Crossings: The Pacific

by Tina Kane

December 29, 2012

The food served by United Airlines has hit a new low. We are traveling sardine class with 300 other souls packed into a Boeing 747. I am 5’8” and my knees touch the back of the seat in front. When the passenger in front pushes back her seat I wonder if anyone has ever had a kneecap broken this way.

This flight from Los Angeles to Sydney is 14 hours of turbulence and hence many hours with seatbelts on. We are in the back of the plane. The advantage here is there are only two seats – so we have a modicum of privacy. We are with long-haired students and a few Islanders, perhaps Samoans. One young man looks Aboriginal. And that is indicative of the one big advantage these days: most people can travel. That is important but does it have to entail inhuman treatment? We do not even have individual screens, and those of us who cannot sleep in these conditions stretch our already uncomfortable necks to watch movies at an awkward angle up on small screens on the ceiling.

“Dinner” is dried up pasta with tomato sauce and inedible meatballs the size of peas. I had requested vegetarian but somehow that failed to get into the system. Often that is also inedible, actually “indescribable” would be more accurate. In addition to the pasta there is a soggy salad and a wrapped brownie. When we ask for a second small bottle of sour red wine to wash this mess down, the flight attendant pulls a long face and says disapprovingly, “Well I guess you can.” For this we have paid $2,100 each. Business class would cost twice or three times more and first class is nearly five times as much. The system is obscene and the airlines get away with it. We are grateful to touch down in Sydney finally – so grateful.

I have lost track of how many times I have crossed the Pacific. I moved from Rochester, New York, to Melbourne, Australia, when I was seven, and later returned to live in the U.S. My family remained in Melbourne and, after I married P and he found an interesting professional and personal world in Australia as well, we went back and forth numerous times. Although a lot has changed over the years we have remained migratory and eventually built a small house outside of Melbourne on a dormant volcano in Central Victoria. With many good friends and various interests in Australia, we now go there twice a year. Often, as I sit on the plane, my thoughts return to memories of other journeys, of my own personal history of Pacific crossings, and all that has changed, for the better, and in terms of personal comfort and quality of life, for the worse.

 Crossing 1

December 1949

 When we moved from Rochester to Melbourne I was seven, but by the time we arrived I was eight. My world suddenly expanded dramatically beyond our Rochester apartment, the neighborhood park, city block, school, friend’s houses, the hall where I took dance lessons, and a few places in the city like theaters, where you went to a ballet or a concert, or to a movie. Also Lake Ontario and Lake Placid where I had summer camp and summer holidays respectively. In a matter of weeks, my world now included the Canadian Rockies, Vancouver, Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia and the thousands of miles of the Pacific in between. I was in the third grade.

The trip began on the evening of December 29th on a train from Rochester to Vancouver. I had been told there would be no snow in Australia, at least not in Melbourne, where I was going to live. So, before I left I said good bye to snow by jumping into a snow pile, lying on my back, and looking up at the stars. I loved the snow, a constant in an upstate New York winter. Sledding, skating, snowmen, and snowy Christmases were a child’s pleasures in the long winters. I have no memory of ever being cold, but I remember the snow.

My mother and father had divorced two years previous. In those days that was unusual and it was to be many years before I met another child whose parents had divorced. It set me apart from other kids. My mother had recently remarried: a young New Zealander, visiting Rochester on a post doc scholarship from Cambridge University. He had been hired by the Australian Government to install Australia’s first mass spectrometer.

The train left Rochester at night. I recall many people there wishing us farewell: hugs, kisses, frosty breath in the cold night air on the platform. I was wearing a plaid dress with a black velvet bow at the waist, patent leather shoes and white socks. One of my mother’s close friends, one of my personal favorites, cried when he hugged me and said to be sure to write often and he would too. I began to understand I was really leaving and would not be back again.

Train travel was luxurious. Smiling black Americans in starched while coats waited on white Americans. When we returned from the dining car after dinner our cabin had turned into a bedroom with starched white sheets, curtains around the bunk beds, and a silver washbowl in a mahogany stand. I cannot remember how many nights it took but my next memory is of Chicago —eating dinner in a restaurant —and a phone call to my father, who was living in Oklahoma City. Then I remember dry cold, and then wind and cold when we stopped in Winnipeg and got out of the train for fresh air.

Vancouver was our destination, where we would join the ship. After crossing Manitoba, the train went through the Canadian Rockies. We watched for bear and elk and moose and played cards. I remember seeing elk, and mountains and snow and more mountains, more snow. My mother, C, cried some. She was 27. My new stepfather, T., 32, sang to her: “I’ll take you home again Christine, to where the fields are ever green.” But she was to visit only once again and then never return.

