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John Johnson
Gail&Rice Inc. Southfield MI

Stories from the Road

~ ~ ~

Flying Back From Yuma
Circa 1978
by Peter C. Henderson

On the Carpenters' 1974 World Tour, the first show for Skiles and Henderson was Glasgow, Scotland.

The venue was a grand old theater with an extremely high stage; it was as high as the balcony. I asked a stage hand why it was built that way and he told me that the height kept the audience from storming the stage if they didn't like the performance, and it made it harder to throw things at the performers.

Jeez! Then he added that they always hated comedians. I hoped he was just "sending me up" as they say for putting one on.

Thankfully, our part of the concert went well (our first in the U.K.) and of course I had to stick around to do the Oldies Medley with the Carpenter's at the finish of their show. After changing to street clothes I left the dressing room along with my wife, Linny. Just before we reached the stage door we were approached by an old stage hand who thought my wife was Karen Carpenter. Well, we just couldn't convince this guy that Linny was not Karen; there was a bit of a resemblance. "I seen ya on the stage y'know. C'mon, just a little autograph." Linny showed him her driver's license to no avail. "Awright, be like that," he said and stomped off. (Bad P.R. for Karen!)

The next morning we started out for a walk around the city and were immediately pounced upon by a reporter and photographer waiting for Karen to emerge from the hotel. Once again, Linny was mistaken for the star and the photographer used up a whole roll of film taking pictures of her as we emerged from the inn. Once again out came the driver's license to the great dejection of the guy with the camera. He started chewing out the poor reporter who had ID'd Linny as Karen. What tickled me as we resumed our walk was looking back at the two news guys and seeing the photographer actually kicking the reporter's butt, just like in a cartoon. And NOT playfully!

~ ~ ~

Pete’s Observations

Cruise ships can be an enjoyable and fairly lucrative venue for entertainers. You usually board in the middle of a cruise, do a show for the passengers who are on the last half of their trip and then stay onboard for the next cruise and do a show for the new passengers. This way the cruise line gets two passenger loads entertained for only one airline fare per entertainer. There are two seatings (early dinner and show, late dinner and show), so you work two nights, two shows per night, which makes four shows for your entire week at sea. Pretty cushy.

You are treated just like a paid passenger, have your own premium stateroom (two of them in our case, and sometimes a deluxe suite), eat in the main dining room and have full passenger privileges. Sound like fun? Sure . . . for awhile. We did more than 160 cruises and the novelty wore off pretty quickly. After your seventy-fifth visit to St. Thomas you begin to think, “So what? I'd rather be home.”

But gee, every job has its downside, and as I said, the pay was just fine. It seems a bit tacky to complain about being FORCED to do luxury cruises! OK, it was a great living and sometimes we had great times. But sometimes not. Here is an example of a NOT great time.

We signed on with Holland-America Cruise Lines to do one leg of a round the world cruise. We were to board our ship, the Amsterdam, in Bali and go home from Singapore a week later. We did this. We worked one night, doing two shows for a total of, perhaps, 250 passengers. This cost the Company about $15,000 if you figure in our Business Class transportation and agent’s fee. This was just to entertain 250 people once. Hm.

Well, I know I earned MY money on this one! My flight to Bali originated in Orlando. I flew to Chicago, then to LA. From there it was on to Oahu, Hawaii, then to Bali. this took only 28 hours. Try sitting in an airline seat for twenty-eight hours sometime. Ouch! Then an hour’s drive to the ship, three days of inactivity, show night, another three days and the flight home completed the journey. Homeward bound I flew from Singapore to Taiwan to San Francisco to Orlando – another 28 hours.

At least it must have been an interesting trip, right? Wrong. I decided to stay on Orlando time which was eleven hours behind Bali time, completely upside down from Orlando. So I was like a vampire, sleeping all day and staying up all night (I swear it was like being on a ghost ship – NOBODY was awake in the wee hours. I watched a lot of movies on the ship’s video and read a lot of good books. I ate bacon and eggs for dinner and steak and lobster and Caesar Salad for breakfast. BUT, when I got back home there was not a trace of jet lag, the traveler’s nemesis! And I really don't think I missed a whole lot.

By the way, the food was absolutely excellent on the Amsterdam, far better than any other ship I have worked on. I can heartily recommend Holland-America.

