80 90s to DC

Never have i been more in love with being a flight attendant as I was yesterday, never have I felt so happy to be serving people, and never have I felt so appreciated in doing so. 

Now  this  is what I call a kiss...

Now this is what I call a kiss...

Eighty men and women who served our country in World War II and the Korean War boarded our plane with eager smiles, being escorted by their ‘helpers’, big hearted individuals who spent the day making sure ‘their vet’ was taken care of.  With each pair that passed, my heart grew bigger, so much love was boarding my plane, so much excitement, and so many memories tucked inside those eighty heads.  I’m sure most days go past without thinking of their days of war, but on this kind of day, those memories are welcomed to roam freely, move to the front of the line, press play on the slideshow that lies inside from nearly 80 years ago.  I welcomed each and every one, getting lost in my appreciation for being there with them.  I savored every moment, knowing I only had their presence for a total of 5 hours; back & forth to Washington DC from Fort Lauderdale.

Some were more engaging than others when they passed, and I picked out my ‘sweeties’, the ones who gave me a little spunk, a boyish smile, or a squeeze of my hand.  Being in the aviation industry for close to 20 years now, I can count on maybe two hands the flights that truly stand out, ones that I will never forget.  It gives me inspiration to feel that kind of enthusiasm every time I go to work.  Most days, I do try to see the light and the kindness in those who I interact with, but like all things, it’s impossible to keep a high at all times. I love my job, it’s a privilege to be a flight attendant.  I never thought in a million years that this is what I would be doing, as I was terrified to fly most of my young life.  But travel and adventure beat out fear, and now here I am.  In what other job would I have been able to spend the day with our nation’s heroes, being a part of one of the best days of their lives?  I know each one of their smiles will live on within me, and I hope that mine will live on with them as well:  The girl who smiled with them, sat with them and gave them hugs & squeezes, and ate up all of their flirtations and jokes.  It brought a human connection to my world, and for those moments, I forgot all of my troubles that had been swarming around my brain.  I touched as many hands as I possibly could, their fragile skin so translucent and soft, so gentle to hold.  I walked around the plane looking at their treasured envelope contents, with photos from when they were young, in love, and in uniform.  I listened to stories of how they escaped death;  like Joe, how his fragile stomach got him transferred to a ground unit because he threw up on the plane… and two weeks later that same air squadron was shot down, every one of them killed.  How he came home to his sweetheart who’s he’s now been married to for 73 years (who, has the same slim figure as me I was told) and grew old together.  He still carries the photo of their wedding day in his pocket, and I say, “Why, she sure is a stunning woman, Joe! What a lucky gal to be married to you for 73 years!”  He pulls me in with his velvety hands and whispers in my ear, “I think you could come home with me and be my mistress though!”  I gasped in a playful laugh and then I kissed his hand.  

As we landed back at home, and my parade of beautiful souls marched softly off my plane, my heart sunk a little, knowing I would not see them again.  I touched every one’s hand, shoulder, cheek, back as they filed past me, cherishing the ones who stopped with arms outreached for a hug.  With my whole heart I wrapped them with an embrace, my cheeks now hurting from smiling so hard for so long.  One of the fireman escorts remarked to me with a smirk as he passed, “I think you have 80 Ninety-year-olds wanting to take you home with them Shelly.”  And with that, I knew the feeling was mutual.  

The look of pride & gratitude. 

The look of pride & gratitude. 

Trip leader & Rick (right) looks out over a plane full of grateful tears as he surprises the vets with a special Mail Call.

Trip leader & Rick (right) looks out over a plane full of grateful tears as he surprises the vets with a special Mail Call.

Both vets and their helpers get emotional as they read the piles of letters sent to them from near and far.

Both vets and their helpers get emotional as they read the piles of letters sent to them from near and far.

It's smiles like these that remind you to live life to the fullest!

It's smiles like these that remind you to live life to the fullest!

