Flying the friendly skies has turned into an oxymoron the past decade or two. But today on a United puddle jumper from Denver to Sioux Falls, the flight attendant is bubbling with youthful energy – and she’s hot. It seems like graduation from Flight Attendant School ended in 1970 – thus, the preponderance of middle-aged women who’ve been in the industry far too long hiding their fatigue and displeasure behind excessive make-up; after all, serving unhappy customers peanuts and orange juice is not the glorified profession it once was Our flight attendant Lauren, a 20-something woman with an ageless 1940s movie starlet quality, is wearing a bell shaped navy blue skirt, skin-toned stockings and a staid white blouse. She emanates the button-downed sexuality that stokes male fantasies of hot school teachers and librarians. She enunciates her flight check monologue cheerily, her diction polished as if she went to a United finishing school. She struts down the aisle, touching each overhead bin deftly as if she were sorting through racks of clothing at Saks Fifth Avenue. She then straps herself in to her jump seat pulls her dark blonde hair up into a bun and sits Sphinx-like presiding over her 40 or so charges. The friendly fat guy next to me is flirting with her in the unthreatening way that only men over 250 pounds who aren’t linebackers can. He’s got big square wire rimmed glasses, a polo shirt and an accent like he should’ve been in the Coen brothers’ Fargo. He’s on a business trip that mostly involves golfing and I’m thinking to myself god bless American corporations for funding golf – a sport that costs billions of dollars in grass seed and more billions of gallons of water to maintain them, and billions of gallons of jet fuel to fly businessmen to talk about nothing consequential over excessive amounts of gin and tonics while swinging at hard white balls when they could’ve just sent a few emails while lounging around in their pajamas. My rotund seat mate is nearly pushing me into the wall of the airplane but what do I expect for a free flight? I imagine that Lauren is like Carol Merrill, that 70s era vixen who hosted Lets Make a Deal. I didn’t think women like that existed anymore. For a brief second, I imagine she comes back to my hotel, undresses, and…..then the fantasy ends. That only happens to George Clooney. My seat mate plies her with questions: since we’re sitting in the very front of the cabin she’s a captive audience. We learn that she used to work in the Badlands National Park with prairie dogs. She’s a child of nature, not a 1940s starlet. Imagining her in Carhartt overalls in braids bending over prairie dog holes calling to the little rodents is still kinda sexy but ruins my fantasy. She tells us she’s only been at the job for 7 weeks because she needed full-time work. Thus, she has to read from the manual over the PA system.
We’re about to land in Sioux Falls where I have to sit in the airport for 4 hours of torture; there’s one tiny bar that sells pre-packaged personal pizzas and a team of high tech businessmen who don’t look like they should be so low rent as to be stuck in Sioux Falls about to miss their next connection in Chicago because of an air control delay. I think I’d go insane if I had to travel for a living. A lone Hasidic Jew walks down the sterile beige colored hallway rolling his luggage over the carpet with its plaid pattern of squares that look like sprouting spring wheat. Why is a Jew stuck in the prairie of South Dakota, alone? Like me, he’s en route to somewhere in the middle of nowhere, flying the friendly skies.