The first thing you should know is that my dad is crazy. Not crazy as in mentally ill, but crazy as in he’s been through it all and so doesn’t understand what the big deal is about trying something new. Anything new. If there’s even a chance that some point in life will result in a dull moment, he’ll do what he can to ensure that dull moment doesn’t see the light of day.
Back in the 70’s, I was a young child growing up in a Seattle suburb, the son of a Boeing engineer and a homemaker. Boeing ran the Washington economy prior to Microsoft. So we were living a fairly standard middle-class life and it was good. Yes, in fact it was a bit like classic Americana and not a long shot from the Cleaver family on the show “Leave it to Beaver”. A house with 2-car garage, 2 cars, 2.5 kids, and a dog.
While having a stable home life sounds great on paper, it’s much more interesting if you have a more challenging upbringing, like is the case with my dad. He survived growing up with eight brothers and sisters in northern India, The Partition* between India and Pakistan at a young age, and a long trip to go to college in a far off land at the age of 17. Wow. Never a dull moment indeed.
After coming to America to study, he met my mom at college, got married, worked a few jobs, heard about opportunities in the Pacific Northwest, and found himself in Seattle working for Boeing on very short order. It was the perfect fit. Boeing makes a product that enables you to go anywhere in the world and quick. In theory, an ideal company for which to work for a man with most of his family located halfway around the earth.
Naturally Dad would want his children to experience his native culture and eventually meet his remote family, and he had a pretty creative idea how to make it happen. Boeing manufactures lots of planes for various different airlines around the world, and these planes have to be delivered to the country and company of destination. Enter the concept of a “delivery flight”.
A delivery flight is when a plane manufacturer finishes building a plane and is ready to deliver it to the company that ordered and purchased it. I’m using the term “finishes” very loosely here and you’ll see why in a minute.
Dad was a risk taker, but he also knew how to find a good deal. And a delivery flight would be the perfect economical way to get his family to India. Or at least “parts” of the family. We never would go all at the same time, and since my brother and sister (who were older) had gone on a delivery flight a couple of years earlier, it was my turn to go and to go alone – at age 14. The good (and perhaps surprising) news is that I’m still here and able to write this.
I vividly remember that warm, summer day in 1979, driving to Boeing field in Seattle, and seeing the 15-20 other passengers (mostly East Indians) getting ready to board the delivery flight for a trek to the homeland.
Any notion that a delivery flight would be similar to a standard commercial flight was quickly extinguished when we boarded the plane, as it had no seats! Only carpeting. That’s right. We sat on a thinly carpeted floor “Indian style” during takeoff from Seattle and landing in Montreal. Certainly a violation of all modern safety regulations (not to mention common sense!).
The plane was scheduled to make several stops on the journey – mainly so that Boeing’s affiliates could finish building the plane! The seats were installed in Montreal. We also stopped in Goose Bay, Iceland, Germany Turkey, flew above the Mideast oil wells that dotted the desert landscape, and then (finally) arrived in India, with perhaps unknown finishing touches being made to the plane on the way.
When we arrived in Frankfurt, Germany, we deplaned and got on a shuttle. As we stopped to exit the shuttle, an older Indian man raised his hand and said, “Raise your hand if you do not have a place to stay.” A place to stay?! I not only didn’t have a place to stay, I had no idea that my itinerary included a 2-day layover in Germany!
I raised my hand and several of us who hadn’t thought about reserving a place to stay ahead of time travelled with the man to a nice hotel about 20 minutes from the airport. I had no idea how much it would cost to stay there, but luckily Mom had given me $100 in traveler’s checks “just in case”. Other than that, I probably had only $50 of my own personal money.
Germany is a great country with a rich history. What I wasn’t prepared for was the “rich” aroma and taste of German cheese. Keep in mind that I was a teenager travelling alone around the world and had an American palette. Bland McDonalds’ food was more my speed. German Continental Breakfast was bread and extremely aromatic cheese, along with warm milk. Edible, but not typical.
After two days in Germany, we were all packed up and ready to head out. I still wasn’t sure how much the short stay was going to cost, but I recall signing ALL of my traveler’s checks in order to pay my hotel bill.
The remainder of the journey TO India was relatively low-key, landing at airports for a few hours, and then taking off to the next destination. The machine-gun toting security forces on the tarmac in Istanbul reminded us that it wouldn’t be wise to leave the plane and none of us did while the plane refueled. We arrived in India safely where a whole slew of new adventures was about to begin.
So that’s how I (barely) got TO India by myself back when you could get there for next to nothing on a delivery flight. Future blogs will provide details on planned adventures IN India, as my many cousins and I trekked through India’s Rajasthan region as young kids – and continued our lucky survival streak.
*Partition – See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partition_of_India. When Pakistan formed as a separate state from India and Muslims and Hindus traded locations on the map, but not before killing each other in large quantities.