God Bless Joe Sheridan

I've never been in jail, but, by God, I've done hard time. So have you , if you've ever flown coast to coast, shoehorned into a seat next to someone who could be the lovechild of Carrot Top and Casey Stengel.

You know the type. They talk incessantly, but make sense very rarely.

It was on a flight from San Francisco to Washington, D.C.. I thought it was going to be a pleasure trip: see the Smithsonian, admire the classical architecture, shake my fist at Capitol Hill - all the usual stuff. Then I saw "him" trundling down the aisle of the Boeing 7-something-or-other jetliner.

"Uh oh" I said to myself. Why do bad things happen to, basically, nice guys?

I was in the window seat and I knew in my heart that, with this whole airplane to pick from, he was going to end up next to me.

The tip-off was the fact that his carry-on luggage was a cardboard box tied up with kite string.

"Here, hold my box a minute, will you, Buddy?"

He dropped it into my lap. It felt like it was full of truck batteries.

The big man lowered his hefty self into the seat beside me and immediately buckled up.

"Always keep the belt buckled, even on the ground. You never know what they might try."

"Your box. Please," I begged.

"Oh, yeah. Gimme that old thing. Never leave home without it. Know what I got in here?"

"No, I don't."

"Know what it is, huh?"


"Know what it is? Go on, guess."

"Truck batteries."

"Truck batteries? No, that would be stupid. This is a box full of belt buckles."

"Belt buckles?"

Five and a half hours to go.

"I collect them. Got 67 of them here. I always take them with me so that when I buy a new one I can be sure I'm not getting a duplicate."

"One you already have. Right."

"No, a duplicate. Say, who do you have to kiss to get a drink around here?"

He crammed the box under his seat.

Five hours and twenty-eight minutes to go.

Why we took off with this guy on board, I'll never know. Weren't there laws? Wasn't there a regulation somewhere? Whatever happened to the Geneva Convention?

The plane departed from San Francisco and somewhere over Oakland my new friend kicked into second gear.

"You ever been stung by a dead bee?"

"What?" This sounded familiar.

"I said, 'Have you ever been stung by a dead bee?'"

"Uh.... no."

"No, that's not the right line. Look, I'm doing the Walter Brennan line. You be Lauren Bacall."

"'To Have And Have Not', right? Bogie...Bacall..."

"And Walter Brennan. Very good, Buddy. You win the prize."

He handed me a stick of chewing gum. It was as hard as ceramic tile.

"Chew it. It'll keep your ears open. Make it easier for us to talk. This is gonna be a long flight."

Oh, Sweet Jesus. This was going to get uglier than a warthog in a pie-eating contest.

"Look" I said. "There's a flight attendant!"

I figured that distraction was my best bet for survival. Get him fixated on a shiny object.

"Can I get you gentlemen something to drink?"

I wanted a "7-Up", but Walter Brennan cut me off.

"Sure, Missy. Get me and my friend here a couple of Irish Coffees."

"I'm sorry, sir, but we don't serve mixed drinks. Would you like a beer?"

"What do you mean you don't serve mixed drinks? I'll bet you got a regular cocktail lounge up there in First Class."

"I'd like a '7-Up'."

"Sir, we don't serve mixed drinks in Coach Class. I'm sorry."

"Hmmmm. OK then, what's for dessert today?"

"Dessert? I believe its gingerbread with whipped cream. But the meals won't be served until later."

"I'd like a '7-Up'."

"Forget the meal, Sweet Cheeks. I brought a sandwich."

He patted the breast pocket of his "Members Only" jacket.

Five hours and three minutes to go.

"Very good sir." She started to leave.

"Hold your ponies there, Zsa Zsa."

She looked at him like he was something she had found in the sink trap. I'd say she was aiming high.

"Yes...sir?" There was now a distinct chill in her voice.

"Tell you what, Toots. You bring me a couple cups of coffee, a few of those little bottles of Jack Daniels and scrape off some of that whipped cream from the gingerbread. I'll make my own Irish Coffee."

She closed her eyes. A silent prayer maybe or perhaps a signal to her crewmates to get the restraints ready.

"Sir...OK. I'll do this for you, if you promise me you'll behave."

"Yes, ma'am. You do this for me and you'll forget I'm even here."

She forced a smile and headed toward the galley.

"I'd like a '7-Up'."

The Irish Coffee wasn't half bad, considering it was from a kit. He may have been crude, loud and pushy, but he made a decent drink.

Four hours and forty minutes to go.

"Have I even introduced myself, Buddy?"


"Roger Wilslip." He extended his paw.

"Roger T. Wilslip, but not the famous one."

"Oh, obviously."

"How so, Buddy?"

"The famous one, he's taller, I do believe."

Go for it.

"That he is. What's your name, Buddy?"

Think fast. Give him a name, any name, except your real one. Give him that and he'll track you down and put you on his Christmas card list.

"George Bush. My name is George Bush. Not the famous one."

"Get out of town!"

Then move, you baboon and I will.

We sipped at our Irish Coffees. He ordered another kit.

"George, ever have an Irish Coffee this good before?"

"Of course. I'm from San Francisco. They were invented there."

Roger T. pinched his nostrils and made an incredibly loud buzzing noise. Throughout the cabin, heads popped up over the tops of seats. It looked like a planeload of prairie dogs.

"Awww, wrong answer! I'm sorry, George, you lose, but we have some lovely parting gifts for you. And thanks for playing our game."

I needed more alcohol to numb this all away.

"The Irish Coffee - pay attention George, was first created by one Joe Sheridan, the bartender at the Foynes Seaplane Airport in County Limerick, Ireland, in 1943. Some hoity-toity travel writer from Frisco took his idea back to the States and recreated it."


"So, while the Buena Vista Cafe in San Fran may claim to be the 'Home of the Irish Coffee', it is a purely Irish creation."

He unbuckled his seatbelt and struggled to his feet. Stepping into the aisle he raised his drink.

"Ladies and Gentlemen", he said loudly. "I'd like to propose a toast. God bless Joe Sheridan, the inventor of the Irish Coffee. Hip, hip."

"Hooray," I chimed in. I felt obligated.

A voice boomed from the rear of the plane.

"Sit down. You're drunk!" Roger T. just smiled.

"Yes, sir, I am and thank you for your concern. Care to join us? Anybody, everybody?"

The next thing I recall for certain was that I was being helped to my feet inside an office at Reagan Airport in Washington, and that my pants were down around my ankles.

As I looked around the room, or maybe I was motionless and it was the room that revolved around me (I'm still not sure on that point.), I saw Roger T. Wilslip seated in a chair. His face was very red and he was staring intently at the wall.

A large man with a badge moved his face in front of mine.

"You boys put on quite a show up there," he said. "Some of your fellow travelers want us to press charges: Interfering with the crew, Sexual Harassment and the capper, Indecent Exposure. Sir, why did you take off your belt and give it to Mr. Wilslip?"

"My friend Roger T. collects buckles." He recoiled from my breath.

"I'm going to try to talk them out of pursuing this matter. Alcohol and high altitudes do not mix. It magnifies the effect and I figure it all just got away from you. If anybody should be in trouble, it's the cabin crew for giving you all that liquor."

"Weren't they sweet?" I wanted to help dear, sweet Zsa Zsa.

"So, I suggest that you boys just sleep it off in our lounge here for a few hours while I try to make this go away. Do you have any questions?"

Roger T. raised his hand.

"Yes, sir, if I may?"

The man moved over in front of Roger's crimson face.

"What's your question, Mr. Wilslip?"

Roger leaned in close to the thoroughly disgusted officer.

"Have you ever been stung by a dead bee?"