"Leaving on a Jet Plane"

My bag was packed. I was ready to go. For the first time I was flying solo. I was leaving on a jet plane, and though I knew when I'd be back again, oh, baby, I hated to go.

As revised lyrics from the famous song played over and over in what little remained of my mind, my wife, Sue, drove me to LaGuardia Airport in New York recently for the first solo flight of my life. I felt like a little kid being dropped off at the bus stop for his first day of kindergarten.

"Bye, Mommy!" I said to Sue as I walked toward the terminal. I was headed to Dayton, Ohio, hometown of the Wright brothers, who at least had each other (and didn't have to pay extra for their bags) when they flew for the first time more than a century ago.

My destination was the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop, named for the great humorist who was born and raised in the Dayton area and didn't wait until she was 56 to start accumulating frequent flier miles.

"This is my first time flying solo," I told a nice woman named Meghan, who was reading The Stamford Advocate while waiting for her flight to Wilmington, N.C.

Meghan, who is originally from my hometown of Stamford, Conn., and now lives in New Canaan, Conn., said, "Maybe you'll get a column out of it."

I knew I would after I somehow managed to get on the right plane and overheard Tracy, our flight attendant, talking with a woman seated behind me. The woman wanted Tracy's job. Tracy warned her about rude passengers, then got into a discussion about her love life and finished with a dissertation on Victoria's Secret intimate apparel.

"Now," said Clay, a businessman who sat next to me, "you know Tracy's life story."

Next came one of the great thrills of my life: Someone was actually waiting for me in the

Dayton airport, holding a sign with my name on it.

"You're not a federal agent, are you?" I asked.

"No," said Molly, a pleasant, middle-age woman. "I'm here to get you a ride to the hotel."

I felt like a VIP (Very Idiotic Passenger).

When I said I was flying solo for the first time, she said, "Tell your wife that Molly took over for her."

Gary, my driver, gave me the grand tour, even taking a detour so I could see downtown
Dayton. "It'll take two or three minutes," he said.

"You mean I'm going from the City That Never Sleeps to the City That Never Wakes?" I asked.

"Almost," said Gary, a proud native Daytonian, as we passed the Wright Brothers Flyover Sculpture on Main Street.

The town was terrific. So was the University of Dayton, Erma's alma mater, which hosted the biennial conference.

On the way home, I waged a protracted battle with a kiosk at the airport. A lovely couple named Anne and Doug, who live in Dayton and were headed to Florida, helped me figure it out.

"Sometimes you want to kick these things," Doug noted. Anne invited me to stay with them the next time I'm in Dayton.

As I took off my shoes in the screening area, I told an employee named Tammy that I was flying solo for the first time. "Do you want an escort?" she asked.

Reva, a fellow passenger, said, "I'll take care of you."

My plane landed in Philadelphia and I got on the connecting flight to Islip ("Iceland?" someone wondered), where Sue picked me up.

"Mommy! Mommy!" I squealed.

"How was your trip?" Sue asked as she drove me home.

I told her about the fantastic conference and all the nice people I had met. Later, like a kindergartner home from his first day of school, I took a nap.

Stamford Advocate columnist Jerry Zezima is the author of "Leave It to Boomer." More info at www.jerryzezima.blogspot.com. E-mail: JerryZ111@optonline.net.

Copyright 2010 by Jerry Zezima