“By the time I make Albuquerque, she’ll be working, she’ll probably stop at lunch and give me a call…”
After a long wait at McCarran Airport we finally boarded our privately chartered Boeing 707 late afternoon having waited inside the plastic departure lounge for several hours due to an unexplained problem, thats a lesson learned from 1973, when I win my zillions on the lottery I will always travel with a major carrier, when you own the aircraft you have nowhere to borrow another one from, unless you own two.
As soon as we entered the Boeings cabin another problem became immediately apparent, another problem caused by private charter – no seating allocation. Human nature being what it is everyone wanted a window seat, air travel was not as familiar to us all in 1973, we didn’t use airplanes as taxi’s back then, flying to Las Vegas really was a once in a lifetime deal and the 150 or so fellow travellers didn’t want to spend the next 16 or 17 hours of their life sat separately from the rest of their party – fights broke out in the aisles, arguments raged up and down the fuselage until one of the pilots announced that in three more minutes he would lose his slot and we’d be stuck there for another hour, no-one new what he meant but it sounded serious, who wants to lose their slot at a time like this, we all sat down and buckled up.
It was then that the reason for the all-afternoon delay was announced, our TWA privately chartered jetliner did not have enough fuel to make the 5200 mile journey back to Manchester England, a slight inconvenience having being caused to the worlds fuel markets during the ten days that we had been away by the Arabian OPEC countries stopping dead the flow of oil from their part of the world in an attempt to force up their retail prices to the Western world.
Within days the UK had introduced petrol rationing and within days aircraft fuel was at a premium, you literally couldn’t buy a tankful of kerosene in Las Vegas, not even for a weeks worth of casino winnings, there was none to be had.
Not to worry announced our pilot, for we have sourced some fuel at another airport and so tonight we will not be flying to New York as you thought, for we do not have enough fuel to reach New York, instead we will fly to the Albuquerque Air Force Base where we have been promised a little fuel, failing which you’re all on the bus.
We all sat silently staring at each other and mouthing the words “Albuquerque, where the fook is Albuquerque ?”.
“By the time I get to Albuquerque, she’ll be working, she’ll probably stop at lunch and give me a call…” is all we knew, the verse from the excellent Jimmy Webb song, in fact our knowledge of most American place names was taken from the songs of the period, “By the time I get to Phoenix”, “Philadelphia Freedom”, “Girl from Ipanema” yes I know Ipanema is not in the USA, but still, American place names fit so well in songs where British place names just would not, “By the time I get to Bradford she’ll be working, in t’mill” just wouldn’t sell and neither would “Tall and tanned and young and lovely, the girl from Cleethorpes goes walking…”
We didn’t realise at the time but Albuquerque was quite a detour from Las Vegas if you’re supposed to be en route to New York, its certainly not like “I’ll need to stop for petrol so we’ll find a garage on the way…” and it was dark when we landed at the Air Force Base and yes, our party organiser actually had to write a cheque to pay for the fuel, “Make it out to The Air Force sir, and put your address on the back, would you like the oil checked ?”
It was a whistle stop, no longer than it takes to refuel a Boeing 707 and we were not allowed to disembark, hardly surprising when you read with the benefit of Wiki that Albuquerque Air Force Base is home of the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Centre and several other divisions involving American home security, I can just imagine them all staring out of their windows into the darkness wondering what the hell a TWA 707 was doing parked up in their top secret base, “Its a rugby club trip from England Sir, they didn’t bring enough fuel to get home”
Truth is it could have been the White House for all we knew, for we knew nothing, we didn’t even know where Albuquerque was until we got home and had the benefit of a school atlas to check, we’d never heard of Albuquerque apart from the line in the Jimmy Webb song, we were innocents abroad, we had no preconceived ideas even of what Las Vegas was going to be like until we got there and found slot machines in the baggage reclaim hall at the airport, that gave us a clue.
These days you research everything and everything is out there to research, if you boarded an aircraft in Las Vegas today and the pilot announced that due to the OPEC embargo you were diverting to Albuquerque for fuel then you would first of all be well aware of that weeks oil embargo (we weren’t) and you’d be on your iPhone within seconds to find out where Albuquerque was, indeed you’d probably be on your iPhone in seconds to find another kerosene supplier a bit closer than Albuquerque and pass the information on to the pilot, “Hey gee thanks to Arthur in seat 42A, we’ve found a supplier in Kansas that will take a cheque”