Visit to AAHS, Part 5 — Return to Earth

Pictures here are thumb nailed. Click on any for a larger view and “back” to return to the text.

On the day I was scheduled to return home to Springfield, Illinois, I was up early to take my time packing all possessions for my “return to earth” from the part of the country I had named “Heaven West.” I would not be heading directly back to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) because I’d been promised a visit to AAHS Headquarters in Hawthorne, California and was eager to see it. As I sat in the lobby I took one picture of the view into the interior from my comfortable chair that faced the front door.
AAHS President Jerri Bergen arrived as promised about 7:00, we were swiftly departed and free-wheeling down the freeway to Hawthorne. The names of the many formerly separated communities came as fast and credibly from Jerri as names of children or the lineup of the Dodgers about to play a home game. As we passed near Garden Grove she pointed to the Reverend Robert Schuler’s Crystal Cathedral. I barely caught a glimpse of it, but see it I did, and that prompted me to ask this life-long “California girl” if she had heard of a poet named Vachel Lindsay. When she replied that she had not, I told her I am a reciter of many of the Springfield, Illinois born and bred bard who walked almost all the way from his parents’ home in my city to LA, who had invented the term “crystal cathedral” and had used it in a poem he wrote about 100 years ago. “The poem is called ‘The Sun Says His Prayers'” I explained. “It’s not a long poem, and I’d like to recite it to you to, perhaps, add something to you appreciation of the term.” . . . and I as gladly share here what I recited to Jerri Bergen at 60 miles an hour less than a minute after glimpsing that famous but closed institution . . .

The Sun Says His Prayers
by Vachel Lindsay of Springfield, Illinois

“The sun says his prayers,” said the fairy,
“Or else it would wither and die.
“The sun says his prayers,” said the fairy
“For strength to climb up through the sky.
He leans on invisible angels.
His faith is his prop and his rod.
The sky is his crystal cathedral
And dawn his his alter to God.”

She liked the poem.

Minutes later we arrived at AAHS Headquarters, one business single-story store-front in a series of what have included professional offices; a doctor’s office, dental, maybe a small advertising agency . . . not a pizza restaurant of beauty salon in the lot of them, very neat, at that hour very quiet. I asked Jerri to pose for a picture.  . . . D-2
and then we went inside.

My first thought was, “Find me a pillow and a toothbrush, Jerri. I’m ready to move in!” Unfortunately, the ticket home had been purchased. And time was short.  Jerri phoned volunteer Paul Minert who lives nearby and had the key to the photo collection. In minutes she let me know he was on his way over.

After examining what appeared to be “tasks in progress” on some of the tables near the front, I began wandering through probably 10 aisles of industrial steel shelving stack probably seven shelves high, all capable of accommodating books of all-but-folio size, some of which rested on shelves as well. A row of file cabinets probably 100 feet long was placed along the left wall. Here were file folders full of a myriad of subjects, including airplanes world-wide. . . . and God knows what else. Shelves nearby contained aisles of hard and soft-cover books. There were also aisles of donated magazines dating back to Icarus and Dadaleus, I think. It’s a wonder I didn’t over-salivate just drooling over the array! In a back right corner and wall opposite the file cabinets were bound volumes of clippings pasted onto pages and donated to AAHS over the years. There was a very large collection of bound three-view drawings (including five and six-view examples.) and a rest-room at the back left corner of it all.

Paul Minert, a photo research specialist volunteer arrived, and I took a fast pic of him and Jerri before visiting the photo room.  D-4  I’d tell you where it is, but they’d have to kill me. Suffice to say, it is secure and exceptionally well-organized. Perhaps my uncertainty over remaining photo memory capacity was a good thing. I also thought at the time that I would be returning to LA . . . fairly soon . . . and next time I’d come better-prepared than I was for this visit.

