The Aspen Detail | Home Leave in L.A.

In late September 1977, with my assignment to Karachi, Pakistan looming in the near future, the department approved a week of home leave to return to Southern California. When I arrived back at the radio shop in Springfield Norm Bates had handed me my official travel orders for my assignment at the Am Consul Karachi, Pakistan. He added a caveat; “Before you head to California on home leave we need you to support an S.Y. detail in Aspen, Colorado. It’ll be fun, only three days.”

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I had never been to Colorado. I didn’t complain. Another tech had been slated to go on the short assignment, but had come down with an illness. The radio equipment had already been shipped to Aspen.

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All I had to do was show up and complete the job. As it turned out the most difficult part of the short assignment was the flight from Denver to Aspen. The small DeHavilland aircraft was shoved all over the airspace as it careened through the mountain peeks up to Aspen. Before the flight had begun the pilot had made an announcement that everyone check in the seat pocket to make sure they had a barf bag. I laughed it off until twenty minutes into the flight where I grabbed for the bag.

I had only seen Aspen covered with snow on television, and populated by celebrities like Andy Williams and his beautiful French wife, Claudine. In the fall of the year the famous ski resort had some stunning views, but the snowbirds sat around in cafes with doleful looks.

Aspen-Denver-LAX (Home Leave)

The detail had been so nondescript that today I can’t recall what foreign dignitary S.Y. had been assigned to protect. All the S.Y. agents were young guys who had just hired on with the State Department’s Office of Security. Anyway, I was glad to get on the DeHavilland again headed to Denver with a connection to Los Angeles. This time I didn’t require a barf bag.

The plane from Denver landed at L.A.X. International airport without fanfare. Because of construction they ran one of those mobile portable stairs (that I would soon become very familiar with) up to the main cockpit door. After a short bus ride the passengers followed big red painted arrows. The only thing unique about L.A.X. besides that it was right in Los Angeles and at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, was that it seemed to always be under construction.

Mom and dad were waiting for me at arrivals. I could always count on them. It had been an early flight. They insisted we stop for breakfast at Sambo’s Restaurant near our home. Dad never missed a breakfast. Although the name Sambo’s was taken from two owners surnames, it was associated with the story, Little Black Sambo. Dad said he heard several Sambo’s were closing down because of it. He loved their pancakes.

An Unexpected Shock

When I returned to the old house the unexpected shock was like someone pulling the red brake lever on the speeding train. Although I had been in continuous motion over the past year everything here had remained constant here. They ushered me into my old bedroom. Nicholas Volpe’s colorful prints of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and other L.A. Dodgers baseball players hung on the wall exactly where I had left them.

Mom prepared “sun tea” with plenty of ice and sugar, and lemon wedges, in tall Tupperware glasses. We sat out on the back patio on a beautiful day. Since I had left Jimmy Carter had become the 39th President, Elvis had died, Voyager II was on its way to Uranus and Neptune, and “Star Wars” had captured the imagination of America, but we had run out things to say. Of course, dad never said much anyway. Mom had given me the scoop on our family. Curiously, she didn’t ask any questions about what I had been doing. Did she think it was all classified?

Parting Ways

Most of my buddies growing up were doing other things. Scott had gotten married and was going to school up in Oregon where he was number two on the tennis team. Ron had gotten married and quickly divorced and was out of town. I met with Bob at a local bar. He was convinced I worked for the CIA. We joked about it. Bob had big plans to open up a restaurant somewhere along the coast between Long Beach and San Diego. It would be the last time I ever saw him.

It’s hard to explain my feelings of my reunion at home. I was very glad to see my family and yet I felt somewhat lonely. Mom still worked for Rockwell and Monday morning she was off to work in El Segundo. Despite that she came home and prepared my favorite meal of chicken and dumplings. Her home cooked meals every evening were quite a treat.

My dad ran a piano business out of the garage. He would refurbish old pianos and go out on tuning jobs. I helped him repair an old player piano. As I recall, it had leaks in the bellows. I figured out a way to patch them. He had several piano rolls such as “Tennessee Waltz” and “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” But his favorite was “The Sweetheart Tree” by Henry Mancini. He would play that tune over and over. I had never seen him any happier.

Mom and dad sent me off at the gate at L.A.X. Mom wore that smile that I’ll always remember. They were from Missouri. When company left they would stand on the porch and wave goodbye until the car was out of sight. They would wait until my plane had taken off before returning home.

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