A couple of weeks ago, I happened across a YouTube channel for the Pan Am Museum Foundation. Pan Am, for those who were born after the early 1990s, was a much celebrated American airline. I remember flying Pan Am a couple of times in the 1970s, when my family of origin lived in England. Everyone used to rave about the high service standards. In 1988, Pan Am’s reputation took a hit, when one of its fleet, Flight 103, was bombed over Lockerbie, Scotland. 243 passengers and 16 crew members perished. I was sixteen years old at the time. Just a few years after the bombing, the legendary airline went bust, but people still remembered it fondly.
I remember in 2011, there was a television show called Pan Am that was a dramatized series about the early years of the airline. It was kind of a cool show. I was sorry when it was canceled after one season. I also read an interesting self-published book called Pan Am Unbuckled, written by a woman who was a flight attendant for Pan Am. I’m not sure if the author knew about the TV show when she published her book, but I’m sure the show helped her pick up some sales.
I love to watch cheesy employee training videos, especially the ones that were made in the 70s and 80s. The Pan Am Museum Foundation has a whole bunch of these videos on YouTube, which are great for killing a few minutes and getting some laughs. Most of the videos are rather poorly acted. I can think of a couple that would be considered offensive, or politically incorrect, today. Check out this 50s era video about serving food. At one point, the golden voice narrator adopts a generic Asian accent as he describes serving Asian food.
The videos also remind us of what flying was like in the past. Years ago, it was possible to smoke on a flight, and one of the videos even addresses how to deal with people who light up in the no smoking section! In another, a smoker is yelled at by a flight attendant for sitting in her jump seat, while she smokes a cigarette. And this is deemed perfectly okay!
And here is a video about an uppity woman who thinks she should get a free upgrade to first class. It’s really too funny! It’s hard to believe that people want to work on airplanes, especially since most of them don’t get paid until the plane starts taxiing. Yes, when they are greeting you as you board the flight, they are working for free! I did read that that policy is probably going to change, thanks to the hell flight attendants have had to deal with during the pandemic.
The below video was less interesting to me… But it does remind one of how service used to be much more important than it is now. He shows how to serve champagne and carve roast beef, which they used to do right at the person’s seat. Nowadays, even in first class, flying feels like a lowbrow affair.
And here’s a video depicting a rather unpleasant flight attendant confronting other flight attendants. She’s quite testy. I can’t blame her.
It really is fun to watch some of these videos, although they are a painful reminder of how old I am. I wish I’d had the opportunity to fly Pan Am more when it was still in service. I very vaguely remember flying them to Tunisia. I think we also flew Pan Am when we moved back to the States from England. I remember their mascot was a panda bear named Pierre, and they gave all the kids cool schwag to keep them busy. In those days, there weren’t a lot of entertainment options.
Wouldn’t it be funny if someone turned these videos into a live acted comedy show? I’ve seen other people write about them, so I’m definitely not the only one who finds them fun to watch. They are also a reminder of a bygone era, never to return. And that IS kind of sad. At least we still have the videos!
Last night, my former tenth grade homeroom teacher, now serving as president of a Christian university located in the American South, posted a shoutout to people who live in his community. My former homeroom teacher– a truly awesome guy and inspired leader, by the way– shared the news that a local gas station owner had announced that he still had gas priced at $3.68 a gallon. The gas station owner was encouraging people to fill their tanks while the “cheaper” gas was still available. As soon as the next shipment of gas arrived, the gas prices would have to go up.
Naturally, a lot of people were commenting about that, because Americans aren’t used to having to pay so much for gasoline. One person wrote a bitter complaint about the high gas prices, ending her rant with “Let’s go, Brandon.”
Before I knew it, I had responded “That’s not his fault.”
A minute later, she dashed off a response to me, as did someone else. I’m pretty sure there were a couple of “laughing” reactions, too. I didn’t bother to read the comments the people left, because I had a feeling they would be snarky and argumentative in nature. It was time for bed, and I didn’t want to get charged up over politics before trying to go to sleep. Also, I really respect my former tenth grade homeroom teacher, and I didn’t want to get involved in an argument on his Facebook page. Especially since I know he’s a devout Christian, and I have a tendency to be salty sometimes. Particularly when it’s later in the evening. 😉
I know I should have probably kept scrolling… because these folks have made up their minds about Joe Biden, and they truly believe he’s the cause of everything wrong in the world. There’s nothing I can say or write to change their minds. They think Joe Biden is responsible for the high gas prices, even though they are just plain WRONG.
