As Pan Am flight attendants, we naturally spent a lot of time in airports. As layovers got shorter, airports became more familiar, and since Pan Am was an international carrier, airports around the world were our bivouacs. The airport in India remains in my mind as a reminder to trust no one, particularly street vendors in India.
There are many jobs that require people to be on call. Pan Am, like all other airlines, even today, had a reserve system called the ‘pool’ in order to make sure there were a minimum number of flight attendants on board any given flight. As long as they had every door covered, they could send a flight out with barely enough flight attendants to make a pot of coffee.
Having sufficient personnel on every flight was not the company’s top priority toward the end of its existence. By the time the demise of the company came, we were down to crews of nine or ten, serving four hundred people. Two to four of those crew members had to serve in first class and Clipper Class, which was Pan Am business class. I am positive that if scheduling personnel had been allowed to let a flight go out with flight service for only first class and clipper, and designate some hapless passenger to serve coffee in the back, they would have.
Today, I hopped on my stationary bike, and while I was pedaling away, I read some of a book I had checked out a month or so ago and kept procrastinating reading, ‘The Fall of Berlin, 1945′.
Because of my regrettable habit of procrastinating, I have forgotten the reason I checked out this book. It is buried in the mists of time, but the book remains, silently reprimanding me with the legions of the dead soldiers of the Red Army, the Third Reich, and the residents of Berlin, many of whom did not vote for Hitler, and didn’t like the Nazis being in power. See? I have learned something from the regrettably few pages I have read.
I read recently about a woman, a new mom, in another country who had wanted to have a baby for all of her married life, which was a very long time considering her age as of this writing, but was unable to. Finally, she conceived at the tender age of seventy, or something close to assisted living age.
Pan Am was synonymous with first-class service in the golden age of flying. One of my memorable vacations while flying for Pan Am was taking my mother to England. I paid the extra little fee required for us to sit in first class on the way over, and it spoiled my mother forever. On the way back, the flight was full, and we had to sit in economy. She swore she would never sit in economy, again. I had to remind her we were traveling for free.
Pan Am may or may, not have been, the owner of the crew hotel where we stayed in Monrovia, Liberia, but Pan Am crews were the only people who ever stayed there. The hotel was managed by a wealthy African family named Caesar. As you will see, that was a very prophetic name for this family.
Monrovia and our hotel certainly couldn’t be considered a tourist haven, or even a tourist trap. The flight was a very senior trip; the crew members that typically worked the trip were dubbed the African Kings and Queens. They worked just a few trips a month; since the flight departed New York only once a week, you stayed in Monrovia for a week. The per diem was phenomenal, and all you had to do was enjoy the beach. Sometimes, in the middle of the week, we would work a trip to the Ivory Coast and points east.
When Pan Am flight attendants were first interviewed for the job, it was a little like being interviewed on television for the Miss America pageant. ‘Why do you want to fly?’ the recruiter would ask us. The word recruiter is a bit of a misnomer for the interviewer; they should rename the applicant the recruiter, because no one had to go searching for us. The applicant was recruiting Pan Am for the job, the recruiter was simply there to ask a few standard questions, determine whether you had any personality, and whether your weight matched your height. Personally, my weight does match my height, which varies.
When a flight attendant was a new hire at Pan Am, (I was hired in 1977), we were generally based in expensive cities such as New York, London, and Los Angeles. Many years after I started flying, Pan Am created a second pay scale for new hires, paying them much less than the flight attendants hired prior to that. Those flight attendants had our sympathy, but they probably didn’t need it; they had at least twenty other people living with them in a one-bedroom Kew Gardens, New York apartment who could give them all the sympathy they needed.
Pan Am inherited the DC-10 when the airline bought National Airlines in the 1980′s. Pan Am pilots loved this plane for some obscure reason; they said it was safe and reliable, which is all well and good, but then why did we routinely have mechanicals every time we took it to the Caribbean? And they weren’t the kinds of delays that got you grounded in the Caribbean at the beach for a day or so. Oh, no. I always told my family that I didn’t know when I’d be home from a trip down there, but it was usually twelve hours later than scheduled.
I am seriously worried about the possible future state of biographies and our libraries as being the storage houses of the letters and documents of great, or at least, famous, people. I have been reading biographies lately, and in each person’s case, letters serve to not only enlighten their biographer, but are carefully preserved in a library somewhere as insights into the subject’s life for scholars and the idle curious. In each case, the biographer writes in the foreword that he or she used this or that library located in a major city to help them piece together the life of their chosen great person.
One book about Julia Child is solely letters between her and Avis DeSoto, while another book about her says her husband, Paul, had written hundreds of letters over a period of many years to his brother, chock full of scrapbook items and sketches. Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of Anne of Green Gables, among many other books, wrote dozens of letters to two friends over the years, one of them being 74 pages long, also full of scrapbook items, and these were preserved in boxes pending the day the biographer arrived.
Which of course begs the question: How did the recipients know that these letters would be important later on, or were they just pack rats, never letting go of the detritus that builds up? Continue reading