The Liberty Gazette
June 21, 2016Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: Chirp! Chirp! Squeal! As the Cessna’s tires kiss the runway local airport characters gather about a coffee pot telling big-fish stories. Picture some Bob Jamison types among them.
The Cessna taxies up to the fuel pump and the prop comes to a stop. Two young pilots step from the plane and look around, then mosey over to the old office building that serves as a terminal. A sign above the door reads “Welcome to Podunk Junction Municipal Airport”. As they step inside a man echo’s the sign’s greetings from behind a glass counter display case full of maps and books and a bunch of aviation trinkets, “Howdy! Welcome to Podunk Junction. Where you come from? You want fuel?”
“Yes sir, we only need a little bit though. We’re from Maynard Farmer International. We heard there’s a place to eat here.”
“The place to eat is about a hundred yards down the road. You can’t miss it. It might look a little rundown on the outside but it’s a nice place and there are always lots of cars there. It’s good food, too.”
Airport cafés have been around for a long time. Though I don’t know first-hand, I can tell by observation that the café business in general isn’t easy to maintain. The failure rate of eateries is pretty high. When I was a new pilot one of the most popular activities was flying to a neighboring airport for a burger and fries.
An airport café isn’t always on the airport itself but within an easy walk, and some are quite unique. Some have names like Southern Flyer Diner, Flying Lady, Nut Tree, Apple Valley Inn, 94th Aero Squadron, Anzio’s Landing, The Red Baron. Others are simply known as the airport café. Pilots look for places to spread their wings and fill their tummies, even taking on less fuel so their planes can get off the ground after they eat.
If you’ve been to the Brenham airport you’ve probably enjoyed an ice cream soda at the Southern Flyer Diner served by girls in poodle skirts.
The Flying Lady was on a golf course and had an overhead track that snaked its way around the eating area. Hanging from this track were over 200 model aircraft with numbers corresponding to numbers on place mats where we read the history of the aircraft.
Nut Tree Airport offered rides in their little amusement park style train, to the restaurant just off the airport.
Apple Valley Inn was once Roy Rogers’ and Dale Evan’s home and also served as Sky King’s Flying Crown Ranch in the 1950’s TV series.
The chain of 94th Aero Squadrons sport a WWI motif inside and out, complete with camouflage netting on the outer walls and turrets.
Some, like Flo’s in Chino, California, are just greasy spoon places that have been there forever.
The best airport cafes are part of the community the airport serves, where car clubs and motorcycle groups and families and citizens who don’t fly feel welcome to join in aviation camaraderie.
Meanwhile, back at Podunk Junction, as the two young Cessna crew head for the cafe the coffee crowd offers menu suggestions to fill their hungry bellies.