A PRETTY GOOD PILOT
From the Feb 1965 Central Airlines Skyriter.
(The following feature by nationally syndicated columnist Jim Bishop is reprinted here for those of you who may have missed it in your newspapers. Ed.)
One of the cheerful sides of flying is to listen to the captain address the passengers on the intercommunication system. Some are good talkers. Others are terse. A few do not speak at all.
Keith Heaton, one of the best motion picture cameramen in the business, was aboard a Convair on Central Airlines when he noticed that the captain was a comedian. This, of course, is rare. The plane was flying to Dallas, and Heaton noted the name of the captain—Emmett Spinks—and noticed that the amusing jokes relaxed the passengers, and made them laugh.
“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “This is your captain speaking. We would like to extend a most cordial welcome to each of you aboard Central Airlines Flight 141. As you know from reading the newspapers, the emphasis in the airline industry is now on entertaining the passengers.
“Some of the larger airlines feature movies while one airline has individual television for each passenger. We don’t have very much money but we do have a little program planned for you this morning. In the old days, crews were required to report before a flight to review their emergency procedures, and study the weather.
“It isn’t like that anymore. When we report to the airport, a dance instructor teaches us a soft shoe routine. Then a voice coach teaches us a couple of tunes. Then the company gag writer hands us a sheet with funny stories.
“Central Airlines doesn’t have any movies, but I can show you a couple snapshots of my kids eating peanut buter sandwiches. Later, the stewardess will sing two choruses of ‘Bill Bailey.’ Then I will read a woman’s advice column to you. For a grand finale we will make both engines backfire while the entire crew sings ‘Dixie.’
“For those who do not care for community singing, we have arranged special entertainment. Every so often, Central runs what we call our Mystery Flight. The fun of this is that we do not tell the passengers where we are going until after we reach cruising altitude. For example, you have tickets for Dallas, but this Mystery Flight is headed for Las Vegas.”
“We will arrive there in three hours. Before landing, the stewardess will pass out money for the slot machines. We want you to enjoy yourself . . .“
Keith Heaton was still copying the captain’s words when he cut in again. “Thanksgiving is over,” he said, “and Christmas will soon be here. My wife ate so much turkey that they have her on the critical list at Slenderella. Some of you husbands are worrying about what to get your wives for Christmas.”
“Last Christmas, I bought my wife one of those fancy ballpoint pens. You know, the kind that writes on butter. All year she has been writing nasty notes on my toast. This year, I’m going to buy her a fur piece. Like a Davy Crockett hat.”
A few minutes later: “Kidding aside, folks, we are at our crusing altitude of 7,500 feet and making a ground speed of 240 miles per hour. The weather ahead is good and we will be in Dallas on schedule.”
Some of the passengers seemed saddened by Captain Spinks’ lapse into the dreary truth. In an hour, the skyscrapers of Dallas could be seen dead ahead in a haze of chocolate-covered ranches and spidery oil wells.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the captain said, “there is a large city ahead. We aren’t sure whether it is New Orleans or Dallas. The best thing is to drop in and ask somebody. If it turns out to be Dallas, we would like to repeat our earlier statement: It has been a pleasure to have you aboard.”
“We sincerely appreciate your business. Remember, the ticket you buy keeps my children in peanut butter. Permit me to leave you with a bit of homely philosophy which may stand you in good stead in the future. When things look really black, send them to the laundry.”
Who called that comedian a pilot?
The last time Captain Emmett Spinks was in New York City, he almost starved to death. He had joined a band that had been booked into the Brooklyn Roseland Ballroom. However, the ballroom burned down the night before they were to open. The manager didn’t even tell them it was going to burn.
Spinks moved into a flea trap hotel on 49th street and was living on thirty cents a day. He would eat a candy bar and drink lots of water for breakfast. At night, he would hit a spaghetti parlor on Broadway that served all you could eat for a quarter. In between, he would stay in bed and conserve his strength.
The only jobs the band could get were weekends at the Log Cabin in Armonk, the Raymore Playmore Ballroom in Boston and one record date. Spinks would take his trunk down to the desk, they would let him have his horn, he would play the job, give the horn back and get his clothes back. This went on for about six weeks. Spinks hit the road with a band as soon as he finished high school, and traveled with bands until the war. He then enlisted in the Air Force and became a fighter pilot. After the war, he attended Texas Christian University for three years and majored in psychology.
He then went to work for Central Airlines as a stewardess. (The airline was just starting and used pursers instead of girls.) He took this as a temporary job until the music racket got better. Six months later, Spinks became a co-pilot and three years later, a captain. During this period, he was flying jet fighters with the Air National Guard, and was jobbing locally on the side.
He later got into the night club business and has just opened his sixth club. He has drilled three oil wells (all dry) and also dabbled in the record business. He sold one master to a sly New York outfit, and got out of the business ahead of the game.
Captain Spinks is married, broke, has three children and is a real easy going guy. His favorite topics for humor on the airplane are wives, kids and peanut butter. He says: “Everyone can identify with these, especially the peanut butter. Anyone that can’t identify with peanut butter just can’t be one of the good guys.”