We take a short break from our series on stalls and stall-related accidents. I want to give way to a time-sensitive story. To my deepest regret, there are no pictures.
1996. Carlo and I were to have dinner to celebrate his 10th birthday.
A new resort had opened in Cebu. – Plantation Bay. It was water-themed, and built to evoke the architectural styles of famous plantation estates in the world.
I wanted it to be a surprise.
So how does one fly a 10-year old son to a surprise birthday dinner 600 kilometers away, an hour by airliner, without clueing him in too early?
I was determined to try.
He arrived at my apartment in Manila that afternoon, asking where dinner was going to be. A bag had been packed for him, with his mother’s kind permission.
“At the airport,” I said. There was a Boeing 707 there that used to be Elvis Presley’s. They had turned it into a restaurant.
Carlo, who was born the year Top Gun premiered, was a nut about airplanes. (I wonder where that came from?) He thought it cool, even if he didn’t know who Elvis Presley was.
I brought my snorkel gear. I told him a friend was borrowing my gear, and we were to meet him at the airport, because my friend was flying to Cebu. We would check the gear in for my friend.
I was making this up as I went.
We arrived at the airport. After checking in “my friend”, and armed with “my friend’s” boarding pass, we then settled in a large room to wait for him. This, of course, was the pre-departure lounge.
An hour went by.
“Dad, your friend is about to miss his flight!” Carlo was concerned. “What does he look like?”
“Small guy, black hat,” I said. Carlo was wearing a “Men in Black” hat. That movie was showing in Manila. Carlo looked around and declared that my friend was not there.
I persuaded him that the best strategy was to proceed to the airplane to look for my friend. Carlo was dubious. We weren’t supposed to be in that airliner.
On board the BAC-111 jet, we chose a vacant seat and waited for my friend. Carlo was fidgeting. Then, a desperate suggestion: “Dad, ask the stewardess to page your friend.”
I beckoned a flight attendant over, and asked her quietly for a newspaper. She replied, “Yes sir, of course!” Carlo heard her reply. Yes, my friend was about to be paged.
Minutes went by. Carlo was anxiously looking out the window.
“Dad, they just closed the airplane door!!”
I then confessed that I didn’t know my friend’s name. “What?! You lent him your snorkel gear and you don’t know his name?”
Then, it occurred to both of us that my friend’s name would be on the boarding pass. Carlo scrambled for it, and saw his own name.
He giggled and laughed all the way to Cebu. Relaxed, he read the entire safety card, asked for a headset, gleefully accepted his snack tray and looked outside at the stars.
An hour later, we were on the ground in Cebu. Carlo was still giggling. He pointed to the sign, “Welcome to Mactan International Airport”.
There was a special van waiting for us, with a driver and a girl in Hawaiian shirts. We arrived at Plantation Bay and there was a small banner,
Happy Birthday Carlo Rivera
August 28, 1996
and a small birthday cake. He blew out the candles right there. In our room, he gleefully called his brothers on my Motorola flip phone and told them, “Dad and I went to have dinner, it’s only an hour away, but I don’t think I will be home after dinner. In fact, I don’t think I’ll be home after breakfast!”
It was a weekend, so we had two days together. He took an introductory SCUBA dive (two years later we went to SCUBA school together). He remembers to this day what he had for dinner that first night.
Today the resort is passé’, there are no more snack trays on flights to Cebu, Motorola is about to become a part of a new company called Google, and few BAC-111s still fly. The pictures I took that weekend are lost forever, drowned in the great flood of 2009.
Fifteen years later, Carlo remembers every detail. And it’s a weekend again. And yes, we will fly together. But not as passengers.
Happy Birthday, Carlo. My blog partner, fellow pilot, good friend, teacher and inspiration, my son.
Posted from Manila, August 28, 2011
Postscript: A year later, I took my sons to Houston, Texas. They thought they were going to Baguio, a mountain city in the Philippines. I got them as far as the Northwest check-in counter in Manila before they smelled a rat. But that’s another story.