By “WandrNWayne” Hammerstrom
In my Junior year of high school I was finally licensed to drive my parents’ car and that meant dating my girlfriend was no longer bound by Racine’s city limits. Dating for me, age 16, was more like hanging out with a friend at group events or parties, so the suggestion to double date with another couple was easily agreed to by Kathy and me. Bob and Jamie joined us for a summer night’s double date.
Bob suggested the destination for our out-of-town adventure–a Japanese restaurant in nearby Milwaukee. This would be an exciting new experience for me, both in location and cuisine. The drive to the restaurant located close to the Milwaukee airport took only 30 minutes.
I don’t remember what I ate, but I do remember sitting on a cushion on the floor as I watched a chef chop and prepare our meal at the table. I felt like I was in a movie setting and that these moments would be recorded in memory for later playback whenever I wanted. It also raised the bar for future dating experiences.
We didn’t want to return home so soon after dinner, but we struggled to think of activities that teenage couples could do. (Yeah, I know the word legally could be thought of to finish that sentence.) I suggested driving to the nearby Milwaukee airport. I’d never flown and visiting a major airport would be something cool to do.
Airports in 1962 were not the commercial venues we find today. This airport was merely a place where aircraft departed and arrived. Passengers didn’t need to arrive two hours prior to a flight schedule or shuffle with luggage through TSA portals. There was nothing for us to see or do in the terminal, but my imagination carried my excitement aloft in flight.
I suggested that we try to go up to the flight control tower to see the airfield from above and to learn what happens at an airport. My friends wondered how we could do that and where the door to the control tower might be. I quickly answered that we simply look for a sign that showed which door led to the control tower. We found it! Unlocked.
In 1962 airports had restrictions but not the level of security we have today. We started climbing the steep stairs leading up to the control tower. I became nervous when hearing someone coming down the stairs. When I asked if this was the way to the control tower, he answered yes, and that we should press the speaker phone at the next locked door to explain our desire to enter the control room. Our request was granted and we entered the dark room with banks of radar and display screens. The three men on duty that night talked with us for awhile, seemingly happy to tell us what duties were performed in the airport control tower. We watched them work as a plane descended and taxied on the runway pattern below. We thanked them and began our way back down to ground level.
Next, I blurted out loud that I wanted to try getting on a plane, because I’d never been inside a plane and I wanted to see what one was like. We walked to a terminal gate and I asked if we could go inside the plane that had just landed. We were invited inside to watch the ground crew clean the plane for the next departure.
This was such a cool experience, which impressed my date and my friends. We were just kids having a good time during an era so different from today.
© 2020 Wayne Hammerstrom
Wayne Hammerstrom has been a lifelong traveler who now wanders (WandrNWayne) serendipitously on journeys near and far. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin.