This is an excerpt from my upcoming book by the same title:
The cat’s out of the bag. Let the stories be told!
Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a ride!”
–Quote from Hunter S. Thompson, “Gonzo”
There are several versions of this quote, some referring to skidding in with a cigar in one hand, a whiskey in the other. Others say holding a glass of chardonnay in one hand, chocolate in the other. And then there is the champagne and strawberry version, followed by the motorcyclists’ version that says something about leaking oil and shouting GERONIMO!
Personally, I go for the “Whoo hooing” with the chocolate and the martini version. The point is the same: live life to the fullest. This is the philosophy adopted by most of the airline crew I flew with in the 1970s. We were young, eager, adventurous, hard-working, and naïve – a combination that got us into all sorts of trouble – and a ton ‘o fun. I’m grateful to be alive to tell about it.
These stories must be told. They happened at a time in our world that can never be repeated. We flew with abandon. We broke the rules. We flew world-wide at a time of relative innocence. The stories in this book are based on true adventures. Names have been changed to protect the guilty. If you weren’t guilty, you weren’t having nearly as much fun as those of us who were.
What’s it Gonna Take to Get This Job?
“Whatever you do, do not land on the other side of that fence!” Terry shouted over the roar of the Cessna 180 taking us up to ten thousand feet for our jump. Terry and I had been friends and skydiving buddies for several years. Whenever I had a layover in Hong Kong, where he worked for the secret police, we made a point to fit in a jump or two. “The other side of the fence is China!” ‘Nuff said.
Looking back to the old Trans International Airline days, I must have been crazy to do those things! Skydiving over the People’s Republic of China, indeed! At that time Hong Kong was still under British rule and welcomed the free-spending airline crews from the United States. A twenty-something white girl landing on the wrong side of the fence and being met by the local authorities might not be so welcoming. Like so many of my adventures, it is only in hindsight that I realize the extreme danger I managed live through. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and I lived to tell about it.
I remember that day in 1973, when I got dressed in my interview outfit and headed to Hegenberger Road in Oakland to a lady named Sharon about a job. I was thrilled to find the Trans International building where the interview took place. Sense of direction is not my strong suit; somebody once said I could get lost in a tunnel.
After the introduction niceties, Sharon, the interviewer asked, “Do you like to entertain?”
How does she know about the show? I wondered. I was dancing in a revue behind Carol Doda at the “Off Broadway Club” in North Beach, San Francisco at the time.
I snapped to when her eyes grabbed mine, waiting for an answer. “Yes, I do!” I blurted. I figured that was a safe answer, and the one she was looking for. In my mind, I saw myself singing “Let me entertain you. Let me make you smile…” as I did the Gypsy Rose Lee strut and dip.
“What’s your specialty?” Sharon asked.
Oh, boy! I better answer this correctly; my future depends on it. “Prosciutto-wrapped shrimp,” I stammered.
She broke into a big smile. “I love that!” Yes! I just knew I had the job.
“When can you start?”
“Immediately!” I cried.
“Okay, come on over here and step on the scale, please. It’s just a formality, but we have to weigh you. How tall are you?”
5’4″, I said. I was proud to be the tallest woman in my family.
She pulled out a chart. “Let’s see – 5’4″ – you have to weigh 118 pounds or less. Just stand against the wall here.”
She slid a lever from above, placed it firmly on my head, leaned in and said, “According to this, you’re only 5’3,” which means you can only weigh 114. Go ahead and step on the scale.”
We both went silent as the needle fluctuated. It landed on 121! Gasp. Seven pounds over-weight. Now what?
“I have a new class starting on Monday, and I was going to have you start then. Now I can’t until you lose the excess seven pounds.”
“Sign me up for Monday. I’ll make the weight requirement.” I chirped.
“That’s impossible. Today is Friday. You can’t lose seven pounds over the weekend.” As she pursed her lips and shook her head from side to side.
“I will do it. How about I show up on Monday. You weigh me first thing. If I don’t make it, send me home. Deal?”
“Deal.” Sharon said without conviction.
I knew how to make weight. I could lose it and lose it fast. I dated a wrestler in high school, and I learned his tricks.
Over the weekend, I popped diuretics, spent hours in the sauna, and hopped on the scale hourly. I dragged my dehydrated self to Oakland, weighed in at 113, got checked off, and raced for the water fountain. I must have guzzled a gallon of water. Water never tasted so good. I felt like a camel stocking up for a desert trek. Oh, and by the way, a gallon of water weighs eight pounds! I was back to 121!
Off to training I went. And so, my eight-year adventure as an international flight attendant began!