February 28, 2010
I planned to take the 2 PM Eastern Airlines shuttle from New York City. That would have gotten me into Boston by three with plenty of time to grab a bite, take a taxi to Jordan Hall, change, practice some, and relax a bit before the Guarneri String Quartet concert at 8 PM. But an accident on the Triboro Bridge caused me to miss the flight by a hair and I had to settle for the 3 PM instead. No problem, I thought. The weather was perfectly clear. I’d still get to Boston with time to spare. I took those shuttle flights from New York City to both Washington DC and Boston so often that I could practically do the entire boarding process in my sleep.
I settled comfortably into my seat as the 3 PM took off. In those days, you paid for the shuttle trip en route to your destination. Moments later, the flight attendant slowly made her way up the aisle toward me as she collected fares. With nothing better to do, I wrote out a check for the exact amount in advance in order to save her a little time. I felt a bit smug. People who didn’t travel as much as I did, probably wouldn’t have thought of it. The flight attendant smiled at me appreciatively as I handed her the check but when she looked down, the smile faded. “Excuse me, sir. This is not the correct amount.” “That’s impossible,” I said, somewhat surprised. “This is the fare I always pay going to Boston.” “That may be,” she said, looking at me rather oddly, “but this is the shuttle to Washington, DC, not to Boston.”
My heart seemed to stop and I broke out into a cold sweat. Some world traveler! Like an idiot, I had taken the wrong shuttle. “This is a disaster,” I blurted out. “I have a concert at 8 PM in Boston tonight.” The attendant looked amused. “Well you’ll just have to go to the concert another night. We’re going to Washington.” She winked at nearby passengers who had taken a sudden interest in the proceedings. “No way you can make it,” she said, shaking her head. “We’ll land at four so you’ll miss the 4 o’clock shuttle back to New York City. You’ll have to take the 5 PM. Then you’ll miss the 6 PM shuttle to Boston. That means you’ll have to take the 7 PM that gets to Logan Airport by eight if you’re lucky. 8 PM concert? No way.” The attendant looked around again at the surrounding passengers for confirmation of her excellent reasoning. “But you don’t understand,” I croaked. “This isn’t just any concert. This is MY concert. There will be well over a thousand people in Jordan Hall, sold out and standing room only, waiting to hear our group play tonight. I’ve got to make it.” With that, the attendant’s demeanor shifted. She looked me over soberly and remained standing motionless in thought for an instant. Then without a word, she hurried to the front of the plane, leaving me to hyperventilate in my seat.
Missing a concert because of sickness or foul weather was bad enough. At least you could call it an act of God. But what do you call getting on the wrong plane? Certainly irresponsible, unprofessional, disrespectful to my colleagues and our audience, not to mention the beautiful music we had chosen to play. And one more thing: I would never, ever live this down. The jokes, the teasing, the sheer merriment within the Guarneri Quartet over the schlemiel responsible for a concert not taking place because—you’re not gonna believe this, fellows—Arnold got on the wrong plane! Trying to imagine it made me shudder.
The flight attendant suddenly reappeared. “Come with me. Bring all your things with you and sit in the very first row,” she ordered. “When we land there will be someone waiting for you.” Try as I might, I could get nothing more out of her. “But I haven’t even paid for this shuttle,” I mumbled feebly. She patted my shoulder. “This one’s on the house.” I took my seat at the front of the plane and stared numbly out the window. It was hard to avoid the fact that an entire audience and three guys back stage were about to wait in vain for me to show up. Soon, the plane began to lose altitude in preparation for landing. “Please let this gentleman out first,” the attendant demanded of the people around me. Sure enough, when the airplane door opened, a flight attendant was waiting at the bottom of the stairs. “Hurry, hurry” he commanded and gestured impatiently. He led me quickly around and under the bellies of several planes parked on the tarmac until we arrived at another Eastern Airlines plane with its stairs still down. A flight attendant standing silhouetted in the doorway beckoned for me to come quickly. I raced up the stairs, sat down breathlessly in my seat, and in no time at all we were air-bound. I had made the 4 PM shuttle back to New York City. Perhaps, I had at least a ghost of a chance to make the concert. I rang the call button in order to thank the attendant for holding up the shuttle. “Shuttle?” she exclaimed. “This isn’t the shuttle. This is the 4 PM reserved flight to Boston. Your pilot radioed ahead and we’ve held up the plane fifteen minutes for you.” I was flabbergasted. “But…, but… ” I stammered, “I haven’t even paid for my ticket.” The flight attendant smiled impishly. “It’s our little secret, isn’t it?” When we landed, the pilot, the co-pilot, and the entire crew lined up and wished me good luck for the concert. Because of their performance, I arrived in Jordan Hall with plenty of time to spare for ours.
Shortly after, I wrote a letter to Frank Borman, the head of Eastern Airlines, thanking him on behalf of his employees for their extraordinary service. He never responded. I suppose he had more pressing things on his mind. Eastern Airlines went bankrupt a few months later. I often wondered guiltily whether those two free trips of mine were the straw that finally broke the camel’s back.
I don’t remember ever having told the Guarneri guys what happened that day of the Boston concert. And after all these years, why should I do it now. It’s our little secret, isn’t it?
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This is a VERY SUSPENSEFUL story. I couldn’t imagine how you would solve the airplane mishap.
(I always am afraid it would happen to me. But to you?)
Anyway, I am glad you made it. And I’m glad you wrote it down for us, your loyal readers.
A great story, well written.
And beautiful music.
Probably the secret nightmare of any frequent flyer – glad you made it (with a little (or not so little) help from your friends). Thanks for sharing this and inspiring us – whether with the bow or the pen.
Well, that is Service with a capital S that most likely would not happen in these airline-stressed days. Imagine walking off a plane and under several other planes without a phalanx of security officers stopping the whole process. I remember good experiences on Eastern Airlines, and the Delta Airlines of 15 years ago or so. Thanks for sharing this great story.
Thanks for your very special performance of the Bach Chaconne on March 20, 2010 at the Chamber Music Society of Detroit concert. Your most interesting discussion with Alan Alda of the background and history of the chaconne with new insights into the everyday life of J.S. Bach were fascinating to say the least.
It was great to speak with you and Dorothea following the concert. Nancy and I wish you continued good health and success in your marvelous performances for many years to come!
P.S. Your air travel story is wonderful. Thanks for sharing it.
great story arnold; thanks. and i’m sure you have many more! sandy
arnold: such a pleasure to read Fiddler’s Beat ! the writing is so smooth and easy, i’m never aware of the effort it may have cost you to produce such gems. the music is always a michaye to hear – gorgeous playing and interpretations! be well, j
wonderful. I don’t think that there is a single airline out there now which would do it for anyone…
In 197-something, we, the Fine Arts String Quartet, were sitting calmly on yet another German train when a conductor happened by. Noting our assortment of fiddle and cello cases, he asked where our concert was to be that evening. Upon hearing the name of that small town, he erupted with a “Himmel, but we don’t stop there” and told us not to worry, he’d get in touch with the Deutsche Bahn’s Herr Obermeister about the problem.
After rushing past a few more train stations at full speed, we were told to quickly gather up our things and stand at the ready by the doorway, while a few of the more sophisticated travelers were heard to snort, ” Dummkopf Amerikanas, do they really believe that we make a stop at such a kleine Stadt?”
Imagine the double takes to be seen all round when the train slowed to a halt for our unscheduled departure. Danke shoen, Deutsche Bahn!
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