I don’t think Joe Biden is the most charismatic leader we’ve ever had, but I do think he’s basically a decent person who cares about others. That’s a lot more than I could ever say about Donald Trump. And– before anyone points this out to me– I want to make it clear that I never thought Trump was responsible for everything bad in the world, either. I think Trump is an inherently bad person because of proven bad things he’s said and done, not because of his so-called political party. I don’t believe that all Republicans are evil. I do think quite a lot of them are selfish, ignorant, narcissistic, and completely out of touch with other people. But I know that not all of them are that way, and in fact, many Democrats are just as out of touch. I think today’s Republican Party, on the whole, is a bastardization of what the Republican Party used to be, years ago. A lot of people identify as Republicans and don’t think twice about it. They just keep aligning with the party they’ve always aligned with, even though quite a few Republican leaders are truly reprehensible people. But again, there are some truly crappy Democrats, too.
But anyway, I didn’t want to get into a political argument on my old teacher’s page, so I removed the notifications that the people prompted for me, turned out the light, and went to sleep. However, before I fell asleep, I noticed that an Epinions buddy from Texas, a man who is a doctoral level Christian minister who seems to really practice what he preaches, shared today’s featured photo on his Facebook page.
I thought about it for a minute and shared the same photo on my page, with a reminder for Christians in the United States who are bitching about gas prices. Right now, in Germany, gas is the euro equivalent of about $8 a gallon. Gas has always been significantly higher priced in Europe, which has much better public transportation systems and higher taxes than the United States has. I can remember being shocked when I heard that Germans were paying the equivalent of $5 a gallon. Of course, over here, gas is sold by the liter. Someone pointed that out to me on my page, and I explained that I had put my comment in terms of gallons because I’m addressing Americans, many of whom don’t travel abroad and have no concept of the metric system. My overall point is, gas is expensive in a lot of places, and that’s not Biden’s fault.
Then I thought about it some more, and it suddenly struck me as totally ridiculous that Christians are complaining about gas prices. Where is the outrage over the high prices of housing, food, and medical care? These are basic necessities for every person on the planet. Whenever a politician wants to tackle the high prices associated with basic needs, they get accused of pushing socialism. Most Republicans don’t like paying for social safety nets for people who are in need. Many Republicans assume that anyone who is poor, or sick, or food insecure is that way due to their own fault. They preach about personal responsibility, and push laws that are designed to punish or humiliate people who are in need. They lament the prospect of socialized medicine in the United States that might make healthcare more affordable for everyone. But God forbid they have to pay more for the gas to fill up those monster sized trucks and land yachts they drive to jobs that enrich other people…
I think Christians who are more concerned about high gas prices, than they are outrageous healthcare, housing, and food prices, have extremely fucked up priorities. Christians are supposed to follow the example of Jesus Christ, aren’t they? So if you’re really a Christian, shouldn’t you actually be concerned about people in need? Didn’t Christ care about hungry, sick, tired, and suffering people? Wasn’t Christ humble and gentle? Would Jesus complain about high gas prices and blame the U.S. president for something that is happening mostly due to world events?
Everybody needs housing, healthcare, and food. Not everybody needs to gas up cars. Granted, in the United States, cars are generally a lot more necessary than they are in Europe. However, even though Americans need cars more than Europeans do, they still aren’t necessary for living. I think in the coming weeks, we may all collectively discover why our dependence on cheap gas makes us weaker in so many ways.
What really amazes me, though, is this sudden understanding and affinity some Republicans have for Russia, and for Putin’s complaints about Ukraine. A lot of these people– Trump supporters– have #Pray for Ukraine posts on their social media pages. But don’t they realize that Donald Trump is Putin’s fan boy? Don’t they know that if Trump were still in office, Trump wouldn’t say much about what Putin is doing to Ukraine? Trump and Putin have a lot in common… although I think Putin is a lot smarter and, unfortunately, even more sociopathic than Trump is.
