Notebook—By Geoffrey Arend
Tim Peirce at the center of the entire LaGuardia Airport staff
on a snowy February day in 1978.
sitting at a bar in the basement of the Central Terminal Building (CTB)
at LaGuardia Airport, in a space that used to be home to Manufacturers
Hanover Trust Bank, reminiscing on a time that I thought would never
George "Tim" Peirce was once
manager of the airport, Ronnie Rapaciullo was bank manager, and Danny
Radovan was upstairs at a restaurant called "The Terrace."
Kevin Malanaphy at United and Andy Roman
at Delta lit up the universe with style and class.
But now Tim is gone.
He died eleven years ago on January 31,
Ronnie is retired.
So is Danny.
Both of these guys, I imagine, are living
somewhere in Florida.
Last time I saw Andy was after Delta took
over Pan Am, and I thought he was a German. He wore a Euro-cut suit
and light brown shoes, and I discovered then that he was a big shot
in DL's European plans.
Kevin and dear Pat Malanaphy are living
somewhere near San Francisco.
Every time I hear from them, even if my
wife takes the call, I feel good for a month.
My friends mean everything to me.
So I am sitting in this airport place
called "Figs," watching prosciutto pizzas as they are churned
out of a hot, brick oven.
The dancing fire adds comfort to the high
ceiling room and seems to mock the window-wall view of late January
swirling outside. It's Bowery Bay weather and a queue of aircraft seem
to hug hard against LaGuardia’s main runway.
The feeling from the fire is like the
warmth of the sun, and it is with me tonight: I think of Brian Wilson’s
apropos lyrics, and also recall the Yule Log burning endlessly on Christmas
Eve T.V.,0 here in New York.
It’s always like this for me during
this time of year in Queens, New York.
The ritual is always the same since Tim
I belly up to this bar in the CTB at LaGuardia.
The drink is Dewar’s White Label,
Tim’s favorite, and it costs seven bucks a shot.
The order is two rocks glasses with double
shots neat, no ice.
The bartender never need ask whom the
drink is for—by the time he collects his 28 bucks plus tax, I’m
already in earnest conversation with Tim.
It’s funny; these days you can talk
out loud in public to no one in particular and most people won’t
think you’re nuts.
I think the advent of cell phones has
caused people to think that anyone talking to no one is really just
wearing an earpiece. Maybe all the homeless in New York are just on
an earpiece with God. Something to think about.
to right)—Tim Peirce, James Brooks and Geoffrey Arend
Tim asks me about a big corkscrew-looking
thing hanging from the atrium ceiling inside the CTB. It is festooned
with miniature representations of the Beck Eagle that was once atop
the entranceway of the CTB. I tell him those little Eagles and Dolphins
are part of the execution of interpretive art.
"The only thing that gripes me,"
I tell Tim, "is that the stone bust of Mayor LaGuardia that was
in the CTB is now squat in the center of the MAT."
"We cannot get drunk enough to roll
it into Bowery Bay," I say. "I remember the day they unveiled
it. Mrs. Marie LaGuardia (Fiorello’s widow) was in attendance,
and she just gasped:
‘That doesn’t look anything
Now, the corkscrew resides in the CTB
and the brooding, offensive Fiorello rests inside the MAT.
"Someday," I tell Tim, "I’ll
take care of that."
"Better not let anybody hear you talking," Tim cautions.
"Besides, Jim told me just the other day that Mayor LaGuardia
loved the MAT and pulled 'surprise' inspections on the place when Jim
was painting the mural, even checking out the lavs to make sure they
Jim is James Brooks, the artist who painted
the enormous "Flight" mural in 1940-42 that encircles the
upper walls of the MAT Lobby.
"So perhaps," Tim suggests, "the bust is
meant for the MAT."
Tim always knew what to say, and was more
than careful while working for a little agency called the Port Authority
of New York & New Jersey.
was absolutely masterful at getting things done and knowing what to
do when the chips were down.
