Chuck Yeager’s 89th Birthday

February 24th, 2012

We lucked out. A friend of a friend wanted to fly to Vegas and Laughlin.

It was General Yeager’s 89th birthday. While I had begged the Oak Ridge Boys to play at a different venue this year, it fell on deaf ears. Or the music drowned out the plea.

Laughlin. Lots of smoke. Not a lot to do in February. We had already seen Oatman the year before. And that’s fun…once…donkeys wandering the streets, a gunfight at noon, decent food, hotel where Clark Gable honeymooned. Bumpy road there and back.

This year, we were going to do a boat trip but the winds knocked out the interior audio system for the tour recording and no one could stand outside without being blown off.

So you’ll understand why on Sunday, we flew to Vegas to spend the night. Dinner at a French restaurant – great escargots.  One friend we hadn’t seen in 10 years showed up. She had known Gen Yeager since 1975. Nice!

Afterwards, we walked off dessert to the fountains at the Bellagio. Three different shows in 45 minutes. Very cool. The music, the water looking like swaying ballerinas moving as part of the music, alternatively powerful, lithe, sensual.

Dancing Fountains

Moon over the Dancing Fountains

Photo by Sam W.

Several years before we had seen Cirque du Soleil’s “O”. Very expensive – fortunately we were guests. It was very unsatisfying – they didn’t integrate the water at all. They got in and out of it and did some water ballet but something was missing.

When we walked out and saw the fountains – with the water acting as dancers in tune with the music – for free….it was clear what “O” was missing. Eau as a dancer.

After this second adventure with the fountains, we headed back to our wonderful, inexpensive hotel room. Next morning, breakfast and then, I gave up my seat in the plane to one of our friends, and drove down in the car with her family.

By the time they got their clearance, their 20 min flight took as long as our 1.6 hour drive. Beautiful landscape.

I had told this friend that in exchange for my seat, she had to just watch out for General Yeager.

She took her job very seriously. Later Gen Y said, It’s funny when you turn 89, everyone tries to help you.

I had to tell him that I had asked her to do so.

When I arrived at the hotel, S said, He went to visit the Oak Ridge Boys. I tried to follow him but he said he was okay. I’m sorry.

I laughed. Lucky to have reliable friends!

We headed to the ORB bus. There were the guys and General Yeager. Old buddies. We chatted a bit more. The guys then had to go rest their voices. I related to Joe that my father was enjoying his book. My father will meet the Boys end of March.

We had lunch, checked on the boat, canceled. While Gen Y went back to the hotel. S & D and DK and I went to get a cake. I had called the hotel and no one seemed to know how to take a cake order so I gave up. First one: You should get a sheet cake.

Me: How big are they?

Hotel: I don’t know.

Me: I only need a little cake for 12.

Hotel: Well I don’t know – it could be for 40. Why don’t you call later for the baker?

Me: Where’s the baker?

Hotel: I don’t know.


So we went to a grocery store and crossed our fingers.

Lots of Valentine’s cupcakes. Not quite appropriate. Coconut cake – with filling. Well, I know I’ll like it :-)

That evening, we had dinner – there were 11 of us.

S& K had decorated the table with little birthday baskets/cups with candies, silly spray stuff which the waiters loved, balloons, blowers, water pistols.

I think they gave Gen Y a water machine gun!

They have done this for us for at least 6 years. Always great stuff and fun!

I tried all the people’s dinners around me – delicious. Tee hee.

William Lee and DK came and joined us. William Lee of course didn’t eat – too close to performance. We so enjoyed talking with him as usual.

One of our friends had a special gift for William Lee – our friend had promised it the year before. He had special ordered it – but they hadn’t gotten it right. So our friend went in person and said he can’t join us without it – he had made a promise.

William Lee was most appreciative. A wonderful surprise!

We sang Happy Birthday…..and the cake was outstanding! Woo hoo!

Music meets Aviation

William Lee Golden photographing his friend, General Chuck Yeager, and his birthday caaaaaaake on Gen Yeager’s 89th birthday. Photo by Sam W.

