Right after World War II air travel took off. The war was won on the wings of aviation, and it quickly became a peacetime staple. Back in those days air travel was prestigious. Socialites had their pictures taken by this local newspaper as they boarded the plane for Atlanta, the gateway to Everywhere. The pictures appeared in the “society” section of the paper. I recall seeing one, a lady in a stylish suit, wearing hat and gloves and waving to photographers as she climbed the steps from the tarmac to the plane. I envied her.
Later I flew myself, even then dressed in high heels, hat and gloves. Airline travel was a Big Deal.
It got even bigger in years to come. Passengers were served complimentary meals and complained with haughty sophistication about the quality of airplane food. Overseas flights were especially luxurious. If you slept, you were gently awakened by a pretty (or handsome) flight attendant, bearing hot, damp towels to sponge your face and prepare you for a hot breakfast. You could request ahead of time a special diet if needed. You might have to pay for a cocktail if you were not flying first class. The seats were reasonably comfortable, including those in the economy section.
How things have changed! More seats have been added with less leg room. On an overseas flight you are lucky to be served a tiny tray with cheese, crackers and grapes. A few meals are available for purchase. Maybe. The seat next to you may be occupied by a passenger carrying his pepper and garlic spiced burrito with him. And you might wish you had it.
I recently flew on a 12-hour trip to Hawaii. The experience was a marathon of discomfort. Daughter Terrell and I were seated in the middle seats of the middle section of the plane. The reading lights did not work. (I feel uneasy when anything on a plane does not work. I am not normally a nervous flyer, but if anything malfunctions, I wonder what else might.)
Ours was a daylight trip, but the other passengers apparently thought it was bedtime. Everyone — and I do mean everyone — who had a window seat kept his blinds closed. Reading was out of the question. I had relied on a paperback book and left my Kindle at home. My ear plugs for the movie did not work either. I suffered sensory deprivation for the entire trip.
I had one diversion, however, that I wish someone could explain. I wonder if anyone else experiences it. No matter what flight I might be on, I hear a constant card game in progress just out of sight. I hear shuffling and dealing, but I cannot believe that it is statistically likely that card games are going on all over the plane on every flight, especially with all the electronic gadgets available. I have finally decided that what I keep hearing is carry-on bags being unzipped and rezipped.
We passengers don’t dress up any more either, thank goodness. We usually opt for the most comfortable clothes we can find. One of our fellow passengers was wearing a swimsuit and a T-shirt. Even so, he was more covered than the woman across from us. She wore incredibly short shorts, incredibly high wedge heels, and an incredibly skimpy slip top.
Whatever the diversions or discomforts, the trip, long on my “bucket list,” did not disappoint. Hawaii is a magical place, I think. The temperature hardly varies all year — neither too hot nor too cold. A gentle breeze seems to be everywhere. As I write this, we are wondering what Hurricane Flossie will do, however.
Some of the Hawaiian people were among the most beautiful I have ever seen. The scenery is spectacular — marvelous pleated mountains jutting up from a royal blue sea. We took a helicopter ride to places inaccessible by any other means of transportation, valleys no boat, plane, car, train or foot could cover. In a submarine, we descended 100 feet to the coral covered ocean floor; we saw a huge shark peacefully sleeping there in the sand.
We feasted at a luau where lithe hula dancers and flame twirlers amazed us. We held colorful macaws in our hands, while others perched on our shoulders. It is against Hawaiian law to kill birds, so they boldly joined us at any al fresco meal. They usually knew not to get on the tables, however. We ate a lot of pineapple and macadamia nuts.
We saw the lava in volcano craters. We bought souvenirs; yet we did not bring back any of the famous black sand from the surprisingly few beaches in the Islands. Hawaiians say there is a curse on it, that people who take it away send it back after suffering some terrible tragedy.
As far as I know, Hawaii is the only state using two languages officially. Early missionaries devised an alphabet for them. It has the five vowels and only seven consonants, which explains its melodious repetition of syllables.
We were tourists, pure and simple, admittedly and unashamed; and we were, and are, grateful for the opportunity.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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