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Once upon a time, many years ago, I accepted a job in Los Angeles working on the NBC nighttime version of Dark Shadows. I sublet my apartment in New York, left my beautiful and legendarily difficult longhaired cat Agatha temporarily with a friend, and moved out to la-la land. Ended up staying a year. Drove a red convertible Mustang, had a lovely funky apartment in a house a block and a half from the ocean in Venice, and went every morning to my office in the MGM building in Culver City to think about doomed vampire love for 60-100 hours a week.
It was fun. But every once in a while I would have to go back to New York for one reason or another. And when I did, I was fortunate enough to be able to fly MGM Grand.
It no longer exists; it has been added to my list of things that were fantastic but aren’t there anymore, which includes the New York nightclub Jackie 60, Kellogg’s Concentrate cereal, and Prussia.
MGM Grand was an all-first-class airline. It had 2 flights a day: one from New York to LA, and one from LA to New York. It cost the same as first class on any other airline. And during the several years it existed, it was the best airline on Earth.
Kirk Kirkorian, the Donald Trump of Los Angeles during that period (which is to say, an insufferable regional wealth-mongering blowhard who comports himself in all things in the precise manner of a James Bond supervillain) had the airplanes’ standard interiors ripped out and redesigned for maximum comfort. There were a couple of iterations; the first, a 727, had closeable train compartment-type rooms with facing couches in the back half of the plane, ideal for families and those requiring privacy. In the front half were swivel chairs wide as refrigerators in tufted white leather, one or two to a row. There were five movies on board; the crew would take a vote, and show different ones in different sections of the plane. The food was very, very good—not quite as good as they said it was, but still, damn good—and the wine list ran deep, mostly California but some serious French in there as well. Champagne when you got on the plane; fresh-baked cookies, the smell wafting through the cabin, half an hour before landing.
And: if you requested, and if they had the space, you could have your dog or your cat in your seat with you. (There was a pressurized and heated area in the baggage hold for animals that could not be accommodated.) Thus it was that my cat Agatha sat on my lap during a flight from New York to LA.
Damn, I loved that cat. One part pure Doberman; hated everybody in the world except me. But anyway.
I didn’t know any of this the first time I flew the airline. My cat was in New York; I was in LA, and, as I tend in life, I was running late, being driven to the airport by my good and great friend Nikoletta (that’s a thing in LA: you can tell real friends in that town by whether or not they’ll drive you to the airport). We got to LAX with its palm trees and iconic sci-fi spaceship control tower, and were then told that MGM Grand didn’t use that terminal; theirs was a five-minute drive further down.
Right. We were late before; now we’re extra super late, in danger of missing the flight. We jump back into Nikoletta’s dark red Subaru, drive like crazy people to the MGM Grand terminal, which is a small building standing alone at the far end of the airport. Get out, run in, and through the plate glass window I can see that the plane has left the gate, is shimmering forward in the distance across the tarmac, and I say,
“Damn, I missed the plane.”
“Mr. Hall? Yes? We’ll radio them to stop.”
Really? One of the model-actress-beautiful young women at the desk walkie-talkies the plane, while the other jams my backback through the X-ray machine as I empty my pockets and step through the metal detector. Then she gives me my backpack, opens the glass door and says “Run!”
So I start to run. And it’s a bright hot Los Angeles day, wavy jet exhaust mirages and the smell of engine smoke, and 100 yards ahead I can see the plane shuddering to a halt. There are some yellow baggage trucks far off on the tarmac, pulling their little train carts. There are distant silver gas tank trucks. There are no other people anywhere around me, no guys in overalls and headphones nor passengers with flapping backpacks running to catch their plane. I am the only one. It’s oddly quiet, and it’s hot; acres of black asphalt generate a lot of heat. And as I approach the plane, the ladder in the tail yawns open and stretches down, and I cannot believe this is actually happening, the whole thing is deeply surreal.
I put one foot on the step, turn around to see how far I’ve run—about a football field, I’d say— and at that moment one of the beautiful young women comes rushing out of the terminal shouting at me—there’s no one else she could possibly be shouting at—waving her arms and running toward the plane.
I realize that she is saying “Mr Hall! Mr Hall!” She really, truly, is running onto the tarmac for some reason relating to me.
So I step off the ladder and start to run toward her. And what follows is an extended slow-motion moment from some movie—I’m running toward her, and she’s running toward me, getting larger and larger as we both run, and we meet at about the fifty-yard line.
Panting. Out of breath. And she hands me my metal sunglasses case, containing my prescription sunglasses, which I had taken from my pocket to go through the scanner.
I’m shocked. I say: “Thank you.”
She says: “You’re welcome, Mr. Hall.”
And we turn around, and start to run away from each other. I get back on the ladder, sunglasses case in hand, backpack slung over my shoulder, climb into the plane, and the ladder rises up and closes behind me.
I stand for a moment, because I’ve just run 200 yards, and because I cannot believe what has just happened, what is happening. And then I collect myself and walk up the aisle of the plane, past the train-like booths. And in one are two Arab gentlemen in full-on Saudi dress and headscarves, and as I pass I hear one say to the other:
“Who is that man?”
Buddy, if I knew, I’d tell you.