Vancouver had a park with carved poles —totem poles—with great beaked birds and giant faces with huge eyes. They were brightly painted and fantastic. A friend of T’s took us to see them and told me about the “Indians” who painted them. Later I had my hair washed and curled by the hotel hairdresser and read Little Lulu comics. I had been told Little Lulu might be hard to get in Australia. Our clothes were laundered and pressed. We ate our last meal in North America in a restaurant with marble floors. I had fruit and cottage cheese, among other things, because I was also told that cottage cheese was not available in Melbourne. Cottage cheese was my favorite food.

Next morning we boarded the ship. Her name was the Aorangi, and in January of 1949 the MV Aorangi—the Cloud Piercer in Maori language—made her final voyage from Vancouver to Auckland, New Zealand. If ships could talk she would have had a lot to say. As I write this now I go online for information and images. There is a wealth of stuff and now I know: “the graceful Aorangi, acted as a hospital ship and engine repair shop for more than 1200 vessels during the Invasion of Normandy. She was a Steamship, 4268 tons, built in 1883. Formerly New Zealand Steamship Co. and sunk at Scapa Flow during World War1. Later she was raised and used as a storage ship in 1921. In 1946 she was fully restored in Sydney.” Some time after our trip she went to the breakers.

300px-StateLibQld_1_133301_Aorangi_II_(ship)

 

Our cabin was on C deck and had bunk beds and a private bath. There was a bowl of fresh fruit on a table and the two black metal steamer trunks with the gold painted latches with our things waiting there for us.

For the departure we went up on deck. There was music, a military brass band, and hundreds of people throwing colored streamers at each other. Nobody was there to see us leave so we watched the others. As the ship began to move away people cried and screamed and blew kisses and waved and the streamers snapped and flew in the wind. The great horn blew and the ship left for Victoria Island. We were there very quickly and then towards evening we were off again. After we were underway T. took me up on deck and held my hand as we looked at the waves breaking against the hull. The foam marbled with slate blue broke and blistered as a new swell rose up and smashed into the hull, over and over again. I was just tall enough to see over the top rail, but it was easier to look under it. He said I had to be careful not to fall overboard and showed me the lifesavers tied to the rails. He said if someone fell overboard the ship would stop and a sailor would go get him in a lifeboat. I remember thinking you would have to try very hard to fall through those railings. It was difficult to see how it could happen.

The sky was gray, the air cold, and the wind harsh now in the Northern Pacific in January, so we went back down to the cabin to dress for dinner. I slid and was thrown from one wall to the other of the narrow passageways as the ship rolled out to open sea. A ship has a unique smell, salt, damp, food and other nameless odors combined and I smelled it then for the first time. A steward appeared around a corner carrying a covered silver tray and he was swaying towards me from side to side too. I wondered if there were many collisions. I never saw one.

Dressing for dinner was a new idea for me. We had always lived informally. Unless there was a party or an occasion I wore overalls and t-shirts or shorts and t-shirts or my school uniform. I had special pretty dresses for parties and the first night I wore my black velvet dress with the lace collar. I cannot remember what I wore after that but every night I changed into a party dress. C. wore her Dior cream silk dress that first night. Those were our best clothes. We ate with the same people for the whole trip. I cannot remember them very well, but they were British, and I remember they talked a lot about how the Americans did this and that, and the British did this and that differently. For example the Americans (C and me) ate with our fork in our right hand. They ate with their fork in their left hand and used their knives to smash their food onto the back of their fork. I did not enjoy eating certain things the British apparently found delicious. Fried lamb’s brains were one example. Tripe was another. Ugh. And kidneys were the worst. Each dinner ended with a steamed pudding. That was good.

The waiters and all the stewards were black Indians, not African Americans, nor Native Americans, which we called Indians. They were from Portuguese Goa. C had grown up in the Southwest and hated racism and racial inequality. She treated them as equals and I remember some sharp comments from T in the privacy of the cabin. This was one of our early encounters with the hierarchy of the British colonial– the first of many to come.

As I write this I did some research online. “The Goanese wore a blue and white striped jacket with silver buttons and blue serge trousers. In the hot weather they wear white trousers instead of the blue. In the saloon and whenever else it is considered necessary they wear a white jacket with blue shoulder cords. The Cooks wear the traditional rig of a white coat, blue and white check trousers and a tall chef’s hat.

