Wednesday, June 27, 2018

TV Series Pilot? Why Not?

     Want to see an executive for a television content company (Netflix, FX, AMC etc.) laugh out loud and look at you as though you're delusional? Tell him or her 1) you have no TV writing credentials, 2) you don't live in L.A., and 3) you're submitting a one-hour pilot script for a propsed television series.

     As a believer that 'we only go around once' I just finished writing a one-hour TV pilot based upon my memoir, Up, Up and Astray. In one sentence I'll pitch it as Charlie Sheen's character from Two and a Half Men working as an airline employee in the early 70's instead of a present-day jingle writer.

     My script is actually a 'dramedy' (part drama, part comedy). Although, for the most part it will be comical, there are serious parts as well. My proposed series will depict authentic airline employee and passenger activities in-flight, during layovers, and off duty. Those of you who read my memoir know that my life during the golden age of air travel was exciting enough without my having to make things up.

"Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not."
Robert Kennedy

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Annual World Airlines Christmas Party-Vegas Style!

Las Vegas Boulevard-circa late 60's

Back in the sixties, before Las Vegas became a mecca for meetings and conventions, the Strip resembled a ghost town during the first two weeks of December. It was between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Many gamblers had already spent their discretionary income (and more) on upcoming holiday travel and gift purchases, which left the hotels deserted (no pun intended) and desperate to fill vacant rooms.

The city's population had blossomed from 64,000 to 125,000 during the sixties (little compared to today's population of more than 680,000 and Clark County's total over 2 million). Although development was bustling, there was still much more to complete. As I mentioned in my memoir: while walking the strip, it was common to see sagebrush from the barren desert areas between casinos, blowing across Las Vegas Boulevard.

The casinos needed customers who, if nothing else, enabled them to keep their employees working and pay their electric bills (all those flashing neon signs aren't cheap!) So, who would visit this place during this lull in visitor traffic? How about folks, mostly single, who have decent discretionary income, and easy, cheap (if not free) access to Las Vegas by air. Oh, how about airline personnel-from all over the world?
Complimentary Souvenir Chips

From this idea was born the Annual World Airlines Christmas Party at the Sahara Hotel. These 'parties' began in 1957, with rooms costing only $8 per night. Upon checking in, each airline employee was given a little bag of free and highly discounted goodies. Cocktail parties were hosted by different airlines. One could start drinking Bloody Marys at an Alaska Airlines party at 9:00am. Bonanza Airlines may throw a cocktail party after lunch, and the large international carriers took turns hosting an evening cocktail gala. The Christmas party lasted 2 weeks, to accommodate crazy airline work schedules. Although most (myself included) could not last more than 2 nights of non-stop partying.

I heard from 'good sources' that well-connected airline reservation supervisors in attendance were provided with 'special favors' from hotel concierges who often called upon them to oversell last-minute seats for their high-rollers. Yes, those airline parties of the sixties actually reflected the fun times of job security, no computer monitors of employee performance, and the general positive enthusiasm about working for an airline. That enthusiasm naturally carried over to the passengers we served. I'm so pleased to have attended the 1968 party. Those times may be behind me, but the memories aren't.

Friday, March 9, 2018

When You Could "Light Up" the Sky

vintage cigarette ad
One of the put-downs posited by deniers of a Golden Age of Air Travel is the fact that smoking on board aircraft was permitted. That's true, TWA didn't even allocate no-smoking sections on its planes until 1970.

As a matter of fact, during much of the Golden Age--up to the late sixties--smoking was actually encouraged by the major air carriers. I'm not advocating smoking, but I have to admit passengers were much more friendly and pleasant on flights back then as opposed to now.

Complimentary small packs of cigarettes and matches
Before and during that era, lighting up was an acceptable--if not glorified--form of adult behavior. Like many millions who were adults prior to the 1970s, I was born and raised in a second-hand smoke environment--if not at home, at almost every public place. Whether we smoked or not, over time, our respiratory systems just seemed to become acclimated to secondary cigarette smoke all around us. During that time, non-smokers on board planes usually turned on the overhead air vents and let it go at that. Some non-smokers even offered their complimentary meal-tray packs to the smokers sitting beside them.

The point I'm making here is that, back then, generally speaking, cigarette smoke just didn't seem nearly as offensive to non-smokers as it is has increasingly become since the early seventies.

There were however, still the occasional problems. Cigar smoking, which by the way, was never tolerated on board planes. There's the story about a cigar smoker in first class of a TWA 707 who refused repeated pleas from the hostess to stop. Upon hearing about this, the captain, with the cockpit fire extinguisher in hand, approached the flagrant smoker saying. "If you don't put it out, I will." The cigar was immediately snuffed. As was eventually all smoking on flights.

A personal note here: At the age of 47, after more than 30 years smoking several packs a day of Camel regulars, I suffered a mild heart attack. I credit my smoking habit as the main cause. Upon my subsequent smoking cessation, I experienced a withdrawal evolution taking me more than five years to progress, from loving the aroma of cigarette smoke, to despising it. Now it sickens me to smell the faintest hint of cigarette smoke. When I see today's smokers puffing away inside glass cages in airports, or outside in sub-freezing temps, I'm thankful I'm no longer a slave to that strong addiction.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Writer's Outtake, Episode 3 - Donkeys, Camels, and Goats Oh My!

In the Spring of 1969, I was among 12 TWA sales reps selected to take a five-day quick tour of the Holy Land, compliments of a Chicago tour wholesaler who specializes in Holy Land tours. Other than the significant historical aspects of the the tour, I most remember several offbeat cultural experiences.

My room at the Mount Scopus Hotel on the West Bank was located on the lower level, rear. Outside my window was an open field with rocky ground cover and a smattering of olive trees. In the middle of the night I was awakened by a loud braying of he-haws. Jumping from bed and parting the drapes, I was surprised-and I must say, amused-to see a jackass, no more than 15 feet away, looking at me. He stopped braying when he saw me. We stared at one another for five seconds or so before he turned and moved away. I wonder if he got his kicks by waking hotel guests on the ground floor. I have to admit I have been awakened several times by jackasses (rowdy hotel guests) but this was the first time it was a real "jackass".

Another animal-related experience occured in the Old City of Jerusalem. I was standing in front of an open-air meat market, observing cuts of meats hung on a wall drawing flies, when something brushed against my calves. Turning around, expecting to see an unruly toddler, I was surprised to see a herd of goats passing by (something I'll never see at my neighborhood grocery store).

A moving cultural experience happened as we drove through the desert. I had an opportunity to meet, and have my picture taken, with two Bedouin boys. I wish I had more time to spend with them. I
couldn't help but think how different our lives were. Here I was being driven through the desert in an air-conditioned limousine and they spend their whole lives herding camels and goats thru the desert. I'm sure we both could have learned a lot from each other.

I often like to pick up souveniors to take home on my travels. This time I bought a Coke by the Dead Sea at Jericho. Upon my return to the U.S., a customs agent held it up and asked "Why this?"
"Turn it around," I answered.
He then noticed it had the English on one side and the Hebrew on the other. The Coke is one of the cheapest souvenirs I've ever bought, yet one of the most unique. I don't know if Hebrew Coke tastes any different, It's still sitting on my shelf unopened.