The Friendly Skies Are Cheap

Flight attendants these days are not a happy bunch.

I noticed on a recent flight on the hipster airline with the purple cabin lights that the 20-something flight attendants were less than overjoyed to be serving us.  cropped-photo7.jpg

Not once did we get a smile with our no-frills cups of water and no peanuts.

They served one round of drinks and went to their jump seats for the rest of the flight to read their e-books. I suppose they would have paid a little more attention to us if the weather had turned turbulent or a bagpiper had walked down the aisle blowing his pipes.

I noticed the same behavior on the flight back home.

And this from an airline that prides itself in innovation and creativity.

I noticed another thing. This airline flies Airbuses and they all need oiling. Every plane I’ve been on squeaks and moans and makes swirling noises like a giant cake mixer. This is especially true at take-off. Landings aren’t any quieter. The landing gear comes down with a thump. First time I heard the racket I wanted off. Now I’m used to it. What is it about European aircraft that they make so much noise?

A flight attendant friend says it’s the low pay that demoralizes everyone.

That may be true. One flight attendant on another carrier makes so little money that she is forced to live in a flop house with 26 other attendants.  Others can’t even find flop houses because they’re all full and sleep in airline lounges, except they’re not allowed to, so they sleep on the floor in the gate areas.

That’s just not right.

If McDonald’s pays $15 an hour, why not the hipster airline? Oh wait. That is the base pay. You get a raise when you turn 102.

Calvin says, “Kennel workers make more than that. That’s why I don’t fly. I like hangin’ with the ground squirrels.” beagle

 

 

 

 

Digging in with My Bare Heels

I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to submit to the full body scanners at the airport.

I’m convinced all that radiation is bad for my health no matter what reassurances we have been given.

So I waited my turn in line, barefooted, beltless and breathless. I moved closer to the dreaded machine.

When it was my turn, I said, “No!” with conviction.

“No?” said the TSA agent. cropped-rubbed-my-tummy.jpg

“Yes, I mean no,” I said.

“It’s the law,” the agent said glaring at me.

“It’s not the law for my health,” I said.

“Very well. That means a pat down,” he said.

“Fine,” I said.

The agent stretched out both arms barring me from moving away and held me there. He called out, “Female agent. Pat down here.”

The other passengers in line were getting free entertainment even before boarding.

I didn’t care.

A female agent appeared. She put  on a pair of latex gloves with a fanfare and gave a little snap at the end. It was clear I had interrupted her coffee time.

“This way,” she said and motioned for me to follow her.

“Do you want to do this in a private room or here?” she asked.

“Here,” I said and smiled. I wanted witnesses.

“Very well. First, I have to tell you what I’ll be doing,” she said.

“Skip that. Just do it,” I said. I smiled again.

“I can’t. It’s the law.” Then she slanted her head upwards to show me a camera that was recording everything.

Witnesses! I loved it. I smiled even more.

She asked me to stand with legs apart and arms outstretched.

I complied.

I smiled at my audience in front and above me.

The agent ran her hands all over me, from head to toe, in a professional manner.

“You’re free to go,” she said when she finished and removed her gloves with another snap.

After reading so many horror stories in the media about pat-downs, I was prepared for the worst. Instead I was shocked at how decent an experience it was.

Calvin says, “If that had been me, I would slobbered all over her face.” beagle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Private Showing

This weekend was Fleet Week in San Francisco. It was also the Final of the America’s Cup World Series.

While skippers navigated the Pacific waters, Madonna rehearsed her tunes for her evening performance in San Jose, and heart-throb Justin Bieber practiced giving teen girls liver shivers for his show at the Oracle Arena in Oakland. The Giants played their first game as division champs, the 49ers had a game as well, and there was even a Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park.

San Francisco was hopping!

But nothing tops the Blue Angels show.  

I missed seeing the Delta formation, the diamond roll, the Fleur de Lis and the many other heart-in-your-throat maneuvers, but I’m happy anyway. I had my private showing at Baker Beach while I organized a picnic. While grilling salmon and keeping the tablecloths from blowing away in the wind, I was serenaded with supersonic booms from those blue and yellow F/A-18 Hornets. They were so low I could see the pilots screaming their way across the Pacific, over the Golden Gate Bridge, and then disappear into a fog bank only to return a few minutes later and do it all over again.

They practiced right in front of me. I waved. I clapped. I ran after them. “Take me with you!” I yelled.

The tablecloths took flight. The salmon got charred. The nude sunbathers flipped over.

Another roar and soar across the ocean.

This time was the last, and the gulls returned to the beach.

I came back to tablecloths wrapped around tree trunks, crispy salmon, and potato salad with a new crunch from the sand.

Calvin says, “You hate heights. You’d white knuckle it with your eyes closed. Now me, I would bay my way across the city and fog up the windshield.”

Get Me Out of Here

I’m a nervous flier. My worst nightmare is the scanner at the security check point. I refuse the x-ray. At the doctor’s, yes. The airport, no way anyone’s going to see through me.

