Story Time: Facts You Probably Don’t Know About Me (Part 1)

Jerry Wyant

Story Time: Facts You Probably Don’t Know About Me (Part 1)

  1. I performed on stage with Bob Hope
  2. I held up a flight leaving La Guardia Airport in New York
  3. I played basketball with Bruce Jenner


I performed on stage with Bob Hope.

I would give almost anything to have pictures of this. As far as I know, no such pictures have ever existed. I attended the 1973 National Boy Scout Jamboree in Farragut State Park, Idaho. Bob Hope was a featured entertainer.

My troop at the Jamboree was selected from top scouts throughout the Pony Express Council, which covers a large section of northwest Missouri as well as a portion of northeast Kansas. The Pony Express Council has an honorary Indian tribe named Mic-O-Say, which is composed of scouts in good standing who are returning “veterans” to the annual Camp Geiger near St. Joseph, Missouri. As a member of Mic-O-Say, my duties included making an Indian costume, and then performing tribal dance routines at various events. We were chosen to perform at the Jamboree in 1973. With Bob Hope on stage, we danced around him using our four basic dance steps.

I considered the performance to be rather mundane. We were there to showcase our dance steps to the rest of the scouting world. The biggest thrill for me occurred backstage before we went on. While waiting in the wings for our turn, I found myself standing next to Bob Hope, who was also waiting to go on. He was with his wife Dolores. I had a nice chat with Bob and Dolores before the performance. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I remember that it was a very pleasant conversation. Hope’s motor home was parked behind the stage.

The trip to and from the 1973 National Scout Jamboree was also eventful. We rode in chartered Greyhound buses, and visited such sites as Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone National Park. We slept on Air Force Bases along the route.

The only problem that I encountered on that trip was when we were packing up to leave the campsite at Farragut. I was a patrol leader, and my job was to get my patrol to work together in order to be packed and ready to leave. I wanted to leave as soon as possible, and I didn’t think the boys in my patrol were working fast enough. I jumped in, doing more than I should have been doing under the circumstances. I was in a hurry, and while I was cutting tape from a tent pole, my new pocketknife slipped off the pole, and cut a huge gash across the top of my left hand. It was cut all the way to the bone. I told the boy who was supposed to have been doing that work that he needed to go get the scoutmaster, whose day job happened to be as a surgeon. The kid told the surgeon that I needed a band-aid! But it worked out. The surgeon / scoutmaster laid me on a picnic table, got out his sewing kit, and sewed up the gash in my hand. I still have a scar from that episode.


I held up a flight leaving La Guardia Airport in New York.

This is one where the “rest of the story” is more interesting than the headline.

I did hold up that flight. They had already closed the door and announced that the plane was ready to leave the gate. The ramp had been removed from the door, and the engines were racing. For some reason that I don’t know – this isn’t something that I’ve ever been in the habit of doing – I checked the baggage claim stubs attached to my ticket folder. There was only one claim when there should have been two. I asked the stewardess about this, and they stopped the plane to investigate. It turned out that my bag was still inside the terminal, sitting where I left it when I checked in. They retrieved the bag, and put it on the plane. After that, the plane was allowed to take off. If I hadn’t questioned it, I would have had lost luggage.

But that trip to New York, including the flights both ways, was a much bigger adventure than a misplaced suitcase. The story involves a business trip during a vacation, a hurricane, a plane crash, and an airline that went out of business – putting the flight crew out of work – while I was on the plane in midair.

The story begins with my employer (Capital Guardian Trust Company, a subsidiary of Capital Group Inc., a giant in the world of institutional investments, for whom I worked as Senior Accountant) wanting to send me from Los Angeles to New York City to attend a seminar in 1989. I had already scheduled a vacation for that time frame; I was planning to go back home to Missouri. The company insisted that I attend the seminar, so they made a deal with me. They would fly me to New York to attend the seminar. This included three days and two nights at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in midtown Manhattan. For the return flight, they booked me as far as Kansas City, at which point my vacation would begin, and then after my vacation they would fly me back to L.A. from Kansas City. This was an offer I couldn’t refuse. I got my vacation, with air transportation paid for me; I got a chance to see New York for the first time in my life; I got a corporate American Express Card for my personal use (charges to the card would have to be approved later, but they were pretty generous in that regard); and the seminar would provide me with more knowledge relating to a key aspect of my job.

Me in 1989

On the flight to New York, I had to change planes in Kansas City. This is not the stop in Kansas City for my vacation; that would come later on my return flight. While I was in Kansas City waiting for my connecting flight, it was announced that the flight would be delayed due to weather conditions in New York. New York City was being hit by the remnants of Hurricane Hugo. Passengers were being told that one of the landing strips at La Guardia Airport had been closed due to weather conditions, and incoming flights had to wait their turn for the remaining landing strip.

