Read an Excerpt
Oh, my God, it’s him! It’s actually John Blake!
I quickly turned my back to the line of passengers, took a deep breath,
tried to remember what I had been doing. I was standing in the first class
galley of an A320, greeting passengers as they boarded our flight to
Phoenix. Because the airline I work for, First Class Air, uses the forward
door for all passengers, I often feel like a human pinball. I bounce between
the coach passengers who are standing in the aisle and the first class
passengers who expect me to get drinks to them before takeoff, hang their
coats, help with their bags, answer questions about connecting flights (we
haven’t even left the gate yet—how can I possibly know when we’ll land?).
Still, after eight years of working mostly first class, mostly long flights,
I can usually get through the first/worst half-hour of passenger interaction
without losing my composure.
But just now, I smiled and said hello to a casually dressed man who
at me through plain, gold-rimmed glasses and replied Hi, there in John Blake
Okay, yes, I did check my name list of first class passengers, and yes,
did see “Blake, J” listed in 1A and 1B, but there was no frequent flyer code
next to the name. That meant the passenger wasn’t someone who regularly flew
with me from New York to Phoenix. And there was just as good a chance that J
would be Jill or Joe or James.
This was even better, actually, since John flew his own planes. What was
doing on my flight? And why, oh why, hadn’t I taken more time with my hair
and makeup? I left the hotel room with just a touch of eye shadow, mascara,
and a barely-there lipstick. To keep my long, straight blonde hair out of my
eyes, I had slipped on a simple black headband. At best, I looked like an
old Alice in Wonderland.
And looking like Alice was not what I had imagined in any of my
that involved John Blake. I had been dreaming up scenarios for almost twenty
years now. And when I started flying, I often participated in the “what if”
games the crew sometimes played when we were caught in the inevitable down
time on the airplanes: the before-boarding, the long flights when all the
passengers were asleep, the delays caused by weather or mechanicals.
The questions of the game varied. What famous celebrity would you most
to have on your plane? Or if you were stranded on a desert island, who would
you want to be with? Or if you only had a month to live, who would you want
to meet? My answer had been John Blake. It had always been John.
If the other flight attendants had been around in the seventies, they
ask whatever happened to him or even wonder if he was still alive. More
often, though, someone would ask, “John who?”
So I would explain about John Blake and his music. How I used to eat
Saturday-night pizzas with John’s blue eyes, soft and caring behind his
granny glasses, watching me from the album cover I had propped up on the
table. Frequently, I’d go on about how those of us who were searching for
love in all the wrong places were hoping to find what he and Chris had.
And if it was an all female crew, I’d talk about how just the sound of
voice, singing, talking, humming, didn’t matter, just hearing him made me
melt. And his hands. The way the square shape of his palm seemed at odds
with the elongated taper of his fingers. And yet the squareness blended with
the body of his guitar as his fingers danced across the strings.
That usually led to some pretty risqué conversations concerning what
of hands everyone preferred and sometimes even what fun things men did with
those hands. That’s one of the reasons why passengers shouldn’t try to
eavesdrop on flight attendants when they’re gathered in the galley.
So here, sitting in 1A, was my wish come true. And I was wishing I looked
whole lot better. I took one more deep, yoga breath, readjusted my headband
and squeezed my way between the passengers standing in the aisle. “Mr.
The small square of late afternoon sunlight framed his face as he
from the window. He said thanks in a friendly, noncommittal voice that was a
bit deeper, a little mellower that the one in my memories.
Stop it, Berry, I told myself. Focus on the present. “Would you care for
beverage before we take off?”
“Hey, that would be great. I don’t suppose you happen to have a cold
I said, “Let me check for you,” knowing I hadn’t put any beer on ice
my usual Friday-night businessmen drank hard liquor. I turned back toward my
galley muttering, please, please let the caterers have put dry ice on the
Out of habit, I continued to greet the boarding passengers while I
down to search the bottom drawer of the beverage cart. The line was at a
standstill while someone blocked the aisle and tried to jam their “kitchen
sink” bag (the one in which they had packed everything but the kitchen sink)
into an overhead bin. As I said a silent thank you to the worker who had
taken the time to do their job right by putting the Coors Light in the
correct spot in the cart and laying dry ice on top, I heard a crusty female
voice saying in a stage whisper, “Hey, isn’t that you-know-who?”
I grabbed my pretend silver tray, a real glass—not plastic—and
pouring the beer as I pushed past her. I said, “Excuse me, please,” into a
fog of Taboo perfume and stepped into the seat beside John, blocking him
“Here you are, Mr. Blake. I’ll put a couple on ice for you so they will
ready after takeoff.” I convinced myself that I needed to stall a bit longer
until the line moved. I tried to ignore the fact that we were just inches
apart and that it would be so easy to bend down, place my hand on his
knee.... His easy smile, the way he looked directly in my eyes, and the way
his fingers ever so slightly brushed mine as he reached for the glass sent
the butterfiles in my stomach zooming to my head. Could that glancing touch
have been on purpose? I directed that train of thought to a side rail of my
brain. I’d pick it apart later.
