March 4, 2005

Here I am in Switzerland, getting ready for a gig with Deep Purple. This was quite an unusual trip out from the USA for me. And as an aside, I'm writing this little account for the pure human interest and humor, not to say that my little problem was somehow a big deal in the grand scheme of things, just interesting to me at the time......

On the first leg of my trip, to reach the more plentiful International flights available from New York, I found a surprise from my most trusted airline. By the way, I do trust them all to get me on the ground safely, just some have better capacity to dispatch replacement planes for one with a small mechanical problem. For the last 40 years they were my preferred airline, well over half a million miles, (not counting all the ones before frequent flyer miles were tracked) and it finally came to this:

"Sir! Sir!....does this fit in our 'sizewise' test bin?"

I replied, "Yes, it fits, no problem", thinking they are talking about the overhead compartments on this particular aircraft. It does, indeed, fit in every overhead compartment, including the small regional ones.

She points to the little basket/test cage, and says "Sir! If it doesn't fit in this, then you will have to check it in regular baggage."

So I'm sitting here holding serial number 1, in a soft carry bag, not a hard shell case (in order for it to fit in the overhead compartment, taking up less space than a winter coat). There's no way I can let them throw it in the baggage compartment, so I ask to speak to someone further about it. They were saying that it's Federal Regulations that I can't bring it on board. Oddly enough, I'm quite familiar with the FAA regulations, especially on section of part 121, which pertains to air carriers, and baggage limitations. After I pointed out in a calm voice that I actually am in compliane with the exact regulation stating what can and cannot be carried aboard, the lady got a little bit stressed out and handed me off to another guy. Their point was that the FAA expects them to be 100% consistent with their carry on baggage policy, which had suddenly become the "sizewise" container standard, as opposed to the "under your seat, or in the overhead bin, one piece per person plus a small personal item" which is the normal post-911 standard.

At this point, I thought it could turn out like the scene in "Anger Management", where Adam Sandler is being told in increasingly stressful voices to "calm down", which finally makes him agitated to the point where he no longer is calm, then is carried away. So, I'm already seeing this happen in my mind, but the guy I talk to listens with a bit of understanding, especially the part where I say "....and if I had only known of this sudden change in policy, I could have made other plans...." Which is all true.

I volunteer to take my guitar apart to make the pieces fit in the now despised "sizewise" container. Problem is, all the tools that normal guitarists, or me, at least, would carry, are in my checked baggage, due to the vast number of Leatherman pocket toolkit hijackings on airlines. So, I ask if I can borrow a phillips head screwdriver, knowing full well that my chances are not good. Surprisingly, the guy leads me away to a distant storage room and hands me the screwdriver.

Next thing I know, my guitar is in pieces from my own hands. I stuff the collection back into the case and return to board the plane. Now, of course, the overhead spaces are full, since it took some time to do all of this. Yet, my pieces of guitar will fit in very little space, and by simply compacting the multitudes of winter jackets, it's in.

The whole flight I'm calculating the odds of the bridge adjusters getting turned, since the bridge is off, and there's no pressure to stop them from changing position, necessitating a lengthy adjustment/refinement session. All this will not be a problem, though, since Skoots will be there to fix it for me! Except for the fact that he won't......I forgot, he won't be doing any more DP dates, since he's trying to retire from touring to spend more time with his son. This will be basically be my first gig in over a decade playing with Deep Purple with a brand new tech I've never even met. So I make a note to adjust my guitar with my banished toolkit in my checked bag when I get to the hotel.

When I arrive at JFK airport to begin the process of changing terminals via exiting to a train outside, we find some friendly people working for the airline who hand me a well used screwdriver. Not a perfect fit, but enough to get the job done, so in the lobby, I have finally put it back together. Actually, it wasn't me that got the screwdriver, but a rep from our new travel agent who was meeting myself, Roger and our manager at the airport. I gave them the bad news that this domestic airline, which rhymes with "felt a", should be put in the same category as the few others in the World that don't allow items that fit in the overhead with ease. But now, in the boarding line for our international flight, with my guitar put back together, I smile as a normal airline welcomes me onboard with a fully intact guitar......much as they all did just a couple of years ago.

By the way, if you're thinking, "why not just throw it in a heavy case and check it?", we have lost 2 guitars in baggage, not temporarily. In addition, while my one of a kind frankenstein-tele was in an ATA approved travel case, it came down the conveyor belt with a big hole in the case, dent in the guitar, and a bunch of wood splinters following it. Plus, I like to carry it with me after having my luggage temporarily lost a total of over a dozen times! And by temporary, that can almost always be measured in days, not hours, when you're travelling Internationally.

Well, I'm going to pick this thing up and start getting back to playing it!

p.s. we have a bunch of Dregs/SMB gigs coming up east of the Mississippi, so we'll see you soon!

Thanks, 2005