Narita rest house

I was not expecting to have the first stamp in my new passport be Japan.  But then, as they say, "The best laid plans...".  My trip started out close to perfection;  I got a ride to the airport from a dear friend, there was no line at check-in, I got the priority line at security, flight was on time, and I had met the captain who was flying me to Tokyo the day before when he was commuting on the flight I was working.  Serendipitous!  To top it off, when I boarded the plane, I realized that I knew part of the crew as well, they were friends of my good friends who I had been out with before in the city.  Small world.  As I settled into 17F, "comfort economy", the woman behind me says "Hello again!".  She was the one beside me at the ticket counter, I noticed she was a very friendly, savvy frequent traveler.  Her name was Mirabel from Manila, I kneeled on my seat facing backwards to her and we started chatting about the places we were going, and some places we had been.  In the midst of it all, we found a very special connection, and both feel that we were destined to meet.  As I was sending off my last texts, I heard another voice form the aisle, "I think we have a seat for you up here"  she said, and I grabbed my splay of belongings, trying not to let them all fall out of my arms as I followed her to the first class pod.  "I'll come find you later!"  I said to Mirabel, and we both smiled at each other in gratitude.  During the flight, my new favorite word became "lie-flat-bed".  My God, what a difference!  Sashimi, Rioja vino tinto, soup, flan... I was in heaven!  It was the best flying experience I've ever had, and again my mind knew I was destined to be there.  Side note, I have always been afraid to fly Delta due to a recurring dream I had when I was younger.  Like Ritchie Valens.  So I never booked a flight on Delta.  Ever.  In all my years of flying.  Wait, there was one hop from Boston to New York, yes, and I remember holding my breath the whole way, but since I escaped doom on that flight, I thanked the Gods and never booked again... until yesterday.  "Time to get over this!"  I told myself.  So all of my luck on the flight was like my angels guiding me safely, helping me to feel calm, protecting me.  I guess there was just so much goodness and luck packed into that flight that my luck ran out once I reached Japan.  At the Delta guest care desk, they informed me that I was not allowed to fly internationally on them, that we had no agreement and there was nothing they could do. My flight was supposed to leave in an hour, there was only one more flight to Bangkok that night, and it was on another airline that I was not allowed to fly!  I felt panic rush through my veins, I got a little light headed and my world shrunk into a little circle of "Fuck."  I was now stuck in Japan, no airlines that I could fly were going to Bangkok, and I was afraid I wouldn't even be able to get back to the US.  In come three amazing and stunningly gorgeous ANA airways ladies who all seemed like it was their mission from above to help me.  I found a way to rebook via Cathay Pacific the next morning (thank God, they were the only ones who I could purchase a ticket on-line with), and I set out to find a hotel.  I remember at that point thinking back to when my brother and I were traveling around Europe and we missed the train from Madrid to Paris.  He had the panic in his eyes that I had felt tonight, but I knew that we would be ok.  Things always worked out, sometimes even better than the original plan. 

This little hotel room is just how I remembered Japan.  Everything is small.  The ceilings are low, there is a kimono in the drawer, green tea with a tiny cup on the table, slippers, and a heated toilet seat.  Instead of the bible, there is The Teaching of Buddha (which, I really would love to take with me...along with the kimono...and tiny cup...)  Opening to a random page, I like the following passage:  "There are three kinds of people in the world.  The first are those who are like letters carved in a rock; they easily give way to anger and retain their angry thoughts for a long time.  The second are those who are like letters written in sand; they give way to anger also, but their angry thoughts quickly pass away.  The third is those who are like letters written in running water; they do not retain their passing thoughts; they let abuse and uncomfortable gossip pass by unnoticed; their minds are always pure and undisturbed." 

So, as I continue on this journey, I will try to have my letters written in water, and take things as they come, knowing yet again that it is not only the destination, but the journey that teaches you along the way.  


About a lion

On my final game drive of the week, we got to be in the darkness with my beautiful pride of lions one last time.  It was a different experience to be with them at this hour, this is when they travel, when they hunt.  All of the little ones rushed up along side us, looking at us straight in the eye asking, "Do I know you?" "Should I care?".  After they got bored checking us out, they returned to the lesson at hand; their moms teaching them how to hunt, and of course, a little bit of play as well.  We sat there for a good half hour watching them interact with each other, then followed as they marched down the road to find their dinner for the night.  With the big cats, you can shine light on them at night and it doesn't bother them at all because the light gets absorbed behind the retina and is reflected back out.  For this reason, we could shine the lights around them and get an intimate viewing of their night time habits.  The antelope don't have this trait, so you have to switch off the lights immediately if you see them.  As we started to head home, we noticed a herd of impala grazing directly in the path that the lions were walking.  We stopped, switched off the engine and the lights, and listened... There in the pitch black of the bush you can almost hear your own breath, your senses heighten in anticipation of witnessing a kill. We heard the "Pbffff!" of one of the impala, it was her danger call. Then a slight rustle, then complete silence... The impala had seen the lion, so it was too late, there was no attack this time.  I was both disappointed and relieved at the same time.  It would have been a thrill to witness, but I also didn't have to listed to the scream of a dying animal.  Here are a few of my favorite photos from the night, I'll miss my "babies", as I got used to seeing them almost every day.  The gaze of my one special little lion will stay with me forever, it's precious beyond words to feel a silent conversation with such a stunning being.  A sweet connection with one of God's great creatures.  



