The Palm Springs Airport: A Beauty in the Desert


The  mountains can cause turbulence.

The mountains can cause turbulence.

Taking off from PS airport last week reminded me of the first time I did it 44 years ago.

I was eight months pregnant with my son and flying on my own for the first time. All was well until we hit the thermals. Then things went sideways fast.

I was so superstitious in those days, I’m surprised I took the chance to go with my parents down to Palm Springs at all. I’d had the Hong Kong flu, though, and couldn’t get rid of the racking cough. The doctors thought being in the dry desert air would do the trick so I went down with my parents for a week. Dad had had a small heart attack six weeks earlier so he was following doctor’s orders to rest in the sunny clime.

We stayed at the Ocotillo Lodge on 111. There was absolutely nothing around it in 1970. You had to go into town to get something to eat. Elmer’s didn’t arrive for another seven years.

One evening, Dad, Mom and I ate dinner downtown and then joined the promenade along Indian Canyon. That’s what people would do in those days–stroll after dinner up Palm Canyon, then back around on Indian Canyon. My mother kept looking into shop windows so Dad and I, arm in arm, got way ahead of her. I turned to see where she was and then turned back and we continued on.

The two women behind us were soon gossiping. “Look at that couple ahead of us. This town is full of sugar daddies and their young things,” one said.

“It’s disgusting. See, that one is even pregnant,” the other said.

I started laughing to myself and then couldn’t resist. “Dad,” I said turning back again and facing the women, “Do you think Mother is going to look in every window?”

I thought I was so smart, blowing up their stereotype, but later I realized they probably thought I was a pregnant, unwed teenager instead. Though I was 24, I looked like I was seventeen.

It rained that whole week so my cough never got a chance to dry up, but I had a great time with my parents. Both of them were the most relaxed I’d ever seen them. And I had their undivided attention! A rare occurrence. Sid Caesar was staying at the Ocotillo also. I think he’d had a nervous breakdown and was recovering there after the hospital. We were told not to look at him or bother him.

It was a special time, but I also missed my husband and was thrilled to get on the plane to go home. I was so nervous that something bad might happen on the flight—that I’d never get home. I’d convinced myself my fears were a premonition.

Often when you take off in Palm Springs, the thermals will grab the plane and give it a good shaking. This is what happened that day. I looked down as the plane bucked and dipped—the craggy, barren peaks looked close enough to touch. It’s all over, I thought. I’ll never be a mother. We’re going to crash into a mountainside.

But the flight path smoothed out and I began to breathe again. That’s when the shouting began. “I’ll get you, you little commies,” a man yelled. I turned and saw a crazy looking guy running up the aisle.

A flight attendant tried to constrain him, but the man flailed his arms and got away. He ran right towards me. Oh my God, I thought. This is how I’m going to die.

But three rows down, a passenger stood up and grabbed him. The flight attendant caught up and the two of them wrestled him to the floor. Somehow they restrained him until his companion could get to them. I’m not sure if this person was a nurse or family member, but he had medication that calmed the guy down after about ten minutes. The man had been in Vietnam and got flashbacks was what we were told. The turbulence had set him off.

His fit gave me post traumatic stress syndrome too. It was a long time before I flew again.




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