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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

Remembering a Mission on Air Force Two

January 29, 2015

My life has been somewhat akin to Forrest Gump. I've found myself in varied and different circumstances with interesting and often historical people.

From time to time, I recall these experiences and write about them to keep them cataloged for myself and others.

Over the years, I've had the pleasure of dining at the DC Palm and NY Palm, an iconic American fine-dining restaurant started many years ago by Italian immigrant John Ganzi. He opened the first restaurant in 1926 on Second Avenue in New York City and others have opened throughout the world since.

The Palm is, without question, iconic. It is well known for its menu of American food, steaks, lobster, and Italian, but also for the caricatures of famous politicians, celebrities, and some not-so-famous people sketched on its walls.

Today, the famed restaurant is run by Wally Ganzi, the grandson of John Ganzi. Wally is a personable, friendly, and smart, and our paths crossed just once.

It was the summer of 1982 and Wally Ganzi and I were seat mates on Air Force Two, the official plane of Vice President George H.W. Bush. It was a flight between Washington, D.C.’s Andrews' Air Force Base and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where I was to attend a fundraising event with Vice President Bush. Wally was a personal friend of the Vice President and was traveling on with him to Texas after the stop in Pittsburgh.

We talked and laughed during the flight and Wally told me the story of the family restaurant and his then-role in the restaurant’s operations. As I recall, he was uncertain whether he wanted a lifelong career with the restaurant.

The service, accommodations, ambiance, and arrangements when traveling with the President or Vice President is a once in a lifetime experience. There's no waiting for clearance on takeoff, AF1 or AF2 takes off whenever the President or Vice President is ready to leave.

United States military stewards provide 'white glove' service for passengers, and there is no economy seating, everyone flies first class. Every utensil, napkin, food, or drink (even the Marlboro cigarettes) are packaged with the Presidential and White House seals. The plane is a souvenir mecca.

Once airborne, Vice President Bush called us into his private compartment for photographs and small talk and he couldn’t have been more gracious.

As we landed in Pittsburgh, a transfer of luggage was to take place from the waiting motorcade to Air Force Two. Suddenly, Wally realized his luggage had not been accounted for, nor was it going to make it onto the aircraft. Fearful that he would be traveling with the Vice President for a few days without a change of clothes, we quickly figured out a plan.

I would hop off the plane as it taxied to a stop; run onto the tarmac; find his luggage in the motorcade, and return it to the plane before it would soon take off.

As engines roared, I hopped down the steps of AF2, found the car with Wally’s luggage, and raced up the aircraft stairs with bag in-hand to an awaiting AF2 steward seconds before the doors shut and the jet taxied for takeoff.

I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to Wally, nor did I ever see him again. But the memory of the successful mission stayed with me and I’ve recalled it to friends whenever I’m eating at the Palm.

In the end, multiple, small encounters, is what our lives are about.

Remembering them will bring them back; take us to where we are, and where we’ve been.

Don't forget them.