Airport Charlie

Gene Fletcher

© Copyright 2016 by Gene Fletcher

Photo of a pig drinking beer.
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.

Airport 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.

One 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.

He 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.

The 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,

I 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. .

On 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.

I 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.

The 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.

She had heard that the food there was good and the prices were reasonable. We immediately agreed to go there for supper that night.

It was a short, uneventful drive to the airport. In ten minutes, we were there.

Upon 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 interesting information.

I 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 happen.

After 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.

The 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 the establishment.

I 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.

Airport 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.

As 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,

While she made the drink, I turned to Jim and said “You are not from around here are you?”

No”, Jim replied, I was born and raised in Sarasota.”

Where did you go to High School?


Jim 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.

When? I asked. “What year did you graduate?

Jim replied,  I didn’t. I quit school after the 11th grade so I could get married. Worst God Damn mistake I ever made.”

I 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.

I 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.

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