I had my fiftieth birthday Sunday, which was a little silly because in reality I’m only 37. But I felt that if everyone wanted to go to the trouble of throwing me a big surprise party and being even nicer to me than usual, who was I to look 100 gift horses in the mouth?

I am lucky to have friends of many stripes, ages, ethnicities, sexual orientations, financial strata and the like, so it was a pretty great mix, which I stress because otherwise what I’m about to describe might make it sound as if I’ve got a lot of super-rich corporate mogul friends, when in fact I’ve got just two or three. My poor friends, who vastly predominate, are rich in other ways.

But they don’t have planes.

And the point of today’s comment is to tell you that one of my super-rich friends — who does have a plane — said, when we were finishing up our visit in Washington (and knowing I was headed up to New York): “Why don’t you take the plane? It has to go up to New York anyway.”

(It had to go up to New York anyway to pick up a lovely woman friend of his who would otherwise have had to make her way down to Washington on the shuttle.)

Now, because he is someone really terrific whom I’ve loved a long time, I have also long given him the benefit of my financial guidance (notwithstanding the fact that he could buy or sell me 100 times over), which is why, I feel sure, his plane is only a G-2. (That’s Gulfstream II, to you.) It is my good influence, I feel sure, that has kept him, thus far, from adding his name to the waiting list of people down for G-5’s, which cost something like $29 million each “green” (unfinished inside), plus perhaps another $6 million to fix up. By sticking with his trusty old G-2, which nonetheless dwarfed all the other jets at the Signature terminal at National Airport as I climbed on board, I figure he’s saving $20 million-plus, at the sacrifice of just a little fuel efficiency, seating capacity and range. But sacrifices, I keep telling him, build character.

Anyway, the point of all this is to tell you (other than the fact that I’m 37, not 50, no matter what you may have heard) what’s so special about riding in a private jet.

I had never quite put my finger on it before.

I had ridden in private jets several times before, but generally where I was just a passenger. This time, I was the only passenger (with two pilots up front and a steward to see to my needs). It was my plane. King for a day. (Well, 48 minutes. “Can’t you go via Chicago or something?” I begged.)

It was exhilarating, to say the least. Kind of like having your living room be able to fly at Mach 0.8. (And, yes, horribly wasteful, in the largest sense, but not waste of my doing, since the plane was going to New York anyway, and since it may have been my seat on the Delta shuttle which, by my not taking it, kept Delta from having to add an extra section — a whole extra Boeing 737 — to transport the one passenger whom they might otherwise have had to accommodate with an extra flight.) And I finally realized what it is that’s so special about having your own jet.

I had never quite focused on it before, perhaps because in most of my few previous such adventures I had gotten to the plane way early (I can’t help myself) and then waited for the Big Shot, whoever he was, to arrive.

What’s so special about having your own private jet?

It’s not that you don’t have to empty your pockets before passing through a metal detector or show photo I.D. (“you do?” asked my friend, incredulous, when I explained how airline security had tightened since last he’d patronized a commercial airline). It’s not even that there’s no chance your bags will be lost, or long in coming off the plane. It’s not that the food is better, though it is. (“Even better,” I should say. By and large, I like airline food.) No, what is so special is that, just like in the movies, you get on the plane, sit down, and within about 10 seconds, the door closes, the engines start — with all those thousands of horses galloping around inside — and there is that wonderful noise that, from inside the plane, sounds like the quiet whisper of pure power.

(Again, no value judgments here. I realize this image will appeal more to conservatives and libertarians than to liberals. Still, no one could fail to be excited. It’s just that the liberal’s excitement is tinged with guilt.)

But think about it. Even in first class on the classiest airline in the world, you get on the plane, you sit down, and you wait. Half an hour later (if you arrive at the airport as early as I always do) — at the soonest — the engines start.

I like that half hour, too, although most of it is spent hoping no one comes to take the middle seat. I like almost everything about flying so long as I can get an aisle or an upgrade to first. But the notion that this huge, sleek multi-million-dollar machine was sitting on the runway, waiting for me . . . and that when I sat down, the engines — nnnnnnyyyyyyyyyyeeeeeEEEEEEEEEEE!!! — would go wild . . . .

OK, you get the picture. I have just two more things to say. Three. Well, four.

  1. The coffee was amazing. French-pressed decaf. A short circuit in the microwave used to boil the water caused the thing to explode before we took off, permeating the cabin with burnt plastic fumes, but no lasting harm was done, and it added to the excitement.
  1. Corporate chieftains, it’s become widely agreed, are in many instances now grotesquely overcompensated. My suggestion: Forget stock options and multi-million-dollar pay packages. Pay them all a million dollars, tops, but let them keep their planes. Not one of them would quit. These things are just too great.
  1. Even a liberal is allowed to enjoy a G-2 every 37 years without guilt.
  1. Thank you!

Tomorrow: Nervous Lobsters



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