Get Me Home!

Last week I wrote about working for the dry cleaners in Denver until Mr. Fuller decided my time there was done. The rest of the family was on vacation in North Dakota, so I had to figure out how to get up there to join them.

In 1966 we didn’t have a lot of money, and calling anywhere outside of town was an expensive proposition. As I recall the price was in dollars per minute. Compared to today, that’s at least ten dollars a minute. So before making a phone call, decide what you’re going to say!

Airplane Ticket - Bismarck to Denver - June 1967

Airplane Ticket – Bismarck to Denver – June 1967 – $34

I called and arranged to get back to North Dakota, which wasn’t trivial for a sixteen year old without a car. The agreed upon solution was for me to fly standby on Frontier Airlines from Denver to Bismarck, 100 miles from Jamestown. You may ask why a phone call was expensive, but airline travel was affordable, and I can’t answer you. Standby fares were considerably cheaper, but still probably cost the equivalent of hundreds of dollars today. Plus, the destination airport wasn’t anywhere near my destination.

It was settled, I’d be flying standby the next afternoon. (Standby meant I’d be the last person onto the airplane, if there was an empty seat, significantly discounted from the regular fare.) My mother’s co-worker took me to the airport, to stay with me until the airplane left the gate. That was a good thing, because at the very end a paying passenger took what should have been my seat. I was bumped after being given a seat assignment, and after I called Jamestown to say it was OK to leave the house to pick me up at the Bismarck airport.

Here’s where the phone rates came into play. I was at a pay phone and tried to call home to let them know not to make the two hour drive to Bismarck. Calling from a pay phone was far more expensive than calling from home, and I didn’t have enough change to make the call. Whoever answered didn’t want to accept the charges, as the folks had already left home for the airport. There was no way to reach them with the news that I wasn’t on the plane. What I distinctly remember is asking the operator if I could ask for an individual, but that was an extra charge – person-to-person calling.

Life today with mobile phones is so much easier. We no longer have to call a location to find a person, we just call that person and ask their whereabouts. And a call next door is exactly the same price as a call across the country! It’s all included in the contract.

But wait! There’s more! Remember I had been bumped at the last minute? My luggage had already been checked in and loaded onto the airplane. The airline had no way to get my bag off the airplane, so it flew to Bismarck without me! Luggage flying without a passenger is illegal today, but not then.

Stapleton Airport, Denver, CO

Stapleton Airport, Denver, CO

So I went back to the apartment without my luggage and toiletries, just to be driven to the airport again the next afternoon. I don’t recall the reaction of the friend who had driving duties for this sixteen year old, but I bet they weren’t happy. We lived on the west side of town, and Stapleton Airport was on the east edge of the city. At least I was able to fly that second day.

You know how, when you get off the airplane it seems to take forever for luggage to show up on the carousel? I didn’t have that problem. Bismarck isn’t that big of a place, so they just left my suitcase on the carousel, going ’round and ’round until I arrived the next day. Nobody touched the bag for that twenty-four hours.

The parents weren’t too happy about taking another day of their vacation to make that two hundred mile round trip to the airport to pick me up. As I recall, they had me call from the Bismarck airport to say I had arrived, as they no longer trusted me or the airline to actually deliver me to the destination.

I apologize for this story, as travel stories seem to be passe. Anyone who travels seems to have plenty of great stories. I have plenty more. Twelve hours for a seventy mile flight. Detouring to Iowa to refuel the airplane. There’s always drama.

Enjoy your flight.

A note about the picture:

The date printed on the edge of pictures is roughly related to when the photo was taken. In those days you took pictures sparingly. There were only twelve on a roll, and it cost a fortune to get them processed. Sometimes it took months to get them printed. That’s probably what happened with this one, dated October 1968. I took this picture when coming home from Denver over the summer, much like in the story above. It didn’t get printed until fall, when I finally got to the end of the roll of twelve pictures.

Grandpa Guy Havelick

One thought on “Get Me Home!

  1. When I became old enough to drive to and from college, with a used car of course, the standard line was “call from every gas station.” That was how they knew I was making progress on my 8 hour drive. Nowadays, I text from every airport as I fly around the world. Technology may change, but the desire to “reach out and touch someone” hasn’t…


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