Round the World at 80 Proof
by John Delach
Part One: Journey To the Far East
Alan and I sent the first post card to his boss, Doug Adams, during our layover at O’Hare International Airport. The front had a skyline shot of Chicago and on the back I printed:
This place is nice and the girls are great.
John & Al.
This would be the identical message I’d put on post cards that we’d mail to him from Tokyo, Manila, Kula Lumpur and Paris.
We planned this trip in the late winter of 1983 to visit an oil company client in Malaysia. The outbound flight was the brain child of my buddy, Mike Scott, who discovered an ad in the Wall Street Journal for a special fare for first class travel on Northwest Airlines on their route between New York and Manila. “Hopie,” (then my nickname at work,) “look at this crazy cheap price for your trip to K.L.” (Kula Lumpur, Malaysia.)
Mike was right; Northwest’s price for a first class ticket to the Far East was less than business class on all other airlines. Better yet, it also put us in first class for all of the other legs of our journey: Manila to KL, KL to Paris and Paris to JFK. The bad news I discovered the flight was via Dulles in DC, O’Hare and Tokyo’s Narita Airport; a total flying time of 23 hours!
Somehow, I convinced Alan that this could be a blast and being 39, I considered myself young enough and eager enough to believe it would be fun. The 747 left JFK about 9 AM and the first two legs to DC and Chicago were uneventful. Our accommodations were in the upper cabin where we found nine of the largest and most luxurious seats we had flown in arranged three across in three rows. We were seated in Row 1, Seats A and B. Our defacto private nine-passenger cabin remained exclusively ours during these first two legs. I cannot describe what the seating was like in the rest of this jet as I never ventured below except to deplane during layovers. Service was attentive, Bloody Marys, etc. before take-off and in flight; though the flight attendant let us know that her crew was deplaning in Chicago. We did notice one thing on the airplane that seemed unusual. On the bulkhead in front of our seats were three metal stanchions arranged like the letter “L”. Neither one of us could imagine what purpose they served.
A few other travelers joined us at O’Hare but several seats remained vacant. The purpose of those mysterious stanchions became apparent once we reached cruising altitude out of Chicago and in-flight service began. A flight attendant climbed the spiral staircase from the main cabin carrying pieces of metal and fiberglass and went to work. She fitted a “u” shaped metal leg into the two stanchions one on top of the other and the bottom and a straight metal leg into the third. Then she placed a fiberglass table onto the top of the u brace and placed the top of the other leg on an angle into the bottom of the table. By Jove, she had built a bar and then this angel proceeded to stock it with spirits, wine, ice and mixers. She had our complete and undivided attention. Satisfied with her effort, this extraordinary woman turned around and addressed her charges: “Tell me what you are drinking gents. I’ll make you each your first drink but from then on it is strictly self-service.
I wanted to ask her if this was heaven but I was afraid she’d reply, “No, but we’re flying over Iowa.” Compounding this experience of being a kid in a candy store, the fourteen-hour flight to Japan had left O’Hare about 11 AM so we’d be traveling during the day most of the flight meaning sleep wasn’t an option. Add to that the excitement of making this trip and I was still running on adrenaline when we deplaned in Narita 14 hours later for the layover.
I recall that the first class lounge was outside the main terminal meaning Northwest had to issue us “shore passes” allowing us to clear Customs and Immigration. Not much to report about the stay. We bought the post card and a stamp and found a mail box to post it. But I do recall teaching a group of Japanese businessmen a mathematical card trick that my colleague, Lisa had taught me. Called, “The Sundance Kid” using a prepared deck, I dealt four fellows and Alan each a hand. When they turned over their cards, each of them had a full house. But, I had also dealt a straight flush to myself. They were astounded.
I “crashed” as soon as I re-boarded the 747 and slept for the full six-hour flight to Manila.
Baggage claim in Manila, I think Alan tried to tell me about things that happened on the flight from Tokyo, but I explained I missed all of it. In 1983, the suitcase of choice for people flying into Manila was the corrugated box and I do not believe I had seen that much cardboard since I quit being a cargo surveyor. I deemed cardboard boxes to be the national luggage of the Philippines!