“Goanese, as the name implies, come from the Portuguese colony of Goa, though numbers of them are now settled in Bombay and elsewhere. They are the descendants of the early Portuguese adventurers to the East. They all have Portuguese names and are devout Roman Catholics. A large number of them speak excellent English and they make good servants and cooks.”

The first part of that journey was cold and inhospitable. The north Atlantic in January was not a warm introduction to the Pacific. This went on for a week. The sea was rough and when I felt queasy I was taken up on deck and put under a ‘rug’ on a wooden deck chair and given a hot salty drink called beef tea and an orange. Huge waves streamed by throwing plumes of white foam over a grey blue sea under a grey sky. One minute all you could see was ocean, then the next all was sky. I was taught to play new games: deck quoits was one where you tried to throw a rope quoit over a wooden pole down the deck. The rolling ship made it very hard. I think there was something else where you pushed a puck into a square grid, but I have forgotten the point of that game. Was it shuffleboard? Then there was walking around the decks for exercise and the distances were marked so you could tell how far you went. There were places you could not go—the crew’s quarters and first class. So you turned around and walked back.

Another new thing was tea. Morning tea with cakes and sandwiches and what I called cookies but were called, I discovered, biscuits. Then there were scones, which looked to me like biscuits, but were sweet. Afternoon tea repeated the spread. When it was very rough the cakes and cookies would slide around on the plates and the hot tea would slop over the top of the cups into the saucers. Apparently it was important whether you put your milk in your cup before or after you put the tea in. C. said people watched to see. I asked why? She said I guess we don’t want to be thought of as milk-in-firstish and laughed.

 

Hawaii

I was excited about Hawaii. We had been at sea about a week and I rose early to see us arrive. The weather was beautiful and warm and the sea calm. The dawn sky was light pink and the air fragrant like flowers. I had been allowed to run around the ship on my own for several days now. So I watched us arrive and dock alone and felt grown up. As we came close enough to the wharf I could see there were children my age and a little older, young Hawaiian boys waiting for the boat. After we docked they dove for American coins tossed in the water by the passengers. Hawaii was not yet a State. I ran downstairs to get some coins and was given a couple of dimes to throw. I could see C was not crazy about the whole idea but I went back and threw them in anyway.

T had a friend there. He took us to Diamond Head, which was in the clouds that morning, to Pearl Harbor, to a golf course, and to the one hotel, The Royal Hawaiian, where we had lunch.

 

royal Hawaiian

A young Hawaiian man climbed a palm tree on the grounds and picked a coconut for me. I really liked that and somehow got the idea it was the only coconut in the world. I thought Hawaii was the most beautiful place I had ever seen and the palm trees the loveliest in the world. They clicked in the wind as they swayed. As we left women danced for us on the beach we were given frangipani leis and the Hawaiians said Aloha as they put them on our shoulders. The smell in the air was frangipani blossom and carried out to sea for quite a distance.

HAWAII Hula Dancers~ PAN AM-Issued 1950 PCARD

As we left the boys dove for more coins. C said it was not right to exploit native people like that. And she would not give me any more dimes. We kept the leis in the washbasin and our stateroom smelt of flowers for a while.

After we left Honolulu it became cold and rough again. There was a big party for the children as we crossed the equator. For some reason I became sick and very sad at that party. The fact that they showed us the film The Yearling made it even worse. What a terrible film to show children. Trauma.

Then we moved into summer in the South Pacific. Days were spent around the saltwater pool. The air was sweet. I had made friends as had C and T. We were enjoying ourselves. Another week passed and we arrived in Suva, Fiji. At the dock was a huge open air market smelling of onions and there were stacks of sugar cane and handmade baskets and mats. The people were black, had huge hairdos, lovely smiles and soft smiling eyes. Again T had a friend who showed us around. Fiji was a British colony. I had my photo taken with a Fijian policeman on a traffic island.

policeman

He wore a white skirt with a jagged hem and a blue jacket with a red sash. It was very hot and I had been allowed to wear my bathing suit because we were going swimming at the Grand Pacific Hotel.

GrandPacificHotelSuva

But first we were taken on a tour outside of Suva. We went to a native village. The houses were made from grass, and the women did not wear tops. They came out of their huts and smiled at us and offered baskets and fruit. We saw the chief’s house.

chief'shouse

I remember C was very uncomfortable and I asked her why. She said she felt like a voyeur for the first time in her life. Then she told me what that was. After this we returned to the Grand Hotel. There was a large saltwater pool. We were served lunch there. I swam and C and T drank gin and tonic. I thought Suva was nearly as good as Honolulu. I would look many times in years after that at the picture of me in my bathing suit with the Fijian policeman.

