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Rafting Heals a Rift as Spirit of Detente Goes for a White-Water Rapids Ride

“You’re on a raft, shooting down white-water rapids,” Mike Grant says, “and you’re at risk together. Whether you speak the same language, whether you agree with each other, whether you even like each other, you’ve got to work together or you’re all going over the side. It’s the perfect setting, a microcosm of our fragile planet.”

Grant, 28, of Pleasant Hill in Northern California, is project director for Project RAFT (Russians and Americans for Teamwork), and a member of the California team, one of seven 10-member American squads that next month will attack the Chuya River in Siberia.

The river is “100 miles north of the China-Mongolia border. Glacier-fed rivers barreling through the Altai Mountains. Unbelievably beautiful,” Grant says, “like a pristine Switzerland.”

Less than two years old, RAFT has been sponsoring youth exchanges with the Soviets in white-water-rafting get-togethers. The Soviets, in turn, are invited to float down the Grand Canyon this summer.

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The exchanges--mixing nationalities on raft crews--is nothing short of “exhilarating,” says Grant, who’s made five trips: “After the run, you camp out. You gather firewood together, cook, wash the dishes, bathe together. You’ve already built up trust, on the rafts.

“The setting is so conducive. The conversation flows as naturally as the river. We discuss, and sure, we argue. . . . We stress our freedoms, they attack our profit motive. ‘Evil Empire’ vs. ‘Grasping Capitalists.’ Sometimes we work our way through the differences. Sometimes we hit walls. The key is, we’re addressing the problems.”

All well and good, but suppose you’re bopping down a raging rapid and don’t speak Russian and have an urgent need to holler, “Igor! The rock!”?

“Oh, it definitely occurs,” Grant says, “but we’ve worked out our own Esperanto, a sort of hybrid. Like, Americans yell ‘Forward paddle’ and the Soviet equivalent is something that sounds like ‘Peery-ote’? What we all holler is ‘Fote!’ Hey, whatever works.” Precisely.

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Willard Jefferson, Veteran LAX Skycap, Hangs Up His Wings

Ella Fitzgerald sent a personal note. So did Ed McMahon and Mrs. Conrad Hilton. Sally Struthers wrote: “It’s going to be simply awful without you.”

Indeed, there does seem to be a void on the sidewalk at LAX where Willard Jefferson had held court since 1962, and when the United Airlines skycap retired this month, about 400 fans turned out at a farewell dinner. Jefferson, the first United employee to serve 50 years, took away with him the W. A. Patterson Award (the airline’s highest) and the admiration of thousands. “My regulars,” he calls them: “Diahann Carroll, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Stevie Wonder . . . and a lot of Joe Smiths and Mary Browns who were just as important to me.”

Jefferson didn’t want to retire: “My wife asked me to. She wanted to go home, to travel some. We’ve been married 48 years. I owed her.”

So after a stay in Chicago with son Gary, United’s vice president for the Northeast Region, it’s back to Pittsburgh where the Jeffersons are building a townhouse. “That’s where I started, at 17,” Jefferson recalls. “I’ve watched the airline grow up, from 10-passenger planes, then the DC-2. . . .”

Through it all, the skycap emeritus maintained an innate dignity. “A skycap is a goodwill ambassador,” Jefferson says. “He’s the first one to meet the passengers when they get out of their car, and he leaves a lasting impression of the airline, one way or the other.” Or as Sally Struthers wrote: “As long as you were waiting with your warm smile and that handsome face, we didn’t worry about missing airplanes or lost baggage. You, Will, are United Airlines. . . .”

Giuseppe a Hit With the Dodgers

With Tommy Lasorda allegedly on a diet, the profit margin at Giuseppe hangs by a slender thread. Nevertheless, the owner of the Beverly Boulevard restaurant--a Dodger favorite--has reason to rejoice, and not only because his 10-year tenure already has far exceeded the average life expectancy of an L.A. trattoria .

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Giuseppe Bellisario is celebrating his “triple anniversary”: in 1959, he had his first glimpse of America--the Statue of Liberty. In ’69, he finally made it to our land of latte and miele . In ’79, Bellisario opened Giuseppe, doing well enough to spawn two nearby culinary cousins, both named Baci.

Whether the empire can survive the depredations of the Dodger skipper is moot. Bellisario, meanwhile, revels in his good fortune and recalls a modest beginning in his home town of Gallipoli.

“My family had a restaurant,” Bellisario says. “When I was 10, they let me wash the dishes. Then I graduated to potatoes: peeling, not cooking. One thing led to another.”

Indeed. When Bellisario hit Los Angeles in 1969, he started as a waiter in Ken Frank’s fabled Scandia. Then captain. Then maitre d’. Then his own place, now occasional home not only to the Dodgers (who celebrated their Series victory there) but to Sinatra, Stallone, even such non-paisans as Olivier, Iglesias, Newton-John, Parton, Duvall--all, of course, “my good friends.”

“I never dreamed of being a big shot,” he confesses. “Hard work, luck. Here I am.”

Why here instead of New York? “I was a sea cook on a ship in 1959,” Bellisario says. “I saw The Lady, all right, but from a porthole. They’d locked us in our cabins. They were afraid we’d jump ship.” Would he have? “You betcha.”


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