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Tales of a speaking tour

November 13, 2005|By ROBERT GARDNER

Once upon a time, I spent several weeks a year on the speaking circuit. For three years, I devoted two weeks of my month's vacation to traveling around the country making after-dinner speeches.

The pay was good. And for a while, it was fun.

My boss had the philosophy that anyone can go from one place in this country to any other spot in one day. And so each year he set up speeches a day apart in 14 cities. Then I sat down with a travel agent and tried to figure out how to get to each of the assignments on time.

Right now I can't remember all the towns, but I can remember the travel, particularly when it got a little sticky.

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For example, I made a speech in Beaumont, Texas, one night and had to be in Rapid City, S.D., the next day. The trouble was that I had to travel on five airlines.

I made it, but all I can remember is that in some hokey little airport along the way, we took on about 30 German army officers and each one promptly got airsick.

The sound and smell of 30 people retching is a harrowing experience.

Then when we got to Rapid City, my host took me to the local snake house, of which the city was very proud.

I hate snakes.

I looked the other way when they showed the movie on the screen. After a couple of hours of looking at and smelling snakes, I was ready to quit the whole trip right there.

But my most memorable trip was from Los Angeles to some jerkwater town in northern Minnesota. Because of some screw up, I traveled first class to Minneapolis.

So far, so good. It was an emergency, and the boss would pay. However, I sat next to a somewhat elderly lady who became completely smashed on the free booze and passed out on my shoulder.

Arriving in Minneapolis, I discovered my flight to whatever town I was headed for was grounded because of a nasty tornado between Minneapolis and that town. I scurried around and found a crazy pilot who would take me in his two-seater plane for $150. I forked out the money and took the scariest plane ride of my life.

There were huge black clouds rolling and tumbling around the sky and lots of chain lightning. The little plane was jumping and dropping and making funny noises. The pilot wanted to turn back, but I insisted on going forward. Finally, he asked me if I suffered from motion sickness. I said I didn't. He said he did and promptly threw up.

So there I was, several thousand feet above ground in a plane that was bucking like a well-trained rodeo horse, and with a pilot who was barfing his guts out. Such an experience one does not forget.

When we finally arrived at the airport of our destination -- really just a landing strip -- my airsick pilot practically tossed me out, turned the plane around and headed back to Minneapolis, still sick.

I guess it was scenes like that which cause me to remember the trips between towns, even if I can't remember the towns.

After three years of airlines and motels, I quit the speaking tour business and took my vacation like any normal husband and father. But even now, when I travel by air, I always wonder whether the pilot and co-pilot suffer from motion sickness.

* ROBERT GARDNER was a Corona del Mar resident and former judge who died this summer. This column originally ran in March 2000.

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