Another week passed. The ship was our home now and I was even allowed to go sit in the bow alone and watch the dolphins and flying fish. I can remember the feel of the wind, the air, the beauty of the open sea, all mine at that moment, and the porpoises and flying fish soaring through the spray these decades later. Unforgettable. One night when we ate with the captain he told me the porpoises guided the ships and warned the crews of any trouble ahead.

250px-Bottlenose_Dolphin_KSC04pd0178

Then the voyage was over. We arrived in Auckland, said goodbye to our ship friends, to the good ship Aorangi. It was sad she would never sail again – I did not understand why – she seemed just fine. And I became very upset when a customs official said I could not take my coconut into New Zealand. It was then I discovered it was not the only one in the world. Then I remember even when we were on solid ground the swaying sensation continued for a couple of days.

After two months’ visit with T’s family in New Plymouth we returned to Auckland to complete our trip to Melbourne. During this time I had learned to surf, play tennis, and drink afternoon tea, none of which would have happened in Rochester – except perhaps the tennis. I thought New Zealand was almost as beautiful as Hawaii. My new step grandparents had a lawn tennis court, a nectarine orchard, and lived two blocks from a surf beach with black sand (from a high iron content I was told). It was fun to come out of the cold surf and roll in the hot sand and turn black. We were also several miles from a beautiful snowcapped mountain called Egmont (now Taranaki). There were neighbors around my age. I had a very good time. How things went for the adults, however, I could not say. Sometimes C seemed sad, which was new for me.

We returned to Auckland to board our ship across the Tasman Sea to Sydney and Melbourne, the MV Wanganella. I was again wearing my plaid dress with the black velvet bow. When we arrived at the dock I was amazed and delighted to discover we were traveling on a ship full of dwarves. To me there were hundreds of them, all around my size. I was to learn, however, that I was not allowed to play with the dwarves; they kept to themselves. No one has ever been able to explain this to me. Where were they going? Why such a large group? And why couldn’t I talk to them?

Now there is still a lot of information available on line about the Wanganella, but not about the dwarves. This ship too had many tales to tell.

 

Wanganella

 

saloon

Saloon in 1935

From my research: on May 19th, 1941, the MV Wanganella was converted to an Australian Hospital Ship to allow it to carry equipment, medical personnel and to operate as a hospital. Two trips were made to the Middle East, and then, in May 1942, Australians wounded at Kokoda and New Guinea were evacuated at Port Moresby for Sydney. On her return from this trip, Wanganella proceeded to Townsville and embarked wounded Americans from the South Pacific Campaign for transfer to the American Hospital in Melbourne (now Melbourne General Hospital). Wanganella was now serving on two battlefronts: the Middle East and the New Guinea and Solomons campaigns. During her war service Wanganella travelled 251,611 miles and carried 13,389 wounded and sick evacuees, comprising Australian, New Zealand and American Service personnel.

The Wanganella was returned to Huddart Parker Ltd late in 1945, and she was sent to Melbourne for her refit, turning her back into the luxury passenger liner everyone loved. She was ready to go in September 1946. It was decided by Huddart Parker that the fresh looking TSMV Wanganella would first operate a return voyage to Vancouver, sailing from Sydney via Auckland and Honolulu, returning to Sydney on December 28. She departed Sydney for her first postwar Express Trans-Tasman Voyage, which would prove to be eventful!

Her first voyage, after the war, sailing as a full fledged liner with some 400 passengers on board could easily have Wanganella’s very last voyage, for she had a narrow escape when she ran aground on Barrett Reef located at the entrance to Wellington Harbour in New Zealand. This reef is well known and it would later claim the Union Steamship’s newest Inter Island Ferry between Wellington and Lyttleton (Christchurch), the TMV Wahine, with a tragic loss of 51 lives on April 10, 1968.

On January 19, 1947, the Wanganella struck Barrett Reef at 11:30 PM, whilst she was sailing at a speed of 13 knots. Apparently (and this is the short version) the Captain, Commander R Darroch, had mistaken the flashing buoy in front of Barrett Reef for the light to guide the ship into Wellington harbour. The Wanganella was firmly stuck on the reef and it would prove to be difficult to remove her, as she was stuck badly on the rocks, with two massive gashes below the waterline at her bow, the larger of the two being some 12.2 meters long and up to 6.7 meters wide. Thankfully, there were no injuries on board. The next day all passengers were evacuated from the ship. She returned to the dock and work continued, and it was finally completed on October 29, 1948. After that and many years’ service, she went to the breakers in 1971, at 41 years of age.

