Rock concerts and championship sports events used to draw hardy ticket seekers with sleeping bags long before box offices opened. Now the airlines draw long lines of hopeful travelers eager for bargains.
Yesterday, 99 people who had waited in line since Thursday or Friday received 99-cent round-trip tickets to California for their patience and perseverence. Another 69 got round-trip tickets to Dallas/Ft. Worth or Houston for 69 cents, courtesy of Texas International Airlines in a promotional extravaganza to call attention to its new services from Baltimore/Washington International Airport.
Although the young dominated the crowd that camped out at BWI, the hardy included 77-year-old Garfield Hathcock and his 72-year-old wife Dora who were headed for California for the first time with their 30-year-old son Cliff.
A retired painter who worked at the Washington Navy Yard for 35 years, Hatcock plans to go deep-sea fishing off La Paz during a month-long vacation in the west. "I enjoyed being here," he said yesterday after Cliff forked down $2.97 for their three tickets.
The older Hatcocks spent Friday and Sunday nights at the airport but were able to go home to Suitland to sleep Saturday night when the "California 99" voted to have roll calls every 12 hours to allow some to get some sleep and showers.
First in the California line last Thursday was Beverly Bradley, a 55-year-old grandmother from Glen Burnie on her way to see a son and two daughters who live in Los Angeles. She was saving up bus money when she heard about the 99-cent tickets, she said. She first came to the airport Wednesday, and went to pick up her luggage Thursday morning. "I haven't left the terminal since," she said.
"She's our den mother," said 30-year-old Tom Bodensick, the Second in line, with his arm around here. "She's our spiritual leader." Bodensick a Baltimore native, is on his way to California to look for work.
Dawn Allen, 18, who worked at the Booeymonger in Washington, was third. "I had nothing better to do," she explained.
Kim Gibson, an 18-year-old from Hampstead, Md., was first in the Texas line, bound to visit her brother. She arrived at 7 a.m. Friday.
Number two in the Texas line, 24-year-old Doug Kohlenstein, was carrying a circular saw and a drill as a wedding gift for his twin brother who lives in Dallas. "It's cheaper to deliver it in person than to mail it," he laughed. Kohlenstein is a research assistant in biology at the University of Maryland/Baltimore County.
The successful ticket-getters had trickled in Thursday and Friday; by Friday evening, both lines had swelled to the maximum bumber of available tickets, and the two groups began keeping alternate standby lists.
The California line was filled first, and some who came to the airport hoping to go to California decided to go to Texas instead. "Why not?" one asked. "I even save 30 cents."
Texas International officials said the BWI promotion followed a pattern they have noticed with previous promotions. The group in line organized itself, a leader emerged, rules were set by vote after boisterous discussion periods, and everyone appeared to become friends on a first-name bases.
The cohesiveness of the group was apparent when an Arlington couple and a man who said he was "a Washington lawyer" who knew his "legal rights" tried to get into line yesterday morning. The travelers joined hands and shouted the interlopers away, although airport officials and some police were on hand to act if needed.
The promotional fares were pegged at 99 cents and 69 cents to reflect the regular one-way "Peanuts" fares on the airline to the Texas and California points. As the last of the California-bound travelers were processed early yesterday afternoon, many were helping in the Clean-up, tearing down the "Peanut Gallery" and "Do not feed the nuts" signs. CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, Among the oldest and the youngest: Garfield and Dora Hathcock and 3-year-old Rosanna Garrison.; Pictures 3 an 4, California-bound travelers wait to buy 99-cent tickets from Texas International Airlines. At right, Kim Gibson gets the first 69-cent ticket to Texas. Photos by Douglas Chevalier-The Washington Post