Monday, February 4, 2008

Sky Marshal Story - Sake Story - #17

After about two months of temporary posting as a Customs Security Officer, otherwise known as a Federal Sky Marshal (these days, Air Marshal), covering PamAm flights out of New York and bound for Europe, in March of 1971 I was reassigned to my permanent duty station in San Francisco. From there I, and a couple dozen other Sky Marshals, guarded select routes flown by PamAm and other US carriers to points west – flying as undercover guards far as Bangkok. Capitals further west, such as New Delhi, were covered by Sky Marshals flying out of New York.

For the next 15 or 16 months I would rack about 750,000 miles making short stops in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Saigon, Manila and Bangkok. To and from these destinations I touched down in Anchorage, Hawaii and Guam. Rarely did the Sky Marshals have much of a layover between flights. Uncle Sam wasn’t paying us to broaden our cultural horizons and we didn’t have any “flight rules” governing how much down time was required between flights that I ever heard about. Such free time as we did have between flights was taken up by checking in our weapons upon arrival, clearing the local customs, finding a cab, getting a hotel room, eating some chow, grabbing some shut-eye and then repeating the process in reverse. Often I had as little as 6 hours between flights. Not much time for sightseeing if I wanted to get some sleep.

But what the heck. If I met someone on the flight who wanted to see some sights…well, sleep has always taken a backseat to feminine companionship on my list of priorities. As mentioned a couple of blogs back, PanAm boasted some of the most attractive young ladies aloft. Not all of whom were disinclined to accept and invitation to dinner by the in-flight security personnel…that is to say…me.

Yah, yah, yah. I can hear it now. Fraternization between the security personnel and the flight crew is not to be encouraged lest it create a breakdown in the…whatever. After nearly three months on the job, it was obvious that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine had pulled in its horns. Or, at the very least, Yassir’s stooges weren’t casing out airports outside of the Mediterranean. Of course there were splinter groups of wild-eyed wackos seeking martyrdom all over the world. Anyways, I assume there were. You see, I never saw any kind of report, or threat warning, or danger status-condition-orange sort of thing…the whole time I worked as a Sky Marshal. All I ever got was a list of patterns every few weeks of flights that I was supposed to guard. A typical pattern was SFO / Tokyo / Hong Kong / Bangkok / Hong Kong / Tokyo / SFO…all in five days. I guess the presence of hastily trained, ill-informed in-flight Sky Marshals was a sufficient deterrent to terrorists in those days.

So I made friends with the stewardesses, or at least the friendly ones. Stop rolling your eyes. I have no intention of writing a kiss-and-tell blog. And even if I did it wouldn’t be true. As an example, here’s a “didn’t kiss and tell” story…

On a flight to or from Tokyo, I forget which, I met a pretty girl who I’ll call Linda. I’d seen her on a couple of other patterns so when I bumped into her outside the airport waiting for the crew bus I said “hi.” We chatted a bit and before you could say “coffee, tea or sake,” we had set up a date. As usual, PanAm put the crew up in pretty ritzy digs, while those us living on Federal per diem roosted on a much lower perch. Though, with the yen at 280 per dollar, you could still find nice rooms cheap.

After a quick shower at my cheap hotel room I found a cab and I picked up Linda at the Imperial Hotel (I said they were ritzy digs). From there we went out to a tempura restaurant in the Ginza that she liked. We spent the next little while seated on the floor washing down batter-fried octopus nostrils with rounds of sake when Linda says to me, “It’s expensive to drink here. Let’s get some sake and go back to my room.”

Before you could say, “Ready, aim, fire,” we get a cab and head back to the Imperial Hotel. But when we get there, Linda tells me that she doesn’t want to order the sake from room service because it will show up on her bill, so would I please go get some. "Sure, no problem" I said and then I spent the next hour in a cab driven by a driver who spoke no English trying to find the Japanese equivalent of a 7-11 store. Amazingly, I found one, bought some sake, and we returned to the hotel. I gave the driver a good tip and despite the hard-wired Japanese dignity, he couldn’t resist giving me a big smile. Way to go, round eye!

I stuck the bottle under my coat before I walked through the majestic doors of the Imperial Hotel into a lobby that was about the size of an airplane hanger. In short order I found the house phone and called up to Linda’s room fully expecting that she’d gotten tired of waiting for me and gone to sleep. But no, she was all sparkly and told me to come right up.

I found the door her room ajar, and as I opened it she called out for me to heat up the sake in the bathroom sink. So, I did a quick 90 degree turn into the bathroom and ran hot water over the bottle. Eventually, after increasing the sake’s temperature by about one degree, I poured out about two fingers each into two hotel water glasses and walked into the room…



…where I found Linda seated cross-legged on the bed wearing only panties and some virtually transparent, short, peignoir-type top. My sake-addled brain shot right past “every boy’s fantasy fulfilled” to “this is pretty weird.” Still, a full bottle of sake and a pretty girl who seems friendly are not things to be ignored, so I handed her a glass and sat down next to her on the bed.

“I rather you didn’t sit so close,” she said.

Okay. So I moved to the other bed – the room had two double beds. We – mostly Linda – chatted about this and that. When she drained her glass, I offered to get her another drink. “Please,” she says and so I do…returning to find that she had taken off her transparent top. Now it’s just me with an almost naked, really good-looking girl with a flirtatious smile and a mostly full bottle of sake.

After I handed her the glass I moved to touch her hair. She flinched away and said, “Please don’t.”

By now we’re in the smallest of the wee small hours. I’ve had a snoot full of sake and I’m very confused about the rules of engagement. The whole "get away closer" thing is making my head spin so I tell Linda that I’m leaving, at which point she starts to cry. With her sudden rush of tears I’m expecting a private detective with a Speed Graflex camera – flashbulbs popping – to jump out of closet. I said “goodbye” and left.

The next morning as I’m walking on to the PanAm flight that I’m scheduled to guard, who should I see handing out the rolls of steaming towels that were given to all the First Class passengers at the start of a flight but Linda, my sake buddy from the previous evening. She takes one look at me, utters a small shriek, drops the tray of towels, and rushes through the curtains into the large galley that separates the First Class seats from steerage on a 747.

In short order, the flight’s Purser – in this case a senior stewardess – comes out through the curtains like an avenging angel on afterburners, points at me and says, “I’ll see you in the lounge, mister.” I look around to see all the passengers staring at me mouths agape. I follow the Purser up the winding staircase to the 747's upstairs lounge where she reams me out every which way at a volume that the ramp rats standing outside of the plane on the tarmac could hear. I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that she was going to file a report with my supervisor in SFO.

Which she most certainly did, and I was duly called before Agent in Charge who asked me what had happened. I told him the whole story, after which he sat silent for a long time. Finally, he pulled open some drawers in his desk until he found what he was looking for – a copy of the Federal regulations and policies – from which he read something along these lines. The exact words escape me but it went something like this:

“Federal agents are specifically prohibited from discharging a weapon unless presented with a clear and unobstructed target.”

Since it was clear that I had followed Federal regulations to the letter, he closed the book and told me to get out of his office.

© Stephen Rustad, 2008

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Good lord, I laughed hard at that ending!