A Brush With Death: AIRPORT ’75 vs. the Bikers



Buffalo, NY

Neighborhood: Letter From Abroad

I took Bobbi Zymanski to see “Airport ’75” at the Holiday Showcase movie house near the airport in October of that same year.

It was our first date and I thought the timeliness of seeing an “Airport” movie near an actual airport in the same year that was in the title would sort of sanctify our evening together.

That night was to be special.

Bobbi was my first “high end ” date. She was the result of months and months of posturing and posing, jockeying and jerking in the various discos, diners and dives that comprised the social milieu of our area: a blue collar neighborhood that blended into a middle class suburb on the edge of a fading industrial city that had a social stratum based on surviving a pecking order where the street wise blue collar biker was king.

Bobbi was a prime target of these plump and scruffy mean-spirited Dennis Hopper clones, simply because she was built like the Nimitz and, although only 18 years old, held a salaried job with the gas company. Those two factors set the bikers salivating. Having an old lady who was young and stacked was one thing, but one who made more money than you was a status symbol and a premium in an uncertain economy.

Bobbi had agreed to go out with me when I cornered her in the Beer tent of the Saint Alfonso Lawn festival after a fight broke out between two bikers over Bobbi’s heavily mascaraed girlfriend, Becky. Becky, whose tube-top and low cut jeans had 75% of the males in the tent — their senses already blurred by too much Rolling Rock and nicotine, started a testosterone build-up equal to a small nuclear device.

During the brouhaha, featuring a lot of sweat, spittle and choke chains, that ended in a stand-off when one biker realized the other was his cousin (two guys named Maddog and Spit who had once been altar boys together at a Saint Alfonso Pan Cake Breakfast), I pulled Bobbi to safer ground inside the tent; all the while taking the opportunity to point out the inherent brutality of our neighborhood, seeing how it was so poignantly displayed by the grappling bikers, a brutality which she could have a short respite (or reprieve) from by attending a screening of “Airport ’75” with me the following Saturday night.

For that magical evening I selected the current “Mr. Natural” look– that being a denim cowboy shirt with gold piping and a brand new pair of Levis (that were still a few washings away from true manly comfort) — a look that was an intentional contrast to the three day-growth-post-woodstock apocalypse aesthetic favored by the majority of the bikers.

I was hoping Bobbi would see me as somewhat Southern Californian ala Dan Fogleberg or one of the Eagles (but in reality I looked more like Don Knotts in a freight wig.)

In keeping with the Western motif, I decided that the Ponderosa Steak House would make a wonderful prelude to our ideal evening. Bobbi had a Rib Eye Special, a salad and a small Iced Tea with Sweet and Low. I had the Sirloin Tips smothered in onions and a special sauce that looked a bit diuretic.

There I was, in my cowboy togs, munching steak among the windbreakers and bowling shirts of a white trash restaurant. I gazed between blissful spicy swallows of steak at the fair Bobbi Zymanski decked out in her billowy rabbit’s fur jacket–her hot pink lipstick smearing sexy smudges on her plastic tumbler full of Nestea. She was taking tiny ladylike bites of Rib Eye and furtively glancing around the establishment fearing that someone from the neighborhood would see her out with a geek who looked like a refugee from “Hee Haw.”

Datewise, I knew I was over my head and that this evening was only a glitch–a slight kink in Bobbi’s life that would soon be corrected next week when she’d be back on track with some guy named Milo or Micky. Guys who drove proper date-night vehicles like Indians or Harleys, not their Father’s ’69 Buick with the leaky muffler and rusted quarter panels.

When I caught Bobbi staring at a group of leather-clad biker hard guys in a corner booth, who were tearing through T-bones of cartoon proportions– eating like there was no tomorrow–I knew I was losing precious ground.

Bobbi seemed enthralled with their command of the steak house; impressed how everyone turned to watch them laugh, poke, joke, swear and tear into their steaks and each other like they were the stars of some friggin’ beer commercial. When they left, she was forced to turn her attentions back to your tepid narrator, and I blew it.

Bobbi asked a simple question.

“What time is the movie at?”

Now, I had a tough cut of steak, I thought I’d never get to savor the special sauce I paid an extra 50 cents for; it seemed like I was sawing away at it all evening. Just as Bobbi asked me what time the movie started I gripped my fork in my fist and jammed it into the steak for a firmer foothold. As I sawed at a particularly sinewy section, it came loose and the law of physics went into effect. The firm grip I had on the fork lost its tension and my wrist caved in, splattering a swatch of steak sauce the size of Greenland across my cowboy shirt.

