Even a geek needs to laugh

I’m an occasional fan of stand-up comedy, particularly when it is done in character. Think of early Whoopi Goldberg. So who is my current aviation geeky favorite? Pam Ann of course! Pam Ann is the alter ego of Australian comic Caroline Reid. She’s on stage in flight-attendant drag. Her shows are called layovers. She is very interactive with her “first class passengers,” which are usually flight crews in the first rows. She has them come on stage to perform their “Terminal Struts.” She’ll ask them who they fly for and where they flew in from. Pam’s response might be something like, “Hey Southwest! He just flew in from Paris. You’ve heard of that, haven’t you? It’s in A FOREIGN COUNTRY!” The humor is beyond edgy, hugely sexual, crude and can veer dangerously close to offensive. She creates characters based on the type and nationality of the airline. Examples include the “sluts” that fly for Virgin Atlantic, punctuality and order obsessed Brunhildas of Lufthansa, and most notoriously of them all, Lilly. Lilly is the incredibly stereotyped East Asian attendant from Singapore Airlines. It’s a high wire balancing act that when it works is hysterical. She has been called “cruelly funny” by none other than Madonna. Elton John even hired her as his flight attendant for his private jet. Nice job if you can get it!

Pam Ann presents herself as The First Class Air Hostess to The Stars. She both mocks and worships the stereotype of what Stewardess was supposed to have once been and what flight attendants are today. It’s brilliant.

The clip below is one of her most famous bits and the least offensive one I dare share. Warning! She’s foul-mouthed.


Born this way….


Fischer Price toy airplane circa early 1970’s

Are geeks born that way or are they created by unfortunate childhood trauma? The debate will never end. Here is a case in point. When my mother retired and moved to Arizona she cleaned out the attic and gave me back my favorite childhood toy, as you can see above. Was it my mother’s fault? Did she secretly know my fate but was in denial? Or did Mom purposely pave my road to happiness?  We will never know.

Fischer Price commercial from 1972 featuring the plane.

Flutter Boards

Airports make me happy. In these modern times, that’s not just geeky. Some might say it’s downright laughable considering the hassles associated with them.

Some of my earliest childhood travel memories are of one the world’s great terminals: Frankfurt Airport. Entering the original Terminal One you were confronted with one of the most imposing departure boards in the world, stretching at least fifty by fifteen feet.

The technical name of these displays is Solari Boards. All the numbers and airline names are printed on plastic tiles that “flutter” into place mechanically, so they are commonly referred to as “Flutter Boards.” The Solari Board is loud. It sounds a bit like an enthusiastic table of domino players shuffling the tiles on a table. It’s also a generator of white noise that once defined one of the largest hubs of global travel.

There is something exhilarating about the sound of the board updating. Seeing the never-ending list of exotic locations and airlines traveling around the world – including destinations that a US citizen could never legally visit – was thrilling. Havana or Tripoli anyone?

Regrettably, this piece of history is all but an anachronism. Mechanical displays have lots of moving parts that can break and need intensive maintenance. The new LCD screens look the same, including the font of the letters and numbers, but they don’t have the nostalgia of a Solari Board.

I’m not the only one that finds the sound pleasing. Boston’s commuter train station now has virtual Solari Boards that recreate the mechanical sound of their predecessors. At Frankfurt, the new LCD screens mimic the font of the old Solari Boards. Clearly, Solari Boards make many a heart flutter. They capture the excitement of an earlier era when dressing up in your Sunday Best was part of the experience. The glamorous glory days of air travel!

May the flutter continue for many more years.