It wasn't the Wheeler Downtown Airport then, it was The Airport. There wasn't any KCI. My sister had dropped out of OU in favor of a career seeing the world with Braniff. Pan American was flying high. TWA had a Kansas City presence in their training facility. I flew in and out of Kansas City at the Municipal Airport, hair-raising at times because if you overshot the landing strip, you went into the Missouri River.
Once, coming in for a Chiefs/Raiders game at the old downtown stadium, the plane seemed to veer erratically. The pilot got on the PA, said, "Sorry folks, a not very good airplane driver got into our flight path, he's gone now."
We smoked on airplanes then. Had anyone told me there would be no smoking aboard aircraft (or practically anywhere else, for that matter) I'd have laughed. Such a regulation was inconceivable. Air travel was customer-oriented, too. Pillows, drinks galore, any little request was considered. That pendulum has swung so far the other way it's off the pivot. But we know these things. Why bother. To be fair, one or two airlines still seem to be motivated by the old values of customer-centricity, as much as they can be under current conditions. Southwest, for one. They're at least civil.
Well, the airport. What do I care about it? It has been a leitmotif in my life since I was a teen. My old man worked there as an air traffic controller, back in the days of the CAA, then the FAA. He was in that blocklike tower. Nothing against my old man, I loved him, but often in mid-conversation, he would begin humming and his eyes indicated his mind was far away. His pipe would go out. I wondered if he ever drifted during traffic control. Probably not. He was glued to the radar and forced to concentrate. He was not happy in his work, a condition endemic to his colleagues in mid-air dominion. A bumper sticker on his MG-TC said "Air Traffic Controllers Never Have a Nice Day."
When they tore the old tower down it was discovered it was insulated with asbestos. By that time, I was working at the downtown airport myself, having returned from Los Angeles and a few years with Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising. The airport was being taken over by VML, a growing agency. I tried to convince them to allow my little group to inhabit the empty control tower, and was given some consideration, but it was not to be. It seemed natural that I would end up working in the same building as my father. Perhaps smoking a pipe and drifting in my thoughts. But I was spared the daily exposure to asbestos and the class action suit the TV lawyers recommend.
When I started with VML we were a ragged dozen or so. Now the employees number in the thousands and occupy offices in cities everywhere on the globe. Seventeen years later It took a POD storage container to move my office to my home in Resume Speed, KS. And that was the end of my airport adventure.
Rewind, back up to that Raiders/Chiefs game. The Raiders won that Sunday. Daryl Lamonica, the Raiders quarterback (The Mad Bomber) was injured and George Blanda took his place tying the game with a touchdown pass. In the final three seconds he kicked a 48-yard field goal to win the game. Blanda. A giant talent who played until he was 48.
The next morning when I flew out of the downtown airport, I had breakfast with a cocky and cool Raiders team at the Four Winds Restaurant there, a Joe Gilbert business. I was (and am) a Chiefs fan, but that morning I have to admit to a certain respect, awe, for this outlaw team of penalty-prone profligates. They were on either side of me at the counter, and their mood was infectious. They'd beaten the league-leading Chiefs with their old man.
They flew out on a different plane, and I was soon back in the air, looking down at a building I never dreamed would be my workplace at the other end of my advertising career. My dad was in the tower that day watching my blip, clearing the air ahead of us. He couldn't warn us of the turbulent years ahead.