In January 1996, Pan Am was gone for just five years. TWA was still around, but it was sinking, and the tragedy of TWA 800 that July would seal their fate. American Airlines acquired TWA in December, 2001—10 years after Pam Am flew for the last time.
But nothing much was different. Getting there, security, cleanliness, all of this, true, but flying still wasn’t exactly fun in the 1990s, even if you flew Virgin. I could never find accommodations as a “chicken,” so I went incognito as a support pillow and pretended to be “lost,” stranded in an empty seat. As usual, no one cared about a lump in the corner—as long as it didn’t have feathers. I made sure I was smooth for that flight (special hen bodysuit, beak not included, you will never know about it), and no one noticed me as I leaned in even closer to hear Enzo’s first real conversation with the stewardess on our flight, Ms. Isadora Cosmonatos.
“May I call you Izzy?” the director asked. Giuseppe slapped him first on the knee and then on the chest, and then in the face—kind of Hong Kong for an Italian. In my memory, everything’s a movie: Isadora rolled her eyes, leaned in closer, and asked, “Would you like anything to drink?” Even though I was behind him, I could tell Enzo was violently shaking his head because the seat in front of me kept rocking back and forth: “No, no, no, no, no—I want my Hennessy. I want my bourbon. I want my tonic with quinine and water NOW. GIUSEPPE GIUSEPPE GIUSEPPE! FOREVER AND ALWAYS I SUPPORT YOU AND YET YOU INSULT AND DENIGRATE ME IN PUBLIC IN FRONT OF OUR GORGEOUS STEWARDESS AND YOU HAVE THE TEMERITY AND CAUTION OF A HERETIC TO SIT NEXT TO ME AS I BOARD THE FINAL FLIGHT TO MY SALVATION? FOR IF WHAT YOU SAY IS TRUE, I SHALL FACE REDEMPTION IN NEW YORK. YES?”
The cabin went heavy and all we could hear was the blood rushing in our heads. And then Isadora, unshaken, nodded. “Yes, Mr. Bucci. Would you like a tonic with ginger ale? We aren’t serving alcohol due to the blizzard.”
That’s when he threw his bag into the air. No one got hurt, but Isadora screamed, and for a moment it felt like we might be returning to Rome—we were only 45 minutes out—but Isadora came back in a minute and stood up straight before a penitent Enzo, silent in his seat. “Is this the last time, Mr. Bucci?” Enzo nodded his head, his voice shaking: “Yes, Izzy. Isadora it is the last time I will do this to you.” Isadora stood still. “This is third strike. Fourth and you are no longer flying Air Roma.” Enzo and Giuseppe looked up at her and said in unison, “I thought this was Pan Am?” Isadora stared at them blankly and once again asked if they would like anything to drink. They ordered tonics and ginger ales.
Later, chicken was served. I had to move to the back, obviously. We’ll never know what Enzo and Giuseppe talked about over their 45-minute dinner, but that was later on, one night high in the skies over the Atlantic Ocean, January 1996.
—Follow Monica Quibbits on Twitter: @MonicaQuibbits