Thursday, 24 November 2016

A Thanksgiving Tale, actually...

 A PAN AM Thanksgiving Tale
We departed Los Angeles on time and took off over the beach at El Segundo into a setting sun—destination London.
We survived the drinks service, the dinner service, and then we dimmed the lights and started the movie. All the screens behaved and descended as they should, and all the projectors actually functioned and didn’t melt down.
We flew through the night and I remember walking through the cabin offering orange juice and water to absolutely no one. Everyone was sleeping. Some snoring. No babies crying. Seatbelts fastened over the blankets so we could check them. Clipper socks donned. Eye shades in place.
It was a picture postcard crossing of the pond.
A couple of hours out, we turned up the cabin lights to start the breakfast service. It went without a hitch. We served seconds on coffee and tea, and passengers soon flocked to the lavatories.
After we cleared the cabin, I went to my jump seat and peered out and down below as we crossed over the Irish coast and then the west coast of England. This always my favourite part of the trip: it was still pitch black out, no light in the sky, but I could see the glow from the sodium lights twinkling in all the little storybook villages.
As we crossed over Cornwall and Devon, my view of the twinkling lights was blocked by an annoying ground fog.
During our descent into Heathrow, the captain made an announcement: “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, there’s a fair amount of fog this morning and we’re going to hold until it clears.”
London…Fog…No surprise.
We circled for an hour.
It started to get light.
We circled some more.
Then the captain came on again: “The fog is not lifting so we’re going to divert to Paris. We’ll refuel and the minute London opens back up, we’ll be in the air and back on our way.”
We flew to Paris but were placed in a holding pattern thanks to the many other diverted flights.
Eventually, we touched down at Aéroport Roissy-Charles de Gaulle, and were directed to an area of the airport where there were no jet bridges. We shut down the engines. No one was allowed to leave the aircraft.
We served orange juice and water to our passengers.
And we waited.
We waited for eight hours.
And we ran out of orange juice and water and anything to eat.
Even the peanuts.
Our passengers, who had been well behaved up until now, started to grumble. We endeavoured to keep them in the loop and informed. We did this through numerous announcements and staying visible. Easy to be annoyed with a disembodied voice coming over the intercom, less so with a smiley face at your seat.
It was early evening when London opened back up. Imminent departure always gave you a shot of adrenaline and with an end to this marathon in sight, the passengers re-found their sense of humour.
We took off and flew fifty-two minutes to London. And were immediately put in a holding pattern. Everyone wanted back in and we weren’t the first.
We held.
And we held.
Finally given the clearance to land.
And the fog came back.
We held for an eternity, and then finally I saw the River Thames down below. An announcement was made that we had been cleared to land.
Our “flight time” from L.A. to London: 23½ hours.
It was Thanksgiving Day.
Finally at our layover hotel, the Sheraton Skyline had laid on a glorious, scrumptious Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings for our shattered, famished, VERY THANKFUL crew.
Happy Thanksgiving Pan Amers!

An extract from the just published book -  PAN AM: No Sex Please, We're Flight Attendants