When I was a kid, the 1984 movie Red Dawn was released. I remember watching that movie and thinking– DAMN!– if the Soviet Union ever invades the United States, I will be signing up to fight! I was brave and naive when I was twelve! That movie was loaded with right-wing, God bless America, anti-Soviet propaganda bullshit. It was a very violent film that made Russians out to be terrible people as a whole. In 1984, a lot of Americans were legitimately worried about nuclear war. In the 80s, many Americans openly disdained communist Soviet Union and its people, even though most of us knew very little about the Soviet Union. It was a closed society, so it wasn’t easy to mingle with people from there. But watch television from the 80s, and you will see MANY references to nukes and how awful Russia is… and a lot of that propaganda was promoted by Republicans.
Then came 1991… and the Soviet Union fell apart. A few years after that, I went to live in the former Soviet Union. It changed my life. I now count some former Soviets as friends. I started seeing things from a different perspective. I no longer saw the Soviet Union as one big country. I now see that it was comprised of fifteen diverse republics full of amazing people who mostly want and need the same things I want and need. For a couple of decades, it looked like maybe we could finally be friends with people from Russia and other former Soviet countries. Maybe our governments could cooperate with each other and act for the benefit of humanity. Then came Putin… and he’s acting like a domestic abuser punishing his mate for refusing to marry him. Ukraine doesn’t want to be in a relationship with Russia anymore. Russia won’t take no for an answer and is forcing itself on the Ukrainian people… like an abusive ex who won’t go away. I must credit Bill for providing me with that imagery. Bill understands the abusive spouse dynamic better than I ever could… but when he presented that example to me, it struck me as how insightful it is.
I saw a photo of a burning building in Ukraine this morning. I noticed how ugly and depressing that building was. I remember living in a couple of buildings that looked just like it when I lived in Armenia. As I looked at the above image, it occurred to me that someday, that burning building will probably be rebuilt. It might even be rebuilt into something much better on all levels. That will probably take years, though, and for now, the fact remains that this ugly building on fire was home for some people who have now lost everything. And in America, we have a bunch of so-called Christians blaming Joe Biden for the fact that they have to pay more for gas. It’s ridiculous, short-sighted, and shameful. And now, Republicans seem to be on Putin’s side, even as they “pray for Ukraine”. I guess they pray for Ukraine to hurry up and submit so they can get cheap gas again, and the stock market will rebound. Perhaps they think Ukraine should just “make the best of a bad situation”. Maybe Ukraine should just lie down and “enjoy” the rape, as some anti-woman Republican legislators have suggested to sexual assault victims. I think a lot of Republicans are as naive and uninformed as I was when I was twelve.
Nobody likes to pay high gas prices. I hate seeing our stock values plummet on a daily basis. It would be so great if things were peaceful and prosperous and the economy was humming along. But that’s not how it is… and the fact that it’s not how it is isn’t solely Joe Biden’s fault. He’s not invading Ukraine. He didn’t cause COVID-19, which also had an effect on gas prices and the economy. And he doesn’t control gas prices. He doesn’t have that much power. So if you are a “Christian” who is complaining about gas prices and blaming Biden, maybe it’s time to reevaluate your priorities. Do you think Jesus would be concerned about filling his gas tank over the pain and suffering of other human beings? I sure don’t.
Edited to add: A fellow American in Germany shared this…
A few weeks ago, I got a wild hair up my ass and decided to buy a few box sets of favorite TV shows from the 70s and 80s. I bought The Bionic Woman, One Day at a Time, and The Facts of Life. I’ve actually only seen a few episodes of The Bionic Woman, since it aired when we lived in England, and I don’t remember it being aired in syndication much. I did used to watch One Day at a Time when I was a kid, but missed the earliest episodes because I was too young when the show started, and then it really jumped the shark. I was a BIG fan of The Facts of Life, which was a spinoff of Diff’rent Strokes.
Most every kid my age loved Diff’rent Strokes, but I guess the powers that be decided that Charlotte Rae should have her own show. So they had her get a job at Eastland School, Kimberly Drummond’s boarding school in Peekskill, New York. Boom… suddenly, we had a successful sitcom revolving around the lives of girls who went to boarding school and wore frumpy uniforms all the time. The Facts of Life started off with a large cast of beautiful young girls with flowing hair… except for Molly Ringwald, of course, and Kim Fields, who played Tootie Ramsey, the token Black cast member. After the first season, the size of the cast was slimmed down, as the girls progressed through puberty and gained weight.