Tim had this great boss by the name of
Robert J. Aaronson. Bob both knew and understood Tim in a way that most
can only hope to be witness to one day.
I mention that I saw him recently at The
Wings Club in New York and he still looked great, although the moustache
"Great guy," Tim says.
"A visionary aviation director who changed everything, even
hired a cargo marketing manager, a first for the country, but always
respected everybody around him. One of a kind."
An airplane taxies outside and I tell
Tim that most of the LaGuardia legacy airlines are still struggling
with regaining financial power after the financial meltdown two years
ago, but because of other efforts to realign themselves most have finally
returned to profit in 2010.
"Is Ronnie still clearing your
checks?" Tim wonders.
I tell him that I think Ronnie retired
to Vegas or some place, and we both laugh at that one.
Looking around at the fresh, energetic
faces of airline people today, we can both agree what a great place
this LaGuardia was, and still is.
The motto is "The little airport
that works," and "The Passenger’s favorite."
Once upon a time at a little airport called
LaGuardia, you could park your car upstairs on the drive deck and get
a haircut from Ricky the barber at the CTB, or go upstairs to Danny
Radovan’s Terrace Restaurant to watch the runway from above.
Danny was the perfect host at the Terrace,
but beyond that, he was also the greatest airport restaurateur anywhere
in the world.
Style, class and impeccable service matched
good food, a great view and over-stuffed banquettes for discrete, afternoon
"The financial condition of the airlines
has prompted an end to food service aboard the airplanes," I tell
smiles. He whispers that airline chow was never that hot in the first
place, so maybe terminal food will benefit from this change.
"How’s Helen Marshall?"
I tell him that Helen was reelected for
a second term as Queens New York Borough President.
He is not surprised.
"She always had an eye for the
people and the good of the Borough. There might not have been a LaGuardia
Airport without her.
"Back when she represented the neighborhood
surrounding LaGuardia on the New York City Council, she always took
an even, balanced approach so that both community and airport could
"She’s a great gal and Queens
"And Don Marshall? How is he?"
I tell him that LaGuardia Kiwanis is still
working hard for the airport, and that after we spoke last year I heard
from Joan DeCorta who is now happily married and prospering in a life
away from the airport.
I remind him that the reputation of the
Kiwanis Club Annual Charity Ball Award as a kiss of death to careers
remains intact. The 2004 winner was ATA and, true to form, about six
months after the party at the LaGuardia Marriot, the airline went into
Tim makes me promise to stop telling that
"Remember the clambakes that Tony
Lima put up on Martha’s Vineyard Island when he was manager of
Air New England?"
"You’ll never guess what happened
to Vince Costanzo," I say.
"Last time I talked to him, he was
selling bibles or something."
"What’s so funny about
that?" Tim wonders.
"We get a lot of that around
here all the time.
"Pete Gebhard and I always find a
reason to be someplace else.
"I miss Bill Felt." Tim
"We used to sit and talk about
things all the time.
"Often as the hour got late at
our gatherings, sometimes after the annual Kiwanis Kids Day, Pat Felt
would sing to all of us in her beautiful, sweet voice that I always
thought was heaven on earth."
"Tony Statuto is working hard for
the airport too. Ralph and Connie Sabatelli are still together and a
big part of the airport family here, and dear Mary Sabatelli brought
back the old feelings for many of us at her annual open house New Year's
Eve party on Long Island,” I say
"Mary made us all look good,"
"Tell her I love her, and think
of the good times we had with much affection."
I tell Tim that Kenny Ippolitto is still
on a bulldozer all day and dressed to the nines at night, and Tim nods.
"You could always call up Kenny
anytime, for anything, and he would come through.
"I guess I was kind of tough sometimes,
setting up events like Man of the Year, but Kenny and all the others
were simply great.
"People like Kenny and Pam, Dik Wesson,
Dick Allen, Kevin and Pat Malanaphy, John and Joan Zito, Andy Roman,
Doc Herrlin, Jessie Cromer and others made the ‘80s and ‘90s
a very special time for the airport.
