Having extra spending money was an advantage for enjoying destinations far and away, and Ric enjoyed all his trips but sometimes the shorter flights offered a nice change. On occasion, he’d fly an IGS (Internal German Service) segment or a London-Paris turn just long enough to enjoy lunch and then fly back. Being a flexible Pan Am cabin attendant required an open mind to new experiences. With such an extensive global route structure, coming in contact with different people, places, and things was the norm. Some cities were, of course, enjoyed more than others but an inquisitive mind and stepping out of one’s comfort zone was almost always a common theme among Pan Am crew. With a distinct air of mystery and captivation in his voice, Ric explains:
“India was so raw and so third world. You couldn’t drink the water or you’d get what they called ‘Delhi Belly.’ I never got it, though. I always found India so fascinating; so unique. It was not westernized as it is today by any means. If you were in town and there was a wedding going on, you’d see them riding on elephants and all the people would go running over pinning rupees onto the cloth that hung down from the bride and groom’s elephant for good luck. I especially loved the food!”
Pan Am’s exotic destinations offered something different for everybody. Word-of-mouth recommendations of what to see, where to eat, and where to shop traveled as quickly as the planes themselves. Local merchants often catered to Pan Am crew, as repeat business would be consistent and reliable. Beirut, once regarded as the Paris of the Middle East, is always remembered as a particularly favorite layover among many flight crews, including Ric:
“Beirut was my favorite place of all the places that I traveled. It’s right on the Mediterranean, and it had the same climate as in Southern California. The food was great, and it was inexpensive. You could drink the water. They had a great gold market (the Gold Souk). The girls used to take real big advantage of this, and I occasionally did when I brought my mother and sister some things. You could buy 18 karat gold at the time, when in the U.S. only 14 karat gold was widely available. The markets were incredible! Unlike the U.S. where the finest jewelers don’t display much in the windows, they displayed all their merchandise. There were gold jewelry shops lined up next to each other. One right after the other all in the same place. We usually went to one particular place called Jamous Frères. Mr. Jamous ran the place. He always gave us a bit of a discount. You could go in there and show him a picture of something and come back two weeks later and he’d have it ready for you exactly like the picture.”
The crew enjoyed seeing the sites by taking day trips or excursions to more distant towns or locations during longer layovers. It offered the ability to absorb truly the unique cultures away from the larger cities. Being gone for extended periods of time far removed from one’s common surroundings allowed for a real sense of freedom and adventure. This special lifestyle of dropping into one city and flying on to the next to savor all that it had to offer was extraordinarily one-of-a-kind. It was, therefore, important to be mindful of the local customs, traditions, and laws, which most cabin attendants were. The feeling of independence, confidence, and even anonymity from traveling the world and often being in vastly different environments created a unique, carefree existence. For some, this could, unfortunately, result in not being cautious enough:
“The crew would often go to the towns of Baalbek and Byblos on our Beirut layovers. Kids would try to sell you hashish.” As the story goes, allegedly there was a purser, who bought some hashish in one of the towns. She went to Jamous Frères at the gold market afterward to buy some things and ended up leaving it in a brown paper bag at the store. She called the store asking them to send it to the hotel; when the package arrived, hotel personnel alerted the police, who were next to knock at her door.
She was arrested, but because Pan Am, a major company and supplier of tourism, had clout they were able to get her out of jail, fly her home and then promptly fire her. This probably saved her life. “The Middle East is NOT a place you want to be caught with drugs!”
When Pan Am cabin attendants weren’t traveling for work, they were traveling on days off. Free travel, employee discounted benefits, and a waiting world was too irresistible to stay home. No different from most Pan Am crew who couldn’t get enough jet-setting, Ric took advantage of his personal time off:
“I went to many different places that we typically didn’t fly to. I did like going to Paris. It was only a forty-minute flight. I actually went to the states to do some traveling and I really enjoyed Vail, Colorado. I’d go off to Yugoslavia, Italy, Portugal, Romania and many other places. I went all over. I really had a good time.”
Ric flew many miles during his Pan Am days. Most flights were uneventful however he did experience one emergency when lightning struck the airplane affecting the instrumentation:
“We were coming out of Frankfurt, and there was a heavy-duty storm and something hit the windshield of the aircraft and shattered it. It didn’t create a hole, but it just cracked. The pilots said that it was lightning and it caused a short by also striking the nose of the 747 where the avionics are located. When we came into London, the pilots couldn’t tell exactly how far off the ground we were when we were landing. They couldn’t even tell if the landing gear was down. We had to prepare the cabin for an emergency landing. We collected shoes, pins, glasses, and anything sharp because that was one of the things we were trained to do to protect the passengers and evacuation slides. We showed the passengers how to brace for impact and all that stuff. You’re just sitting in your jumpseat thinking, WOW! Then you’re focused on being ready to deploy the slide and getting the passengers off the plane. Of course, when we came in, they had emergency vehicles on the runway. The control tower was indicating to the pilots whether or not the landing gear was down and how far off the ground we were. We came in not knowing just how hard we were going to hit, but it turned out to be one of the smoothest landings I’d ever had.”