I loved the first few seasons of The Facts of Life. I liked it less when the girls were moved out of the school to work at Edna’s Edibles. Also, as is so common on shows about school, the students didn’t graduate on time. It seemed like they were Eastland students forever. And then Charlotte Rae left the show, and they brought in Mackenzie Astin, George Clooney, and Cloris Leachman. The last couple of seasons were practically unwatchable! I didn’t like it when the plot moved away from the school, though, because the school was so central to the show. Also, I think they made boarding school look like a lot more fun than it probably is in reality.
But there were a few really good years on that show, I’m in the thick of them right now. The writers took on a number of ambitious topics that were very important in the 1980s. Imagine my surprise this week, as I waded through the third and fourth seasons, realizing that subject matter that was timely in 1981 and 1982, is still timely and important today. In seasons 3 and 4, The Facts of Life tackled:
rape and sexual assault
mental retardation (this is what it was called on the show, rather than one of the more politically correct terms of today)
physical handicaps (again, how it was described on the show)
cross cultural issues
The list goes on, as I have only just started season 4, and there were a total of 9 seasons before NBC finally pulled the plug. But as I was wasting the late afternoon hours yesterday, watching the episode about book banning, it occurred to me that, in some ways, we haven’t really gotten anywhere in the last 40 years. The plot was about how a bunch of parents got upset that their daughters were able to check out books like Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, which they felt didn’t promote the right message or values. I was suddenly reminded of the recent controversy surrounding the book, Maus, by Art Spiegelman, which has had the effect of causing a bunch of people to buy and read the book in protest. I read Maus a few weeks ago, passed it to Bill, who finished it last weekend, and just today, he took it to work to lend to one of his co-workers.
If I recall correctly, I believe I decided to read Slaughterhouse Five when I was in high school, in part because it was mentioned on The Facts of Life as a banned book. I knew I liked Vonnegut’s writing, having read his short story, “Harrison Bergeron”, in the 9th grade. Sure enough, I enjoyed Slaughterhouse Five very much. Then later, I decided to read The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, because it was a banned book. My love for reading continues today, although it’s not as easy as it used to be, as my eyes aren’t as young as they once were.
Ditto, the episode about abortion, which was about how the character Natalie, played by Mindy Cohn, made up a story about a girl at Eastland who had an abortion. The story had the whole school buzzing, and soon parents were calling, demanding to know who the girl was. Natalie was threatened with expulsion, until a girl told her that she’d had an abortion. Natalie could have told the headmaster the girl’s name and saved her job as editor of the school paper. But she came clean and admitted she’d made up the story, protecting the girl’s identity. As the credits were about to roll, the headmaster said that he was relieved to “know” that abortion wasn’t an issue at Eastland. Of course, the audience knows better. Forty years later, we’re still fighting over abortion.
I even learned something about capital punishment in France, watching The Facts of Life. The character Geri, played by Geri Jewell, is the cousin of snobby rich girl, Blair Warner. She has cerebral palsy, and works as a comedienne. In one episode, she develops a romance with the school’s French teacher. He asks out Geri, and she says something along the lines of, “I don’t want to get my head chopped off.” She was referencing France’s famous guillotine, which was used to execute people. The French teacher says that France did away with the guillotine in favor of hanging.
I was surprised to hear that the guillotine hadn’t been abolished many years ago, so I decided to look up the device’s history, as well as the general history of capital punishment in France. I was very surprised to learn that the last time France used the guillotine was in 1977! I was five years old! The man who was executed was 27 years old and was originally from Tunisia. He was also missing part of a leg, due to a tractor accident in 1971. He was put to death in Marseilles in September 1977 for torturing and murdering a young woman, and forcing a couple of other women into prostitution. Oddly enough, I actually visited Tunisia in 1977. We lived in England at the time, and went to Tunisia to celebrate New Year’s.
In 1981, then French president Francois Mitterrand declared capital punishment illegal in France. It was formally abolished on February 19, 2007. But, up until 1981, the French constitution actually dictated that anyone who was executed in France would be killed by decapitation, or barring that, firing squad. Never having studied French myself, I don’t know much about its history, other than what I’ve seen personally, heard about in the news, or heard from friends. I have had the opportunity and great fortune to visit France many times, which is something I never thought would have happened in 1982. It seems like France was especially popular in America in the 80s! Back in those days, people didn’t travel as much as they do now… or did before COVID-19, anyway.
