Two Days with an EastEnder

plane.jpgLast week I endured the two most dreaded days of my life each year for the past 20 years. FAA mandated 'stewardess training,' formally known as "CQ." Stands for 'Continuing Qualification.' Ladies and Gentlemen, this has nothing to do with serving you drinks and meals, listening to all of your problems, helping you stow your 100 pound compact suitcases, with an everlasting smile on my face.

"Grab ankles, bend over, stay down. Release seat belts, leave everything, come this way, jump and slide two at a time" Repeat 1,000 times in two days but wait....if you're on a 747, upper deck, remember to say 'sit and slide'  as it is a long way down. If you're on a MD88, remember to grab the flashlight as it is dark in the tailcone. But wait, that's if we crash on land; it's all different if we land in the Hudson River. We bought another airline last year so now we have 20 different airplanes instead of 10 and it's different on each plane. 

lifevests.jpgWe are paired into small groups and my group had our plane hijacked. It's no different than a screenplay in how it is meticulously choreographed. I can't divulge the information but I did come home knowing that I am prepared.

The highlight of those two days is that I ran into an old stew friend of mine, Jane Jensen,* in the employee cafeteria. I haven't seen Jane in a number of years. She is a beautiful southern girl who oozes charm and I was immediately drawn to her when we shared a jumpseat on a flight to London many years ago. Over the course of that flight, we discovered that our Dads were friends and had known each other for years as they did a lot of business together. We became fast friends and that seemed to give us a hall pass to misbehave.

The first night in London she and I met out with the rest of the crew at an obscure restaurant off the beaten path where all the other stews and pilots were meeting for drinks and dinner. It seemed like we were in someone's old country house because I'm sure that's what it used to be. It was definitely a 'crew restaurant' as we ended up sitting at a table that was composed of other stews and pilots from other airlines.

Jane and I went to the bar for an after dinner drink. There were two well-dressed, charming British guys standing next to us, who were very polite and chatty. One of our pilots walked up and asked if we were venturing out somewhere after dinner. One of the British guys gave us some suggestions, none of which were in walking distance, so he volunteered to give us a ride as his friend was leaving. Pilots are an easy target for anyone volunteering to entertain them and especially it there's a free ride involved.

Jane and I, another stew and two of the pilots took up our new friend's offer and off we went. He had a very fancy car and said he had done a lot of things in his life but never picked up an airline crew at a restaurant. Well, this was a first for us, too. Getting in a car with a stranger is not the norm; we barely talk to people on layovers, much less hang out with them and ride in their car. But if Jane was going, I was going.

martinis.jpgMatthew* drove us down the road to a very swanky martini bar, one where there is no sign outside, you just have to know it. Matthew told us he was an actor in a British TV series. None of us had heard of the show but we'd all seen lots of movie stars in our careers so we thought nothing of it.

The pilots and the other stew bailed on us shortly before midnight but Jane reminded me that it was only 7pm in Atlanta and we had two more days in London so we should make the most of it. Matthew said he couldn't have another drink and drive home and Jane said "no problem, we can walk back to the hotel and you can stay in Laura's room." What?? Neither one of them blinked an eye at the offer so I went along with it. I have no idea what time we decided to walk back to the hotel, which was a good two miles away. 

On the walk back to the hotel, Jane asked Matthew if he was free the next day, as we would love for him to take us for a ride into the countryside of England. He said he had to film the next night but for us to be ready at 10am and he would gladly oblige. 12 drinks later this sounded all logical at the time. We took him to my room and Jane and I went to her room. 

We woke up the next morning sort of in denial of the evening. "Did we really ask this guy to pick us up and spend the day with him," Jane wondered.  "HELLO, you told him he could sleep in my room with all my stuff!" We got dressed and went downstairs and there he was, waiting on us with his cute little fluffy dog that he had gone to pick up that morning. 

Our first stop was the most charming town of Horshom in the county of Sussex where my ancestors are from. We toured an old church and looked at dilapidated grave sites from the 1700's. Got back in the car and headed down to Portsmouth, an old medieval village on the coast. We were hungry and asked some locals for a restaurant recommendation. The Lemon Sole Seafood Restaurant was the unanimous choice. Jane and I immediately noticed that everyone was staring at us. Perhaps because we were Americans? Looked like tourists? Maybe they were admiring Matthew's cute fluffy dog?

We drove along the coast and we were both in awe of the scenery and also of our new friend and how nice he was and what an excellent tour guide he was. We hit the jackpot meeting him the previous evening because that just never happens.

It was late in the afternoon and time for Matthew to go to work. We asked again the name of his TV show. "East Enders." Never heard of it. He dropped of us off, exchanged emails and phone numbers and promised to keep in touch. Jane and I went back to the hotel, exhausted and turned on the TV and there it was and he was! 

eastenders.jpgA few weeks later I shared this story with my very good British friend, Robert. He gasped and was appalled how two worldly stewardesses who had been to England no less than 100 times each had never heard of "East Enders." It's was the favorite show of Princess Diana. The Queen of England is also a huge fan, as is, apparently, everyone in England. Robert said "you girls met the most famous actor in England, the equivalent, at the least of meeting one of the guys on "Friends" in its' heyday and he actually talked to you in a bar, took you out that night and the next day." He still to this day tells that story to all his British friends.

Jane made me tell her friend, sitting at the table with us that day in the employee cafeteria, the infamous story. Not until after I told it, did she tell me he was a "Supervisor." A flight attendant supervisor! I wanted to crawl under the table as that is not a story to tell those folks! That's when Jane informed me that she had also become a supervisor. I was speechless. Jane was now my boss. I laughed out loud. She told me that she was going to be out of the office for awhile, on a special assignment, flying to Amsterdam and Rio de Janeiro, as there have been numerous reports of crew members behaving badly. 

Jane's going to let me know her schedule next month so I can bid the trips she is observing and go with her. Perhaps we can teach those naughty stews how to have fun the proper way.

* The names in this story have been changed to protect the innocent.
Laura grew up in a small southern town in Georgia on a cotton and pecan farm where life centered around family, friends and good food. She has lived in Atlanta for over 20 years and has been a Flight Attendant for a major airline for 20 years, traveling the world in search for the next best meal.