About Me

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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Beginning of the End and the Beginning of Something Else

Boeing 737 and 727

In 1964 we did a smaller scale repeat performance with a 727 by doing a similar tour of South America which had not figured in the original world tour.  Again, at the invitation of the vice-president of Sales, I was the Engineer representative and took my place at the microphone.

That started a period of world travel for Boeing as a member of Sales teams and sometimes alone for customers.  Between 1963 and my retirement in 1982 I did not keep a detailed log of my travels, but adding up the approximate miles from Travel Authorizations, my travels around the world would have made it an even million.  I covered every continent of the world except Antarctica.  The only major countries I did not visit more than once were the Soviet Union and Red China because those were the days of the “the cold war” with communist countries.

My sales support organization grew to include both the 727 models and then the smaller 737 airplane.  The latter caused a lot of traveling and lecturing to explain why, after the tremendous success of the 727 tri-jet with the engines on the tail, we put the engines back on the wing of the 737.  (Apparently, we were successful—the 737 eventually became the best-selling commercial airplane in Boeing history and advanced models are still in production.)

I shall take time to relate here but one of the many anecdotes that resulted from my far-flung travels as a Boeing spokesman.  It was during a trip to Europe for an international aviation symposium that one of my presentations resulted in two lessons for me that I never forgot.  I forget the date, but it occurred sometime in the mid-1960s.

One of my jobs in Customer Engineering was to prepare presentations complete with visual aids for the 727/737 Chief Engineer, Jack Steiner.  When we were first introducing the design of the new 737 to the world, I prepared a presentation for Jack to give at a symposium in Paris.  Two days before his departure, Steiner called me and said that he could not go.  Since I was familiar with the material (I created it) I was to substitute for him.

It was “a piece of cake”.  I thoroughly enjoyed public speaking on a subject with which I was familiar.  My efficient secretary took care of the tickets, advance travel funds, airlines schedules, and notified the Boeing Paris office of the change.  It had become a familiar routine to me.

The Paris symposium was impressive and was truly international.  The large auditorium seating more than three hundred was filled with delegates from all over the world.  It was equipped like the United Nations with simultaneous translation equipment for several different languages.  The speaker ahead of me on the program made his presentation in French so I, like many others, had to listen to the translation with earphones.

When I was introduced and took the podium I made a mistake.  I began by apologizing that I could not deliver my presentation in the local language, French, because I spoke only English.  Seated below me in the very first row was an Englishman who was the epitome of the old “India Major”—white hair, ruddy face, walrus moustache and carrying a silver-headed walking stick.

When I said that I spoke only English, the old gentleman interrupted by pounding his stick on the floor for attention.  When I acknowledged him, he roared, “Mr. Frieze, I beg to correct you!  You do not speak English; you speak only American—and don’t you ever forget it!”

There was a slight pause for the translators while my face no doubt turned beet red, then the auditorium erupted with laughter.  I recovered by stating calmly, “You are right, sir.  I would reckon that George Bernard Shaw was correct when he said that England and America are sister nations divided only by a common language!”

There was more gentle laughter but this time it was with me, not at me.  My presentation of the 737 design was with an apology and never again did I claim to speak English—only American.

My world travels continued through the 1960s while my marriage steadily disintegrated.  My little daughter, Stephanie, was growing up in Lake Hills part of the time almost as a one-parent child.  I thought it was amusing one time when I heard her tell a friend on the telephone one Friday when we had weekend plans for a family outing, “No, I can’t come tomorrow—my father is making a personal appearance at home this weekend!”

There are two sides to every coin and I do not place blame on Shirley for the failure of our marriage.  I take my share of blame.  Since we were never really suited to each other I would reckon I placed my career ahead of our home-life to the detriment of the latter.  I was one of the fortunate few in the world who thoroughly enjoyed a job.  Although I made it a rule not to take my work home with me, I was always eager to get to the office (or to the airport) for new challenges most of my working life.

We were often reasonably happy, but arguments came to be more frequent and more bitter.  I stayed partly, I believe, because of my ingrained sense that a man’s word is his bond and partly because of my lovely daughter.  It is my belief that Shirley stayed with it because of a combination of love for me and being ill-equipped to make her own way in the world, the security that I meant to her.
Stephanie's graduation 1969

It lasted until the late 1960s when Stephanie was a senior at Phantom Lake High School, then I packed my clothing in my car (we had two) and bailed out.  There is no necessity to go into the sordid details.  It was an agonizing two years of separation then finally a divorce in which, in my efforts to be fair, I surrendered literally everything—house equity, all furnishings, one car, etc.—and started from “ground zero” at the age of 46 financially clean as a plucked pigeon.  I paid child support as long as Stephanie was still with her, and although Washington was not an “alimony state” (an against the advice of my attorney), I also paid alimony ($400 per month) for a long four years.  I am happy to say that I never missed a payment.
Engagement party, December 1968

[It is telling that even long years after my childhood my father still did not know where I went to high school.  Phantom Lake was the elementary school I went to.  Sammamish was the high school.  He never attended one function at school until graduation and by then he was not living with us. It is true why my father stayed as long as he did.  It is no coincidence that I became engaged in December of 1968, the beginning of my senior year in high school, to a lovely sailor and my father decided to bail after the holidays.  Jerry was my father’s parachute to a large extent. He was getting the son he never had and a sailor to boot. Most importantly, a way out. They never really got to know each other because of my father’s traveling and then Jerry was deployed to Vietnam. I think they would have become good friends, especially after Daddy retired.  My mother's whole identity was wrapped up in my father and in her defense, I will say that while I was growing up she never spoke to me about my father in anything but loving, wonderful terms—until he left.  I felt that I was left holding the bag to deal with her anger and neediness--alone.  Her bitterness over his traveling so much and leaving her still spills out to this day.  It lessened with his passing in 2002, when there was no longer danger of my actually spending time with him.  She still sees herself as a victim.  I think all three of us felt victimized in some way.  I caused my own share of pain to myself and to others by not marrying Jerry, but going on to have a couple of disastrous marriages (but wonderful children) myself.  Reflecting from a half century later I can only surmise how differently things would have turned out if we had all made different decisions and really, that does little good.

And my father’s story isn’t finished yet.]

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