My strategy is to make myself invisible and morph into a stream of blue particles like Star Trek. “Beam me up, Scottie,” would be my mantra. It’s clean, efficient and quick. Away from latex-gloved hands groping my inward parts.

My other strategy is to scan for sheep in the stalls and attach myself to a rowdy group of plus-sized ewes with thick fleece and jangly jewelry. TSA agents love them. While they’re being detained and interrogated, I slip through.

My other must-haves for checkpoints are:

1) slip-on shoes that slip-off easily

2) a boring handbag, black, preferably fake leather, that attracts zero attention from female agents

3) a jacket I remove in front of watchful eyes, which makes me look like a docile, obedient sheep

4) and a smile

It works. Not always.

A friend, on her last trip, was selected for the scanner. She complied and was still pulled aside for a pat-down. “My fat was hiding my skeleton,” she said.

Another friend, an 89-year old, was also selected for a pat-down on a recent trip. “I chose the bright side. It was an invigorating massage,” she said.

Hm…I think the TSA is profiling older women traveling alone. They’re the new look of terrorism. Laugh lines, salt & pepper hair, and plump figures. They’re concealing weapons in the folds of their extra-large girths. Or maybe in the buns on their heads.

I recently flew out of Bob Hope airport in Burbank, the one remaining vintage movie set airport in California. Surely here Antonio Banderas would invite me to walk through the electronic gate and I’d be escorted to my plane. Instead, to my horror and disbelief, I saw my dread. Somebody had installed the newest scanners in the industry when I wasn’t looking. They looked like the Star Trek version. I was going to get my wish.

My decision came down to: Was I going to submit or dash to Hertz and drive home?

My ticket was paid for.

I was standing sans shoes, jacket and purse.

I was next in line.

It wasn’t Antonio waiting for me. It was Brunhilda in armor.

Help!

What would you have done? (leave me a comment)

Calvin says, “I would have created a real Hollywood drama by howling my head-off.”

Give Mom a Kick-Butting Day

Mother’s Day is just around the corner.

That horrid one day of the year when families take mom out for brunch and fuss over her with eggs Benedict and Mimosas. Then she’s returned to the daily grind and all is forgotten.

I’m sure the restaurant industry contrived the holiday to beef up their bottom line in May.

What if mom doesn’t like eggs with a last name and orange juice spiked with bubbles? Maybe she prefers her steak grilled with a heaping plateful of shoestring potatoes and a large pitcher of sangria?

And please don’t give her a cheesy card with a sappy greeting that a computer spit out last century that you found in the greeting card aisle at the supermarket next to the artificial smelling air fresheners for the house. Definitely don’t buy one of those either.

Instead, head out to the mall and buy her an all expense paid shopping spree to her favorite shoe store. Or put her on a plane to a beach somewhere. Or give her a lifetime of body massages at the Holistic Health Clinic where Mai, the masseuse will be happy to walk all over her back.

Then install the dog in the pet hotel so she doesn’t have to walk him for a month.

Hire a private chef for the rest of the year and give her a break in the kitchen.

Oh wait. The kitchen. It needs a desperate overhaul before Wolfgang can cook there.

Maybe mom has a dream she’d like to focus on for a change. Provide her with the tools she needs. Lipstick, make-up, haircut and color, liposuction, a new wardrobe.

Singing lessons? Maybe she’s always wanted to develop her voice beyond yelling at the kids.

Calvin says, “My mom never got to develop herself. I know she had a secret nobody else knew. She always wanted to be an owner.”

Not-So Friendly Up There

Today I read a story about an airline crew member gone berserk. This time it was a captain of a no-frills flight from New York. He got kicked out of the cockpit and left rambling to himself about the Middle East, terrorism and a bomb. It took a burly, male passenger to wrestle him to the floor and subdue him. Meanwhile the co-pilot barricaded himself behind the bullet-proof door, diverted the flight, and made an emergency landing in a small town in Texas. (It’s comforting to know small towns in Texas have airports.)

Two years ago there was another story about a male fight attendant, serving on a no-frills flight (Hm…I see a theme emerging), who snapped at the passengers and began babbling obscenities on the public address system. Fortunately for that flight, it hadn’t left the tarmac yet, so the disgruntled employee, with a bunch of beers under his arm, deployed the emergency chute and waved goodbye to the passengers and his job.

What’s happening to airline personnel I wonder? Are they beginning to crack under the strain, much like aging aircraft? According to a flight attendant friend, airlines these days are becoming greedy. Crews are seen as overpaid and under-productive according to management. “If they could fly their planes without us, they would be happier,” she said.

I’ve marveled at the extra work these no-frills airlines have their crews do from one flight to the next. Pilots and flight attendants go down the aisle picking up trash, straightening seat belts, and fixing everything that is out of place to get the plane ready for the next trip. The crew pulls together. They work long hours. They handle emergencies, demanding passengers, and rudeness with a smile. Now they have to add unstable co-workers to the list.

It’s a thankless job, and frankly, they aren’t rewarded enough.

Calvin says, “One way to remedy that is to put a trained beagle on board and let him sniff out the potential problem-maker before lift-off.”