"Doc and me talk about that all the
"We were an extended family.
"I wish we were still together,"
"Most of these folks are in no rush
to join you now," I laugh.
founders honor James Brooks (center) the man who created the mural
“Flight” in 1942 for LaGuardia Airport’s Marine
Air Terminal at a gala party inside the MAT in 1980. (Left to
right is Vince Costanzo, Tony Lima, Kenny Ippolito, Danny Radovan,
Mr. Brooks, Kevin Malanaphy, Tim Peirce, Geoffrey Arend and Andy
who took over as LaGuardia Airport GM, retired. He was LGA Manager for
the past eleven years.
"He kept your picture in a place
of pride in that little cubbie with a sink inside your office atop Hangar
"I remember Warren," Tim
"He was a bright, rising star.
Best of all, he read the airport manager play book that was developed
in 1948 by all the Port Authority managers."
"Warren turned out just great,"
I tell him.
"The new guy seems to have slid right
into the GM role," I tell Tim.
"Tom Bosco, who is a genuine American
war hero having served in both Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm,
took over as LaGuardia General Manager earlier this month.
"But right away he said all the right
things, handling a huge airport stopping snowstorm and also addressing
"A reporter asked Tom:
'How do you react to a Zagat survey calling
LaGuardia the worst airport in the country?'
"Tom said it didn’t come as
"'There is some truth to that when
you look at its infrastructure,' he said.
"'We are gonna change that,' Tom
"Tom also recalled your old mantra,
"LaGuardia handling 22 million passengers
a year in a space of just over 600 acres 'is like a mini-city, and I’m
kind of the Mayor,' he said.
"A couple of weeks a career does
not make, but Tom looks like the real deal," I tell Tim.
"Tom was at the airport during
the late 1980’s right after he joined the Port Authority. Smart
good guy just right for LGA," Tim says.
"About that Zagat rating... I
can’t help but feel they represent a fraction of the 22 million
that flood to the airport every year…"
"The North Beach Club (NBC) that
you started is still going strong, with monthly meetings happening in
the MAT," I tell Tim.
There are a couple of people at NBC who
work hard to keep the spirit of that special group going, organizing
the Annual Golf Outing that does so much to support North Beach Club
We recall the creation of NBC twenty years
ago that went on to doing nothing more than raise money to give to LaGuardia
Airport employees who needed a helping hand.
"The idea of airport people helping
each other is a notion that should spread elsewhere," Tim
I’m thinking of how much we both
had in common during our twenty years together, and how strong our love
for the airport and the airline business was and is.
Once, we served as polar opposites: Tim
the public agency man; Geoff the writer from the private sector.
I think we eventually discovered we were from the same place.
I ask Tim: has he seen Pope John Paul?
Then we remember the day in 1980 when
his Holiness visited LaGuardia. He walked on a red carpet rolled out
from his TWA B727 onto the airport.
"Later, Herb Borrelli cut up
that rug into six inch squares and gave out pieces to airport employees
to commemorate the visit," Tim recalls.
"I know," I say, "I still
have two pieces in the office filing cabinet.
"But the best was when you called
me up to tell me to watch the television coverage of the Pope's arrival.
you were on the hardstand on national television, handing the Pope a
copy of a book I wrote about LaGuardia Airport.
"I could read my name on the spine
of the book that the Pontiff was looking at and holding.
"Tim, after I saw that picture, I
told everybody I knew that there were two books his Holiness had read
for sure, and my book on LaGuardia was one of them,"
I say, "remember when we did the
same thing on the day the Dali Lama landed over at the Eastern Airlines
"His Holiness was both a good
sport and appreciative," says Tim.
I respond, "Somewhere I still have
the personal, handwritten letter of thanks: ‘To Geoff and Tim
"How’s your Mom?"
"Maybe you can tell me," I reply.
The fire from the brick oven dances on
the window in a flighty, orange light, teasing the cold birds lying
in wait on the runway.
"Let’s do this again,"
"Same time next year."