Updated: Feb 20, 2022
After I left law enforcement, my career advanced me to a nice position in a large corporation that was headquartered in downtown Hartford, Connecticut. This was in the mid-nineteen nineties and at times, the job duties had me traveling into New York City to the financial district. Getting in and out of there for meetings with our brokers and agents made for an early start, a long day by train and a late night return. It could be a real pain in the ass. Fortunately, my rank in the company allowed me occasional access to the helicopters in our corporate aviation fleet. Although I didn’t have total access, when I did, it became my favorite mode of travel to New York from Hartford.
The flight into the City was impressive and calming, traversing Connecticut’s deep-green uninhabited woods and its shimmering lakes, without houses or boats disturbing them. But approaching the City was such a dramatic change, and my energy would begin to rise as our flight transitioned from skimming the treetops to climbing over sixty stories to clear the skyscrapers. Up there, the air was filled with dozens of other rotary aircraft. Our landing area was a busy heliport on the south end of the Hudson River shoreline.
One particular day, my pilots expertly landed and discharged me as close to the exit as possible, where limousines queued bumper to bumper waiting for their passengers. People-watchers lined the sidewalks to catch a glimpse of the “notables” just discharged from their copters, before they darted into their appropriate vehicles, escaping the tourist and paparazzi cameras. It was common for me to hear the people in the small crowds murmur, “Who is that?” as I walked by. And inevitably, someone would say, “He’s nobody.”
Those words always served as a reminder that although I enjoyed some perks, I really was a nobody. I was indeed just a former kid from the east side of Detroit, an ex-cop, who grew up with a good work ethic and who was ambitious enough to work as hard as it took to advance myself. But the reality was, I truly was not notable.
Actually, it was reassuring to not have that pressure to wave artificially at faces in the crowd, people I’d never see again. To not have to pretend I was happy to see them, while bigger issues loomed in my mind. To not have to think about impressing people into believing I was something important, when I wasn’t. To not have to offer words of wisdom when I was no wiser than anyone of them.
So, I’d get into my limo and head down to Wall Street. Several hours later, I’d repeat the process in reverse. Small gatherings of people still lined the sidewalk approach to the heliport, hopefully they were new faces, and not the same ones from earlier, intent on feeling gratified by someone else’s momentary passing. And again, the humbling reminder for me, “He’s nobody.”
Many private airports and heliports have offices known as fixed bases of operations, or FBOs. They are managed for a fee, paid by each aircraft landing or departing there. Inside, there are passenger and crew amenities that can range from a place to sit comfortably while reading a current newspaper or magazine, to having elaborate refreshments and a place to take a shower and shave. The FBO at this heliport was moderate, boasting coffee or cold, non-alcoholic beverages, some snack crackers and energy bars. Plush lounging chairs were supplied with reading lamps and local business publications. I grabbed a copy of the Wall Street Journal and sat waiting for my copter to arrive and whisk me back to Hartford.
Not long after I got settled, a man walked in who was truly a “notable.” I’m sure the crowd oooh’d and ahhh’d as he exited his limo and walked into the FBO office. There was no mistaking Geraldo Rivera.
I recognized him immediately and recoiled at his presence.
Back when I was a Detroit Police Officer, Geraldo was a hotshot young news reporter with a reputation for being able to get into the nitty-gritty of contemporary stories. What was newsworthy at the time was the rise of black militancy, especially the Black Panthers. The Panthers had made it a habit of engaging police officers across the country in gun battles, then blaming the police as the cause of their anger. The truth was they were gunning for separatism, not integration. I had been shot at by, and had attended the funerals of too many brother officers in Detroit, who died at the hands of Panther snipers. And I cried in sympathy with the police agencies across the country at the loss of officers from other departments.
Geraldo came across to me as a Panther sympathizer. Maybe he personally didn’t side with the killings, but his reporting commentary seemed to lean in favor of the social agenda Panthers, rationalizing if not validating their behavior. I had no respect for the guy. And now he was less than twenty feet away.
I raised my newspaper in front of my face and ignored his presence in the room.
The FBO seating area is large enough to support several full lounging sofas, a couple love-seats, and several armchairs. Geraldo walked up the FBO manager, who was working on some flight paperwork behind the desk, and asked in a tone of voice that I could overhear, “Who is that guy?” I was the only other “guy” in the room.
The manager said, “Mr. Rivera, we all respect each other’s privacy.” As if to say, that’s pretty rude. Rivera then asked, “Should I know him?” And the FBO manager said, “Mr. Rivera, may I offer you some refreshments?” As if to change the subject. Rivera then looked around the room for a place to sit. After pondering for a moment, he walked over to me and sat in the armchair next to mine.
I looked over the top of my paper, right at him, nodded, and went back to reading. I could feel the temperature in the room rise as Rivera felt the sting of me ignoring him.
He tried to start a conversation. “I live on Long Island,” he said. “The network sends a copter for me to go to and from work each day. It sure beats driving, doesn’t it?”
I turned slightly towards him and said, “Nice.” And turned away, burying my face back in my paper.
Now he knew I was ignoring him. There could be no doubt that I wasn’t interested in him, or in his financial or social status. But he wasn’t through yet.
He asked, “Should I know you?”
I replied, “No. I’m nobody special.”
Rivera then asked, “Do you know who I am?”
I was stunned by the arrogant gall of the man. So, I gave him the answer he must have hoped for and yet dreaded. “Yes, Geraldo. I do.” Then I turned back to my paper and ignored him again.
I could feel him turning crimson without even having to look at him. He practically leapt from his chair and ran to the manager’s place at the desk and said in a hushed, demanding voice but loud enough for me to hear, “Who is that guy?”
I smiled inwardly.
The manager continued with his “respect the privacy” line of response and Rivera stalked off to a chair in the farthest corner away from me.
Shortly, the FBO manager said to both of us, I’ve just heard from your pilots that they will be arriving shortly. I folded my newspaper and gathered my briefcase, waiting. In a matter of minutes I could hear the whip, whip, whip of a rotary aircraft approaching. Rivera now looked at me beaming, “That’s mine. I can recognize the sound.” I smiled politely.
A moment later the entire office rumbled at the sound of my approaching aircraft with the wump, wump, wump of its huge blades. As Rivera looked incredulously at me, I smiled again, and nodded politely to him, as if to say, and that’s mine!
When the two birds had landed and shut down their engines, Rivera grabbed his jacket and headed for the door, I’m sure to avoid any other embarrassing encounter with me. But it wasn’t going to be that easy for him. The FBO manager said, “Mr. Rivera, if you’d wait just a moment…” Then he turned and held the door for me, as I walked past Rivera without even glancing at him.
As I walked out onto the tarmac, I could see Rivera’s two-passenger helicopter neatly perched off to the side and practically underneath the wingspan of mine. As I approached, the door to my helicopter opened and pneumatically released the stairway for my ascent. At the top stood the flight attendant, stunning in her corporate flight uniform. She took my briefcase as I entered.
Behind me I could hear Rivera shouting, “Dammit! Who is that guy?”
The flight attendant asked, “How was your day, Mr. Saad?”
Author's note: These memories are mine alone. They are impressions I formed over the years prior to meeting Geraldo Rivera, and contrary information may or may not exist to refute my impressions, but those would be facts of which I am unaware. The events of this encounter are factual and truly written as they occurred.