My Life  4.3




A favourite flight for me was the Thai Air flight from Tokyo to Dallas. All the attendants had unpronounceable names and looked gorgeous till you got up close. But the aircraft was very elegant, and club class spacious. Dallas was fun! I used to go there a lot. Gunning the big car down the six lane highway out of central Dallas, with country music playing on the radio as the sun went down, was heaven! The CEO of the company we were dealing with, Pete, had a six-seater plane. He was always trying to log air miles, so at 10 o’clock at night he’d suggest “why don’t we go over to Fort Worth?” Fort Worth was the other half of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and it wasn’t too hard to drive, but no – we had to fly. All I can remember was the number of swimming pools I could see from the air!


Another time we went down to ‘San Antone’. Tex-mex by the river (best salsa I ever tasted) and the Alamo! This really showed me what private flying in the States is all about. We landed and taxied to a sign saying ‘air hotel’. We went in the doors from the aircraft parking stands, checked the plane in at the reception desk for fuelling and walked out the doors opposite into a taxi to go into town. People fly in, stay at the hotel, and fly on the next morning.


The trip I liked the most was when we went to Pete’s wife’s family ranch, close to the Mexican border. It was great! We had to pick up an English NEC man, Tony, who came in from Japan on the Thai flight. After we landed at Dallas-Fort Worth, they held a Jumbo up so we could cross the runway. Ever looked up from a six-seater plane at a Jumbo?  Pete told me you had to watch out for the ‘wash’ from the big planes. If they were taking off or landing at the same time, it could flip a small plane over. Fortunately, we managed OK. We parked and a minibus picked us up. We went off to meet the flight, using the little robot trains that ride around all the different gates automatically, crossing over like a little roller-coaster ride. When we collected Tony and came back, the parking fee and the minibus came to a grand total of $11. After a few hours flying, we touched down at the small town airstrip, near to the ranch. We tied the wings down and jumped into the pickup that had been left for us with the keys in.  First we went to the Dairy Queen for a coffee and snack. The two girls behind the counter burst into giggles every time Tony or I spoke – it was the English accent! Next! Off to the store to stock up. “Wanna do some shooting?” Pete invited. We agreed, so we shovelled some packs of shotgun cartridges and some 9mm ammunition off the open shelves. A boy in a green apron carried our brown paper bags and deposited them in the back of the pickup.


The ranch house was on top of cliffs overlooking a whole area of flat land which stretched to the horizon. There was a river down below. Along the top of the cliffs were old Indian encampments. If you scraped around in the soil, there were arrowheads galore and ashes from the fires. We had a deck that cantilevered out over the drop, from which Pete lobbed clay pigeons while we shot at them. The ranch had some three-wheeled trail bikes that Tony and I rode. Pete took the jeep, with high back seat, roll bar and lights for ‘huntin’ varmints’ at night.  I had a pistol slung round my waist, taking potshots at rabbits and snakes. The cardinal rule was always point the gun down. Whereas we could pop off shotguns to our hearts content, a bullet could travel quite a distance. If it hit one of the cattle, you were in big, big, trouble!


We got down to the river on a winding rock path. Halfway down I skittered off the track on the loose shale and hit a cactus. I was lucky! I looked down at my leg. Only one spine stuck out. I pulled the skin, and the spine stayed put. I felt a pain in my leg like toothache. Fortunately, I pulled it out of the bone. The river had a rock shelf to one side, where the water was only about four inches deep, while the rest was quite deep. You could lie in the river to cool off – it was hot. And Pete’s ‘peach bombers’ froze your brain. I still have a picture of Tony ‘walking on water’ – he was on the shelf, with my head sticking above the water level at his feet.


The 9mm ammunition was for the Uzi pistol. We had to fire that at the range so the bullets ended up in the earth bank. Once was enough for me - the bullets tore the target in two!


Next morning, I was grateful for a bit of advice from Pete. I tapped my shoes before putting them on, just as he had told me, and a scorpion fell out!


On the flight back from the ranch, we stopped to refuel at a small airstrip. Have you seen those American road films? There were two old guys in blue overalls, check shirts, long peaked baseball caps and big bushy beards. They were sitting on an old sofa on a veranda outside the wooden shack with the big store window in front. A sign swung rustily above the door.  Spookily familiar!


It must have been this trip when Tony was hit by the flying bug. (No, I mean…). After we had picked him up at Dallas, as we approached the plane, his eyes glazed over. “Mind if I sit in the front, John?” He muttered absently. Next, he was asking Pete any number of questions, then he was trying the controls, then he flew us along for about an hour under Pete’s direction. I think he flew most of the way back, except for take-offs and landings.


I didn’t hear from Tony for a while after that trip. One day the phone rang. The familiar drawl at the end of the phone announced Pete. “Hi, John! Thought we’d give you a call. Guess where we are and who’s with me? He and Tony were at the ranch again, with their wives. Tony had been over in the States, got his flying licence, and this time had done all the flying down from Dallas himself. “Bastards!” was all I could say down the phone as they chuckled, knowing what I would have given to be there with them.


Still, I learnt how to put salsa on my scrambled eggs at breakfast, a tasty memory of those four days on the ranch.  


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