Too, too soon it was time to go. I had a flight to board. The run to the terminal gate seemed effortless with Jerri at the wheel. I have a feeling she has done this kind of delivery action to LAX a hundred times. After a fast “thanks and goodbye” at the curb by the terminal, I lurched through the entrance, told someone in a uniform what flight I needed to board, and he pointed the way. I also presented my luggage for weighing and showed my boarding pass.  By the smallest of margins, I was cleared to stow it all in the overheads.  WHEW!

The joint was bustling about 11:00 PST. With the load I was toting I approached and hesitated at the escalator, afraid I’d fall flat on my face since I was carrying things with both arms. An attendant saw my distress and suggested I take the conventional stairs, a straight shot up to the  second floor and security. I was a “seasoned traveler” at this stage, having done the routine at my home airport just four days earlier.

I emptied pockets and shed shoes. and as my luggage and cameras were inspected I went to a large table with my little basket, and re-organized things, and headed down the wide hall toward the last gate at the far end of that part of the terminal. Half-way there, I saw a sign that confirmed I was going in the right direction and felt light in my step, secure I would not be getting lost. It was at that point I remembered I had not retrieved my baggage from the check inspectors. No wonder I was light footed!

With ALL DELIBERATE HASTE, I RACE-WALKED back to the area, praying they had not removed my bags to a different part of the terminal . . . . . . . and arrived to find them in plain sight on a long table in front of the scanning apparatus.  WHEW! I almost laughed in joy and relief. I DID smile from ear to ear, that’s for sure.  It got better.

I saw a woman with a worried look, gazing at arrows pointing to various gates and said something like, “Hi, you look as confused as I usually am at airports. Where are you heading?” She told me her gate and destination which happened to be the same gate where I had realized I was hiking sans bags.  “I know exactly where you’re going. I was just there myself. Let’s walk together.”  It was not a long walk, less than five minutes, but the chatter was happy — she was heading for Toledo, I think. I wished her a pleasant flight, she wished me the same, and five minutes later I arrived at my check in desk for the connection to Chicago.  The view was not particularly spectacular, but I decided I could risk one picture of a plane outside on the ramp, and I took it as I roamed briefly, looking for seat with some empties on either side.

Then I found a place across from a group of girls who were obviously traveling together and appeared to be speaking ENGLISH to each other. Across the space between us I asked the three on the left if I could take a picture of them. One responded “You don’t have to ask; just take the picture.” I took out my camera, thinking, “You know, miss, you’re right. This is a public terminal. I don’t need to ask. As I thought this the lady in red arrived, I widened my focus to include her, and I was totally happy with the picture. I hadn’t even seen the billboard behind them.D-5I boarded my Spirit flight east with no trouble and was glad to find the window seat I had requested. Soon I was joined on the left by two young women of oriental heritage. We exchanged cordial greetings and said nothing further all the way to Chicago.

I played ULTRA-conservative with the camera that still functioned at all. The last picture with the Cyber-shot point and shoot had been taken of Bill Larkins, first president of AAHS at the annual meeting. There was no way of knowing when I had taken my last picture with the Canon SLR. To make space for more pictures I had already deleted several that might have come out okay with a little finessing and Corel Photo Paint. So for the first time on a commercial flight, my head was NOT out the window 90% of the time looking for good photo ops. I did something I have never done in an airliner before: I read a book. Actually, I savored several Air Britain publications my new friend Tony Jones had donated to AeroKnow Museum, publications that are displayed 11 feet from my right arm in my office today. Wonderful material.

As we descended out of the clouds approaching Chicago O’Hare International, the terrain looked much the same as when I had flown out of it, but on the ground, taxiing to the terminal in the fading sunlight, the place appeared to be thawing, recovering from a recent “hit” of icy precipitation.

