I’m old enough to remember when flying was fun

Robidoux Pass - All We, Like Sheep

Robidoux Pass – All We, Like Sheep

I’m old enough to remember when flying was fun, that is, September 10, 2011, or any day before.

The day the first jet airliner (I think it was a Boeing 707—but someone with a better memory than mine will have to confirm or debunk that) landed at the tiny airport at Scottsbluff, NE, everyone in town went out to see it. At least everyone interested in flying, as my father was.

We drove out to the airport and climbed in wonder up the stairs and walked through the plane thinking—because it’s what the grown-ups said—that this plane would revolutionize life as we knew it in Scottsbluff. Old US Highway 30 did not go through our city, and the newer Interstate 80 bypassed us, too (it goes through Kimball and Sidney to the south), but our airport had runways long enough to accommodate the new “Seven-Oh-Seven!”

Don’t ask me how I remember this or even whether or not it is true. It’s my memory. It may be confused with all sorts of other events and ideas from my childhood, but it’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

The first Christmas I was in college (1963), I rode the train home to Omaha from California a week before Christmas. The train was stopped at Provo, UT, because of a giant snowstorm in the mountains. We were sidetracked for about 24 hours, during which time the passengers (mostly college kids going home for Christmas) were permitted to get off the train and build snow forts and have snowball wars and generally carry on like college students. The mayhem and fun was helped by the provision by the rail line of free booze. Apparently interstate trains didn’t have to obey state age laws (someone with a better memory than mine will have to confirm this). All I know is that it was the second wonderful drunk of my life.

Change to life as we know it

Change to life as we know it

For my second Christmas vacation from college, my parents decided I should fly home (actually to Kansas City for our big family Christmas at my grandparents’ home). That was on Christmas Day, 1964, because I had to play Christmas Eve services at the church where I was organist. This was, of course, a very few years after that first 707 landed at Scottsbluff. It was at the time when airlines were generous and trying to win business, and they handed out free booze in those wonderful tiny bottles. I had several.

Someone in the family hugged me before my mother got to me and suggested I might want to keep my head turned away from her when she kissed me. My “after shave” was pretty strong smelling.

Fast forward to now. When I get on a plane, I have to unload the bag that carries my CPAP. I have to take my computer out of its case. I have to make sure my shaving lotion is in a bottle no bigger than 3 ounces. I have to take off my shoes. And I have to let some TSA agent look at my privates in a full-body scan. Sheeeesh! I would rather have had my mother smell the free scotch I drank on the airplane.

So much has changed since I wore strong “after shave” (I don’t shave because of a skin problem, and I have not had a drink in 26 years) I got free on the airplane.

Here’s my two-bit, off-the-wall, “Old Weird Harold” (I used to resent Bill Cosby, but now I’m grateful to him for explaining the way I think) analysis of the full-body scan at the airport and why the airlines no longer provide free booze. When Michael Chertoff was Secretary of Homeland Security, he was in charge of the process by which the full-body scan took over from our Constitutional right not to be subjected to unlawful search and seizure.

When he left the DHS, he founded the “Chertoff Group,” a risk-management and security consulting company, which employs several senior officials from his time as Secretary of Homeland Security as well as Michael Hayden, a former director of the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency. Guess what company they “represent.”

The manufacturer of airport full-body scan equipment.

Sexy enough to scan your body???

Sexy enough to scan your body???

I was reminded of Michael Chertoff because he was one of the talking heads PBS employed on its Newshour last week to explain the importance of Robert Mueller’s tenure as head of the FBI (which began about a month before September 11, 2011).

I know I’m a weird old fart, so I’m glad someone besides me thinks about these things.

A couple of years ago I wrote a really good poem about a scene from my youth. Five publishers have rejected it. One said it was because it didn’t have a “point” (does poetry have a “point?”). I’ve printed it below. I think the last two lines are a “point,” and it’s the same “point” I want to make here.

It’s why number 26 is my favorite section of Handel’s Messiah.


“Sheep Drive,” by Harold Knight

Jolly. Lumpy.
Sheep as far as you can see.
White is brown, brown is dust, dust is absorbed by wool.
A clamorous, (unthinking?) mass of moving lumps.
A million sheep or so, I figure.
Do they “know who made them,
Who gave them life and bid them feed?”
Our father’s friend bid them feed,
he bought them to feed them,
feed them in the leased field down the road, around the corner
and across the next farm—not this one, keep them moving!—
feed the surging mass of capital that returned his investment every spring.
He was a kind man with rimless glasses and a heavy shirt
open halfway down his sunburned chest with the sleeves turned back
as they always were, even in town, sometimes at church—
he dressed for driving his sheep, his million or so valuable sheep—
flannel to keep off the sun and catch the dust.
He was comfortable, laughing, telling us children—
town kids plunged into the mystery of agricultural economy—
how to help, but never scolding, never unkind.
We marched in his parade, his relentless push of a million sheep
to another acreage they would destroy, consuming everything in sight,
stirring up the soil and carrying it for weeks in their wool.
His parade passed near the Robidoux Pass,
hot in the dry Nebraska Panhandle grassland
where a century ago the first wagon trains paraded between the bluffs.
We knew vague stories of the relentless push of pioneers,
rousing, majestic stories of the settler throng of the West passing here,
and mysterious stories—more captivating to our young minds—
ominous tales of the weak, the careless, the hungry who died here
where sheep now plodded over the brown, unwelcoming hills.
Mr. Robidoux, his trading post at the pass now bearing his name
low between the steep hills, traded with Indians,
overcharged emigrants for provisions,
and buried their dead in his cemetery.

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