*I Was An Airline Brat

The final TWA logo

Image via Wikipedia

There was a very good article in “The New York Times”

Whatever Happened to First Class?

By JESSE McKINLEY
Published: February 10, 2012

that I really liked and I wanted to share my own memories since I started flying when I was nine months old and stopped abruptly when my free airline tickets, from my dad, who worked for TWA, stopped at my ripe, young age of twenty-one. Or at least not yet twenty-two.

Flying was my dad’s dream, and no, he was not a pilot even though in his heart he thought he was. He worked in offices and volunteered extra shifts if there was an accident and flew to St. Louis to buy fresh milk for my older sister when there was a milk strike in NY. He loved everything about flying and traveling with our mother and when we were children we came along, almost always. A visit to Grandma’s house for us was to fly to Vienna, Austria or Tel-Aviv, Israel. I thought nothing of it as a child, it’s what we did; my older sister and I did have to get dressed up in a matching sweater and skirt sets, identical (except for color and size.) We were not allowed to wear pants, God forbid jeans. We had to dress up formally before each flight, our dad’s rule because we were flying “subject to space” which meant we would try for a flight but since we were “non-revs” (non-revenue passengers) we never knew when we would be able to get  on a particular flight, looking good wasn’t optional in our house. We had no choice. In fact, back then, everyone dressed up for a flight, there were no jeans or sweat pants….they didn’t exist.

If the flight was fully booked our dad would make the shape of a hanger with his hands and shake his head dejectedly. We knew that meant “a cliff-hanger” fully booked, not a great chance of getting on but we would go anyway. There were times we were already seated and buckled in and the door closed when in dreadful embarrassment they called our names over the intercom and we had to unbuckle, get up, gather our bags and belongings and march or rather limp off the plane if paying passengers had arrived. Mortifying.

We may have complained about getting up at four in the morning to go to Phoenix, AZ. but once we were on the flight, our vacation had started. Flying was part of the vacation not like now where it is something to live through with great dread and anticipation. Was there a difference in first-class and economy? Sure, but either was fine. We always went economy (and we could stretch across 3-4 seats back then) until one day I think we begged our dad to try first class, it was a matter of twelve or eight dollars per person. It was hard to go back to economy after that.

First class had luscious, huge seats, especially for young adults, a printed menu with delicacies to choose from. I’m drooling just remembering them. Beef Wellington?Steak? Salmon? Really, really good, gourmet food. I remember one of the desserts, it was the ice-cream sundae cart approaching me. I saw mountains of vanilla ice cream come headed towards me. Near it was a huge silver bowl filled with whipped cream, hot fudge sauce, sprinkles and many other condiments. “Make your own sundae” in the best of times was good, but while flying through clouds? Heavenly.

I’d like to add to Mr. McKinley’s post that my ideal flight was boarding the TWA 747 that had a winding staircase to the lounge upstairs with comfortable soft and wide chairs and private window seats. I remember reading a book up there and feeling like hot, um, bananas!  That same trip, before landing, they served a snack before landing; it was the biggest, hero sandwich, I had ever seen, filled with possibly every kind of meat and cheese that existed. The enormity still bogs my mind. There were drinks or soda, snacks. How could flying NOT be part of the vacation, it was the greatest in relaxation; no one could reach you and why would anyone want to stay in touch on vacation? If you had told people back then that it would be a posdibilityin the future,they would have called security at the very least.

I don’t know when it started but slowly the airline industry disintegrated. There was no more food (gasp) you had to pay separately for everything, even bags and suitcases. People didn’t treat you like royalty anymore. After 9/11 the whole world changed and it will never be the same again. Some people refused to fly after that forever. I wasn’t thrilled with the aspect of flying but I flew many times. It became a horribly, long, painful process. I am personally grateful for the TSA agents that check and recheck but it is hard work for them. Nobody seems to appreciate what they are doing all day long or at night. Not fun for us either but still…

I will probably fly again at some point but it isn’t something that I look forward to doing. The point of relaxation does not begin at the airport but probably a day after you have reached your destination. Is it worth it? I’ve always thought it was but as time goes on I think more about it. I was so very lucky to see so many countries when I was a kid, I know I didn’t appreciate it then. It will never be the same and that is one dreadful loss. I’m glad my dad is no longer on this earth to witness travel the way it is now, he would be horrified, as those of us who remember “the good old days” are.

* a few sentences were used in the comment section for the NYT on Mr. McKinley’s wonderful article.

