I've gone to parties that lasted until morning light but never to a party that started in the morning. Until last month, when I went to a US Airways event that started at 9:00 a.m. US Airways was bringing back one of its "throwback aircraft" designs, that of Pacific Southwest Airlines, with the smile wrapped around the nose of the red-and-orange planes. The dedication ceremony hosted former PSA pilots and employees and a lot of people in suits. Not the motley bunch with ripped jeans and T-shirts who I usually see.
I grabbed a coffee and a donut and wondered why they didn't have flight attendants handing them out or giving out bags of peanuts.
The commuter terminal of the airport was decorated in the flower-power theme of the '60s and '70s, the era of the original PSA design. Someone told me it was the airline of the "love generation and flower children."
The flight attendants, or stewardesses, as they were called back then, were wearing the fashion of the day -- orange miniskirts. I overheard one woman say, "I wonder if they felt like cheerleaders trying to get into their old outfits before a high school reunion."
I watched the old employees greet each other. Some had stayed in touch; others hugged and screamed, not having seen each other in over 20 years.
The man people seemed most excited to see was an African-American named Erskin Moore. He was wearing an old Chargers shirt, and everyone was so excited that I thought he was a former Charger. A guy with white hair hugged him and said, "Seeing you here makes this whole thing worth it. I was hoping you'd be here."
When someone started speaking with a microphone about how glad they were everyone could attend, Moore yelled out, "Do we get a free flight?"
I saw a guy named Dan whom I had met the week before. He told me he was an airplane mechanic for 30 years. I asked, "Does that mean you work on all the cars in your family?" He said, "No, not really. It's a totally different technology."
I asked him about Moore's popularity. He said, "Oh, we were like a big family at PSA. And he was one of those guys who always had a smile on his face."
When I talked with Moore, I asked him if he was related to boxer Archie Moore, and he said, "No, but I knew him." Moore told me, "I worked here for 35 years. I was a ticket agent, and I worked in all different areas. There weren't a lot of black guys around here then. I knew everyone here."
A few guys looked as if they were enjoying the retired life, wearing Hawaiian and fishing shirts. A few people had wings pinned onto their clothing, which reminded me of my first flight on PSA as a kid. I treasured the plastic wings they gave me.
We were led outside to see the airplane. A lady was handing out earplugs at the door. A guy had a microphone, and I heard him say that PSA is most remembered for two things -- nice employees and the smile on the plane. The thing I remember most when I think of PSA is the crash in 1978 over North Park, which killed 144 people. At the time, it was the worst in U.S. history. The father of a friend of mine died in that incident. The papers said that residents found charred body parts for miles.
I watched as people had their photos taken in front of the smile on the nose of the plane. Everyone wanted Moore in their group photos.
The person continued to speak into the microphone about the history of PSA. Planes landing and taking off drowned out his voice. He tried to talk over the noise but decided to wait until it stopped.
When an older pilot took the microphone, I thought it would be time for me to snooze. The coffee hadn't kicked in. But he told interesting stories. He was Captain Leonard, copilot on the first PSA flight in 1949. "They told me I have five minutes up here. I'll try to finish this in four."
Leonard said PSA bought their first plane for $20,000. It's funny to think that most cars cost more than that today. Someone said, "It only cost $13 to fly to Burbank in the mid-'70s." I said, "Now, it's more than that for gas if you're driving up there."
Leonard explained that the airline flew once a week between San Diego and San Francisco, mostly carrying military guys who wanted to spend the weekend at home with their families.
He said there was a time that PSA was making $700 million annually.
Leonard talked about the famous smile on the plane and that it was a PSA employee who came up with the idea -- a takeoff of the fighter planes that had faces painted on them. At first, PSA used the smile logo in their brochures, but it got so popular that they painted it on their planes.
Before I left, a gentleman told me this old PSA story: "There's a pregnant woman flying into Burbank, and they hid her from the pilot. They thought he might get nervous. He ended up seeing her and noticing her condition. He did panic. He called for ambulances to meet them at the runway. She said that she had five kids and that she would make it through the flight just fine. She knew exactly when she'd give birth. The plane landed, and she refused to get into the ambulance. She wanted a hamburger first. She got one, ate it, and then hopped into the ambulance. She had the baby at the hospital ten minutes later."
Crash your party? Call 619-235-3000 x421 and leave an invitation for Josh Board.