Traveling Partner

My friend Wendy decided she needed a new adventure, and not a conservative one either. So she decided to take a job in China for a year as a visiting editor to a local newspaper. She wasn’t sure whether to take her cat. I cautioned her against. This what I said to her:

“Don’t confuse Siamese with Chinese. Just because China has a history of Chinese temple dogs, doesn’t mean there’s an equally long history of temple cats. Cats know better. They don’t spend their quality time guarding ornate buildings when they can be hissing and spitting with each other along palace walls.

“Besides, dogs are notoriously stupid and will sign on for any silly outing as long as there is a treat and a pee-run at the end of the shift. Not so with a cat. They’re smarter and better educated in the finer things of life.

“Suspended between earth and sky and sedated for 19 hours in the belly of a plane is no place for a cat either, no matter how adored.

“Your cat is too old to learn Chinese.

“Eating with chopsticks might push him over the edge.

“You don’t want to bury your kitty in Shanghai, do you? There are no burial plots reserved for felines and the authorities would frown on scattering his ashes in the waterways.

“He’d much rather wave his white paw good-bye and go inside your son’s home and curl up on your son’s favorite chair, turn on your son’s TV and doze at the football game. There’s no football in Shanghai. No Fancy Feast tins at the store. Only rice and discarded fish heads. And you know his opinion of raw food.”

None of this convinced her. She took the beast and subjected him to hours of travel and a severe inspection at customs. The official looked deep into his eyes, lifted his cheeks to check his teeth, and ran rough hands down his exhausted body. Both Wendy and her cat were allowed inside China without quarantine time.

Wendy writes that they both have adjusted to life in China. She to her work and her weekly visits to the local park where she converses with Chinese people to help them learn English.

Her cat would love to do the same with his Chinese cousins but he’s not allowed out of the apartment. He sits by the windowsill looking out at the world below. Wendy doesn’t want her one American connection to disappear into the Chinese night.

Calvin says, “There’s always a price to pay being one’s traveling companion. And by the way, treats and pee-runs are the little freedoms of life.”

Genius

Not all airlines are created equal. Not by a long shot. The best was Virgin Atlantic to England. The worst was American Airlines and their rude gate agents. “You, Mister…yes, you…come here…this carry-on…it’s too big…put it here…see it doesn’t meet regulation standards…Linda, come take this to baggage,” the agent said. It was too early in the morning for this type of treatment.

Eventually we were packed on board, the doors closed, and we taxied for take-off. Except we never got near the runway. We stalled on the tarmac. “This is your Captain speaking. They’re will be a slight delay. Seems our on-board computer isn’t functioning. We’re waiting for I.T.”

My seat companion looked like Monk, the TV character. He had the window. I had the middle seat. My sister, on the aisle, had fallen asleep.

“How do you like the book you’re reading?” I asked him.

“It’s okay. I need some good management tips quickly,” he said.

“Then you must read this,” I said. I reached into my book bag and extracted The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and handed it to him.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“How to stop resisting,” I said.

“Hmm…,” he said.

“It’ll speak to you,” I said.

“How do you know?”

“Because it spoke to me.”

“But you don’t know me.”

“Yes, I do. You’re like me. You’re afraid to go after your genius,” I said.

“I have genius?” he said.

“Yes. You do.”

“Oh.”

Monk took the book, sat back, and began reading.

“This is your Captain again. Looks like we’re clear to fly.”

We finally got in the air.

“This is totally fantastic,” Monk said.

“I told you.”

I put my earphones on to watch a movie. Out of the corner of my eye I watched Monk read a chapter, put the book down, lean forward in his seat and talk to himself out loud. He did this repeatedly through every chapter. (The chapters were small.)

“I wish I had read this before accepting my current job,” he said. I unplugged my ear closest to him. “This company is just using me for my contacts. Once they have them, I’ll be let go, I know it. Like my attempts at getting married. I get close and then Poof! The woman leaves me.”

“Keep reading,” I said and plugged my ear again. I had no interest in playing in-flight therapist.

As we continued to cruise, Monk continued to talk to himself. At one point he got louder and more animated. By now my sister had woken up and was watching. Her eyes grew bigger. She stifled a laugh.

“That’s Monk!” she whispered.

“I know,” I said.

“Get his autograph,” she said.

“He’s not the real Monk,” I said.

“Please,” she said.

“He’s not Tony Shalhoub.”

“How do you know?” she asked.

“Because this guy is quirky for real,” I said.

“Maybe he’s rehearsing. We are flying to L.A. you know.”

It took a while but my sister finally agreed that Monk was a facsimile Monk.

As we made our descent into smoggy L.A., Monk finished the last page of the book and handed it back to me.

“Best thing I’ve read all year. Now to put it in practice,” he said.

“Best of luck to you,” I said. “May your genius lead you to inspirational work and a good woman.”

“Thank you,” he said and got up. “By the way, are you married?”

Calvin says, “Never start a conversation with someone named Monk. It won’t go the way you think.”