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Big Actor, Old Plane, Small Town

COARSEGOLD – We’ve lived here more than eight years now, near family who’ve been in the foothills almost forty years. Not a week goes by that we don’t somehow express our joy at living in a small town, sometimes shaking our heads at the closeness of it all. Yesterday, around 4 p.m., I was reminded that we came here from a small town, too, when the afternoon news on ABC said that a plane had crashed at Penmar Golf Course in Venice, California.

Wait, what? That’s OUR golf course!

“We” don’t own it but that’s certainly my original “stomping grounds,” as a Venice High grad, and the place where my beloved late brother-in-law Coach Fairbanks spent countless hours on the links and in the clubhouse. Coach even marshaled there, though it was a job he didn’t really have the stomach for.

So to hear that a plane had crashed at Penmar in Venice was surprising, but not a shock, since the golf course sits just west of a busy airport that caters to the flyboys and flygirls of Santa Monica, Malibu, and Hollywood. And FedEx.

Within moments, the television news broadcast that the man flying solo — you could say, Han Solo — was well-known actor and long-time pilot, Harrison Ford.

My fingers flew on the cell phone as I whipped out a text to my sister who still lives in Venice: “Harrison Ford in critical condition after plane crash at PENMAR GOLF COURSE.”

Next, I ran to the computer to check the Hollywood business news website my nephew edits. No Harrison Ford news! I called my nephew, who answered the phone but panted that he couldn’t talk as they were right in the middle of a story that Harrison Ford had crashed at Pen… I KNOW! I dropped the phone like a hot mic.

What I didn’t know was that while Hollywood and the networks scrambled to get their stories straight, my 72-year-old sister Jill was busy racing over to Penmar to get the straight scoop herself. She said clumps of people milled about as emergency vehicle lights blinked wildly. Jill beat some of the news crews, spent an hour walking around the golf course, and snapped a picture of the downed aircraft from outside the chain link fence before the police finally shooed her off.

There’s a great little restaurant inside the Santa Monica airport that’s owned by a former rugby-playing friend of my husband’s. They catered our backyard wedding 20 years ago, and my niece used to work there, too. Harrison Ford was known to frequent the place, always said to be a super nice guy, and as the news reported, he’s been flying for 50 years.

What happened at Penmar Thursday afternoon was that Ford had been taking off from Santa Monica Airport in his WWII-era aircraft when he encountered engine trouble, requested permission to return to the airport, turned around and almost made it back. By all accounts, the actor did an outstanding job of landing the plane. That golf course is surrounded by hundreds of homes and a miss-step could have been catastrophic.

Jill posted what I thought was a screenshot from the news to Facebook last night, and it wasn’t until late in the evening I realized she had actually personally taken the photo of Ford’s plane flat on the ground at Penmar. Our mother Geraldine was known for being a bit of an ambulance chaser. That is, if a fire truck or ambulance drove by and she had nothing better to do, and kids in the car, she’d follow to see what happened. Remember, this was the 1950s, before reality television. It was already in our blood. Geraldine would be proud of Jill’s efforts.

Fortunately for all, in the time between the 4 p.m. news and the 6 p.m. news, it was revealed that hospitalized Harrison Ford was upgraded from critical to stable condition. His conversation with air traffic revealed him to be the cool guy we always knew he was. His stock in Hollywood soared again though his plane may be forever grounded.

This good news on Ford’s condition gave us the opportunity to relax and laugh about the day’s events. Harrison would get a spanking from Calista, we said, and hopefully there’s nothing wrong with him that won’t heal quickly. He’s having the time of his life, once again, and is signed to star in Bladerunner. His insurance may go up.

When I left Los Angeles in 2006, it seemed like a big city, nothing but tall buildings, too much traffic, far too much humanity and not enough trees. Yesterday, I remembered: Los Angeles is big, but Venice is small. Everyone knows everyone. Sound familiar?

The lack of forest in Venice turned out to be lucky for Harrison Ford, and the fact that the town has a nice big golf course suitable for a vintage guy to land a vintage plane is good, as well. My sister heard the news from me, 263 miles away from my old home town. It’s nice to know we still have connections. Thanks for the photograph, Jill!

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