Even Russia and Ukraine were subjects of The Facts of Life back in the 80s. During the third season, Natalie’s Russian Jewish grandmother, Mona, came to visit her at school. Mona said she was from Ukraine, even though the name of the episode was “From Russia with Love”. In 1982, Ukraine was still part of the former Soviet Union, which, in those days, seemed like it would exist forever. Natalie found Mona overbearing and annoying, but once she and the other girls got to know her, they found out that she was a fascinating woman with many stories to tell. Watching that episode, especially given what is happening in Ukraine right now, and after having read Maus, was surprisingly poignant. Mona references being confronted by a rapey soldier in a corn field in Ukraine, as the Bolsheviks invaded during the Soviet-Ukranian War from 1917-1921.
Seventy years later, Ukraine decided to leave the Soviet Union, and there’s been trouble ever since. I have never been to Ukraine myself, but I have a friend whose wife is from there, and still has a lot of family there. I know that he and his wife and children are terrified for them. It seems that history is repeating itself. At the same time, I have known some fabulous Russian people, thanks to my time in Armenia, which is also a former Soviet Republic. In fact, that’s where I met my friend, who was working there after having served in the Peace Corps in Russia, back when Russia was briefly less menacing.
I remember that The Facts of Life was controversial to some people, especially during its most popular years. My former best friend’s mother would not let her watch the show. I seem to remember her mom was against the show because she happened to see the episode during the first season that referenced marijuana use. The show certainly didn’t promote the use of marijuana, but my ex friend’s mom was very conservative. She didn’t want her kid exposed to anything she was personally against. I seem to remember my ex friend was often doing things behind her mother’s back, and she was a lot more “experienced” in things than I was. My parents, by contrast, pretty much let me raise myself. We used to talk about how different our parents’ styles were, and we agreed that it would have been nice if there could have been a happy medium. My parents didn’t pay enough attention to me. Her parents, especially her mother, were too strict and intrusive. On the other hand, I don’t think her parents used corporal punishment as much as my dad did.
One thing I have noticed about The Facts of Life is that the characters could be very annoying, as well as very funny. My favorite character was probably Natalie, who was quick witted. I used to not like Jo (Nancy McKeon) much, because she alternated between being angry and snide, and being “vulnerable”. Now that I’m older, I appreciate that character more. I used to like Blair (Lisa Whelchel) more, although I still like Whelchel did a good job with her caricature of a spoiled princess. Tootie (Kim Fields) was pretty much always annoying to me, although she was pretty cute in the first season. During the show’s third and fourth seasons, Tootie did a lot of shrieking and whining. Some of the clothes were pretty hideous, too. Especially the knickers and gauchos… they brought back sad memories of childhood fashions.
But mostly, I’ve just noticed that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I really have been surprised by how forty years after The Facts of Life was a hit show, we’re still talking about, and arguing about, the same things. But nowadays, we have many more than than three networks on TV, and audiences are more sophisticated. A show like The Facts of Life probably wouldn’t last today, even though the writers tackled some courageous plots back in the day. Maybe it would be a good thing for today’s youngsters to watch that show. Maybe they’ll learn its lessons better than we did. But really, the best seasons were the earliest ones… as is the case for most long running shows.
Well, I guess it’s time to wrap up this post and get on with my Friday. Last night, Bill made a “stuffed meatloaf”, which is a dish I cooked for him when we were dating. It was one of the many tricks I had up my sleeve that helped me win his heart. It came out of a great cookbook called Virginia Hospitality, which was a gift given to me when I graduated college in 1994. It was put out by the Junior League of Hampton Roads, and since I was born in Hampton, it really is a relic from my hometown.
My husband’s younger daughter is pregnant, and when Bill told her he was making a stuffed meatloaf, she said that sounded so delicious. She had questions about it. So I sent her a copy of the cookbook, which also has a great recipe for cheese souffles. Below is a link for those who are curious about it. It’s definitely my favorite way to make meatloaf. I’m glad Bill learned how to make it, too. I hope she enjoys the book. It’s a gift that is uniquely from her long, lost stepmother. She really doesn’t know me at all, but maybe a cookbook from my origins will be a place to start getting acquainted.
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