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YESTERDAY, TONY Jannus’s 1914 flight across Tampa Bay turned into something even more disturbing than his passenger’s disturbingly round goggles.
Chapter 3—A new place, and a new friend
THIS was a fine fix for pilot Tony Jannus. What began as a routine 20-minute flight of the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line had transformed itself into a bizarre adventure.
When the glare subsided, Tony found himself once again in control of his Benoist XIV flying boat. But he was amazed when he looked around—up, actually, as they were still flying more or less at 25 ft., the altitude requested by his redhead passenger. (You know her, the one with disturbingly….)
“What the…?!,” said Tony, “This isn’t Tampa, it’s Porto Rico!!” And, indeed, this was the accepted spelling in 1914.
“What?,” said the redhead. For once, it made sense that everything she said ended in questions.
“I said Porto Rico!” Tony yelled, over the clatter of the 75-hp Roberts engine behind them.
“Tampico? Ah’ve neveh been to Mexico beforeh?”
“Oh, forget it,” said Tony, “I’ll explain when we get down.”
He circled what appeared to be a colonial outpost of some sort (we’d recognize it as an airport control tower) and searched around for some convenient bit of sheltered water.
Just to the left of a tarmac strip labeled 08 (what was that all about?), he found what he wanted: a nice wide channel, long enough for the Benoist to set down.
Tony lined up, cut the power and greased the aeroplane onto the water. He taxied to an easy place for disembarkation and shut the engine down. Its racket continued to ring in their ears, not to say other vital parts.
“Well, I haven’t the foggiest idea how we got here in only 20 minutes,” said Tony, “but this is definitely San Juan, Porto Rico.”
As she pocketed her disturbingly round goggles, the redhead smiled and said, “Ah’m told they do really good Piña Colladas heah?”
I used to live in the Caribbean on St. Thomas, and San Juan is familiar because it was where STT mainlanders visited when they got a touch of rock fever.
Bermuda Triangle aside, there’s more than a modicum of truth in the tale. Tony Jannus, the Benoist and the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line all existed. It was, indeed, the world’s first passenger aeroplane service. St. Petersburg Mayor A.C. Pheil was its first passenger. And, alas, after its initial hoopla, the business did languish.
The redhead with the disturbingly round goggles is fact as well; at least I like to think she’s a redhead. Inspiration for her came from a wonderful period photo.
The woman is identified as Mrs. A.L. Whitney, wife of the Secretary of Commerce of St. Petersburg, Florida, the first woman to fly on a scheduled airline, January 8, 1914. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015