Saturday, August 30, 2008

Memories of an old friend

Sadness overtook me today when I learned of the passing of my friend Bonnie (Murray) Vork.

Bonnie was my cohort in the Cleopatra eyes makup caper memorialized in my post of August 22, 2008. I learned of her cancer only a month ago. We had lost touch over time.

When I started writing Fujiyama Trays and Oshibori Towels a year ago I tried to locate her to mine her memory for stories and for corroboration of some of my stories. I googled and called Vork's listed in the phone book but wasn't able to come up with Bonnie & Bud. Then sadly, Bud's brother Jerry Vork passed away and the obituary mentioned Bonnie and Bud Vork of Hayward, Wisconsin. A memorial get-together was planned a few days later not far from my home. I decided to go, hoping Bonnie would be there. She was. I brought copies of some photographs of the two of us (and Bob Reardon) on the Stratocruiser and on layovers in Washington D.C. That started the reminiscing. I invited her to come to a retired stewardess luncheon with me. That's when she told me that she had been diagnosed with cancer in 2006 and had not been feeling well recently.

Happily we started an E-mail correspondence. I sent her excerpts from the book that involved her, and she sent me a wonderful collection of remembered events that jogged my memory. I am so grateful to have had her input. I cringe at some of the things she remembered - for instance the time I showed up for work wearing dressy beaded shoes with my uniform. (She said I had worn them the night before.) Wouldn't you know it we had a surprise check ride that day. She said she spent the entire flight trying to distract the check rider so she wouldn't notice my shoes. I wonder who looked after the passengers? Probably me in my twinkly-toed shoes. I had totally blanked that one out. And I didn't get fired, so Bonnie must have been successful. Now that's what friends are for!

We met at "Smile School," our slang for Stewardess Training, and hit it off immediately. Click on "Preview" on my Lady Skywriter web page for our graduation photo and story.

When Bonnie and I met I was dating my future husband Tom, and we fixed Bonnie up with one of Tom's friends. We told Bud that Bonnie was a really attractive, nice girl but she did have one problem. She drank too much. (Not at all true, I hasten to add, then or ever.) Tom told Bud that Bonnie would frequently excuse herself to use the ladies room so she could have a "snort" and also tipped Bud off to the shape of Bonnie's handbag - which was a leather cylinder about the size of a fifth of whiskey with a handle on top. (The handbag part is true.) Anyway, as luck would have it, we no sooner got ourselves settled at a table at a local night spot on their first date, when Bonnie asked me if I would go to the ladies room with her. Bud's eyes got big as saucers. I'm not sure just when Tom set Bud straight on this - but we had many a good laugh over it in the intervening years. And of course they married, had a wonderful family, and a good life together. I know Bud and their children will miss her terribly. I will too. Although I am sad that we didn't have the opportunity for a good old fashioned gal-pal gab fest this summer, I am so thankful that we saw each other again - exchanged a hug - and that she sent me her memories of when we flew together. Bon voyage, Bonnie! Thanks for the memories. Thanks for being my friend.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Taking Refuge in Cleopatra's Eyes

A headache. That's what today's continuing airline saga has become. Its all about mergers, bankruptcies, fees, surcharges and passenger angst.

I am finding relief these days in dredging up 50-year-old airline memories and committing them to paper er, laptop for my upcoming book Fujiyama Trays and Oshibori Towels - Stratocruiser stories and airline yarns from the dazzling decade of the 1950's. Dr. Lady Skywriter is writing a perscription for airline headaches today. I give you:

Cleopatra Eyes

Shopping on layovers in New York City was a favorite activity. New York pulsed with the latest trends in everything, fashion above all. It was the perfect groove for twenty-something young ladies in the 1950’s. Thus it was that Bonnie Murray and I were drawn to the cosmetics counter at Saks Fifth Avenue to scope out the new and noisily trumpeted Cleopatra look. Encouraged by the sales lady to experiment with the bold and colorful eye paints, we hoped that the images we constructed would transform us into clones of Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra, star of the ill-fated movie-in-progress. The reflections in the counter-top mirrors must have satisfied the impostors, sans the violet eyes, of course. Triumphantly reflecting the look du jour, we each spent the equivalent of a week’s pay on the recommended eye liners, eye shadows and mascara for our new false eyelashes and carried them back to Minnesota.

