Forty Things I Never Would Have Gotten to Do (Part IV: The Big Finish)

We love fritopies!

Today I turn forty, lying in the loving arms of our favorite Santa Fe spa.  We’re big on Landmark Birthdays around here.  We went to Hawaii for Jared’s 30th last year, and I won sixty nickles (!) in Las Vega$ on my 21st, once upon a time.  Oh, the plans we had for my fortieth: we were going to go to Australia.  To France.  On a cruise!  To Buenos Aires.  On a really glamorous cruise!!  We fly for free, after all; the possibilities were endless.  And yet, free flights were kind of what steered us towards Santa Fe.  Mind you, we’ll go pretty much anywhere to soak in hot water (I’ve gone as far as Iceland and New Zealand for no other reason); we love New Mexican food (stuffed sopapillas!  Frito pie!); and there’s a Trader Joe’s on the way out of town — try finding one of those in Paris.  But Santa Fe became the Official Choice when I realized that what I didn’t want to do with the Longest Day of the Year was spend it sitting around an airport, fingers crossed, hoping to get on an airplane.  Flights are too full, airports are hectic, and, like, I go through a TSA checkpoint every day for work — it’s definitely not my idea of a good time on my days off.  I mean, if one of the hot ones would come over and frisk you, that would at least be something…

So we drove here, in Jared’s little yellow car, and we can do whatever we want on our own schedule and take home all the Trader Joe’s-brand liquids we can cram in the car.  And, as is so often the case, taking a step back from My Airline Life, even if only for a few days, helps me view it through the slightly rose-tinted lens of Appreciation.  An important perspective, you’ll agree, when curating the last ten items to be included in our series,

Forty Things I (probably) Never Would Have Gotten to Do If It Wasn’t For My Airline Job:

10. Run amok in Sydney, a city to which I never worked a trip that I didn’t hope would be my last — every layover a race against the clock to find the situation (read: the Boy) that would entice me to stay forever

9.Upgrade a big fat guy to First Class when the person next to him demanded — loudly, for the benefit of the entire airplane — that I do something about the fact that he had to sit next to a big fat guy

8. Get in honest-to-god trouble (like, there’s a write-up in my file) from another grown man for wearing argyle socks

7. Accost and adore the delightfully chatty and warm Bonnie Raitt after upgrading her to First Class on a flight from London to San Francisco

6. Be tenderized like meat in a Shanghai massage parlor

5. Stock my stationery drawer at the World’s Largest Hundred Yen Store

4. Watch the men play Beach Volleyball (hubba hubba) during the Sydney Olympics

3. Hike to the top of the Great Wall of China in the middle of the night in the pitch black all by myself

2. Be approached by a psychic on an airplane and assured that I could pursue my passion without fear, and thus

1. Write a book inspired, in part, by the people I’ve met, places I’ve been, and things I’ve seen at this wacky gig.  Kiss Me, Straight chronicles the (mis)adventures of a lovelorn flight attendant as he chases a romance with his sexy-but-straight crush around the world, and it’s comin’ at ya from JMS Books later this year.  I never could have written this particular story were it not for this Big Career, and I might be more grateful for that opportunity than for any of the others.  I hope, come November, that it’ll put a few smiles on your face, too.

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Forty Things I Never Would Have Gotten To Do (Part III)

Kia Ora!

If you fly at all, even infrequently, you’ve heard it: “Flight attendants are on board primarily for your safety.”  To most airplane passengers (and even to many of my friends, fifteen years into my career), this announcement translates roughly into, “Yeah, right.”  Without dwelling on the time I saved a guy having a heart attack with a defibrillator or the way some of my friends have pulled people from burning airplanes (or how hot the guys are on the Air New Zealand safety videos), I shall get right to my point: if they could, airlines would LOVE to outfit airplanes with little more than a bathroom and a couple of vending machines and then pack passengers into every remaining inch of space with shoehorns and launch them into space and let Social Darwinism at Forty Thousand Feet take its course.  The main reason we are still on airplanes today is because the FAA requires a certain number of professionals trained in the Art of Airplane Evacuation to be available should those skills be required. (Although one friend suggests they will continue to staff flights with one flight attendant even in the vending machine future days — to make change.)

