Marlene DeVere :: My Airline Interview ::

Creative Non-Fiction

southern legitimacy statement: It’s not just the music or long summers, but the slow and easy breezes and sweet teas that makes Southern exposure life-fulfilling. Schooled in Southern Illinois, thrived in Houston, Texas, and now awake in the setting sun of Tucson, Arizona, where incidentally, the world’s largest Boneyard of retired airplanes rests. Even though it had been many decades since I worked for Eastern Airlines, “Number one to the sun,” (which apparently took its own slogan too personally and went out of commission for several years), I thought it would be fun to work for an airline again. I didn’t get the chance but instead pursued a long and enjoyable career in broadcast journalism, as an advertising copywriter and teacher.

My Airline Interview

My Airline Interview 

I was sick of going to school. Who hasn’t been there? So at 20, after quitting college, my real job began—looking for work that wasn’t part-time or minimum wage. Even I knew that $1 an hour wouldn’t get me too far from my parent’s house. However, no matter the odds, I always felt confident I could get the job I wanted thanks to Chicken Man. 

Growing up in Chicago, I’d encounter Chicken Man when shopping downtown. He’d be panhandling near Marshall Field’s wearing a raggedy duster and a chicken on his head. Holding a tin cup, he would jiggle a chain that was attached from his wrist to the chicken’s leg and with a tug on the chain, the chicken would ‘dance’ on his head—apparently to the tune of millions. After Chicken Man died, an article appeared in the newspaper about his wealth, which included sending a couple of kids to prestigious East Coast schools and owning several properties in the high-rent district. 

My dad would invoke Chicken Man and his determination to succeed as an example of the work ethic he so admired. “If a guy can make money getting a chicken to dance on his head,” he’d say, laughing until he was red in the face and nearly breathless, “you can get a job pecking at a typewriter.” 

So, after pounding the pavement for a couple of months, I was hired as a reservation agent for Eastern Airlines at the Merchandise Mart where it rented office space from the Kennedy family.  There was a portrait of Yvonne De Carlo on its main floor and I never found out why it was there, but I always remembered how beautiful she was.

Decades later, I found myself living in Southern California and stepping on the star of De Carlo at the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Completely forgetting the mind-numbing, gender bias, and shift work of those years at Eastern, I remembered the instant friends and travel companions and thought it would be fun to work for an airline again.  

Soon after that epiphany, an ad appeared in the Los Angeles Times looking for customer service agents at an international airline. I was sure my online application would be accepted. After all, I actually had airline experience. I still remembered the 24-hour clock and the airport codes in major cities. On the downside, I worked there when we used gas station maps to navigate routes and computer cards to make reservations written in pencil and placed on a conveyor belt.  

When my online application was accepted, I went to the interview feeling confident. Sitting in an auditorium with 50 other hopefuls, we listened to the airline’s ups and downs. Half the people left. And who could blame them?  It felt like a torturous self-help training session—rigid seats, no liquid refreshments, no donuts.  

Those of us who survived the ‘pep talk’ were moved to another room to sit in a kumbaya circle where the interview process began. First, we were to name a person we’d want to have lunch with and explain why. About three guys wanted to do lunch with Madonna, preferably in concert gear, and talk about ‘music.’ The only person I could think of was Emeril for all the obvious reasons: The guy can cook and I was hungry.

Our next task was to explain how we would handle a worst-case scenario as it related to general customer service.   “A woman picks up her wedding dress from a dry cleaner and finds a hole in the middle of the dress. It is made of the finest silk and embroidered with hundreds of tiny pearls. As the owner of the cleaners, what you would do?” 

Uh, lock myself in a panic room? 

Just so you know that was not an acceptable answer.

Then we were to share something about ourselves that would not be on our resume. It was startling to hear the little known and useless facts people revealed about themselves. 

One woman, with overly-arched eyebrows and caked-on powder, said she really loved cosmetology and eventually wanted to do makeup for the stars. It appeared she had already been doing makeup under the stars, Go to the light, I wanted to yell. 

When it was my turn, I stated my name then just stood there. I had completely blanked on my previous years of work experience and life events. I not only didn’t know what I had ever done that was the slightest bit interesting but couldn’t even fathom why I was there. 

That lasted a few seconds before I recovered and told of my love of animals (a complete lie, although I have nothing against them) and my desire to help people. Well, not a complete lie. Although I have been getting crabbier lately, I did feel I could be reformed for the right amount of money and perks.

Finally, one rather bloated-looking guy said he collected bottle caps as a hobby. I thought that was a huge blunder but as it turned out, he was one of the finalists selected for the next round of interviews and I was not. 

After the group disbanded, I asked the guy if he collected particularly artistic bottle caps and mounted them for display.

“Nah,” he said. “My roommate and I just pop the beer bottles and pitch the caps into a paper bag that we have in the middle of the living room. Once the bag is filled, we throw it out.” 

I surmised the airline had a strict hiring practice and decided I could never drink enough to meet their standards. Maybe it was time to buy that chicken, although mine will be already packaged and ready for roasting. 

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