The movie seemed jinxed from the beginning. The original director (Rouben Mamoulian) left after six days and was replaced by Joseph Mankiewicz. Filming began in London, where the elaborate sets, props and exotic plants deteriorated in the damp London air. The actors hired to play Julius Ceasar (Peter Finch) and Marc Antony (Stephen Boyd) left due to other commitments and were replaced by Rex Harrison and Richard Burton. Elizabeth Taylor became very ill and after barely surviving an emergency tracheotomy had trouble recuperating in London. The movie was shut down. After six months the production was moved to Rome where a titillating public romance bloomed between Taylor and Burton. Believe me, it would have easily fed today’s 24/7 cable news cycle for months. It took another three years to complete the movie. Both Bonnie and I had resigned from the airline to marry and had become mothers by the time the film opened in 1963.

By the time the bugles sounded the opening fanfare, the film’s costs had soared to $44 Million – the equivalent of more than $295 Million in 2007 dollars – making this the most costly film in American history. Originally budgeted at $2 Million, Cleopatra is famous for nearly bankrupting 20th Century Fox. And the bottom line was the film was a colossal dud.

A similar fate awaited the Cleopatra impostors upon their triumphant return to Minnesota with overflowing make-up cases. It didn’t take nearly as long for the dynamic duo to meet their critics, however. After scurrying home from the airport and spending hours applying the Cleopatra look, Bonnie and Anne welcomed their dates and sped off with them to the Five-Eight Club, a hamburger joint near the airport. It wasn’t until we slid into the booth, the guys on one side and the ladies on the other, that anything was said about our carefully constructed visages.

Our dates thoughtfully and silently sized up the apparitions before them. My date finally broke the silence. He turned to Bonnie’s date and said, “Should we hose them off and see what we’re with?”

It was the Five-Eight Club and not Hollywood, but we were colossal duds too.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Not Writing a Book

Oh the distractions! The Summer Olympics. The Minnesota Twins pennant race with the Chicago White Sox. Beautiful weather. Other author's books waiting on the 'hold shelf' at the library while I work my way through the stack by my chair at home. Working. And next week? The Tennis US Open and the Minnesota State Fair. It is all too easy to fall prey to these attractions instead of writing.

For instance, I have cable TV in my screen porch. I can agonize over each pitch and urge my favorite tennis players to the finals and marvel at the Olympic divers barely missing the diving board before their perfectly pointed toes disappear into the smallest of ripples on the surface of the pool. And I can enjoy all this on my porch while soft breezes wash over me and the chatter of birds threatens to drown out the voices of sports commentators.

Oh, there are solutions, all right. For starters, unplug the porch TV and return it to it's winter home in the garage. That takes care of the Olympics, the Minnesota Twins and the US Open. Then, plug in the laptop and write. Still feeling the soft breezes and hearing the birds.

Next, attack my 'reserve' list at the library; culling all but the "I can't wait to get my hands on this" items. If successful, this exercise will not only limit time spent reading during this period, it will also remove the guilt associated with stacks of unread books at my elbow, their 'not renewable' status ticking like a time bomb during the two-week-only period for high demand items.

That leaves the Minnesota State Fair and working. I have learned that boarding a "Fair Bus" at a transit terminal five minutes from home on a week day morning is the only way to go. Armed with coffee and the morning Star Tribune the ride is relaxing and worth every penny of the modest $5 round-trip investment. And I have learned by experience that going to the fair by myself is also the only way to go. I know exactly what I want to see and do. The adorable lop-eared rabbits, the majestic Clydesdale horses, and the imperious llamas with impossibly long eyelashes. Admiring local artist's works in the Fine Arts building, visiting the Minnesota Public Radio booth and political candidates booths (especially in an election year,) I by-pass everything 'on a stick' and have a hearty lunch at the screened-in Lutheran church diner across the street from the Fine Arts Building. After a free concert in Baldwin Park I will stroll through the DNR complex, looking for muskies in the 'lake' and perusing their gift shop. I confess I will succumb to a large paper cone filled with chocolate chip cookies and with my refillable cup from the "all you can drink" milk booth I will sit on a nearby bench enjoying warm fresh cookies and icy cold milk while being entertained by the people parade. Then it's time to head for the bus. I can be home by mid-afternoon. So that's not even a whole day of not writing. The State Fair is a keeper.

