CHAPTER 19: RENO NEVADA
Just when I thought that I was out of luck for going to any other of the wife show- sites the team learned that a general was taking a V.I.P. aircraft mid-September to the National Championship Air Races and Airshow in Reno, Nevada and invited the Snowbirds wives along for a free ride. Of course it was for wives only but Dean and I were happily surprised when we found out that I could go because I was military and it was a military flight. Of course I’d stick out like a sore thumb in my uniform but I couldn’t complain about it. Paul had to pay for a ticket for poor Arlene because they lived common-law. I thought that common-law couples on the team should have been counted as a spouse and allowed on the flight. It was understandable that girlfriends couldn’t get on the plane, it wasn’t the same.
The private jet had plush velvet seats, dark mahogany tables, heavy velvet drapes, and thick pile carpeting on the floor. I saluted the general as I entered the jet feeling all the wives eyes on me. The jet had a capacity of seating twenty passengers and the seating was arranged in sets of four facing each other with a large table in-between them. There was plenty of leg room and the military stewardesses served fancy finger sandwiches and seafood. When we arrived at the Reno airport a white stretch limousine picked us up and the women quickly found the chilled champagne. Two girls stuck their heads out of the roof sky-light and raised their arms yelling. Reno Nevada was a bustling city.
All the pilots were in the hotel lobby to greet their wives upon arrival but once again the technicians lagged behind because of last-minute work. I took the opportunity to change out of my uniform the moment I got into the luxurious room. A large fruit basket sat on the table with a complimentary box of imported chocolates. Dean had tried to explain how spoiled they were but it was hard to visualize. The mechanics got back with barely enough time to wash up and change which stressed Dean out putting him in a bad mood. The boss had a set lobby time to meet for the function and being late wasn’t an option.
We were going to a dinner show at one of the opulent Reno hotels and the casino was bustling with gamblers. Dean’s demeanor was upsetting me, he was cold, distant, and seemed angry, who knows what for. I was tired of feeling upset, so much so I was on the verge of crying, and I felt like going home. I became quiet and turned cold trying to keep the tears at bay. Dean was sullen until the show started but finally he snapped out of it. He bought a picture of us from the photographer, his arm slipped around me, but I was still angry. The show was amazing but I was a little shocked at first to see the girls topless. It really wasn’t needed for the songs or story so I assumed it was to keep the male audiences’ attention. An old famous singer did a cameo where she sang Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend if you could call it singing, it was more of a repetitive high-pitch whistle that made Dean and I cringe, until we burst out laughing. It was the first real display of positive emotion between the two of us in a long time.
The next day Dean, agitated again, left early with the other technicians to ready the planes for the afternoon show. He suggested I go shopping with the wives to pass the time so I did for a while but returned to the hotel early. I was too depressed about Dean and felt uncomfortable around the pilot wives. I didn’t know them at all so it was weird to all of a sudden try to be chummy with them. When it was time to leave in the limo for the air show we had a police escort. We were guided to the roped off V.I.P. seating area where sandwiches and drinks were served. Before the show started, when the pilots and technicians walked near the security fencing, fans, mainly girls tried to get their autograph. They pressed up against the barrier and thrust a Snowbirds brochure even a scrap of paper and pen into their hands to sign. I was dumb-founded why these girls wanted autographs from guys they didn’t know. Once again, I thought it wasn’t as if they were famous actors or well-known musicians where mass audiences watched their movies or listened to their music. The show started with the technicians marching out to the tarmac or what they called the “walk out” and stood in front of their perspective planes. When their pilot marched up they saluted each other and then the pilots jumped into the aircraft buckling up while the technician removed the blocks and pins. Then the technicians marched off the runway and the engines started up. The planes taxied down the tarmac and the show began. It was a beautiful aerobatics show no doubt but I was conflicted. The hardship the Snowbird team caused the families left behind was tremendous, for me it out-weighed the beauty of the show and I felt bitter.
That night we went to a banquet in the team’s honor. In the middle of the food table was a huge ice sculpture in the shape of their Tutor aircraft that delighted the whole team. There were speeches, plenty of food and alcohol, and lots of mingling. Plenty of people again many girls gave Dean a brochure or napkin to sign. Dean told me it was his job to mingle so I hardly saw him during the dinner but I saw other pilots spending more time with their wives. Did I have that perception because I was upset and a little angry or was he purposely avoiding me? It felt like he was making any excuse he could to get away from me and that hurt. I deflected the bad thought with the idea that he was just trying to impress his teammates and play the corporate social game; he was trying too hard at my expense.
The last day there was a special luncheon at fancy house in Nevada owned by a deceased aviation founders’ fourth wife. The opulent house sat on forty acres of land with the Truckee River coursing through it. She invited us to look around, while a man played a baby grand piano in the living room. There were expensive rugs and carpeting throughout the home. Hung on the walls were high-priced pieces of art. The outdoor gardens were full of beautiful flowers, hedges, and trees. Several waiters walked around with high-society food on pure silver trays, and offered champagne to all. It was certainly a roller-coaster ride in Reno for me. The city, hotel, and events we went to were memorable, but unfortunately Dean’s mood put a damper on the whole trip.