It's amazing to me how a six ton animal can virtually disappear in the thick of the bush in the blink of an eye.  Their huge pillars of legs lifting off the ground with such grace, setting down again so gently that the long grass below hardly notices its being taken down to meet the earth.  Of all the animals I've come across, the elephant is one of my favorites. Maybe it's because their eyes meet yours when you pass, being at the same height as you in your vehicle.  You find their tiny orbs staring into yours just long enough to sense that they acknowledge you as a fellow being on the planet, sharing space, connecting for just a moment.  You hold your breath because you are in the presence of such power, such massive strength.  You sit there quietly listening to the whoosh from the flapping of their ears, you can almost hear the thick air split in two when they lift their trunk up high, then release it, falling towards the ground with a muffled snap.  When their canvass of a head turns to look at you, everything in your body wants to crawl inside itself and hide, but you savor the moment instead, daring to look in his eyes to say hello.  He turns his head forward, continues on, and you are left with the residue of awe tingling in your veins.  Eles, they are very special creatures indeed. 


Everyone Poops!

I'm spending this week writing up a few blog articles for Virgin Unite, and Virgin Limited Edition, so please excuse my absence here!  I'm very excited to share the links with you when they are live!  

So, for the moment, I'm going to make short posts here, just to share some of my favorite memories, fun photos, and randomness.  Please enjoy, and I promise to continue the story very shortly... 



You know in movies or tv shows, how they never show the 'real' stuff... like putting away the groceries, posting on Facebook, or taking time on the toilet!  Same goes for nature photography, you always see the amazing shot of the lion roaring, or the leopard at sunset, but you don't really see the stuff that happens in between, like, well, when they pee and poop.  So, here you go!  Makes 'em seem just a little less frightening, don't you think?  ;) 


The Kingdom of Swaziland

Re-u-ni-ted, and it feeeels so good!... The song is stuck in my head this morning as I return to my blog, I did miss it, like a new puppy that I haven't seen in too long and comes to give me wet kisses.  

I sit here a bit dazed however, trying to think of where to start, what to say first, which photos to post, how to describe...  My world has been thrown off its axial tilt, and I am in love with its new orientation.  I'll start with the kingdom of Swaziland...

"What do you think about going to Swaziland for a few days?"  he asked, as we started to plan our five days together.  "Sure, I'm up for anything!"  I had no idea what or where this was, but apparently it was awesome.  Just 120 miles by 81 miles, Swaziland is a tiny, but breathtaking monarchy which sits inside of South Africa, bordering its north east side with Mozambique.  It took us a little over three hours to drive there from the backpackers in Nelspruit where I was dropped off by my new friends Sue, Lisa, Prince, and Mbali.  I walked into Funky Monkey slightly nervous to find my travel companion, as we hadn't seen each other since our wedding over a year ago. (Yes, I will remain cryptic for the time being, but don't worry, you'll get the whole story soon.)  As we saw each other, smiles filled us and we came together in a hug that said all was well, arms around each other we walked out to say goodbye to the gang as they wished us a happy journey.  I found myself having a hard time looking away from him, as it felt surreal, almost like we had been here all along.  We sat poolside and chatted with his friends, telling our story in brief and sipping on Castle Light beers.  I was happy to be on yet another adventure, having no clue as to where we were headed, and not having a care in the world about it.  I knew I was in good hands.  I loved these people around me instantly.

I'd never been in this part of the country before, we were headed towards the eastern plateau, the Highveld, which rises to 5,700 feet.  The drive was like nothing I had expected, there were layers upon layers of mountain range silhouettes in the distance, soft, green rolling hills scattered with granite and occasional farm houses, waterfalls peeking out from the valleys.  The DJ had a perfect soundtrack playing, and I was mesmerized by everything my eyes were taking in.  He said, "Just wait, you're gunna be blown away by this place..."  As we soared around the last curve, he showed me, "There!" and pointed to the speckles of huts on the hill ahead.  My jaw dropped as we slowed down to turn onto the dirt road, as I wondered how I got so lucky.  



26 in Boston!

24 hour layover in Boston, and it just so happens that my roommate Amy is there too! After getting in from the redeye, I slept for three hours and dragged myself out of bed to go meet up with her & her friends for the day.  She's been saying for so long, "You HAVE to meet my friend Steve, and his boyfriend Joe!!  You will LOVE them."  So, today was the day... and Amy was right, I absolutely adored both of them beyond words.  We wandered the streets of the North End, starting our day off at a cozy little Italian restaurant where we ordered practically every appetizer on the menu, along with a round of "espresso martinis".  If you've never had one of these delights, go to Boston and order one, they are fantastic.  (Be sure to also order the pumpkin beer;  they serve it rimmed with sugar, cinnamon, & nutmeg, it's to die for.)  The five of us wandered around town the whole day, stopping at local watering holes to sample the "water" as well as the atmosphere.  There's nothing like Boston in the Fall on a Saturday afternoon... it just works!