The Unforgettable Flight

          Of course I didn't always look like this. Hair once grew on top of my head, not on my chin, and when I hadn't shaved for a day or two the stubble that appeared was dark, not white. I still hold a clear memory of the day that change began.
           Stalled in rush-hour traffic on Seattle's Airport Way one morning in March of 1966 in my gunmetal gray fastback Chevrolet. Gray as the sky, the wet street, the industrial buildings, and my own dark thoughts. The mist-green Ford beside me blew its horn. The rain drummed, the windshield wipers swiped. It had been like this since December, when I'd stopped doing outdoor labor in Ketchikan, Alaska. It was worse there. The Rainbird is Ketchikan's official mascot. Moss grows everywhere, even on car windows. In October it had rained an inch a day, every single day. But I had escaped. To this.
           The Ford's horn blew again, insistently. Its driver had the passenger-side window rolled down and was leaning toward me, motioning with her right hand. I rolled my fogged window down. "Mr. Harstad!" yelled the sinewy blond over the noise of rain-strangled traffic.
           "Gail Glockner!" I yelled back.
           Gail Glockner had been an indifferent but likable student in my first-ever eleventh-grade English class at Renton High School nearly three years before. Her father, a lean man with a vise-grip handshake, had come to school one day. Why was I confusing his daughter's brain by making her read MOBY DICK and write papers about it? I tried to explain why, and she eventually passed the course with a C. That was my first year. After my second year, I quit. There were over 150 of them every day. There was only one of me.
           "What are you doing?" Gail Glockner shouted.
           "Working at Boeing. What're you doing?"
           "Working at Boeing." We both laughed.
           A 1960's Seattle joke was that anyone not working for Boeing had either just been laid off by Boeing or was about to be hired by Boeing.
           "Why aren't you teaching?" Her lane was moving. She was blocking traffic.
           "Got tired of being poor."
           Behind her, horns were honking. She honked back and jammed her Ford into gear.
           "You were good!" she shouted as she drove away.
           "Thanks!" I yelled at the muddy Oldsmobile following her. Eventually my lane also began to move. Toward Boeing.
           After work that evening, the radio interrupted its program to announce that the State of Hawai'i Department of Education would be interviewing teachers downtown the next day. Especially English teachers. "I'm not going to work tomorrow," I told my roommates. "Hawai'i calls."
           "You'll turn into a coconut out there," they warned.
           "That sure beats moss."
           The next day I talked to three dark-suited gentlemen from the DOE, who assured me that I was perfectly fitted for the position they were offering. Would I please sign my name on the line beside the X? "I'm good," I told myself. "Gail Glockner said so." And I signed.
           In late August of 1966 I found myself at a sunny 35,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean in a gleaming silver Pan Am 707, built, of course, by Boeing. A week later, I was one of the new haole teachers at Wai'anae High School. Forty years later, I was one of the old haole teachers at University Laboratory School. All those students for all those years can blame Gail Glockner, if they can find her. I never saw her again.

Talk story

  1. kristel says:

    Doing read aloud in your class was one of my favorite memories in HS. You always did the best voices! 🙂

    Very lovely piece!

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