could smell the growing impatience. Let's put this thing on the ground, damn it. We have business to attend to.
I took a deck of cards out of a compartment. "Anybody up for a few hands?"
We, the make-it-happen guys, the archetypical overcomers checked our watches. The people on the ground were doing the same, surely. A half a million dollars worth of minutes went by.
"Hey George," spoke I, tongue firmly in cheek. "Need any help? My brother and I know every word they put in those things."
George counted some squares. "Seven-letter word for a white crystalline acid."
I shook my head. "That's one my brother knows."
Our pilot, voice taut, announced a slight wind increase. Jack returned to his seat unsmiling.
To business functionaries, pilots are
A slight wind increase, did he say? I declined to suppose that our pilot is yielding to executive pressure. I listened to the whine decline in the engines. I watched the flaps emerge from the trailing edge of the wing and felt the rumbling buffet of increased drag. Our youthful pilot has made a decision on behalf of the enterprise.
Thus did the Gulfstream II relinquish its security in the sky for a dubious encounter with earth. Above the forests along the Hudson River, cheers rang out from the overcomers. Some of them.
What was at stake? More than five egos, for sure.
Down we went. The plane tilted up nose high. I tightened my belt. Don put down his Wall Street Journal and did the same. I felt the final pitch adjustments as the pilot "walked the thing down down the glide-slope," in aviation talk. Monty was seated ahead of me facing aft, eyes inert. George handed me his completed puzzle for inspection. I flashed a look out the window at the trees rising to meet us and wondered how my kids would remember me.
"Anybody up for a plant tour?" I asked.
The pilot's named was Chuck.