That leaves work. What can I say? It's only 20 hours a week. That should leave tons of writing time, right? Like today. I have the whole day off. I was out the door by 7am and off to Lake Harriet, where I read the morning paper while drinking coffee and eating a plain donut. Next a stop at the grocery store before returning home. I made a pot of coffee, put the sprinkler on in the front yard (it is my day to water . . . odd numbered day, odd house number, and before 11 am or after 5 pm.) I sit down at the computer, check my e-mail (uh,oh.) Answer e-mail. Read today's New York Times on line, check in on Polar Bear Alley (a blog from Churchill, Manitoba) and realize its been five days since I've posted a blog myself.

So here I am. I'm writing! Alas, not for the book, but writing nonetheless. And its not even noon yet. A little lunch on the porch, and by then the mail will have come. . .

Much later . . . The mail today was very late. I seized the moment and wrote another 515 words for my book. I'm going to reward myself by channel surfing between the Twins and the Olympics this evening.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Yes folks, our esteemed politicians are hard at work on the critical issues of the day. Especially in the House Transportation Infrastructure Committee.

HANG-UP is the "Halting Airplane Noise to Give Us Peace" Act. It was given preliminary approval earlier this month and is now on its way to a vote in the full House.

It seems that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is no longer opposed to cellphone use in airplanes. Technology has removed concerns about safety. And passengers are no longer as adamantly opposed to listening to their seat mate's one-sided conversations as they used to be. Furthermore, several airlines have announced that WiFi will be available in a few months so folks can use their laptops to access the internet in flight.

Airlines, of course, ever on the alert for another profit center, see an opportunity here. There is talk of setting aside a quiet or cellphone-free zone on airplanes, much like the smoking sections of old. And whaddya bet, charging a fee for a quiet seat?

Anyway, evidently in response to the handwriting on the wall, the HANG-UP act would set some rules. It would allow text messaging and Internet use on cellophones but ban voice communications.

"The airplane cabin today is a toxic combination of stressed out, exhausted people, some of whom were drinking for four hours in the airport because their plane was delayed. And you interject into that a one-sided conversation at 30,000 feet, I think for the most part you're asking for trouble," said Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition in Radnor Pa.

Instead of wringing their hands over cellphone conversations in airplanes, what other issues might our esteemed politicians on the House Transportation Infrastructure Committee be addressing?


Sorry - I didn't mean to shout.

But what on earth (or space) do cell phones have to do with infrastructure?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Oh pul-leez, American Airlines. "Co-payments?"

Maybe American Airlines thinks its customers won't notice the new fees if it calls them co-payments. Maybe they think they can hitch a ride on our terminally ill health care system where most of us are already making co-payments up the wazoo. Hmmm. The terminally ill air transport system merging with the terminally ill health care system. Actually it makes as much sense as merging two airlines (not mentioning any names) who both have losses in the multiple billions of dollars.

Oh, I mis-spoke. Terminally ill in the air transport business means "I'm sick of sitting in this airport terminal for 14 hours."

Anyway, the "co-payments" are part of AAdvantage, American's frequent flyer program, where they will now hold you up for $100 cold hard cash in addition to 30,000 miles for a round trip upgrade from a discounted coach ticket. Non-refundable, of course. Upgrade to what, you ask? They don't say. I am assuming the upgrade is from discounted coach to full coach. Is discounted coach the same as economy-class? Economy-class remains "free" with 25,000 miles for advance bookings and 50,000 miles for last-minute bookings. All of this makes my head hurt. And I'm not even attempting to interpret AAdvantage rules for overseas travel. Trust me, it will give you a migraine.

