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Tales of Pan Am: 350 Eggs... But Who's Counting?

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RAGEH ALMURISI
AP FILE

Wherever we were in the world, we Pan Am stewardesses were expected to be able to think on our feet and often had to. Spread all over the world and far away from any supervision, there was nobody to ask when a crisis arose or things went awry. We were expected to be independent thinkers, to bring order out of chaos, and to look good doing it! The challenge was to be able to pull this off without passengers feeling any discomfort -- or even having any awareness that something was amiss.

It was on a night flight from JFK to Buenos Aires, early in my 20-year career, when I faced one of my biggest challenges. Never having been a domestic goddess or a culinary genius (as some of my colleagues were), I felt proud that lately everything had gone smoothly when I worked the galley.

I must have been feeling especially daring that night because I volunteered to work the aft galley on our 707. As the "galley girl," I was responsible for cooking and dishing up a delicious dinner for over 100 passengers, followed in the morning by a full breakfast service. We usually served omelets and sausages, the only glitch being that the omelets had a tendency to turn green if overcooked for just one minute -- a putrid, nauseating green.

Boarding the plane on that freezing January night, clutching my uniform overcoat around me, I was not prepared for what I saw when I opened up the auxiliary galley located across from the aft galley. There, to my dismay, were 350 fresh eggs, buckets of fresh butter, and cartons of fresh cream. I had never seen so many eggs! Endless cartons of eggs! Although we had always cooked eggs to order in First Class, fresh eggs for over 100 people seemed an impossible task.

All during the dinner service, I was trying to figure out my plan of attack on those eggs. Step One: I would commandeer our silver tureens, used for ice/soup/caviar/cherries jubilee. Step Two: I would locate the large stack of flimsy aluminum pans in which to cook the eggs, the containers that usually contained the omelets. Step Three: I would need to melt the butter, crack the eggs, and add the cream to fill all those containers -- which, by the way, had no tops (a serious problem in the event of turbulence).

I remember that night, firmly ensconced on my jumpseat, straddling all those eggs. All during the evening, the sounds of my labor resonated throughout the quiet cabin as I broke the eggs into the silver tureens: crack! crack! crack! crack! crack! The smell of melting butter attracted curious passengers, and one woman, amused to see me in an already-egg-stained apron up to my elbows in eggs, asked me if she could take my picture. "If I don't have proof," she said, "nobody will ever believe this.

As surely as the sun comes up at breakfast time on a night flight from New York to Buenos Aires, so does the air get bumpy -- which is not good news when you're trying to scramble eggs in a red-hot oven. We flight attendants used to say that it's almost as if the airplane smells the coffee brewing -- because sure enough, whenever we'd start a service, here comes the turbulence.

The aft galley on the 707 was a small space, requiring intricate choreography among the three flight attendants, with each person trying to take up as little room as possible. In order to serve 350 fresh scrambled eggs, I knew I'd have to use the extra space provided by a rickety service shelf (also known as "the ironing board"). The problem with that shelf is that it was laid across the galley counters, with no way to secure it, and it pinned the galley girl inside the galley. Very carefully, I placed the first containers of eggs all across the shelf in order to rotate them in and out of the ovens, where they would require careful scrambling.

As if on cue, as we began the meal service, the Captain announced that we'd be experiencing some turbulence. We heard the sound of the engines slowing down, and felt the eerie quiet just before we hit one very strong bump. I watched in horror as the shelf lined with pans waiting to be cooked rose up a couple of inches. There I was, holding onto that shelf for dear life, not wanting to lose all those breakfasts. One of the containers slid right off the shelf, spilling all over my uniform and shoes. Despite the apron, I was covered with slimy eggs, but even worse, I started slipping and sliding all over the galley floor.

Bouncing up and down, I was determined to cook those stupid eggs perfectly, against all odds. Somehow, my fellow flight attendants and I got into a "zone" and we managed, row after row, to deliver beautiful, fluffy scrambled eggs and sausages. Each dish was topped off by one bright green sprig of parsley, otherwise known as "Pan Am roses," because no meal was considered complete without it. My fellow flight attendants and I felt extremely gratified when several passengers made a special trip back to the galley to tell us that it was the most delicious meal they had ever had on an airplane!

I must have been one sorry sight when I got off the airplane on that beautiful, bright and hot summer morning. I couldn't cover myself up with my overcoat because it was too hot. Eggs encrusted my hair, my uniform, my shoes, and my purse. The feeling of satisfaction, however, is something I've never forgotten. My crew and I had found a way to bring order from chaos, and those eggs had not defeated me, even though a referee might call it a draw: when I arrived at my hotel room and undressed, I had scrambled eggs in my bra!

As I looked in the mirror, I thought, "Ah! The glamorous life of a Pan Am stewardess!"