The Tasman Sea can be tricky I learned. Half of the four day trip I was not allowed on deck because of the weather. It was cold and windy and I was bored. I did not see a single dwarf except once, when I was being taken on a walk, I saw a number of them together in what looked like a pen on deck. But this may not be true.

We docked at Sydney and saw the Harbour Bridge. Then I cannot remember whether we continued by sea to Melbourne or took a train. Something had changed between C and T. One day I found C crying. I had seen her cry before only once, on the train, and tried to comfort her. Our trip ended in Melbourne in early March. We stayed one night at a fancy hotel, the Windsor, with velvet drapes. The next day we moved to a residential hotel in Dickens Street. But that is the beginning of another story. The first crossing was over.

 

Crossing 2

May 1953

In 1953, I was 10. This was our first trip back to the US since we came on the Aorangi and Wanganella in 1950. We were on a DC 6 belonging to BCPA (British Commonwealth Pacific Airways), a company later owned by Qantas.

I was traveling with my mother and 2 year old brother. C’s older sister was dying of cancer and we were going to see her. I was also going to visit my father. They both lived in Oklahoma.

We had a compartment of four seats, and at night a bunk bed would be prepared in the space that in later planes was to be used for baggage. The whole plane was like this, the service impeccable, silver, porcelain, and white linen tablecloth and napkins.

plane interior

I do not recall seat belts, and because this was a propeller plane we flew at relatively low altitudes. I spent hours watching the wrinkled waves as we flew over the Pacific and remembering the Aorangi and all we were missing down there. Occasionally we saw a ship below. There were a lot of bumps which my 2 year old brother enjoyed immensely, like a circus ride. The pilot visited us a few times to see how we were doing and mother asked him how far we fell during the worst turbulence. He replied up to about 2000 ft . That explained why my stomach felt so funny when we hit air pockets, as they were called then.

The route was Sydney, Auckland, Fiji, Canton Island, Honolulu, and San Francisco. I remember the whole trip lasted 90 hours including the stops. We would continue on another airline to Oklahoma after resting in San Francisco for a few days. Each stopover we left the plane, were taken to a hotel to shower, eat in a restaurant, and sometimes take a swim. I remember Fiji because I had liked it when we were going out to Australia on the boat. This time we were in Na’di, not Suva, and it was dark and rainy. There had been heavy storms as we approached Fiji and two nuns siting across the aisle had been praying loudly. C finally leaned over and said for God’s sake be quiet, you are scaring my children. When we arrived the air was lush. It was nighttime and hot and damp.

Canton Island was a flat rock in the middle of nowhere. At the age of 10 this place stayed in my imagination. It seemed remarkable to me to be standing on a rock in the middle of the Pacific, the warm wind blowing off sea. It was bright and sunny – hot.

 

CantonIslandGoogleScreen

In Honolulu we were taken again to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, which even then was about the only hotel on Waikiki Beach. It was pink with a big swimming pool, and we shared our room with another young woman traveling with an infant. I remember C saved this child’s life by grabbing it just as it tried to crawl off our second story balcony. We ate at a banquette in the main restaurant and I had cottage cheese and fruit salad. Delicious. Food in Melbourne had been a bit of a problem according to C. Nobody ate fresh vegetables much. Just lamb chops.

As we re-boarded the plane that night one of our fellow travelers pointed out another plane on the runway with a curved fuselage and three fins on the tail. It was one of the early jets, and he said next time we came we would be travelling on a plane like that. I remember it was called a Constellation. Six months later we returned on the same plane and made the same stops. Years later I learned that the great pianist William Kapell had died in a plane crash on October 29 that same year as a BCPA DC 6 failed an instrument landing at San Francisco.   That was several days after we had arrived in Melbourne for T’s birthday, also October 29.

 

Crossing 3

1959

The next time I flew I was alone, 16 years old, and going to spend time with my father and his family. The plane was a new Boeing 707. In 1959 it was the latest thing and the flight took a mere 19 hours, not including stops at Na’di and Honolulu, where we were not put up at hotels, but were given a meal as part of the flight. There was some concern about that flight, because the early 707’s sometimes had trouble lowering their landing gear. But everything worked.