I was braced for another long hike, retracing my earlier steps from United Express to Spirit. It was more a challenge the second time than the first time because I was carrying significantly more weight in my gear than I had when I was heading west. Even though I had about two hours of waiting before departing ORD, I wanted to get the hike BEHIND me, and I began with the enthusiasm of a sprinter at his first half-marathon. I made it past the major concourse where I had slumbered three nights before, but I covered almost the full length of a branch from the trunk, not seeing anything familiar and realizing, as I approached the end of that branch, where United Express should have been, that I had made the wrong choice.  I explained my plight to someone in a SECURITY uniform when I returned to my “wrong turn,” and she pointed the way. I was exhausted, sat down in the sparsely occupied part of another airline’s waiting area for about 10 minutes and resumed, my legs feeling as strong as rubber bands.  Minutes later, I leaned against a wall, watching the world walk by, semi-collapsed with knees bent while remaining erect and perspiring like a dock worker in August. When I saw a gent dressed like a flight crewman in a United Express uniform I caught his attention, showed him my boarding pass and asked if I was even CLOSE to where I needed to be. He was very friendly and helpful beyond words. He replied in so many words, “Happy to help, let’s see . . . . your gate is right over THERE. (20 feet further down and across the concourse where we were standing.) “Have a good flight sir.”  “YOU DO THE SAME, AND THANK YOU,” I said.  And so I went. Deposited myself and bags in seats in the waiting area. Slowly caught up with myself.  Ten minutes later I walked to a window overlooking the tarmac and took the penultimate picture of the trip.   D-6The rest of the trip was a walk in the park. As I stood in line in the jetway of passengers, I heard a familiar voice. “Job, what the heck are YOU doing here? I thought you’d be back at your museum!”  It was John, one of the airplane maintainers who works for Horizon Aviation, the fixed base operator that services and refuels airplanes in the same building that hosts the museum. I told him I had just had an incredible visit to Los Angeles, courtesy American Aviation Historical Society. John had spent the weekend in Las Vegas, had arrived at ORD earlier in the day and was heading back to Springfield too!

I boarded the airplane, again a window seat (praise be!) and was joined by a fellow returning to family in nearby Chatham, Illinois. Beyond that I remember nothing about the less-than-an-hour’s journey . . . .  except that I did take a final picture . . . . . . .D-7As we taxied to the home terminal, passengers were informed that the weekend’s blizzards had rendered the enclosed jetways inoperable. We would all have to descend a short stairway onto the icy tarmac and walk the maybe 25 steps to the warm and waiting terminal. I waited for almost all of the passengers to exit first. Then I handed my baggage to a waiting United Express person on the ground. I made a very cautious descent down the steps to terra firma to concrete that was as slick as bejeebers.  Once I was inside and followed other passengers into the familiar public area of the terminal I felt I had arrived on a different but gladly familiar planet!

The terminal was as silent and seemingly deserted at close to 9 pm on a winter Sunday night as King Tutankhamun’s tomb. But I was HOME . . . almost.

My load of gear brushed the floor as I walked the dry tile floor to the opposite end of the terminal where the rent-a-car counters are. A woman offered to share her wheeled baggage  provided by Springfield’s airport with me. “This is so nice they have these,” she said. At other airports they charge you for them, but not here.” I was beginning to recover already, and I thanked her warmly as she went off to the Hertz counter and I exited the terminal to walk 250 slippery feet to my museum office. My vehicle was parked a few feet from Horizon, but I was determined to “crash” there, download the pictures I had taken and then drive home.

And I did!

PART 6 of this story will be Impressions and Aftermath, covering the almost three months since that wonderful trip. I won’t have pictures, but I will cover a lot of ground. Look for it before May 1, right here at Abe Lincoln’s Air Force.

and . . .

Live long . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . and proper.



About Job Conger

I am a freelance aviation, business and tourism writer, poet, songwriter. My journalism appears regularly in Springfield Business Journal and Illinois Times. I am author of Springfield Aviation from Arcadia Publishing and available everywhere. As founder/director of AeroKnow Museum (AKM) and a volunteer with American Aviation Historical Society (AAHS), I created this blog to share news about AKM activity and aviation history.
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