left for San Francisco on a Wednesday morning, spent a day and a half there and then flew down to Austin, Texas on Thursday night and got home Friday night at 8:30. During the trip I realized that I have become a slave to modern communications. I'm in a car in San Francisco, just down the hill from Coit Tower, talking on the cellphone with one of our managers in Scotland.
The other two men in the car are also on their cellphones! Ten minutes later I'm in the office reading my urgent email. In the taxi in Texas, going from the hotel to the factory, receiving phone calls from Scotland, California and headquarters in New Jersey. I'm sitting on the plane in Austin and the cellphone goes off, a supplier from Pennsylvania with some urgent problems. Once I got back to Newark Airport and switched my pager and phone back on, they both started beeping at me. Scotland and California again. It was too late to call Scotland, but I called the office in California only to be told that the guy who paged me had already left for the night, "Give him an hour, and call his home number."
Once I got home and kissed Carole and Dear Mom I sat down at the kitchen table, downloaded some more email, (I have over 240 unread messages) drank some coffee and then called California again.
Normally I would complain about this but the majority of the cellphone calls were important and enabled me to keep projects going without delays. Email is another story though, there should be a special box the writer can click on before he or she sends it which identifies it as CMA. What's CMA?
Simple, it is an acroynym for "Cover My Ass."
Now what really boggles my mind is the fact that I covered more miles in three days than Lewis and Clark did in three years. Back in 1780, it took three or four days to travel from Boston to Philadelphia. Perhaps in 200(?) more years when people will be able to "beam" themselves to cities around the world the Jet Age will seem archaic but it still is amazing to me to walk onto an airplane and fly thousands of miles in a few hours. Don't get me wrong, I'm not new to flying, I've been around the world so many times I hate to think about the odds, I despise airports, Air France and Lufthansa.
I dislike Air France because their pilots all think they can fly through bad weather and Lufthansa because of one flight from Hong Kong to Frankfurt. We left Hong Kong on time and our route was to take us "east" passing over southern Asia, India, Iran, Turkey, out across the Mediterranean and then up the Adriatic coast of Italy, crossing over Switzerland into Deutschland. This was back in the Cold War days but after the revolution in Iran. We were flying business class but that didn't mean much, the stewardesses were rude and obnoxious, my boss, Antonio, was fuming at their lack of civility and cursing them in Italian.
Half way through the flight the pilot came on the PA system and announced that there might be a "technical problem" (see this was so long ago that people still used the word problem, nowadays we say "issue", to mask reality). He announced that if they could not clear the technical problem we would make a landing in Teheran, Iran to have it checked.
IRAN! Bloody hell I'm an American, I'm involved in the military and aerospace industries and they are going to land in Iran of all places. I'm thinking lets push it to Baghdad or Riyadh, I don't want to land in Iran. Next thing is the chief stewardess on the PA announcing that when we land in Iran we will have to get off the jet and wait and then the sentence that sent chills down my spine.
"Will all citizens of the United States please identify themselves as we pass through the cabin."
My boss looked at me and said, "Don't do it, these &^%$# ! Germans will give you up so they can get out fast." He reached into his attaché case and pulled out an Italian passport. "Take one of your passport photos (when you travel internationally you always carry extras of these for visas) and glue it in."
"Are you crazy, I can't do that."
"Stupido, I'm a lot older than you, don't trust these people."
An Italian passport, like most European passports, is issued by the city or town one lives in and everything is hand written. There were already official stamps and signatures, I printed my name, which is Italian, my address, which was a street in the city where our factory was located and my occupation as "Engineer." The real problem was glue. We didn't have glue for the passport photo but the guy across the aisle had transparent tape and that's what we used. More in a minute.
The stewardesses came through the cabin collecting the passports from Americans while I took off for the toilets. There I made a light paste out of soap, put a tiny bit on the back of the passport photo and then taped it on the page. Anyone with a brain could see it had been doctored, but desperate times call for desperate measures and taking gambles.
Back in the cabin the stewardesses were done but after a few more minutes one of them approached me and said "You are an American, give me your passport."
"Uh, sorry, No I'm Italian, you are mistaken." I flashed my new passport at her but didn't give it to her.
"Our records show you are an American."
"Sorry your records are wrong."
She left but came back a minute later with another stewardess.
"You are an American." It was said as an accusation, not a question.
"You speak English like an American."
"I went to university in the States."
They walked away. A minute later they were back.
"Give me your attaché case."
I was ready to give up when Antonio jumped up and started yelling and cursing at them in a mixture of Italian, German and English. The word "Nazi" was included about 50 times.
They folded and walked away.
Now we were circling Teheran waiting for permission to land. We could see the lights of the city below us, I had never been there but Antonio had and said not to worry. This is the same guy that I had bailed out of jails in a few cities for getting in fights! He is only about five foot two or three but talks like he is seven foot tall and a "professional" wrestler. We circled that bloody city for forty five minutes and then the pilot came back on the PA and announced that the technical problem had been "solved" and we were continuing on for Frankfurt. The whole plane broke out into a cheer and applause. We didn't fly out over the Mediterranean though, we went from Iran, to Turkey, over Greece and Yugoslavia and up the coast of Italy, across Switzerland into western Germany. The pilot stayed within range of large airports all the way.
As we landed in Frankfurt I gave my new Italian passport back to Antonio. He smiled and said I owed him 750,000 Lira. At the time that was equal to about $500 and that's what the "fee" was for a "special" Italian passport. Once we were inside the airport, he said to me, "Now you know what it was like to be a Jew in Europe."
That caught me for several minutes, I didn't know what to say and I was beginning to feel ashamed of myself for denying my nationality.
"Damn, Tony that was crazy, I shouldn't have done that. If we landed in Teheran they would have smoked me out right away."
"Yes probably, but with your business connections they would have kept you as a CIA spy. Better to confuse them than just accept what our German hosts had planned for you Yanks. They weren't going to protect you."
"Okay, But there's a big difference between selling to the CIA and working for the CIA. We're businessmen."
"Stupido, you want to try to explain that to some wild eyed, 'Khomeni fanatico' with a AK 47?"
I shut up, he was right. I thought about Dachau, the concentration camp just north of Munich. I had taken my girls there a couple of years earlier so they could learn and see first hand the meaning of "Holocaust." I recalled wondering why all these people had let themselves be hauled away and exterminated. It was simple, they simply could not believe that the rumors were true, the showers and ovens could not possibly exist. They did exist and they still stand as a monument to man's cruelty.
We split up in Frankfurt, I caught a connection for Brussels and he headed south for Milano. I never gave him the money, I knew it was a write off for travel expenses but once I got home to Holland I went out and bought him the most expensive box of Cuban cigars I could find.
That was my last flight on Lufthansa, and the last Lufthansa flight anyone in our company ever took. Antonio is still CEO of the group so I'm sure the ban continues today and I'm sure he still carries "special" passports. Antonio is an Italian Jew.
Flying Over Iran -
This Week in History -
Life's Experiences -
Dog Days -
September 11 -
A Very Good Year, but...
An American Family -
A Letter From Viet Nam