Always prepared for something new and exciting, the experience of living in another country and traveling the world will no doubt yield stories to tell. Pan Am cabin attendants certainly have many. It’s no wonder that so many books have been written to recount these very memorable and unique experiences to say the least. Sometimes it’s only years later that one can laugh at what seemed like a sure calamity in the beginning. Driving on the other side of the road in England was no issue for Ric. He made sure he had a way to get around by purchasing a couple of cars during his time based in London – one from a guy living in a trailer park. After having this particular car for a while, Ric sold it to Greg, another cabin attendant, and this is where the tangled story begins as Ric can now look back with a bit of humor:
“Greg loaned the car to a courier. During this time, the British Military had checkpoints along the Heathrow Airport perimeter road, and they would randomly stop cars looking for people from the IRA (Irish Republican Army.) They happened to stop the courier who was borrowing Greg’s car. Mind you, when I had the car, I never got the license tags for it so the British Military noticed the expired license and did a quick investigation on the history of the vehicle. They determined it was a stolen car. I had originally purchased a stolen car and never knew it! Well, the courier informs the British Police that the car actually belongs to Greg, a Pan Am cabin attendant. The British Police met Greg upon arrival of his flight and took him to military police headquarters for questioning. Next thing I know, I get a phone call from Greg telling me that I need to talk to these people and explain that I purchased the car and sold it to him. I explained the situation and gave an approximate location where I purchased the vehicle. Luckily, the police were satisfied with my explanation. For the longest time, however, I feared that if I ever had to go back to England, my name would be registered for a crime.”
Ric’s time flying for Pan Am had a very positive influence on his life. He never grew tired of traveling, meeting interesting people, and experiencing the unexpected. He had the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and “The Greatest” on his flight – Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali. A baby was even delivered too! As much as Ric was having a great time and enjoyed flying, the uncertainty of maintaining employment in the career was evident as he was laid off twice. Three months the first time and two months the second. Ric decided not to return to flying and instead followed his long-term plan of going back to college:
“One of the best experiences of my life was working for Pan Am. Being able to fly for the best airline, having the chance actually to make the most money of all the airlines, and then being able to fly around the world and live in a foreign country!”
After Ric gave up his wings, he returned to San Jose State University but not without his 1959, right-hand Volkswagen Beetle that he purchased back in England. Because he was laid off, Pan Am paid to have his belongings shipped back, including the car! He still remembers all the stares and attention he received on the California roads from his Beetle. Ric studied and got involved in theatrical arts and then graduated a couple of years later and got a job as a studio camera operator for a local San Jose TV station in 1977. His skill helped him to be quickly promoted as head of the entire production department in less than a year. Although he had no real desire to be on TV, his success working behind the camera evolved into working in front of it six years later when he moved to Salt Lake City to host an entertainment and adventure show. Ironically, his new job required him to travel all over the world. From Grizzly Bear hunting in Alaska, ice climbing in Wyoming, to yachting in the Greek Isles, just to name a few, Ric was once again enjoying life as a globetrotter similar to his days flying for Pan Am. Ric’s success on TV then led him to anchor the news for a Phoenix station for five years. He eventually returned to Los Angeles where he established himself with ABC 7 as a news anchor and reporter. Ric retired from the station in November 2015 after twenty-five years! He thoroughly enjoyed his time there, and like the camaraderie shared by airline crew, Ric says not working with his colleagues is a bit of an adjustment. His hour-and-a-half commute both ways will be traded in for some fun traveling the road with his wife in their Airstream travel trailer. He’s also having a great time participating and acting in local community theater productions.
Ric attributes much of his personal growth and success in TV news to flying the world with Pan Am. A once-in-a-lifetime experience that has impacted the way he views life and even himself:
“After I had flown for Pan Am, I felt like I could go anywhere in the world or do any kind of job and I would be competent. Here I was twenty-four years old. I felt like I could just get up and fly somewhere, and be happy. I would find a place to stay. I would know where to eat. I would meet people and learn the language. I had total confidence in myself and my abilities as a result of working for Pan Am.”
Clipper Crew Note: To view Ric’s Pan Am segment that aired on ABC news click here (it takes a full minute to load).