Except that the flight delay lasted an hour. Then another hour went by. The airline wouldn’t give out any new information. They just told us the same story, about the one landing strip being closed due to the weather. But they couldn’t tell passengers when the flight would be leaving. More hours passed, and it looked like I wouldn’t get to New York until close to midnight. I became worried that if I didn’t show up on time to check into the hotel, my room wouldn’t be available when I got there. I had never been to New York, and I had no desire for my first experience to be in mid-town Manhattan as a complete stranger with no place to stay. I called my office back in Los Angeles, and asked the secretary (who had made the reservations and had all of the contact numbers) to please inform the Grand Hyatt that I would be late but I would arrive eventually. I wanted to make sure they would hold my room for me.

But when I called the office, my colleagues in L.A. already knew that my flight was running late. They wouldn’t tell passengers at the airport what was being reported everywhere else as the top news story of the day. A jet had crashed at La Guardia during an aborted take-off attempt during bad weather. Some flights were cancelled and other flights were delayed for several hours. Everybody in the United States knew that this was going on, except for us passengers who were directly affected by the delays. The airline apparently was afraid to tell us the truth about why we were stuck in Kansas City.

Something good came out of the hours I spent waiting to continue on to New York. I ran into a guy who was on leave from the army, and he was flying stand-by to his home in New York City. Since I had never been to New York, and I was traveling alone, he gave me some pointers about how to handle the city as an outsider. He told me how to avoid pickpockets on crowded sidewalks. He told me which tourist destinations to see, and which ones to avoid. We sat together on the plane, and shared a taxi from the airport. When we reached New York, he pointed out the landmarks as the plane circled towards a landing. He pointed out the Statue of Liberty, but he seemed to be much more excited to point out the twin towers of the World Trade Center. That seemed to be a point of pride for him. He was also proud to point out Shea Stadium, where the baseball Mets played their home games at the time. Oh, and when the taxi reached his destination, he jumped out and ran, stiffing me for the taxi fare.

My days in New York were filled with seminar sessions. My only free time was after 5 pm, when the seminars ended for the day. I spent those two evenings walking the streets of Manhattan. My hotel was at 42nd and Lexington, at the Grand Central Station. I walked for hours. I managed to see most of Manhattan Island, missing only the Lower Manhattan side where the World Trade Center sat. My hotel was near Times Square and Broadway. I walked past the United Nations, and would have gone inside if not for the fact that they closed the doors to the public before I could get there from my seminar. I walked past the Chrysler Building. I went into the Empire State Building, but because visibility was poor due to the storm, I chose not to take the $12 tour to the top. I walked completely around Central Park, although as an obvious stranger I was afraid to go inside the park at night.

I didn’t take any of the tours in the city. I wanted to take tours of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, but I wasn’t comfortable with making reservations and traveling alone on these tours. One night for dinner, I bought something from a local deli and snuck the food into my hotel room. For the other night, I made the mistake of going into the dirtiest fast-food restaurant I have ever seen, a Burger King taking up valuable space in mid-town Manhattan. During my walks, I had stopped at the doors of several fancy-looking restaurants, but I couldn’t see inside and I didn’t know if I would fit in or not.

The story about how I held up the flight was the beginning of my return trip from La Guardia to Kansas City. Midway through the flight, the flight crew suddenly started to scream – screams of delight or screams of shock, I couldn’t tell. Then they acted like they were at their own little party. They continued to be friendly with the passengers, but now in a very giddy way. I didn’t know what was up until I reached the Kansas City airport and saw reporters on hand to cover the story. The airline was immediately ceasing operations, and the reporters were there to get reactions from the flight crew and passengers. If I remember correctly, the airline was Braniff, although with all of the various mergers, name changes, ownership changes, and bankruptcies going on in the airline industry during that time frame, it’s difficult to find information in a search for that particular incident. Luckily for me, my follow-up trip from Kansas City to Los Angeles was scheduled for a different airline, and that flight was incident-free.


I played basketball with Bruce Jenner.

Yes, THAT Bruce Jenner. But this story does not involve any Kardashians or sex-change operations.

This was before Bruce Jenner achieved fame. I grew up in Eagleville, Missouri, and basketball was the king of sports in our town. I played for the high school basketball team. We didn’t have any public indoor facilities to use outside of school hours, so we regularly used the gymnasium at Graceland College (Now Graceland University) in Lamoni, Iowa, about a 15-mile drive from home.

Sometimes, several people would want to use the basketball court at the same time. It wasn’t unusual for a pickup game to spring up involving all who wished to play. Bruce Jenner joined one such game that I was playing. Before that day, I didn’t know who Bruce Jenner was. But I knew who he was afterward. Other players in the game, who were aware of his accomplishments in college, told me his name. They also told me about his track records at Graceland and his hopes for becoming a member of the U.S. Olympic team. I was impressed by his Olympic aspirations. After the basketball game, I went over to the board listing the track records to look for his name. It was there, but I don’t remember how many records he held or which events they were for.

The next time I saw him was on TV at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, winning the decathlon and receiving the title of “World’s Greatest Athlete”. From there, he immediately went to the cover of box of Wheaties.

Other celebrities I met before they were famous include NFL hall-of-famer Kellen Winslow and entertainer Paula Abdul.

Story Time: Facts You Probably Don't Know About Me (Part 2)
Jerry Wyant