This, in a week already beset with other disturbing affairs of the air. Take, for example, the court appearance of Victoria Osteen, co-pastor with her husband Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church; one of the fastest growing and largest megachurches in the nation where she preaches about love and acceptance before about 40,000 parishioners every Sunday . It seems that Ms. Osteen threw a hissy fit on a Continental Airlines flight and charged toward the cockpit on a flight from Houston to Vail, Colo. in December, 2005. She is being sued by flight attendant Sharon Brown, who contends that Ms. Osteen assaulted her. It seems Ms. Osteen was upset about some liquid, about the size of a quarter, on the armrest of her first class seat. She was not loving or accepting of the flight attendants handling of the situation and was escorted off the airplane with her husband and two children and later paid a $3,000 fine. It should be noted here that witnesses said Joel Osteen tried to resolve the situation by getting between his wife and Miss Brown and offering to clean up the spill himself. Miss Brown is in court looking for an apology. Oh, and 10% of Ms. Osteen's net worth as compensation.

It's enough to make M&M's break out of their shells. What? Oh, no. Really? They didn't!

Oh yes. Mars Snackfood, makers of M&M's, is introducing M&M's Premiums; a fatter, less uniform version of the traditional candies. Most radically, these M&M's have no candy shell. What? Chocolate will come off on your hands? Good grief - we'll need a re-education program. They will come in flavors, yet. Mint chocolate, mocha, triple chocolate, raspberry almond and chocolate almond - sold in a 6oz package for $3.99. Not lazy, like their big brothers, they will not recline in a flat plastic bag on the shelf but will sit in an upright cardboard box with a clear window that shows off the candy. I think this is called "gentrification."

So. . .are M&M's Premiums an upgrade from plain old M&M's? There must be rules about this. Maybe if we buy them "in advance" they'll be cheaper? Say, $2.99? It will take an airline marketing department to figure this out. And for heaven's sake (pun intended) don't spill "uncoated" M&M's on your first class airplane seat. It could drain the love and acceptance right out of the next occupant.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Pillow Talk

JetBlue Airways announced yesterday it plans to sell pillows and blankets to passengers. For only $7.00. And you can take them with you, which raises a question. I'm sure you'll be allowed to bring your previously purchased pillow and blanket on another JetBlue flight, but what if you took them on another airline? Would they be considered carry-ons? One or two carry-ons? If you already have a conventional carry-on will you be charged extra? In this game one thing always leads to another and nothing ever seems to be clear - or free, for that matter.

For instance; Delta Air Lines announced this week it will offer broadband wireless Internet access on its entire domestic mainline fleet by the middle of next year. Wi-Fi service will be offered for a fee to Delta customers traveling throughout the continental United States.

Delta is partnering with Aircell, an airborne communications provider, to install the network on Delta's domestic fleet of more than 330 aircraft. The system will allow Delta customers with laptops, smartphones and hand-held devices to access the internet while in flight. As long as you are cruising at 10,000 ft or above.

Did you notice the operative words in paragraph two are "for a fee?" Not free, folks. A flat fee of $9.95 will be charged on flights of three hours or less, and $12.95 on flights of more than three hours. Delta needs to be a bit more specific as to what it considers a hand-held device. You wouldn't want to be charged for using your slide rule above 10,000 ft. It's a hand-held computing device, isn't it? And what if you are using your laptop to write a Word document off-line? You're not on the internet. Will Delta have the cabin attendants monitor passenger internet or non-internet usage of lap top computers? The L.T.C. police, as it were? When will you fork over your $9.99 or $12.95? At the ticket counter before departure? In the air?

Of course in the middle of all this, the little old airline on the prairie will have been gobbled up by Delta to form THE BIGGEST AIRLINE IN THE WORLD, so will the Northwest fleet be Wi-Fi enabled as well?

Questions. So many questions. And don't forget to ask if your pillow and blanket are considered carry-ons.