Posted on Sun, Oct. 09, 2005
Here's looking at you, tarmac at S.J. airport
By Scott Herhold
You've heard the refrain a zillion times: To be a true big city, San Jose needs blank. A skyline. A river. A baseball team. Art. BART. A first-class airport that doesn't require walking on the tarmac.
Wait a minute, just one minute. I'm willing to buy a few of these things. Maybe you are, too. But that bit about the tarmac rubs me wrong.
The reason I'm fretting about this is that San Jose officials are studying a proposal to demolish Terminal C at the airport, the compact little terminal that -- yes -- requires you to walk out on the tarmac to your plane.
This isn't as much fun as it used to be. Four or five years ago, the city bought covered walkways that take you within a few feet of the aircraft.
But for a brief moment, you still have to face the elements at Terminal C. You have to board the stairs to your plane. You feel the sunlight, the heat, and sometimes the rain.
And I like it. Sorry, I just don't buy the idea -- put forward by Mayor Ron Gonzales and others -- that we're a third-world airport because we lack enough jetways. I don't think the ``Casablanca'' experience humiliates us. I say it lends romance.
Terminal C is quintessentially San Jose -- workaday, unpretentious, a reminder of what we were when we were growing up. And we ought to think hard before we consign its charms to the bulldozer.
``I love Terminal C,'' says Steve Tedesco, chairman of the San Jose Airport Commission. ``It's so easy to get in and out of there. And there's something interesting about walking out on the tarmac to your plane. These people who criticize that as being a cow town airport are full of bull.''
I'll admit the tarmac approach doesn't work for everyone. People who carry rolling suitcases find it difficult to coax them up the stairs. It's harder still for the disabled.
But there's something straightforward -- and yes, even dramatic -- about emerging from your plane into San Jose's weather. Terminal C has a minimum of the rat-like maze that you find in every other airport.
And lest I neglect to mention the obvious: When one of the greatest modern communicators of religion, Pope John Paul II, arrived in a foreign land, he didn't fall down and kiss the jetway. He kissed the tarmac. He would have understood Terminal C.
I stopped by Terminal C for an hour or so last week, and I was charmed once again by its compact funk -- the Martini Monkey bar, the kids' play set and observation tower, the mezzanine above the food court.
Because Terminal C's approach allows for passengers to board both the front and rear of the plane, a few airlines actually like it. It saves them 15 or 20 minutes in a quick stop.
But the terminal is vulnerable not just because city officials feel it's outmoded: There's also a question of money. The airport depends on fees paid by the airlines. And the airlines at Terminal C have resisted major increases unless they get new jetways.
That's one reason the city is talking about demolishing the old terminal and replacing it with a new Terminal B to the north, a scaled-down version of the originally grandiose plans.
Airport officials say Terminal C is not likely to come down for at least a couple of years: You can't take out gates until you get new ones.
If it's razed, there will be more than one reason to mourn. Aside from the tarmac, one of Terminal C's greatest charms is a huge mural done by California artist Millard Sheets, depicting San Jose history.
It's partially forgotten now behind a fast-food court, which has led fans to question its fate. An airport spokesman told me the city would save the mural. But it's molded into the shape of the sweet little terminal's entrance. It's comfortably at home, just as many of us are.
Contact Scott Herhold at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 920-5877.