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Published: Monday, 5/21/2012

Travel experience cools passion for Toledo Express

BY THOMAS WALTON
BLADE COLUMNIST

Last summer, I offered an impassioned plea for the survival and return to glory of Toledo Express Airport. Express did not have to be the poor little brother to Detroit Metropolitan Airport, I argued, citing airports in Akron/Canton and Flint, Mich., as two that thrive despite their proximity to major airports.

But I’m beginning to wonder. I used Toledo Express on a recent trip, deliberately choosing the higher cost but undeniable convenience of our local airport over Metro.

Even though Direct Air had just suspended operations, I stuck with Express and Allegiant Air. I figured that I had no right to urge readers to support the place if I didn’t.

It’s mildly encouraging that Vision Airlines will launch service to Myrtle Beach, S.C., in June. But Express has been down that runway before. Given our experience at the airport in March, I may need to rethink my passion for its recovery.

The lights were on at Express, but nobody was home.

My brother dropped us off at the curb. Before we unloaded our bags, I decided to run inside quickly and check our flight status. Good plan.

Our flight, which only operates on certain days of the week anyway, was running late. Instead of a 6:30 p.m. departure, it would be 9:30 p.m. — or later — we were told.

I asked why.

“The plane broke,” said the lady behind the counter. So help me, that’s a direct quote, uttered without a hint of humor.

I might have been more comforted if she had blamed a hydraulic problem or a computer glitch. No, the plane just broke, somewhere in Florida. In the meantime, Allegiant was trying to find a replacement aircraft.

I realize that airplanes occasionally break, without regard to those who buy tickets, or what airport might be inconvenienced. Obviously I’m glad this one broke on the ground somewhere and not 30,000 feet over Tennessee.

Still, a three-hour nap at Toledo Express might be welcome some other time, but not when the delay meant we would reach our destination after midnight, especially with friends waiting at the other end to pick us up.

I was ready to sit on the wing of the next plane out. Just give me a space heater and a stool and I’m good to go. But no. The next plane out would be the next one in.

Finally, the replacement plane arrived, its passengers deplaned, a new batch of weary zombies staggered aboard, and we were off. It was almost 10 p.m. The only seats left were in the last row in the back, next to the engines. At least if the plane broke, we’d be the first to know.

It was not a pleasant start to our trip, and it was a cautionary tale. Could the same thing have happened at Metro? Sure.

But a port authority that is struggling to maintain even minimal interest in passenger service really needs to figure out why Akron-Canton’s airport — just a short drive down the interstate from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport — can make this work and Toledo can’t.

  • After reading about my efforts to learn the harmonica, retired Andersons executive Sam Irmen sent me an excerpt from a book he’s writing for his family called The Older I Get, the Better I Was.

He relates how his mother forced him as a 9-year-old to take lessons on the Hawaiian guitar. He didn’t want to do it; she was insistent.

Every week for 36 weeks, he rode the bus downtown to the old Tiedtke’s department store, gathered with fellow students in the “Hawaiian Music Conservatory” on an upper floor, paid a quarter for each lesson, and struggled with a guitar borrowed from the instructor.

By the end of the course, he had mastered “On the Good Ship Lollipop” and “Taps.” Yes, “Taps,” one of the few things I can play on the harmonica. That was about it for Sam’s repertoire.

On graduation day — how should I put this? — he was not class valedictorian. The other eight students in Sam’s class got certificates of achievement, no doubt suitable for framing. Sam got his money back.

And he kept the guitar. The instructor said Sam had damaged it so badly, it was no longer of any use to him.

Sam never played it again. Many years later, he was cleaning out the attic of his parents’ house and found the guitar. He took it home to his kids and told them the story. A few days later, he found the guitar floating in the lake behind his house.

“I quizzed the kids on how it got there,” Sam wrote. “They said it made a pretty good canoe paddle.”

Sometimes your toughest critics live under the same roof you do.

Thomas Walton is the retired editor and vice president of The Blade. His column appears every other Monday.

Contact him at: twalton@theblade.com



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