I flew to Milwaukee on Thursday to have Thanksgiving dinner with Barbara and her family. Took along four bottles of Merlot -- Barbara’s family was VERY happy to meet me. During dinner Tom called to see how the weather was in the Midwest and if we thought we’d make it out. "Weather’s pretty crummy, but, yup, we’ll be there." I wanted to leave as early as possible, so I woke up at 5:30 Friday morning only to find Milwaukee was in a fog bank. Barbara lives close enough to the airport we were flying out of that we could sit at her kitchen table and pick up ATIS on my handheld. We also had Mitchell Field AWOS on speed dial. We drank an entire pot of coffee. Barbara’s friends finally started calling to give us "very local" weather reports from around the greater Milwaukee area. Dave would call us for an update, then we’d call him back with a new update. The phone bill between Barbara’s house and Dave’s house must have looked like the national debt. Eventually the winds started to pick up -- the fog was going to move and we could head out! At 11:30 (after waiting for six hours) we departed in a whopping 400’ ceiling. We flew the trip to Toledo Express in and out of cloud layers. Three hours later, ATIS at Toledo Express announced a 400’ ceiling. Sounds like a ceiling pattern to me.
Now for the real problem: How will we recognize Dave and Carleen? Not to worry -- when we pulled up to the FBO there was a couple waiting on the ramp for us. He was wearing a Piper Cub T-shirt and holding two long-stemmed red roses. He also had an enormous grin. Hmmmm, I’ll bet that’s Dave. Lots of excitement and lots of hugs all around. Dave had turned on his handheld almost at the moment Toledo Approach handed us off to Toledo Tower, so he heard us coming in. After a quick lunch, we took off and headed toward Reading. Carleen is not a pilot, so this was her first big adventure. She sat in the back and practiced her Tai Chi to remain calm. I tried to make sure that the flight was as uneventful as possible so that her Tai Chi didn’t turn into Tai Kwon Do. We spent the entire flight in the clouds; most of it at night. Not a lot of sight-seeing. Every so often ATC would ask us how the conditions were. They must have filed a hundred PIREPs on our behalf. Even in all those clouds (some rain, mostly drizzle) the ride was remarkably smooth. Another three hours and were finally near Reading. Wonder of wonders, we dropped out of the clouds at 3,000’. I’d almost forgotten how to do a visual approach...
Of course the New England Babes have their own problems. Weather forecast is for freezing rain in Massachusetts Friday afternoon which means revising plans for an early departure. Tom leaves early to pick up Kathy who is waiting, even though he’s half an hour early. The engine starts on the first cylinder, but it doesn't sound just as it should. They taxi to the run-up, and sure enough, the left mag is very rough. Leaning for 3 minutes does no good. A weight settles in their stomachs -- this just can't happen! A mechanic is due at nine, so back they go to the hanger. Of course, after spending some time looking the engine over, and running it up, the mechanic can't reproduce the problem. Once again they board the Archer, and this time the run up is normal. The flight to Reading is uneventful for them, if one is not interested in the landscape, the clouds, and the endless conversations of two pilots.
After lunch at the airport restaurant, Tom and Kathy check into the hotel. As it will be some hours before the Midwestern Babes arrive, they have time to attend to some vitally important errands -- Tom has neglected to pack anything the hotel would consider acceptable hot tubbing gear (he has only his birthday suit). This crisis is averted by a penitential pilgrimage to a near-by mall. Next is the far more weighty need for sacrificial chickens. This quest proved in vain, leaving them in doubt of their very future as aviators and Babes. They can find nothing closer than and oddly assorted (and oddly appealing) pair of stuffed ducks. Then inspiration strikes -- Kathy suggests rubber ducks from the baby toy section, Salvation!
Returning to the hotel, hoping against all reason, they inquire after messages. The Midwestern Babes are not there. Disconsolate, they slump in lobby chairs, each reading a book, waiting impatiently.