We headed to the concert. Gen Y had left with William Lee ahead of us.

DK introduced General Yeager to the audience. They instantly cheered and gave him a standing ovation. Nice. Very.

Gen Yeager talked about shooting down his first enemy aircraft during World War II. A great story. The audience loved it.

And then he introduced the Boys. Another cheer. The stage person lit our way as we made our way out to our seats.

And danced and tapped and clapped to the Oak Ridge Boys.

Joe Bonsall (that’s funny – spellcheck suggested banal :) talked about hanging out with General Yeager telling stories. Nice.

Duane sang one of our very favorites: It Takes A little Rain. This time was especially special – he had had the croup so had rested a lot so he could sing well.

And sing well he did. Ohmygoodness. Wowser.

All of them, Richard, William Lee, Duane, Joe, were spot on. Melodic, great, great showmen.

I noticed the band in the back doing some coordinated steps – very fun. Hilarious. Appropriately so.

The ORBs also sang one of my new favorites from their new album: “The Shade Comes Free With the Tree.” Great beat.

I even forgot where I was :-)

The ORBs were very gracious to our friends, half of whom had been there the year before.

Gen Yeager personally thanked Duane – It Takes a little Rain, to Make Love Grow – beautiful and Gen Y was most appreciative. Very.

Big hugs all around and we said goodbye – the ORBs had 13 shows in 7 days – definitely needed to rest their voices and themselves!

We chatted with the band, Rex, Chris. We heard Gen Y in the dressing room with Chris and Donny – laughing – don’t know what he was saying.

Later I talked with Donny – he’s been with the ORBs a long time – I loved hearing him tell how kind, appreciative and wonderful the ORBs are to him and the band.

It reminded me of a saying my Dad had heard from an elegant black man getting his shoes shined next to my father. They had just exchanged pleasantries. And the man said: “You spray the room with perfume, it touches everyone.”


We headed to the karaoke. About every third singer, I thought – oh yeah, I’m not worse than that, I can do it.

But the line was too long really.

So we went to bed. Nice view from the room – don’t know why we would leave it :-)

The next morning 2 of our friends had to leave early so we got down to breakfast around 7:30am and texted the gang.

One fellow, Steve, arrived and asked me to call his friend. I did and she said she would head to the restaurant.

Steve: She said she might take a walk by the river. Did you ask her where she was?

Me: No……I was afraid she might tell me.

This made us all burst out laughing trying to refrain from thoughts of all the things people might do when they get up in the morning to become presentable.

She showed up – she had been walking aside the river. B was the group chronicler so she immediately got up to take a photo of us at the table with her phone.

I’m not keen on photos when I ‘m eating. Once my mother, brother, and I were at a circus and were eating popcorn. The kind that sticks in your teeth and….well… you know…popcorn.

It was the most goshawful photo – every imaginable moment of trying to get popcorn out of your teeth or putting too big a handful in your mouth… My brother, tells you the kinda guy he is, had to buy it, it was so awful. He hasn’t tried to blackmail me though :-) And the photographer didn’t even discount it – I was surprised he didn’t pay us to take it off his hands.

In any case, a stranger jumped up, tried to tell B to get in the photo instead of taking it.

I yelled out: Don’t give it to him – he just wants to steal your phone! No no. Don’t!

We all obviously were all a little punch drunk from the early morning start as it kept us laughing from my prior statement re B.

JK said: Wow! You’re on a roll this morning!

Our pilot and friend showed up with the leftover cake. They are troopers. They had no idea what they were in for when they agreed to fly us down to Vegas. Grab your hat, here we go!

We all had a wonderful time. Our friends left, we got our luggage and I ran to look at the old car museum. It was a very very small museum – my kind of museum. Then we headed out to the airport.

We said goodbye again to those flying out and headed home flying through the Sierras.

It was a glorious Valentine’s Day – perfect day for flying.

When we got home, Gen Yeager said, “Now that was a great birthday!”

I had a great time – but his statement – well that just made it so much better!


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