Before I could answer her query, I was off to the Men’s Room. There I soaked a ball of toilet paper in cold water and dabbed it on the stain that was quickly spreading across my chest. It expanded with every dab of the disintegrating toilet paper, leaving tiny shreds of tissue embedded in the cowboy shirt.

By time I emerged from the men’s room, my chest looked like it had some “Star Trek” creature from the planet Dingleberry sucking out my life’s essence.

We finished our dinner in silence, as if the stain never happened, skipped dessert (I didn’t want to see what I could do with a piece of cherry pie) and headed for the Holiday Showcase Theatre. I was determined to recoup a bit of this magical evening and I hoped “Airport ’75” would be the catalyst.

See, taking her to see such a broad sweeping epic like the latest installment of the “Airport” series (as opposed to the Clint Eastwood or Burt Reynolds movies playing at other locations on the strip) showed that I had discriminating taste. “Airport ’75” had lots of characters and several plot lines, not like “Dirty Harry” or Reynolds’ “Gator” which were written for a fifth grade mentality. “Airport” had the cerebral Charlton Heston and the complex Karen Black. Hell, this flick had George Kennedy, he of “Cool Hand Luke” fame, this film was definitely a cut above the standard proletarian fare, Bobbi had to appreciate this. I hoped she did.

I thought a few hours in the dark enjoying the Hollywood epic that was about to erupt before our eyes would help to smooth over the bumpy start our first date had taken. Overwhelmed by the sweeping spectacle of Charlton Heston (with a too-wide tie in a suit with lapels as broad as his acting style) darting in and out of one action-packed sequence after another in a narrative laced with good-natured cameos by some of entertainment’s hottest stars, like Helen Reddy, Sid Caesar, and Norman Fell, Bobbi and I were about to be lifted above our mediocre date by “Airport ’75.” Then, who should enter the theatre but the four bikers from the steak house, the ones that held Bobbi and the other patrons mesmerized with their comradeship and jocularity. First steak and now a movie, didn’t these guys have biker stuff to do?

The four hard guys were part of the overflow from the sold-out Burt Reynolds movie across the street. They had to settle for “Airport ’75” to satisfy their movie lust, a craving piqued by Burt and his hillbilly hijinks that the stoic Charlton Heston and the bovine George Kennedy would have to satiate.

They entered the darkened theatre during the previews and crossed over us on their way to the four aisle seats they spotted when their eyes adjusted to the light. If they had entered from the far aisle they wouldn’t have had to cross over Bobbi and me in the first place; but they were immediately drawn to her white rabbit’s fur jacket and her Aviance perfume–a volatile combination that made them pump up their shoulders and strut their tushes like gamecocks in a hen house.

All during the opening sequence of events that unfolded the saga of “Airport ’75”–the setup of Heston and Black as more than just two people who work for the same airline; Linda Blair being brought on-board with an I.V. in need of a kidney transplant; and Dana Andrews taking off in his piper cub soon to have a badly timed heart attack that would send his tiny plane into a head on collision with the massive 747–one or more of the bikers leered over at Bobbi. Bobbi crossed her legs within the aching confinement of her ever-so-tight Jeans Skirt exposing just the right amount of thigh necessary to put the road hogs on Suburban bitch goddess alert.

I countered their attentions by placing my arm around Bobbi. The arm-around-her-shoulder bit was a bit iffy but it seemed to be working, Bobbi enjoyed my bold move and was somehow cruelly amused at the way it seemed to rankle the hogs, who sooner or later, one by one, turned their attentions back to the movie.

The balance of power had obviously shifted.

All was fine, until the friction of our bodies (along with the heat generated by my pulse rate which was through the roof at the mere thought of her huge breasts poking into my chest) caused the up-to-then dormant steak sauce stain on my cowboy shirt to mysteriously reactivate into a tacky, gooey mess that filled the theatre with a smoky perfume that could be detected three rows back.

“It’s driving me crazy,” I heard a crusty voice emphatically whisper to his spouse as Karen Black grappled with the controls of the 747, “I swear someone’s eatin’ steak in here?”

With that Bobbi bolted upright, gave a sniff or two then gasped as she saw how the huge brown stain from my cowboy shirt had oozed onto her rabbit’s fur jacket. She darted from the seat and rushed past the bikers who took her urgent exit as a sign that our cozy coupling was crumbling.