The excitement for the Midwestern Babes begins to build. We’re on the ground, the plane has been surrendered to the trusting care of Avitat, we have a rental car and we’re heading to the hotel. Now all we have to do is find Tom and Kathy. "Dave, you’re driving too slow. We have to find the Babes!" We did a pretty good job finding Dave and Carleen. Will we be equally lucky with Tom and Kathy? We walk into the hotel. Two people are sitting in chairs in the lobby reading books. It seems a little odd. "Excuse me, are you Tom and Kathy?" "YES!!!" Again, lots of excitement and lots of hugs. None of us can believe we actually pulled it off. The Babes made it to Reading.
First order of business: Merlot. Then food. We headed off to Applebee’s for an evening of lots of giggles, more hugs, lots of stories, more hugs, more Merlot. And finally, a good night’s sleep with lots of wonderful dreams.
Saturday was spectacular -- 50s, sunny, perfect. Of course, we were on the ground. Enjoyed a great breakfast buffet -- I’m sure they lost money on us. We spent the day at the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum. Saw lots of interesting planes including a Culvert wing, a Viscount, a Coast Guard Helicopter (from Chicago!), a beautifully restored Beech Model 18 and an N3N. After some explanations and a fair amount of begging, the owner let Tom and Kathy sit in the N3. We then had to make a trip through the gift shop. We bought lots of goodies, including coffee mugs, so that we could remember this wonderful trip every morning. In addition to all the goodies in the gift shop, there was also a Boxer named Penny and a Tabby named Kit-Kat, both of whom got lots of scratches from the Babes.
We then made a quick stop at the restaurant at the Reading Airport to enjoy several of the Babes’ major food groups: Merlot, French Fries and Decaf. We were now ready for a trip to the hot tub! Once we all jumped in, the New England Babes presented the Midwestern Babes with a rubber duckie. It turns out that Tom and Kathy had tried to buy us a sacrificial chicken. Not being able to find one, they opted for the next best thing, which was a rubber duckie. Kathy offered to charge the drinks to her room if someone else would run to the bar and pick them up. I’m sure the bartender was very confused at so many different people named Kathy in the same room. Kathy summed up everyone’s feeling with, "This must be illegal. Six people who have never met each other before can’t be having this much fun. This just has to be illegal." We all had to agree.
It’s now time for dinner. We went to a restaurant that had been recommended at the airport. It was a rambling set of rooms with many different events going on. There was a large wedding in the room behind us and a 50th Anniversary party going on the other side of room we were in. There was a dance floor between the 50th Anniversary party and the rest of the room, but it was still pretty bizarre. Eventually a band showed up and started playing. Of course, Babes Barbara and Kathy took to the dance floor immediately. Dave got to dance with everyone and thoroughly enjoyed himself. And, of course, we had lots of Merlot.
Sunday morning the phone rings. "Maj, it’s 7:00 and it’s still dark out!" Yup, it’s another lousy weather day. We first made a run through the breakfast buffet then headed to the airport. A group hug for all the Babes then off in our separate directions. The ceiling was about 1,900’ when we left. Once again, we flew the entire trip to Toledo in the clouds. The ceiling in Toledo was a very generous 900’ this time. We had a late lunch (more french fries and decaf, no Merlot) then Barbara and I jumped back in the plane. We popped out of the clouds at 4,000’ and had a spectacular vista all the back to Milwaukee. It was really neat to see the lights from other planes when it started to get dark. They also did a great "Jaws" imitation when they popped up through the clouds. We dropped back into the clouds west of Chicago and were in the clouds all the way into Milwaukee. I was hoping I could just do a little scud running from Milwaukee back to Chicago, but the ceiling was between 2,000’ and 2,400’ so I filed IFR. ATC and I are the best of friends now.
The rubber duckie spent the entire trip from Reading to Milwaukee to Chicago on the glare shield. It’s not every plane that has a hood ornament. The rubber duckie now lives in my flight bag and goes with me everywhere. It’s a wonderful reminder of a truly wonderful week-end.