There’s a reason so many songs and pieces of art are stylized or are in honor of New York City. The people, the food and the fact that around every corner there seems to be an eye-dazzling, profound thing erected into the sky or along the ground — it can feel electric, limitless.
“I miss the excitement of New York. I like to visit and stay downtown for like three or four days and just walk around. Also, I’m one of the unusual people who likes to drive New York.”
There’s also something to be said about stepping off an airplane to be greeted by new air, a new smell and a new language — it can push you further into that want for discovery that spurned you to buy the ticket to a foreign land in the first place.
“When you got to know people in these countries, there was a friend that you had.”
And there’s finally the everyday stories about that feeling you get when you arrive home in Santa Clarita — where your neighbors are your family, the way to a destination is denoted by landmarks as opposed to street signs and for its faults it has twice as many positives.
“It’s a wonderful place.”
For Airman 1st Class Jeffrey Stabile, these experiences have been regular fixtures in his life.
“It’s easier to name the places I haven’t been,” said Stabile, “than to name the places I have.”
New York, New York
“I’m from New York, but I was born in Iowa,” Stabile said, stating the phrase he learned to avoid the stigma of being labeled a “New Yorker.”
Stabile was born July 17, 1944, in Des Moines, Iowa. His father, a member of the U.S. Army, had worked on the highly classified Manhattan Project; his mother raised the family.
“He never really talked about it,” said Stabile, adding his father’s silence about the project that led to the atomic bomb was due partly to its secretive nature and partly due to how his generation rarely spoke of their military service.
Soon after, his family moved to New York, eventually settling down in Long Island. This is where he developed his first and second loves.
“I’ve always loved big cities,” he said, adding that he and Peggy, his wife of close to 54 years now, met there, as well. She lived only two-and-a-half blocks away.
During his teenage years, he regularly ventured out from the suburbs of Long Island, frequently choosing to spend time in the lower part of Manhattan or in Times Square.
“Times Square wasn’t clean back then … it was a pretty tough area,” said Stabile. “But I still remember seeing the people waiting for the taxis in the Theater District.”
Stabile’s true New Yorker comes out when he speaks to his fondness of the busy streets of Manhattan and his unwavering love for the city’s subway system.
“I don’t mind the crowds,” Stabile said as he described how he used to go down to Fifth Avenue and stand with his 6-foot, 4-inch frame at the top of a small rise on the sidewalk and just stare at the top of the heads of thousands of people walking around. “I just loved all the people … and the subway’s a great mode of transportation.”
Stabile graduated from Bayside High School as a city tennis champion before making the choice between heading off to college or doing something else first.
“I told my dad I wasn’t ready to go to college,” said Stabile, who said his father, by then a lawyer, was prepared to help his son get into school and work his way through. “But I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was lost.”
Then, in 1963, Stabile enlisted in the U.S. Air Force.
Being a part of it
Following basic training in San Antonio, Texas, Stabile was sent to Texas’ Amarillo Air Force Base to do his 12-week military occupation specialty training as a jet engine specialist. He said he was appointed, before the age of 21, to be a troop commander in charge of 140 airmen.
After tech school, he was stationed at March Air Force Base in Riverside, for all four years of his enlistment, where he worked on B-52 Bombers and KC-135 Tankers.
Soon after, the young airman, who was becoming known for his thoroughness and reliability, was named the youngest enlisted man on the base to be given the responsibility to ground and release aircraft.
“If I put a ‘red X’ in the aircraft maintenance log, then the aircraft was grounded until the discrepancy (was) corrected and signed off by another person,” he said. “After one year at March, I was (also) authorized to run up both types of aircraft, on the ground, to facilitate maintenance checks on engines, as well as other systems.”
Stabile was put in charge of “running up,” or turning on, the plane engines from time to time for maintenance, meaning he got to run all eight engines on a B-52 plane. After one late night test, a lieutenant general distributed a basewide memo the next day banning all emergency tests over the weekend late at night and in the early morning.
He was also called out on special missions, as part of an Air Force task force, to ferry planes from mainland to Hawaii, then to Guam and, eventually, Okinawa or the Philippines. On those missions, Stabile was known as the “Jet Guy,” and at least once found an issue with a jet that could’ve caused a fatal problem for a pilot flying over the jungles of Vietnam.
In 1967, Stabile was honorably discharged from the Air Force as an E-4 airman 1st Class, now known as a senior airman, and returned to his beloved New York.
He and Peggy had married on his 21st birthday, and would go on to have a son and daughter.
Although he said he needed to always be around a large city, from New York to Chicago, he returned to working with airplanes after being hired to work for an aviation aftermarket parts company.
It was with that company that he was allowed to travel the world in search of plane parts to purchase. He visited communist countries before the Iron Curtain fell, traversed Western Europe, fell in love with roundabouts and Eastern European coffee. He learned about Middle Eastern and Pakistani culture from the ground and always said he felt comfortable as though it were like New York: bustling, alive and wrapped in history and culture.
In one trip, to Bangkok, Thailand, he acquired two planes: one would be repurposed by the military to create a model of Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars defense program, and the other would be retrofitted for a man’s home in the hills outside of Hillsboro, Oregon.
Come on, come through
When in the service, Stabile said he had a few interesting experiences, but one that stuck out in his mind was when he met his roommates at tech school, two men who were black.
“One of them had been in the farm system for the Dodgers, and the other was doing encryption, so he was a pretty smart guy,” said Stabile, adding that he soon learned that he was the only one on the base who liked rooming with them. While he and his two roommates stayed on the second floor, the rest of the guys on the base in Amarillo stayed on the first floor. “They’d come up to me and ask how I could room with ‘those guys.’”
At one point, he and his roommate went to a movie together. When the theater box office employee denied his black roommate a ticket, both Stabile and his fellow airman decided to leave together.
“It was my first time experiencing racism like that after growing up in New York,” he said.
Respect and patience is what he learned in his travels, he said, and it allowed him to build friendships with people he still has to this day.
After he told his company he was retiring, a Japanese airline, with which he had spent five years fostering a relationship and one year writing out a contract, had called him to its LAX office in a panic, worried that Stabile was leaving. In order to not break trust with his colleagues and friends in Asia, Stabile, in his retirement, opened a consultancy group called Pegasus Two Consulting. He still hosts conferences and does work with them.
After moving to Santa Clarita decades ago, Stabile has become very active in his community, working with a number of local organizations, such as Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and the Santa Clarita Veteran Services Collaborative.
“I like to just go back and visit now,” Stabile said, talking about New York and the various places he’s traveled to. “I miss the excitement … but I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything. I just loved the travel.”