Seeing in the Dark

In the 1960’s, my father would take me to visit his workplace, which, as an air traffic controller at Philadelphia International Airport, was pretty cool to a young kid. In the darkness of the Radar Room, I was fascinated by the blips representing airplanes with many passengers, which were briefly illuminated as the green line slowly rotated around the circular radar screen. Each rotation showed a glimpse of time – here is the new position since the last time around.  Paper strips were slid into holders on the side with the airline, and flight number, for in those days a blip was just a blip. Only in the spatial imagination of an air traffic controller was held the matrix of direction and speed and altitude that prevented catastrophe.

Frank in a control tower early 1950's

Frank in a control tower early 1950’s

And, I am proud to say, during my dad’s time at PHL, they had no accidents of even minor significance. And I remember when he had been promoted into middle management, during a controller’s strike, as one of the few people with the skills to work the screens, he had the entire East Coast down to the Caribbean on his radar screen. He later spoke of it as easily as walking out to check the mail – what competence! And yet, he took medical early retirement due to the stress!


Blaise Kielar received Honorable Mention in the 2022 Alex Albright Creative Nonfiction Prize for an excerpt from his memoir in progress, "Be Heard: The Quiet Kid Who Started the World’s Loudest Violin Shop." He opened Chapel Hill’s first violin shop in 1978 and retired from a music retail career by transitioning Electric Violin Shop into the first worker-owned co-op music store in the United States. He plays jazz violin and clarinet in several bands and leads the Bulltown Strutters, Durham’s community New Orleans brass band.

One Comment

  1. Diane Davis

    Dads – we are so influenced by them, even and especially after they’ve left this world!!
    (hope your spam filter finds it’s balance!)

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