The seats were three on each side of the plane. But the flight was not full and I shared my three with one other woman, a professional cellist. I was traveling to Bozeman, Montana, to live with my father and go to college where he taught music. I remember she was concerned because in Honolulu she had learned of a major earthquake that had hit Yellowstone Park as we were flying. This major earthquake had killed many campers and actually shifted the location of Yellowstone Lake. Bozeman was close to Yellowstone but it was not badly affected. Still my first nights there were filled with aftershocks, which shook my bed as I dropped off to sleep.

I did not return to Australia for 7 years, and then again on a liner, the Oriana, a P & O (Peninsular and Orient) ship.

Oriana1_02

 

Crossing 4

1967

By then, in 1967, I was a graduate student, 23 years old, returning to see my mother and brother in Melbourne. The liner was not full but because I was a poor student I shared my cabin with three other women. We were pretty much left to ourselves except for meals, and a few films and parties. The Oriana also took 3 weeks to reach Sydney, still stopping at Honolulu, Suva, Auckland and Sydney. This trip was much less formal than the earlier one. I was studying for exams and read a lot. In the evening I would share a beer with other young people on board in the stern bar.

Oriana-1960-57-Stern_Bar

In Honolulu I walked around and read under a palm tree on the grounds of Iolani Palace. Waikiki was already transformed into an esplanade beach with many hotels. I walked on the beach and took a swim. We were there for about 24 hours. It was nice but the fragrant and the empty Honolulu of my childhood was a thing of the past. I bought a palm leaf basket for my mother which I still own today.

Suva had also changed. 1967 was the first year of a Fijian government independent of the British rule. The feeling was very different, hard to describe. Perhaps less regimented would be a way to put it. I walked out of Suva by the ocean. Bright eyed Fijians coming from church smiled and smiled. That was lovely. I bought some painted tapa cloth from a market.   It was very cheap and very beautiful. The main memory I have, though, is still the feeling of that velvet air of the South Pacific, and the stars at night – so bright, so many, as the northern constellations gave way to the southern sky. Even so, by the time we reached Sydney, I was glad it was over. The trip across the Tasman was rough and I had had enough.

 

Crossing 5

November 1974

Oriana1_06Dixon

By this time ocean liners had become cruise ships. Air travel had forced the change and cruises maximized the number of passengers at the expense of personal comfort to maintain profits. The stops were the same, Honolulu, Fiji, Auckland, Sydney but the magic was gone. It was difficult to find any privacy on the ship at all. Escaping a cha cha class, you run into a samba class. You get the picture. The threat of a slow moving hurricane lurking around as we sailed towards Fiji did not help as there were a few days when we were not allowed outside and had several rather scary lifeboat rehearsals. I could not wait until this trip was over. The return trip was on a Norwegian freighter. At that point I had time and could afford six weeks to travel from Perth to Singapore to Hong Kong to several ports in Japan and finally on to Vancouver. Perhaps by the end of the six weeks the relatively close quarters and company of the other 11 passengers had worn a bit thin for us all. But on this smaller vessel you joined the life of the ship and the sea, and you had good and familiar accommodation wherever you stopped to change freight, which could take up to three days. That was the last time I traveled from the US to Australia by sea.

 

Crossing 6

March 1980 and on

The next time I few to Melbourne was on Pan Am. The planes still stopped along the way, and the airlines still permitted stopovers. So, for example, you could fly from New York to Honolulu and spend a day or two there, then on to Fiji, take a break and so forth. Sometime in the 1990s the airlines started charging for the stops. And it was around then that the long haul flights from LAX to Sydney or Melbourne became the norm, fourteen hours non-stop.

 

Air-to-air view of Pan Am Boeing 747, N740PA, Clipper Ocean Pearl in flight, facing left, ca. mid 1980s-1991.

Air-to-air view of Pan Am Boeing 747, N740PA, Clipper Ocean Pearl in flight, facing left, ca. mid 1980s-1991.

 

January 2013

By divine intervention, or so it seems, we were upgraded to Business Class for the flight back from Sydney to LA. Here I discovered what had become of the luxury of my early travels. It had moved to the front of the plane, or upstairs, and become prohibitively expensive. But here was edible food, friendly service, and a bed with pillow and clean covers. For the right price you can travel in style barely cognizant of the other 270 passengers cruelly crammed into the back of the plane. This trip explained a great deal. When I think of the early days, and the fact that we were never wealthy, the fact of travel must have implied special status and therefore special treatment. Today, of course, travel is possible for many more people, but at the cost of being treated like a human being. We are not people, we are customers.

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