Jon D. Lastra
4 min readApr 25, 2022

Living in the Land of Giants

Or what it’s like to meet an NBA player for the first time.

I was a gate agent for Eastern Air Lines in Kansas City Missouri in the mid-80’s. It was an exciting time for me. I had been with the company for 7 years and all that as an inside sales rep in Charlotte, NC.

I had made the big move to work at the field. The MCI HUB as it was called was the brain child of Frank Borman, former Apollo astronaut and current CEO of EAL. It was a bold concept. Schedule 10 flights from major East Coast cities to meet 10 flights from West Coast cities, in the space of 30 minutes, switch, hundreds of passengers, bags and cargo and do it 3 times a day.

It was brilliance and madness all at once. When the weather was great, it was smooth sailing, in the winter with ice and snow delays it was a nightmare.

I was a small town kid who have grown up in rural North Carolina. After serving 4 years in the US Air Force, I was able to land this great opportunity with EAL. The pay was great, the benefits were outstanding and you and your immediate could fly for free!

Living in the mid-west was a new adventure for me. I had grown up hearing about the KC Chiefs and Arrowhead stadium. George Brett the newest MLB hot prospect and just signed with the Kansas City Royals. It was an exciting time with a new job in a new city and new adventures.

As a Gate agent you were assigned a specific gate area to cover. During the course of your shift you would meet as many as 4 to 5 in bound flights. You would direct arriving passengers to their connecting flights, point someone to baggage claim to retrieve their bags, this was to the snack bar and their are the bathrooms.

In the following half-hour you and a partner would check passengers in at a departing gate. You would print boarding cards, assign seats, try to get a family of six seats together on the same row and other fantastic feats of daring do. Then you would make the gate announcements, collect tickets and board the flight and always with a smile. After all, we were the Wings of Man.

I had a walkie-talkie on my hip. I could hear the tower and Dispatch announcing flights as they landed. I was expecting my flight 211 arriving from Portland, Oregon any minute. From inside the gate area, I could see the flight line through the massive floor to ceiling glass panels. It was a beaautful day in the great mid-west. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and everything was running smooth as a top.

I heard the squawk of the walkie-talkie, inbound flight 211 on approach, run way 4 niner, all clear. When I heard that, I knew I could get a visual and track the aircraft approach to the jetway.

I had done this a few times before and was now solo and it all felt comfortable to me. I had my list of connecting flights in hand and watched as the plane rolled to a stop, the ground agents chocked the wheels and I made my way down the jet way and stood by waiting the Flight Attendant to open the door. I was often amazed at how these slight built ladies could throw back that massive door with a single heave.

It was always the ‘Senior’ who opened the door. They would hand you documents from the Captain to give to hand-off to flight Dispatch. It could be notes about aircraft performance, special instructions for fuel load or maintenance items. Whatever it was, you guarded it like it was the Manga Carta.

As soon as received the Dispatch documents, I would immediately walk to the top of the Jetway, open the double exit doors and wait for the flood of people who were all on their way to some place important. With my flight connection papers in hand, I’m ready to point and announce gate numbers.

As I turned to face the on coming crowd, suddenly I’m faced with a massive body, a giant of a man and now not one but two, no wait there are f our, now five of these gargantuan creatures. I’m at once overwhelmed and amazed.

Then it hit me, these are NBA players, of course they are coming from Portland to play the Kansas City Kings. They didn’t need connecting flight info, they were heading for the outside curb to meet their caravan of stretch limos to take them to their downtown hotel.

There was Mychael Thompson, 6' 10" Center, Wayne Cooper 6' 10" Forward, Fat Lever, at 6' 3" tiny at Guard. There was the famous Clyde ‘the glide’ Drexler, then finally at 7' 1" was Tim Pitrowski, Center.

My neck was straining looking up at these giants. I heard later they would draw straws to determine would be the luck ones to get a First Class seat.

You know, the ones with extra leg room, necessary when you come from the Land of Giants