Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Breakfast: More than a start to the day

AT THE CONTROLS: Claude Bergeron (left) and Jody King on their way to breakfast at Block Island. 

By John Howell

“How about breakfast?”

From Claude Bergeron’s tone, I knew exactly what he was asking. This wasn’t a casual invite to join him at one of many breakfast nooks to catch up on life’s events. Rather, this was Claude’s way of saying, I’m going flying and would you like to come? Over the years we’ve ordered omelets and pancakes at the airport restaurant on the Vineyard, which is a good hour’s flight, or taken a shorter hop to put in an order at the Block Island airport eatery.

“I’m thinking Block Island,” said Claude.

Claude has access to a single-engine airplane that’s kept at North Central Airport (KSFZ). It’s a 4-seater and must have thousands of hours under her wings. Claude treats her with the exactitude of a watchmaker. Every detail is scrutinized from the edge of the prop for dings and nicks to the tires, the fuel for possible water, the instruments and the tone of the engine that he listens to carefully after shouting out the cabin window “clear prop” and engaging the starter.

“Anybody else coming?” I inquired. “Maybe Jody would like to join us.”

We made plans to meet at 7:30 a.m. at the Airport Plaza to drive to North Central.

Jody King was intrigued by the invitation although reluctant to commit. He felt compelled to be out on the bay and quahogging and then had lined up a job piloting a powerboat that afternoon. The weather forecast was looking good, but that didn’t sway him.

“Well, let us know,” I said.

On Saturday night I called Claude to see if he’d heard from Jody, learning to my surprise that Claude was at a party and Jody was there serving up cherrystones.

“I’ve been working on him,” Claude reported, “I think I’ve convinced him to come.”

Jody’s brother, Lonnie, is a commercial pilot for a charter jet company that flies people with lots of money in the latest of aircraft. But that’s not the brother that has weighed heavily on Jody’s life since The Station nightclub fire of Feb. 20, 2003. A bouncer to the establishment, Tracey King, lost his life on the night of the fire. Jody was the driving force to the creation of a memorial on Veterans Memorial Drive across from fire headquarters to the 10 Warwick residents lost in the fire and for the memorial that opened in May on the site of The Station in West Warwick. He has made presentation after presentation to raise funds and gain the donation of materials and services to build the memorials, often sweetening his appeals with the presentation of a satchel of quahogs. That effort and the emotional pull it has had on his life has been consuming for the past 14 years.

We met as planned with Jody still questioning whether he should take the time for such self-indulgence. But now he had no choice and after Claude’s meticulous pre-flight inspection we were at the end of the runway with the engine at full throttle. We lifted over the woods of Lincoln, banked to the east and were soon following the bay passing over Rocky Point, Quonset, Newport and then Point Judith on our way to breakfast. We made an aerial tour of Deep Water Wind, looking down on the giant wind turbines looking like misshapen toothpicks stuck in a silver reflector stretching to the horizon.

The Block Island airport was humming. An assortment of single-engine general aviation aircraft – some experimental 2-seater airplanes – were parked on the tarmac while larger aircraft were making runs to and from Westerly delivering a stream of island vacationers. The mood was upbeat and full of excitement.

The terrace tables were full, but we found seats at the counter inside. It was the place to be for local gossip and to chat with breakfast fly-ins. Everyone, it seemed, had a story they wanted to tell. While only less than 50 miles away from Warwick, the venue with its aviation memorabilia and talk of airplanes was a world away. Barely an hour later, Claude was going through another pre-flight and Jody was back behind the stick.

We took a more westerly route back, flying over URI, Green Airport and the Citizens Bank campus under construction off 295 in Johnston before touching down at 10:30 Central. As brief as it had been, breakfast at Block Island served up so much more than eggs and French toast.

As viewed from above, the flight was a reminder of how much this state offers from shoreline to forests, highways, bridges and cities compacted into a neat package. We joke to out-of-states about missing Rhode Island if you blink while driving Route 95 and, indeed, this is a comparatively tiny piece of real estate. But from 2,400 feet up it is a quilt of diversity with the Bay like an artery reaching into the Atlantic.

The flight was also a breakfast of another sort, a means of separation from earthbound concerns and substance for fresh perspectives, a rare treat.


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