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The Mystery of Disappearing Flight Attendants

August 2, 2013

I was in the southern hemisphere recently and returned from 36 hours on airplanes with a few questions to which you might know the answer. Where and when do flight attendants sleep? I have never caught one sleeping and yet after they put the plane to bed on these overnight flights, they just disappear. And they always look suspiciously fresh and neat in the morning.  It’s like trying to catch a robin sleeping, or a cardinal, or a squirrel. They must tuck in, but have you ever witnessed such a thing?

I have never seen a flight attendant enter or leave a restroom either. I’m beginning to think I’m the only one who has noticed they are not technically human.

Is it the uniform that gives them superpowers? We were walking through the airport in San Francisco and about 20 flights attendants from the United Emirates passed us en masse.  I have never seen more beautiful women.  They were immaculately dressed in tan and red uniforms and each had a gauzy strip of white fabric that fell down from one side of her cap to be pinned at one shoulder like just the suggestion of a wedding veil or a whimsical suggestion of feminine modesty. The affect was awesome.  The hoards of travelers flooding the concourse stepped aside to let them pass with an almost audible intake of breath, then closed behind them staring, as if at the sudden appearance of a double rainbow or meteor shower. You could almost hear the slogging American public mouthing to each other, “Did you see that?

The opposite effect was had on Virgin America where the purple interior lighting of the plane’s cabin, black uniforms and the pulsating electronic disco music made it seem as if our first priority as passengers was not to claim the unused middle seat, or to learn where the exits were, but to get our groove on.

What uniforms have you worn in your life? Think creatively–a lab coat? Girl Scout? Private school? Football? Basketball? Nurse? Radiologist? Topsiders with the red pants of the local yacht club? Navy? Army? Park ranger? Police? Maid? Summer camp?

When was the last time you had an interaction with someone in a uniform? How would it have been different if they hadn’t been wearing one, but had been in street clothes. And what about other kinds of uniforms—ballerina flats and skinny jeans? Sweater sets? Coats and ties? Flag pins?

Try writing a scene in which the uniform is tension—it’s creating fear, excitement, conflict—it’s coming off, it’s being put on. It’s a surprise, a relief, a tragedy, a trigger. Let the metaphor emerge. Stay concrete. Sketch it out, put it aside and come back to it tomorrow.

for writing guidance and inspiration, check out The Story Within, New Insights and Inspiration for Writers (Penguin/Random House)


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One Comment
  1. Luanne permalink

    Hahaha, so true!!! Your title really captured my attention, too!

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