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 go
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 fourteen 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
Kevin and dear Pat Malanaphy are living
somewhere near San Francisco.
stalwarts 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 Roman.
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.
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 were clean."
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.
He 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 several years ago, but because
of other efforts to realign themselves most have finally returned to profit
in 2010. I tell him American Airlines and US Airways are now one airlne
"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.
Tim Peirce at the center of the entire LaGuardia Airport staff
on a snowy February day in 1978.
The motto is "The little airport that works," and "The
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 has retired after
a second term as Queens New York Borough President.
"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 get along.
"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 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
Tim makes me promise to stop saying than.
"Remember the clambakes that Tony Lima
put up on Martha’s Vineyard Island when he was manager of Air New
"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?"
"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 says.
"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 I ask Tim how Mary is.
"Mary made us all look good,"
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
"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.
"Warren Kroeppel, who took over as LaGuardia
Airport GM, retired. He was LGA Manager for 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.
Bosco, (right) who is a genuine American war hero having served in both
Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, is now LaGuardia General Manager.
"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 a
"'There is some truth to that when
you look at its infrastructure,' he said.
"'We are gonna change that,' Tom Bosco
"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.
"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 charities.
We recall the creation of NBC twenty-two
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 states.
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 Dalai Lama landed over at the Eastern Airlines Shuttle?
"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 Pears'."
"How’s your Mom?" Tim
"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."