“While I’m here, I would be glad to answer any questions you might
about the menu or the in-flight entertainment.” I wanted to appear polite,
polished, professional. Perhaps twenty years ago, I could have been excused
for acting like a star-struck groupie, but I was forty-five now. And I had
been in lots of relationships, a couple of marriages, and had served a bunch
of celebrities. All right, some celebrities.
The line started moving again, and the body that went with the coarse
and the cloud of cloying perfume shuffled by in a flash of orange and gold.
No doubt connecting to a Las Vegas flight when we landed in Phoenix. A
gray-haired man started to get settled into a window seat in the second row
and was holding his suit jacket on one finger, obviously waiting for the
slow-witted flight attendant to understand that she had more than one
passenger on the plane.
As I turned toward row two, John answered my questions—sort of. “Well, I
wondering if there are any John Blake songs on the play list and whether you
’ve ever read Alice in Wonderland?”
Where did the Alice in Wonderland comment come from? Surely I hadn’t
talking out loud earlier when I was worried about my appearance! Something
else to store in the brain cells for review. I wasn’t sure of the proper
reply, so I said, “I hope so, and yes, about once a year.”
I hung the coat, poured the Scotch, greeted the few stragglers who
either so important, felt they were, or wanted to give the impression they
were, that they had to wait until departure time before joining the rest of
As usual, first class was booked full. I joked with my passengers about
everyone wanted to sit up front because of my superior service, but the real
reason for the lack of empty seats was that the gate agents used first class
as their own special power trip. They upgraded their friends, other
employees, other airline’s employees, and quite possibly, anyone who was
willing to tip them for their “outstanding customer service.”
If I’d had too much coffee, not enough sleep, or just wanted to
myself with their creative lies, I would request an explanation for all
non-company-approved upgrades. It was truly amazing—they need to be close to
the bathroom, they were mad because they missed an earlier flight (great
idea, putting irate people next to our frequent flyers), they need extra
room for the baby, it’s their birthday, they just got married, he’s too tall
for coach, she’s my mother’s cousin and she’s never been in first class
But it was time for departure and the aisle seat beside John was
empty. I was just about to ask Mr. Blake if his traveling companion had been
delayed when Julie, the second flight attendant, came up to the front with
her passenger count.
“Seventy-eight in coach, eleven first class, two infants, no
she asked in her “I’m just a young flight attendant and I’m not sure of
anything except that I look cute in my tight little navy dress with the
pretty gold wings over my fake breasts” voice. No doubt she would go on to
marry a pilot who had just divorced the last cute little flight attendant
who believed him when he said that his wife just didn’t understand. I knew
it was a cliché, but honest to God, they still used it and the girls still
pretended to believe it. Maybe I was just too old to understand.
“Thanks, Julie. I’ll give the count to the flight deck, and as soon as
agent brings the final report, we’ll be ready.”
She looked at row one, and I thought she was going to comment on John
being on board. Silly me. All she said was, “Wow, you have an empty seat!
Hey, that means you’ll have an extra meal. Can you save me the chicken?”
The flight deck crew had finished their checklist. I handed them the
sheet and asked Richard, our captain, if they were ready for departure.
“Sure, Berry, whenever you are.”
He could have said, “I’ll let you know,” or some equally curt
designed to keep the barrier created by the cockpit door in place. I gave
him a thank you smile to let him know I appreciated his willingness to give
the flight attendants a little control. I had flown with Richard a number of
times over the years, and he was definitely one of the good ones. He was
laid-back, friendly, a team player who acted as if we were all in this
together. It was much easier for me to work with him than with the pilots
who expected me to treat them with military style respect. I did it, but I
also kept my visits to the flight deck to the bare minimum. No asking about
the family or sharing the latest gossip or the leftover food
The ground agent handed me the report, showing we matched on
count. I mentioned the discrepancy with the empty seat at 1B and was told
that the agent had blocked the seat so Mr. Blake wouldn’t be bothered. Wow!
I had expected the ground agents to fight over which friend of theirs would
get to spend five hours sitting by John Blake.
I thanked her for being so considerate, shut the door, and prepared
taxi. Julie and I checked each other’s door, and Mark, the third flight
attendant, used the PA system to verify that both back doors were armed and
ready. I told our pilots that the cabin was secure, then locked the cockpit
door. Julie and I gathered our demo equipment: the bright yellow pretend
oxygen mask, fake seat belt, and the safety information card. She headed
overwing, and I went to stand by John. As I put my props in the empty seat,
I glanced over and saw him smile. It was a different smile this time, really
more of a “is this fun or what?” look. As Mark started announcing our names
and the flying time, I realized it was the same smile I had seen almost
twenty years ago on a stage in Kansas City.