Revere Beach reveries

It was my perfect beach: Sand, clean water to swim in, and situated right below the approach to Logan Airport

Topics: Ask the Pilot,

Revere Beach reveries A smiley-face balloon floats over Revere Beach in Revere, Mass. (Credit: AP)

Sometimes when I hear the whine of jet engines, I think of the beach.

I don’t expect that to make sense to you — unless, like me, your childhood was defined by an infatuation with jetliners and summers spent at a beach that sat directly below an approach course to a major airport.

That would be Revere Beach, in my case, just north of Boston, in the mid- to late 1970s.

Then as now, the city of Revere was a gritty, in many ways charmless place: rows of triple-deckers and block after block of ugly, two-story colonials garnished in gaudy wrought-iron. (Revere is a city so architecturally hopeless that it can never become gentrified or trendy in the way that other Boston suburbs have.) Irish and Italian families spoke in a tough, North Shore accent that had long ago forsaken the letter “R.” Shit-talking kids drove Camaros and Trans-Ams, the old-country cornuto horns glinting over their chest hair.

(For more on the Revere Experience, check out the work of Roland Merullo, the city’s second-most talented and famous author.)

Revere’s beach was the first public beach in the United States. Like the rest of the city, it wasn’t the kind of place that lent itself to niceties or sentimental descriptions. The roller coasters had long ago burned down and the boulevard was dotted by biker hangouts and the sort of honky-tonk bars and restaurants that, as a kid, you never dared set foot in, no matter how bad you needed to use the bathroom. Seagulls swooped and gorged on the garbage toppling out of overloaded barrels and dumpsters.

But it had the sand, and water that was clean enough to swim in — with those long, flat, shimmering low tides that seemed to recede all the way past Nahant and into the horizon. We spent our summers here, nearly all of the weekends and many of the weekdays too. My parents would have the car packed by 10 a.m. I remember the folding chairs, the towels and the endless supply of Hawaiian Tropic suntan lotion, its oily coconut aroma mixed with the hot stink of sun-baked Oldsmobile leather.

I swam, dug around for crabs and endured the requisite mud-ball fights with my friends. But for me, the real thrill was the airplanes. Revere Beach’s mile-long swath lines up almost perfectly with Logan International Airport’s Runway 22L, the arrivals floating past at regular intervals, so low you’d think you could hit them with one of the discarded Michelob bottles poking from the sand. I’d bring a notebook and log each plane as it screamed overhead.



They’d appear first as black smudges. You’d see the smoke — the snaking black tails of a 707 or DC-8 as it made its final turn up over Salem or Marblehead.  Then came the noise. Little kids — and grown-ups too — would cover their ears. People today don’t realize how earsplittingly loud the older-generation jets could be. And they were low, barely 1,500 feet above the sand, getting lower and lower and lower until finally disappearing over the hill at Beachmont, maybe 20 seconds from touchdown.

I remember all of them: TWA 707s and L-1011s in the old, twin-globe livery. United DC-8s and DC-10s in the ’70s-era bow-tie colors. Flying Tiger DC-8s and 747s.  Allegheny’s DC-9s and BAC One-Elevens. Eastern’s 727 “Whisperjets” that did anything but whisper.  And so on. I remember Braniff, Piedmont, Capitol and Seaboard World; TAP, North Central, Zantop and Trans International.

The term “regional jet” wouldn’t exist for at least another decade. Instead we had “commuter planes.” There was PBA and its Cessna 402s; Air New England’s Twin Otters and FH-227s and Bar Harbor’s Beech-99s. Pilgrim, Empire, Ransome and Downeast.

Fast-forward 30 years:

The arrivals pattern to 22L hasn’t changed. It still passes directly over Revere Beach. After I finally became an airline pilot, one of my biggest thrills was being at the controls on a 22L arrival into BOS, looking down at the same beach from which I spent a childhood looking up.

But other things are different.

The demographics of Revere and its beach have changed, for one. The Revere of my youth was a city in which pretty much every last family was Italian, Irish or both. At the beach it was no different. Today, both the neighborhoods and the sand are a virtual United Nations of the North Shore. Those harsh, R-less accents are only a portion of the mix, joined by voices in Hindi, Arabic, Portuguese and Khmer. The muscle shirts, Italian horns and shamrocks are still there, but those sunburned Irish complexions are contrasted against those from Somalia, Ghana, Haiti and Morocco. Not long ago the idea of a black person at Revere Beach was unheard of. In fact, I remember a day — it must have been ’77 or ’78 — when word spread across the sand that a black family had staked out a blanket down near the MDC bathhouse. This was such a novelty at the time that my friends and I took the quarter-mile stroll just to look at them.

And overhead, those plumes of oily smoke are gone. The jets nowadays are cleaner, much quieter. And, thanks to the generification of the modern jetliner, they’re also a lot less exciting. At age 12 I could tell a DC-10 from an L-1011 when it was 10 miles out. Every plane had its own distinct profile. Today’s jets are often indistinguishable, even at short range. And somehow the endless procession of A320s, 737s and regional jets just doesn’t get the pulse going, or the sunbathers pointing, the way a 707 or a DC-8 would — its motors shrieking, smoke spewing behind in a hellish black rooster tail.

Revere itself has both gained and lost character over the years. The skies above, though, have mostly just lost it.

- – - – - -

Related story: Logan Redux. The Deeper Meaning of Airports (and Pranks)

- – - – - -

Join the Ask the Pilot mailing list. Keep abreast of changes, the newest articles and other info. To sign up, send a message to patricksmith@askthepilot.com with the word “subscribe” in the title.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>