On all but the longest routes on the poshest airlines, inflight “service” has been reduced to a vague memory.  The geniuses behind Disney’s Phineas and Ferb sum it up in an episode where a stand-up comedian makes a joke about airline food, and one of the teenagers in the audience (my favorite supporting character, the Disco Miniature Golfing Queen Stacy) asks, “What’s airline food?”  When I started flying, which was not all that long ago, we were still carving roasts in the aisle, still serving champagne and caviar in first class on international flights, and still hucking hot breakfast at passengers on hour-long East Coast puddle jumps; nowadays, a full third of the cabin answers the question “Would you like something to drink?” with “How much does it cost?”  Airlines have conditioned passengers to expect nothing, and often manage to deliver even less, for which they then usually charge a fee.

The time-sensitive nature of airplane service, especially on short flights, led to many of the more hilarious moments of my early career, and the process of preparing food, especially in out-of-sight, below-deck galleys, offered many flight attendants many unique, if not wholly family-friendly, opportunities.  Now, unless they are consumed by a passion for Sudoku or come across a People magazine, flight attendants have very little to do on airplanes that are not on fire, and standing around looking at each other provides few (not none, but precious few) opportunities for hilarity.  Which, I suppose, is why I am strolling down memory lane with this little project as forty draws nigh; I’m still glad for the job, and especially for the flexibility it gives me to tend to the things that really matter in my life, but these days, dang, it gives us nothing to talk about!

So cue up your favorite version of “Memories” and please enjoy the latest installment of Forty Things I (probably) Never Would Have Gotten to Do If It Wasn’t For My Airline Job:

20. Discover a deep and abiding love for spaetzle (especially the cheesy kind) in a dingy Frankfurt bar

19. Sample Indian food in like seventeen countries, none of them India

18. Entertain a crowd of spectators just by trying on a shirt in a Chinese market (They gathered ’round, XXL my ass)

17. Weep over the most refreshing piece of watermelon ever hucked off the back of a wagon on the hottest day Seoul has ever seen

16. Poison an airplane full of people by convincing them to change their meal order from chicken to Hawaiian meatloaf (of which I ate two, so I know exactly how sick it made people)

15. Explain to a mother how her infant seat was in fact a piece of luggage, and could indeed be stowed in the overhead compartment, but only if she removed the baby from it first

14. Stand underneath (although, alas, never on) a British Airways Concorde

13. Visit New Zealand, while we’re on the subject — a Spa-tacular voyage on which I learned more about cricket than an American has a right to know, and not nearly enough about a gorgeous Maori guy I met in Rotorua  (also one of the countries mentioned in Item 19 above)

12. Sling beverages (and we were slingin’ ’em) from a tray on seventeen flight segments in three days

11. Espy a dude joining the Mile High club under a blanket.  All by himself

Forty Things I Never Would Have Gotten to Do (Part II)

“Aloha” from the Biggest Pool in Hawaii!

So, I’m in the elevator in my hotel in Oklahoma City this morning, en route to the lobby, and the elevator stops on the third floor.  In piles a gang of about seven kids, all around eight or nine, who are running amok in the hotel the way eight- or nine-year-olds will (is there anything quite as thrilling as a hotel elevator at that age?).  Their leader, a curly-haired girl in glasses, decrees the second floor to be next on their itinerary, so it’s not ten seconds later that the doors open again and the gang swarms off.  Just before she leaps off the elevator to assume command of the second floor recon, their leader stops.  Leaning against the elevator door so that it cannot close, she turns to me and asks, “Are you a pilot?”

“Flight attendant,” I tell her.

“Oh, a flight attendant,” she repeats.  “So you go from hotel to hotel all over the place?”

“Well, yeah,” I say.

She cocks her head, considering this.  I usually wear my uber-neutral Passenger Face in hotels, too, when I’m in my uniform, but perhaps it’s not quite as neutral as I imagine, cuz this nine-year-old girl reads it like a billboard.  “It gets old, huh?”

I laugh and say “sometimes” to the closing elevator door.  Her investigation concluded, she scampers off to explore the great unknown of the second floor, and I ride to the lobby, then trudge off to the airport van.