Paging “Mr. L” (Repost with Addendum)

kew gardens queens

Image by silatix via Flickr

I had a friend on my blog who once lived in the same town that I grew up in at different times. We both lived in Kew Gardens, Queens.  He would read my blog fairly consistently and would always comment with his classic signature “Mr. L.” even though I knew his first name was Abe. When I wrote about our old neighborhood, he loved it. I wrote a few posts on the now dissolved oldkewgardens.com about what it was like growing up in that sweet town and that is where we first met. He contacted me after that and we stayed in touch.

He hasn’t been on in a long time and I’m beginning to get worried about him. He was last living in California, I believe, and was contemplating whether he wanted to continue living there or not. Mr. L. to me, was like my substitute dad or uncle, since my dad passed away ten years ago. We used to kid around a lot and talk about our favorite gourmet delicatessen, The Homestead. I still dream about their Polish rye bread, sour and chewy and their faux Sachertorte cake made with many layers of raspberry jam between layers of creamy, sweet, chocolate cake. When I lived at home, every birthday cake was this particular cake inscribed with “Happy Birthday.” A real Sachertorte from Austria is drier and has layers of apricot jam but this was sweeter, this was MY cake.

When Mr. L talked about his deceased wife it was with such emotion, always, he still missed her so very much. From what he told me he absolutely adored her. In every “conversation” he would bring up his wife and talk a little about her; those little things that really make up a great marriage, sharing breakfast, the same bed, holding hands.

I know this blog post isn’t going to win any awards, nor will it attract a lot of people but that’s fine. I know Mr. L had adult children but I don’t remember where they live. So, if anyone knows him (and yes, I do know his full name) please let me know. I know I am overly emotional and sensitive, that’s a big part of who I am but I care about him and hope he is alright. I don’t want to lose Mr. L if I don’t have to. Mr. L. please come back and say hello.

ADDENDUM 10/19 2011. I HEARD FROM MR. L TODAY!!!!!!!!!!

The Homestead (A Foodie Blog)

In the town I grew up in there was an amazing European deli (now it would be called a gourmet shop) that had the most wonderful things. For my birthday every year my parents would buy me an Americanized version of Sacher Torte, a Viennese chocolate cake separated by layers of apricot jam ( or raspberry jam in my case). There was only one place this special cake could be found and that was in The Homestead Gourmet Shop in Kew Gardens.

If you mention The Homestead to people who grew up in and around Queens ( esp. Kew Gardens and Forest Hills), you will hear  audible groans, sighs of pleasure and individual memories sprouting up like wild daffodils. Some remember the two different kinds of potato salad (one German, the other with mayo), others the enormous pieces of Polish Rye bread, thickly sliced and a bit sour. For our family we usually ordered different taste sensations: chicken and shrimp salad (1/4 lb. each) the tiny mini-gherkins, sweet and tart in one bite and of course, roast beef and freshly baked turkey sandwiches..  They had home-made apple, cherry  and cheese strudels, the delicate, buttery flakes of crust, the fruit oozing out. There were imported cheeses, breads of all kind, and imaginative sandwich combinations which were unheard of 45 years ago. A favorite of my sister’s was turkey, ham, cheddar cheese, coleslaw and Russian dressing. It became a family favorite. Going to the Homestead was practically a religious experience, and it never disappointed us. You could practically meet half the town there on Sunday afternoons, neighbors talked and we stood in line like good soldiers eagerly awaiting our turn. When you first opened the door to the Homestead, you would smell wonderful, different smells and then your salivary glands would start in over-time.

These sandwiches were so important to us that when friends visited my sister and I from the city once, we hid the sandwich. We would not share our Homestead sandwich, we would not part with even a bite. That’s how good they were and how embarrassingly shameful and selfish we were. Let them eat packaged cookies, we thought. No one is having this sandwich except us!  I remember it was a Roast Beef sandwich on Rye with Russian dressing, or in our code, an R with R  on R. Apparently sharing was not in our vocabulary at the time. They also had small individual aluminum cups of chocolate pudding and egg custard. How the egg custard shimmied, the chocolate pudding with its cooked skin draping over the cup. There were bins of imported cookies and candies, and delicacies from far away.

The Homestead was run by a man named Teddy who really was a superstar in our town. When he acknowledged us we felt special. The best deal my sister had was when she became friends with Teddy’s daughter, Barbara. They went behind to the back and made the glorious sandwiches themselves which they took to the beach. We were all jealous of her and she knew it.

To this day, if we visit our old neighborhood, a stop at the Homestead is required.  German potato salad, famous at the Homestead has been known to have been brought to others by car, train and plane. We still talk about this amazing deli and sometimes when the longing is too great, we head for Kew Gardens for a trip back to the old days. And we eat. A lot.