~ ~ ~

Our job was a one-nighter in Yuma, AZ.

We had rented a single engine Cessna and our pilot, Earl, was a friend (fortunately a highly trained professional) who enjoyed flying as long as we paid for the plane.

One of the wing tanks ran out of gas less than halfway back which surprised Earl, who had measured the fuel with a yardstick before we left for the Santa Ana airport. After switching to the other tank, he kept a close eye on the fuel gauge but that didn't help at all when we went dry over San Juan Capistrano just 5 minutes from our destination.

It's 1:30 AM on a Saturday, circling and circling with a dead engine, steadily descending from four thousand feet, broadcasting a "Mayday!" and everyone's listening to Skiles and Henderson curse like crazy.

Earl put us down light as a feather Southbound on the San Diego Freeway, right by the off ramp to Bill's house.

Of course, cars began stopping to see what was going on, and one of them belonged to a friend of ours who took us to Bill's house (where I called my wife who was frantic because I wasn't home yet.) She started crying uncontrollably and finally explained that about an hour before she had a feeling that I was in mortal danger and fell to her knees and prayed for me. Wow! Twilight Zone. After she calmed down, I got home somehow. I don't remember how.

What a night.

Earl stayed with the plane and got it back to the rental people. Apparently one of the fuel lines was defective and had leaked. And we lived to tell about it.

~ ~ ~

The Carpenters ..Rolling Stone Magazine -

"One of the first times the Carpenters worked with (Skiles and Henderson) their current opening act was in a huge coliseum in Houston.

During Skiles and Henderson's comedy turn, a young man walked up the ramp to the stage and sat down at Karen's drums.

Skiles and Henderson thought maybe the Carpenters were putting them to some kind of test, and the group supposed the guy at the drums was part of the comic's act.

He punched a policeman who approached him and was forcibly carried off, shouting, "Don't touch me! I'm engaged to Karen Carpenter!"

~ ~ ~

More Airplanes....

We had finished our evening show at the University of Notre Dame with the Carpenters and boarded their chartered plane, a twin engine turbojet USAir commercial airliner with room for about 40 or more passengers, complete with a flight attendant.

As usual, I sat in the last row by myself so I could read in peace and enjoy some rum laced hot chocolate.

We had about an hour in the air, and I was oblivious to what was going on with the rest of the troupe. It seemed to me that we were taking a lot longer to reach Chicago than we should have, but I ignored that. It gave me time for another drink.

It also seemed that we were flying a lot lower than normal, and I ignored that, too. Eventually we landed safely with no problem.

I was the last one off the plane and commented facetiously to Karen, who was getting ready to climb into her limo, "Another routine miracle," because that's what I always felt about flying. She gave me the only dirty look I ever got from her, and left for the hotel.

I found out later that we had lost an engine about halfway to our destination, and there was NOWHERE we could land except the airport in Chicago.

Ahh, clueless me . . . I was the only one unaware of the danger. (this explained the disdained "look" from Karen Carpenter.)

~ ~ ~

Bill and I experienced several engine failures while airborne over the years. With millions of miles of flight time, I suppose that's to be expected.

But the most FUN flight we ever had was with the Carpenters in a Hannsa Jet they had chartered, a small executive airplane.

The pilots treated us to a couple of parabolic arcs which rendered us all weightless for a minute or so, just like the astronaut training planes.

It was just like being on our own spaceship. Boy, was that fun!!

~ ~ ~

We were in Buffalo N.Y. for a New Christy Minstrels concert, when the Big Blackout of 1966 occurred.

Of course the concert was cancelled, which was wonderful since we were paid by the week, not by the show. A day off !!

I won't go into the details of the blackout, but my room was on the 23rd floor and the elevators didn't offer any transportation to the dining room on the first floor.

Now here is where the romance comes in.

Walking down the steps to the lobby, the management had put candles to guide guests between floors. After the trek to the first floor where the dining room awaited, I discovered a retreat to another time, a time before electricity. The lobby and the dining room were lit by candles. A virtual time machine had taken me back a century. The kitchen was run on gas, so they were able to serve dinner without a hitch. The entire dining room was bathed in candlelight, and I really felt transported to the past.

There were no electrical sounds... none of that sixty cycle hum.

No ringing phones.

Dinner was wonderful.

The climb to my room on the 23rd floor was not.

~ ~ ~

More stories forthcoming.

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