And now I’m in another hotel in another city, and have just hung up the phone from talking to my husband, who thought I was going to be home tonight.  He’s bummed out that I’m not coming home, which bums me out, and this is one of the main ways that going from hotel to hotel all over the place gets old — it’s less the hotels themselves and more the time spent away from home.  Away from the kitties and from waking up next to my husband and from good coffee that doesn’t cost $3 a cup.  But I’ve had loads of fun at hotels, too, with this job  — fancy ones, tacky ones; waterfront hotels and downtown high-rises and sprawling off-brand complexes miles from nowhere.  And so, in keeping with my effort to highlight the fun (or at least funny) parts of this gig, and having been called out this very day by a nine-year-old for wearing my oh-so-over-it heart on my sleeve, I dedicate Part Two of our Forty Things I (probably) Never Would Have Gotten to Do If It Wasn’t For My Airline Job feature to hotel adventures!

30. Skinny dip in the largest pool in the Hawaiian Islands on Kauai

29. Crash the very grand luau at the Grand Wailea on Maui

28. Sling trays for three legs on a 727 with the whole sweaty crew smelling like the gym after our hotel in Louisville, Kentucky ran out of water

27. Cross “Sleep with a Pilot” off of my “Now That I’m a Flight Attendant” To-Do List in Reno, Nevada

26. Be pampered by a Japanese toilet

25. Attend the Great Midwestern Polka Festival poolside at our Chicago layover hotel instead of sleeping (an option ruled out by the Great Midwestern Polka Festival poolside) after an all-nighter

24. Re-enact a Brady Bunch episode after putting (Body Shop Satsuma Orange, I remember for some reason) bubbles in a hot tub in Las Vegas

23. Be an audience member at a real-life Newlywed Game at an airport Holiday Inn in Hartford (“Grand” Prize for the Winning Couple: one night at an airport Holiday Inn in Hartford.)

22. Stay at a Fairmont

21. Be asked, along with the rest of my crew, to leave a wedding reception in a New Jersey hotel, only to welcome the newlyweds aboard our flight the very next morning.  We showered them with champagne and our best wishes, and, as was so often the case back in those days, a good time was had by all.  Now there’s an extra fee for that.

Forty Things I Never Would Have Gotten to Do (Part I)

Go get ’em, Vicki!

Stick with me for a second, here:

This summer — in just a few weeks, actually, on Midsummer’s Night — I turn forty.  I am inspired to do a “Forty Things” blog post to commemorate this occasion, and I have decided to do it in four parts, so that I might create something like a Mister Stewardess Feature (and to buy time to think of forty listworthy things).  Because I strive to make this blog more than a clearing house for Things Flight Attendants Complain About (at which I am a skilled practitioner, and of which there are way more than forty), and because I do myself, from time to time, lose sight of precisely why I stick around this gig, I am going to take this opportunity to celebrate some of the wild and wacky highlights from my flying career.

Airlines in general (I do not work for Southwest) are blood-sucking executive-bonus-factories that care little for their employees and even less for their passengers.  But this is a job that I wanted, that I worked hard to get, and one that has afforded me many opportunities and many years of amusement.  Life takes us unexpected places, and it is entirely possible that in a different life I could have saved up for a trip to China or frequently visited France — it’s not like only airline people do these things.  But it is for the opportunities (and the laughs) that I am most grateful, and thus do I bring you Part One of Mister Stewardess’s Big Summer Feature,

Forty Things I (probably) Never Would Have Gotten to Do If It Wasn’t For My Airline Job:

40. Watch the Space Shuttle take off from the cockpit of a 777

39. Get hit on by the drunken boyfriend of a (female) soap opera star

38. Exfoliate with champagne and sugar

37. Meet Chris Isaak after one of his concerts in New York’s Central Park

36. Get bitten black-and-blue by an Englishman

35. Learn that “You’re Welcome” in Japanese is best-remembered with the phrase “Don’t touch my mustache”

34. Try caviar

33. Respond to a call light to be asked by a self-proclaimed addict for morphine

32. Restrain a psychotic passenger with flight attendants’ pantyhose

31. Sell Duty Free to Whitney Houston

OK, that’s ten.  Check back next week for ten more.  I’ve been doing this for fifteen years — surely there are ten more.  Hopefully there are thirty more — we’ll find out.