When Bobbi returned from the concession stand, with a cup of ice and several napkins, which she applied in layers to the stain, she was determined to keep her distance from me and my greasy shirt. I had no recourse but to sit there and watch Charlton Heston be lowered by a cargo plane into a small opening in the disabled 747 while the leering, sneering looks from the doom crew down the row started up again.

Suddenly one, then another, then another of the bikers, deciding that they needed more popcorn, candy and soda, took turns going to the concession stand. It could have been just a scoot up their aisle for them but, instead they had to keep filing past us again and again. Each one leering at Bobbi and strutting their stuff.

They, like most bikers, lifted weights and were anxious to show Bobbi and the majority of the movie house their large well muscled physiques silhouetted against the movie screen. They were really getting off on it; they were so mockingly polite as they said “‘cuse me, or pardon us” as they passed taking advantage of the confinement of the isle to rub their legs against Bobbi’s exposed thigh.

By the fourth or fifth pass, their antics were wearing a little thin, I knew what they were up to. They were having fun at my dates and mine expense (not that my date minded.) I had to do something, so far I had been a total spaz, a cowboy shirted, mumble mouthed, steak sauce smelling jerk. To add reactionary geek to the list seemed only logical.

When the last biker tried to pass I stuck out my leg and placed it on the facing seatback and said, “Why don’t you go the other way?” which was quickly answered with a low almost guttural subhuman hiss that sent a tremor up my spine.

Bobbi, pretending that she didn’t hear the leather clad hard guy hiss, sat with her arms folded patting the stack of napkins on her chest watching Heston hug Karen Black in the cockpit of the disabled 747, hoping her rabbit fur jacket would pull through.

The tough returned to his seat to fix a constant glare on my sorry behind, well I was sure he was doing that, even though it was dark in the theatre I could feel his cold, calculating biker stare. When all his friends returned down the other aisle, I offered Bobbi a quick out to this miserable evening.

“Wanna leave?” I said, hoping we could escape unnoticed.

“Sure,” she said without hesitation.

We got up with our coats in hand and stealthily left the theatre, or so I thought. Just as we entered the lobby Bobbi decided that she had to go to the lady’s room. I anxiously stared back to the theatre, Heston was attempting to land the disabled jet, the tension was building and I was sure good old “Airport ’75” was suspenseful enough to hold even the toughest biker in its sway.

I was wrong.

Just as Bobbi ducked into the ladies room, the four horsemen of the apocalypse emerged from the theatre hell bent for leather, somewhat perplexed and confused to find me casually leaning against the candy counter. They were prepared to pursue us to the ends of the Earth or even the next town or maybe out to the parking lot but there I was propped up against the candy counter smiling big as life waiting for the confrontation.

As the bikers moved forward, one of them reached behind his back.

For what?

A black jack?

His choke chain?

Oh, Christ he’s got a knife!

That’s it isn’t it?

Before the bikers could react I clutched one of the lobby stanchion poles in my hands.

The chrome-plated obelisk felt heavy and cumbersome but I tried my best to handle it like a natural weapon, I was ready for the ultimate confrontation, I was gonna bash some heads, I was going to stand up for all the geeks, goofs, and weirdoes in the neighborhood and put myself on equal footing with the bikers once and for all. Payback was going to be a bitch.

The lead biker moved forward, pulling his hand from behind his back to reveal his–wallet?

“Christ, Karen Black always makes me thirsty,” the lead biker said walking right by me, the rope pole teetering above his head.

“I gotta take one mean piss,” another biker said, brushing by me, heading for the John.

“Do they have any Junior Mints?” The last biker said, hovering over the candy counter oblivious to any danger I was about to place him in.

Bobbi emerged from the ladies room.

“The stain’s all gone,” she brimmed, then looked on confused as I lowered the rope pole and set it back in place, “What’s that for?”

“Nothing,” I sighed, placing my arm through her’s to escort her home before the bikers snapped out of it. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the lead biker.

“Hey, dude,” He whispered in my ear, “that’s one beautiful chick you got there, take care of her,” he winked and returned to the yheatre. “Now, let’s see if old Charlton Heston’s gonna land that sucker.”

The other bikers followed their leader back into the theater whooping it up in anticipation of one hell of a climax to “Airport ’75.”

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