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The Magic of Air Travel in the 1960s - JFK and 'Pan Am'

By September 26, 2011

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I didn't go to Disneyworld until I was an adult, but I never felt as if I'd missed out because I had JFK. Growing up within ten miles of that glamorous modern international airport, I tagged along with any friend or relative headed that way. The jets were rides I couldn't afford and the terminals were futuristic buildings meant only for passing through, not staying in, but it didn't matter. To me, JFK was better than any amusement or theme park.

Its glass, metal and concrete structures defied gravity and mimicked flight with their swooping wings and soaring overhangs. Massive jets taxied past like graceful figure skaters. The sky overhead was crowded with incoming and outgoing flights like bees hovering around a busy hive. Even the many bustling shops, restaurants, crowded escalators, endless hallways and seating areas in the various terminals were glamorous, because everything was dusted with the magic that people from exotic faraway places brought with them.

I remember the stewardesses, beautiful as princesses but with purpose and direction. They didn't need a kiss to wake them up, a shoe to lead them to a better life, or a prince to slay a dragon or climb a tower and help them escape. They were making their own way in the world on their terms.

Sometimes I would see one or two in my neighborhood, darting in and out of apartments shared with other young women who were stewardesses too. They always walked quickly, hailed cabs, looked perfectly pressed and fresh and cheerful. I never envisioned myself growing up to be like them because they were almost otherworldly creatures.  Imagine flying for a job!

It would be years before I flew in a plane, and I left New York City long before that happened. But as fate would have it, when I was thirteen my first plane ride was back to the city.

JFK was the airport I landed in.

I don't remember that flight or how JFK looked from the sky, probably because the reality didn't live up to the extravagant fantasies I had built up around that airport. But I've since flown in and out many times, and my adult experiences still haven't erased the childhood sense of wonder I have for air flight and what it represented -- a wide open sky without boundaries.

When I heard that two new fall TV shows situated in the past were pushing the female empowerment angle, I was intrigued. When I learned that one was about the Playboy Club and the other about Pan Am, I didn't need a flight plan or guidance from any tower to tell me which would take off and which would crash and burn.

I didn't watch the Playboy Club and don't plan to. (Take that, Hugh Hefner.) But I did watch Pan Am.

Read the review below if you want to know whether or not the show lives up to its female empowerment premise. But women's issues aside and purely from a nostalgic perspective, Pan Am took me back to my early childhood. I was just as excited to immerse myself in an hour of TV as I was to visit JFK airport, and in that regard, the show didn't disappoint.

If you were lucky enough to experience any part of the sixties firsthand, tune in just to see how right they got it. If you need more info to decide if it's worth an hour of your time, check out my review:

Review of ABC's Pan Am -  Promoting Female Empowerment or Perpetuation of Stereotypes?

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