During my years with the Los Angeles Philharmonic “run-outs” represented a substantial portion of our performance commitments. If my memory serves me correctly, in a typical season we would play in San Diego 4-6 times, Santa Barbara 3-4 times, Irvine at least 3 times and oh yes, Palm Springs 2-3 times annually.
Although some of the orchestra members would drive themselves or carpool on occasion, the more standard means of transportation was via “Greyhound” buses provided by the Philharmonic management. On average, I would say the bus rides ran about 1.5 to 3 hours each direction, depending on the venue. In other words, approximately 3-5+ hours round-trip …often after having played a youth concert that morning! Of course…you mustn’t forget to add that evening’s performance to the mix as well!
Enter “Alan’s Airways”… which quickly became a popular and viable alternative to the rambling “Greyhound”! Not only for me….but for a number of my colleagues as well. Regular passengers included such familiar names as Danny Rothmuller, Glenn Dicterow, Jeanne Aiken, Roy Tanabe, and Art Royval to name a few. Although it did not take long for us to establish efficient and effective routines for these maximum 1 hour flights (like the distribution of hot chocolate and pastries on the returning late-night flights…yum…yum) we did experience an occasional adventure or two.
For example: being a coastal city, it was not at all unusual for the weather in San Diego to include either a marine layer of clouds (sometimes more dense or thicker than other times) or perhaps even a rather annoying bit of ground fog, invariably late in the evenings after a concert. Well, this particular evening, we returned to Lindbergh Field in San Diego following our concert only to be greeted by one of the heaviest ground fogs I had ever experienced. I mean…if you were in a vehicle, it was almost impossible to make out a vehicle in the adjacent lane.
As our taxi dropped us in front of the terminal my colleagues quickly looked at me much in the same questioning way a group of fearful children appeal silently to their parents. Sensing their concern….I reassured them that I would immediately contact the Control Tower by phone to discuss the feasibility of our departure.
The tower confirmed that visibility on the ground was indeed near zero but that the top of this marine layer was only about 1500 feet above the ground with clear skies above. Bottomline, according to the tower…and I quote,
“Sir, if you can find your airplane…. and then manage to somehow find your way out to the centerline of the runway….I will be happy to give you clearance to take-off!!”
So given that challenge, we all slowly worked our way to our plane and even managed to successfully load-up void of any serious mishaps. Once we were all securely fastened in our aircraft, a twin engine Beechcraft Baron, I turned my full attention to the next challenge posed by the tower. Namely, finding my way to the centerline of the runway.
Although a painted yellow line commencing just ahead of my front tire should have made the journey to the runway a piece of cake, the dense fog made any viewing of this line by me virtually impossible. The ultimate solution……Danny Rothmuller, sitting in his usual position as “shotgun” would slowly open the door on his immediate right and cautiously slide out onto the wing (in his tuxedo) where clinging to the door and fighting the backdraft from the rotating engine propeller, approximately three feet from his nose, he would guide me (via hand signals) along the yellow line to the center of our runway!!
I have always wished that someone could have videoed this “great moment in aviation” but alas…no such luck. However, on the bright side….we did indeed find the centerline at which point I was cleared by the tower for a zero-zero take-off.
As the tower had earlier predicted…within 3-4 minutes of taking off we had punched through the top of the fog layer and enjoyed a crystal clear, starry night all the way home.
I will always remember another great flight experience relative to my days with the L.A. Philharmonic. On one of my last U.S. tours with the orchestra we had just performed at Carnegie Hall and the next morning were about to board our chartered flight to Washington D.C. where we would be playing that night.
Just prior to our flight I had spent a few minutes speaking with our captain and shared briefly with him some of my aviation background. He was quite surprised that given my position in a major American orchestra I had managed to experience as much as I had as a pilot. Much to my delight, he invited me to ride “jumpseat” in the cockpit for the duration of our entire flight to D.C.
WOW…..I was thrilled and immediately jumped at the invitation! As we climbed out of New York and headed towards the Potomac River the Captain asked me if I had ever flown a commercial jet. Almost as quickly as I had answered that I had never had such an opportunity, he had switched seats with me and I now found myself sitting in the captain’s seat of a DC-9 Jet. My excitement mounted even more as the captain instructed me to take over the controls from the co-pilot and visually guide us along the route of the Potomac gently flowing about 20,000 ft. below us.
It was at this moment, Ernest Fleischmann, the Executive Director of the Philharmonic (and not always my biggest fan) happened to peak into the cockpit. What a shock for ol’ Ernest. There in front of his very own eyes…I, Alan de Veritch, his Principal Violist and often thorn in his side, was actually piloting the official orchestra jet towards the nation’s capitol. In all the years I knew Ernest, I am quite certain I had never, ever seen him quite SO incredibly pissed!! Oh well. C’est la vie!!
NEXT WEEK”S BLOG will wrap up this unit related to my love of aviation. Be sure to check it out. It will feature another unusual experience (or two) from my life as a pilot and even overview William Primrose’s deep infatuation with airplanes!