Copyright 2016 by Gene Fletcher
My first encounter
with the story of Airport Charlie was as unlikely as my first
encounter with the hog himself. Yes, Airport Charlie was a hog. A
hog with a reputation that had spread from Cross City, Florida as far
south as Sarasota.
Charlie’s name came up in a conversation at a cocktail party in
Sarasota, Florida. Since cocktail talk is known to be a very
reliable source of information, I took my drink in hand and began to
circulate toward a group of guys that I knew from my consulting
business. One of them looked in my direction and said, “Fletcher
is from Cross City, Florida, he must know about this hog”. I
had to admit that I was from Cross City but I did in fact not know
anything about Airport Charlie.
of the guys in the cocktail drinking group was a pilot who frequently
flew a single engine plane around the state. He told us that all
pilots of small air craft were familiar with Cross City because the
prevailing winds in the area made the pilots very nervous. He gave a
detailed description of prevailing winds, cold fronts and
temperatures that soon became a little too deep for me.
went on to say that he had once landed his single engine plane at the
Cross City Airport on Sunday for some urgently needed repairs and
much to his surprise, found no mechanic available. After calling
everyone he could remember in the area around Cross City, who might
help a pilot in distress on a Sunday afternoon, he waited for help to
arrive. While he waited he spent some time at the only restaurant
within walking distance. That would be the Airport Restaurant, home
of the beer drinking pig who grew into an enormous beer drinking hog.
pilot said that when the restaurant and bar were under construction,
Charlie was just a pig with a taste for beer. When the bar was
constructed, the builder installed a pipe from the drip tray under
the draft beer dispenser to a small bowl outside the bar. This was
where Charlie spent much of his time drinking beer. As his
reputation spread, he became more selective in his choice of beer. Over
the years, he seems to have settled on Budweiser as his beer of
choice. He preferred long necks because they were easier for him to
manage as he drank his beer,
must confess that over the years my love for Dixie County, Florida
and the county seat, Cross City have not diminished but my visits
there had. Like most Americans, my time was limited. When I did
visit, most of my time was spent visiting friends and relatives with
an occasional stop at the Dixie County Historical Society. If I had
known of his existence, I might have checked on the beer drinking
pig. With the knowledge that I now had, it was important to meet
this pig. .
my next trip to Cross City, the story of the beer drinking pig fresh
in my head, I was determined to search out and find this pig. As it
turned out, finding him was easy.
asked my mother-in-law, known by one and all as “Miss Hazel”. She was a
lifelong resident of Cross City. She was every ones
friend. She would know the inside story on Airport Charlie.
first question was, is the restaurant still open? The second
question was, is Airport Charlie still there? With two yes answers,
we turned to Miss Hazel for more information.
had heard that the food there was good and the prices were
reasonable. We immediately agreed to go there for supper that night.
was a short, uneventful drive to the airport. In ten minutes, we
arrival at the restaurant, we were immediately seated at a table near
the center of the room. When a person appeared, order book in hand,
to inquire about our selections for dinner, we asked for menus. The
server said she would be, “right back” and she retreated
to the kitchen only to return immediately with menus in hand. When
my wife asked if they had blue cheese salad dressing, the server
again retreated to the kitchen and quickly returned to report that
blue cheese dressing was available. By this time, we must have had
looks of concern on our faces because, the server volunteered some
am sorry to be so slow but you see, I don’t really work here.” This
must have caused us to look even more bewildered. When I came
in with my friends over there, pointing to a table nearby, the
owner/cook told us that his waitress had just quit and walked out. So,
our server and friend of the owner said she would help out as
best she could. I thought, only in small town America would this
placing our orders, I asked the waitress if the famous beer drinking
pig was still around.”Yes sir”, she replied. He is out
back in a pen behind the bar. She gestured toward a closed door from
which escaped the sound of country music and the muffled click of
what could only be balls on a pool table. I told my table mates I
was off to see Airport Charlie.
moment I opened the “bar room door”, I realized this was
a place where the no smoking law was not only not observed, it was
not recognized. The air was filled with smoke that hung in a sort of
haze over the pool tables. As I approached the bar, the bartender
ambled down and asked if she could help me. Judging from the looks
of the crowd at the bar and the tables, it was fairly easy to tell
that I was a bit out of place with my button down collar and recently
shined shoes. I got a few looks but no comments from the clients of
told the bartender that I would like to see Airport Charlie. She
said, “Sure”, and turned to the cooler to pull a
Budweiser Long Neck out, popped the top and handed it to a guy
sitting at the bar. “Jim, would you mind showing this
gentleman out to see Charlie.” Jim said “OK”,
picked up the beer and said, “It’s
this way.” We
walked out the back door and on to a short path that led to a chain
linked fence. The fence enclosed a large area that included a shade
tree and something akin to a dog house. In the shade of the tree,
was what may have been the largest hog I have ever seen.
Charlie appeared to be sleeping off his nightly beer. He did not
respond when I tried my standard hog calls but when Jim made a loud
rattle on the chain linked fence by scraping the long neck of the
beer bottle against the fence, the hog gradually woke up. He
struggled to get on his feet and walk to the fence and the bottle.
Watching the two of them, I thought to myself, this is not the first
time they have done this show. Charlie went directly to Jim and the
beer. When the hog turned his snout up, Jim pushed the long neck
through the fence and Charlie guzzled the contents without stopping
to take a breath. When the beer had been consumed, Charlie turned
and without so much as a thank you grunt, he ponderously walked back
to his bed and returned to his nap. He had earned his keep.
Jim and I walked back to the bar, it occurred to me that I had not
paid for the beer and Jim had earned a drink. So, when we got to
Jims bar stool, I told the bartender that I would have a beer and I
would like to buy a drink for Jim. The bartender turned to Jim and
said “the usual”? Jim nodded his head. Apparently Jim
was no stranger to the bartender,
she made the drink, I turned to Jim and said “You are not from
around here are you?”
Jim replied, “I
was born and raised in Sarasota.”
did you go to High School?
looked to be about the same age as my son. This could be one of
those moments when coincidence really is a surprise for us.
I asked. “What
year did you graduate?”
didn’t. I quit school after the 11th grade
so I could get married. Worst God Damn mistake I ever made.”
could see by the look on his face that Riverview High was not a topic
that he would enjoy discussing; so I made my excuses and beat a quiet
retreat back to the restaurant.
must sadly report that this was my only encounter with Charlie. Some
years later, the restaurant suffered a fire and burned to the ground. I
never heard any reports on Charlie’s fate. In view of his
weight and the normal life span of a hog, I believe he is no longer
with us. However, the memory of the beer drinking hog lingers on.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
Story List and Biography
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