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

The Best Job in the World

As a young lad my only career ambition was to be a comedian…to head off to California and ‘do stand-up’.
I managed the former, by driving out to L.A. on the old Route 66 with high school buddy Mike Sokolowski in his rust-bucket MGA, but failed miserably at the latter: The captive audience (I fear they were all on ‘work release’) at the Blue Sky Café, a salubrious Hollywood dive, found me less than amusing and sadly my stint as a professional comic lasted for one set. But the act that followed me had great success (Teddy Neely. He ended up playing the lead in Jesus Christ Superstar). And so began my journey of a continual stream of new and then abandoned careers that would culminate in my printed résumé stretching to almost 6 pages (well, 6 ½ if I included the excitingly short stint in Hollywood as ‘parking lot attendant to the stars’. My stint came to a crashing end when I gave the keys of a brand new Mercedes convertible to the wrong drunken patron.)
I crewed on yachts on the French Riviera, taught skiing in Austria, looked after horses in Normandy, wrote news copy at a radio station in L.A…cleaned toilets in Key West. Was a tuxedoed Maitre’ D in Aspen, a union painter in San Francisco. Worked for the famous global polluters Union Carbide – picking out used staples from the plush office carpets. Nope, not kidding. These were fun, inspiring and broadened my horizons, such as they were but never expanded my wallet.
But those of you that know me, know that money has never been my underlying goal. I once moved to Hawaii to get a job teaching Spanish & German, to two children, but ended up becoming a mental health babysitter for their drug-induced psychotic mother.
Many of my jobs were doomed for various reasons. I thought I had landed a great job painting those house numbers on curbs in Los Angeles, it was going great until Charles Manson struck and scared the bejesus out of the residents of Bel-Air and Beverly Hills so much that no-one would open their doors to pay us once we had finished the job.
I am extremely proud that I wrote for TV in Hollywood (Trapper John, M.D.) but even that modicum of success would not last when the series I was writing for (already in its 8th season) was dumped by the network.
The job that I have always looked back on with heartfelt joy and was the ultimate way to incorporate my two driving forces—languages and travel—was working for Pan Am.
I was hired as a flight attendant with no prior airline-industry experience other than as a jet-lagged passenger. (Remind me to tell you the tale about flying from Austin, Texas to Burbank, California with no ticket but 5 stops along the say.) However, my peregrinations around Europe with odd jobs had allowed my language skills to blossom and the rest I learned by suffering through four soul-destroying weeks of nail-biting, green egg  producing Training School in Miami.
None of my jobs either before or since has had such a profound effect on my life as my time with Pan Am. I was no longer just bouncing around the world, I was part of a family and a prestigious family at that.
Born from these Pan Am years is my latest Non Fiction offering – PAN AM: No Sex Please, We’re Flight Attendants.
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed living it.

Now available in eBook
Available on Amazon, Kobo and Nook Books

Monday, 17 October 2016

A hallowed booked place

Research is the ground upon which all my books sit. It is hallowed ground. Back when we were living in Key West full time, I would grab my notepad and a few pens and hop on my conch cruiser, pedal out of Aronovitz Lane, up to the Green Parrot, turn right, go against the traffic and head on over to the library on Fleming Street.
It would take me three minutes.
Two, if I hit the green light on Duval and there was no traffic.
The Key West library was a goldmine, not just on account of the many references books, maps, encyclopedias and newspapers, but because of the colorful library denizens. The place was full of them. And the majority were transients. Those souls who slept rough under your neighbor’s ‘conch style shotgun’ house or illicitly on a front porch, or even in a bush.
The homeless in Key West loved to read.
Everything they could get their hands on. They were voracious readers. Especially one chap called Eddie. I first met Eddie at the Beach at Fort Zachary. Sitting under a tree reading a tattered Carl Hiaasen. Eddie had lost half his brain in Vietnam – fortunately he still had enough left to read. Anyway I digress.
Back to the library – the main attraction for many was its air conditioning and comfy seating.
They also came to doze, dine (generally out of a paper bag) or debate.
They would come early and stay late. There were toilets and a drinking fountain.
The library was a serene venue to research, write and eavesdrop. There was that one librarian though who talked loudly enough to get through to the hearing impaired. She gave me an alarmed look when I asked her to “Go sotto voce.”
The library was my office during the day, and I managed a modicum of work. The internet did exist but it was a third wheel. To check on one minor fact you had to look at many different browsers/portals such as Excite or Alta Vista or Ask Jeeves – each one often giving a slightly different version.
The Bull was my office during the evening. I didn’t get much writing done, but the research was on a different scale: I was able to observe the good, the bad and the creepy. All great for building future characters: a tattooed bald head hanging over the balcony sipping a dainty mojito, a mousy pale-faced Mid-Westerner twerking on the stage with the amused guitar player.
Things have changed. I now have Google. I spend less time in the library, but about the same amount of time at the Bull.
Of course, for me, the internet can’t replace good, old-fashioned source experts: when I’m writing about women for example and I need to write some inspiring dialogue or describe their sense of fashion, I hit up my wife or a fashionista friend I have in north Wales. Her passion is shoes – from spikes to platforms. And anything with a designer name.
But I do still miss the Key West library