Thanks 'Jumpin' Joanie' for Pushing Me to Become a Writer9:51 AM
Airplanista Blog Editor
It's 1966, and I had just came back from my first airliner trip on United from Fresno, CA, through KSFO and on to Seattle. I cannot recall the short hop over California's Coast Range, but my memory wants to say the long northbound leg into KSEA was in a Boeing 707. After visiting my mother's family and returning to Fresburg, I was so jacked about airliner flight, I could not stop talking about it. What happened next might have changed my life.
My mom liked to go by the handle of 'Jumpin' Joanie' due to her eclectic personality that was equal parts Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball and Joan Rivers...all rolled into a creative soul that could paint anything on anything and make it look good. She had a gift of gab that nobody could rival...she'd talk anyone's ear off, and had a quick wit to match her personality. Her trick was to string any three words together in conversation, to throw people off guard and make most anything she said sound like pure genius. Ask her about watermelons, and she's reply "oh, they are sweet because of the metabolic transference conductivity of the water they use." Since nobody had a clue WTF she was talking about, they'd just nod their head and say, "hmmm."After hearing my endless chatter from me about the flight to Seattle, she suggested I write someone at United Airlines and thank them. We dug out an old Royal typewriter from the closet, and with her guidance, I pounded out my very first letter to someone important. I was 10-years-old, and the words were mine, but she helped with some of the typing since, well...I was TEN. But I did get the point across that United really lit me up about flying, and just like my writing today, it was from the heart without any contrived B.S. or spin.
We dropped the letter in the U.S. Mail, and forgot about it. I went back to doing all the things 10-year-olds do in Fresno, never really expecting to see anything of it. Then one day, a large manila envelope arrived in our mailbox...addressed to me. No 10-year-old ever gets much mail, so to get a large brown envelope was a big deal. When I saw who had sent it, I went completely into orbit. It was addressed:
Office of the President, United Airlines.
Somehow, my letter had been sent up the chain of command at UAL HQ to the president, George Keck. I guess he (or someone who signed his letters) liked what the saw in my rather long and descriptive letter, and replied with a personal thank you. Along with the letter was a ton of great info on United at the time, some vintage black and white photos, and a press release and brochure of a gigantic new airplane Boeing was developing. It was the 747, to be delivered and enter service a few years later.
For a wide-eyed kid who loved to hang on the fence at Fresno Air Terminal (yes, the baggage tags said FAT, which caused more than its share of uproar over the years, especially from overweight pax), receiving this personal reply back from the highest level suit at United was very inspiring. My mom, told me straight away that words are powerful, and if you string them together in the right order, they can do wonderful things. This package from United was proof, and from that day on, I became very interested in writing.
My sister bought me an electric typewriter, and it allowed me to start cranking out "stories" of what I was seeing while I shot the races up and down the West Coast. Editors took notice, and soon, they started running my stuff. I became a "stringer" for National Speed Sport News, at the time the most respected auto racing weekly in the country. With their press ID card, I could waltz into any track in the land, and sit in the Press Box, just like the real journalists. That assignment peaked when I covered an Indy Car race for them at Portland International Raceway, and was probably out of my league at the post-race presser when I interviewed Mario Andretti, Rich Mears and a slew of other "A" list Indy car drivers.
But I never stopped writing.
In 2005, nine years after earning my pilot's license, I found a home for my writing on my World of Flying blog. It's the same space you are reading right now as it morphed into Airplanista around 2010. This gave me free reign to write anything, without anyone looking over my shoulder. I guess it has paid off because now I write freelance for seven of the eight major national aviation magazines. I am not getting rich, but man do I get to do a LOT of writing.
And if not for Jumpin' Joanie's prodding back in 1966 to pound out that letter to United Airlines, I might not have ever discovered that I could write. This career found me, and somehow, I learned the ropes well enough to persevere. Editors like my stuff, and they always know it comes ready for the page, wrapped in a nice bow. There is only one thing left in my writing career to truly grasp, one last Grail I can call Holy.
And that is to become an aviation writer full time. It is coming someday, I can sense it, and all I have to do is keep coming up with good pitches for the seven magazines, and as Jumpin' Joanie said, keep stringing the words together in the right order.