My buddy Tony Bill spent two years as Chief Pilot for Black & White Biplane, the littlest airline in America. We flew passengers in an open-cockpit biplane around Los Angeles, buzzing the Hollywood Sign and running off the Malibu shores right down on the deck. The pilot sat in the rear contemplating emergencies while two passengers sat side-by-side in the front cockpit on one of the coziest and most romantic dates imaginable. I never knew a barnstormer who could hold a candle to Tony. No one combined impeccable piloting skills with natural showmanship the way he could. Even the frightened guys who went up to impress their more courageous girlfriends or wives (which was far more common than the other way around) loved it.
Our mount was a tricky old WACO biplane. Ninety percent of all WACOs have crashed. In fact, ours had crashed many times before I bought it as a flying wreck. It even went swimming once, all the way to the bottom of the Atlantic. At B&W, however, we had a perfect safety record, which is saying something when you're operating a 1930s biplane with no forward view on take off or landing and a 60-year-old engine that leaked oil by the quart (enough so that you can see the oil stains on Google Earth satellite pictures). The risk was part of the thrill for passengers, but our job was to make a statistically dicey operation look easy. Tony was the man for that job.
Here's something that could only happen in Hollywood: on one of the walls of our hangar was a movie poster featuring the begoggled face of James Franco starring in the World War One aviation epic Flyboys. Quite often, in the afterglow of a flight, passengers would kick around the hangar and someone would look at the poster and say, "Oh, Flyboys! I loved that movie! That was how I got the idea for a biplane ride!" And then I would get to say to them, "Oh, that's nice, because your pilot? Tony? He directed it." Needless to say, this would drop a few jaws, especially if they had just tipped him a twenty.
Anyway, Tony has a couple of dogs. Roxie is a cute, smiling Labradoodle. Chance is a diminutive Maltese, a bony guy with the shaky frame of a dog who has weathered hardships small dogs usually don't survive. A few years ago Tony spotted poor little Chance out on the street, nearly getting squashed by the cross traffic of hip convertibles and custom Harleys cruising around Venice. Minuscule to begin with and undernourished to boot, had the wispy Chance come into contact with a car, he would have felt like a leaf, and that would have been that. No one would even have taken their sunglasses off to see what had happened. But lucky for Chance, Tony spotted him. He saw through the matted dreadlocks to see the snow-fluffed puppy; he saw past the ruined brown teeth and saw his smile. Unlike everyone else, Tony missed the decidedly sneaky expression Chance usually wears, the look of a guy who's about to steal an egg from you. Tony only had eyes for little Chance's giant heart. Even when Chance proved, over and over again, that there are some dogs whom you could give ten million dollars to not to relieve themselves in the house and they would still carefully place their nightly souvenirs, preferring to be the first thing that occurred to you on your way to that first cup of coffee. Tony never cared. Chance can do no wrong.
Yesterday the Bill family was returning from the east coast to LA when this email came from Tony. I thought you guys might enjoy it:
TRAVEL NEWSLETTER FOR DOGS
AUGUST 19:American Airlines, Flight 3; 3:43PM, somewhere over Colorado:
Everything went smoothly with Chance and Roxie. We got to JFK 2 hours ahead of time, and went quickly through the security and baggage check process and both dogs were in their crates an hour ahead of time and on their way to our flight.
Our plane even left the gate a few minutes early, since all the passengers were on board.
After we backed out of the gate and started taxiing for takeoff, the plane suddenly stopped. Then one of the engines shut down. The captain came on the address system and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize for the delay, but we're going to wait here for a few minutes. It seems that a couple of dogs didn't make it onto our flight in time. So they're going to bring them out to us. We've shut down one of the engines, since the noise might disturb the dogs."
10 minutes later we were on our way again.
If you miss your flight and you're a human...forget it. If you're a dog, they'll hold the plane, even if they're already taxiing.