Bookworm: ‘Come Fly’ is ‘Mad Men’ meets a glass ceiling and destroys it

‘Coming Back!’ gives direction and hope in pandemic times

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“Come Fly the World: The Jet-Age Story of the Women of Pan Am”

  • By Julia Cooke
  • c. 2021, HMH Books
  • $28, higher in Canada; 288 pages

Table trays in the upright position. You aren’t getting off the tarmac until that happens. Also, pay attention: there are lights down the aisle along the floor, and exits above each wing. Masks will drop down, in case of loss of oxygen; put your mask on before assisting others. In “Come Fly the World” by Julia Cooke, you’re in for a trip back in time.

Lynne Totten had a biology degree, but she saw the future and it wasn’t good.

“Come Fly the World: The Jet-Age Story of the Women of Pan Am” by Julia Cooke.

It was the mid-1960s and women with a degree like hers might work as an assistant or a teacher, but never as someone in charge of a laboratory. As a voracious newspaper reader, though, Lynne eventually realized that there was “a whole world out there” that she could explore and get paid for it. She set aside biology and became a stewardess.

Karen Walker was an experienced traveler when she signed up to work at Pan Am at the advanced age of twenty-six, which was at the top of the age-limit for stewardesses; they also had height limits and regular weigh-ins, regulation hair styles, and mandatory attendance at make-up classes in stewardess school in Miami. Foremost, stewardesses at Pan Am and most other airlines then were required to be unmarried.

Hazel Bowie of Mankato, Minnesota, took advantage of new airline rules: as a Black woman, Pan Am’s reach for diversity fit her career goals. Clare Christiansen had volunteered for duty on a shuttle service to and from Vietnam that Pan Am offered through the U.S. Government; such assignments were another step on a carefully-planned career ladder. Torild “Tori” Werner, who grew up in Oslo, Norway, likewise set her sights on management but first, she also volunteered for similar shuttle duty for U.S. soldiers arriving and departing from Vietnam.

And in the spring of 1975, three of these women went to Vietnam for one final time...

If you separate “Come Fly the World” into two different camps – which may be difficult, since the book as a whole is pretty excellent – you’ll see that there really are two parts to it: the story of five women at Pan Am, and the story of women in the 1960s.

On one hand, author Julia Cooke tells the tales of Lynne, Karen, Clare, Tori, and Hazel, why they decided to become stewardesses (a word that fits the timeframe) and what their experiences were on the job. In addition to those anecdotes, most of Cooke’s subjects seized adventure and cheap off-duty travel, which also gives this book a hint of travelogue but with less romance and more practicality. Then there’s the trip back to the years 1965 to 1975, the crazy music; the wild clothes; and the lawsuits brought to give women the right to get a credit card, hold a job while married, and to work while pregnant.

Be aware that there’s no coffee, tea or me? in this book; instead, it’s “Mad Men” meets a glass ceiling, and destroys it. So, grab “Come Fly the World” and buckle in.

“Coming Back! How to Win the Job You Want When You’ve Lost the Job You Need”

  • By Fawn Germer
  • c. 2020, St. Martin’s Press
  • $27.99, $37.99 Canada; 293 pages

A little over a year ago, you didn’t think it’d last. Two weeks, a month tops, and you figured you’d be back to work like nothing happened. But something did happen: you lost your job and you’ve filled out dozens of applications but you haven’t replaced it. You’re experienced, you’re solid, you’re good at what you do, and in “Coming Back!” by Fawn Germer, you’ll see why you’re still struggling.

There’s nothing in the world like being unwillingly unemployed.

“Coming Back! How to Win the Job You Want When You’ve Lost the Job You Need” author Fawn Germer.

It’s frustrating; you can’t force someone to hire you. Maybe it’s an age thing; are you too old? Perhaps you need a more attention-grabbing resume. Or maybe, says Germer, you’ve lost your relevance. Relevant is “the one thing you absolutely must be to make it today,” to get hired, and to stay hired.

Remember, this whole thing isn’t personal. It’s just that young people enter the workforce every day and they’re tech-savvy, light on their feet, and they have a different mindset at work than you’ve had. It doesn’t matter how much “experience” you’ve got or how you perform; you could be a star worker, but if you’re not looking five years into the future and you aren’t willing to help push the company there, you might be irrelevant.

One of the things you can do is to be willing to change. Learn what you don’t know and toss out any outdated skills; chances are that what was valid when you started working is no longer relevant (there’s that word again). Tap into your inner five-year-old and become an innovator once more. Be pro-active on updating your own knowledge.

“Coming Back! How to Win the Job You Want When You’ve Lost the Job You Need” by Fawn Germer.

Read industry magazines; in fact, read the same things the CEO reads. Evolve, and show your bosses that you’re doing so. Ask for help and keep asking. Talk to younger co-workers, and let them teach you; on that note, keep your “how it used to be” stories to yourself.

Finally, be willing to learn.

“Just go learn something new,” says Germer. “Then learn something else. One step at a time, you’ll become relevant.”

Almost exactly one year ago, as author Fawn Germer points out, everything changed. That’s one of the major take-aways of “Coming Back!”: change in business is constant, now more than ever, and you do have to embrace it, though you don’t have to like it.

Ah, but you can’t hate a book that starts out with in-your-face truth: “Well, this kinda blows,” says Germer, and that sets the tone for the tough-talking you’re about to get here. This is a sit-down-now-and-listen thing, not a pep-talk so much as it’s a pep-yell, sprinkled with things that no worker over 40 wants to hear, yet must. But chill: there’s no drill sergeant inside this book, and you won’t feel bad about yourself when you’re done with it.

In fact, “Coming Back!” gives direction and hope, but not just to laid-off pandemic-effected workers; it’s also got advice for new moms, caretakers, retirees, and former sabbatical-takers. Read it, be relevant, and see if you’re not working again soon, at last.

More:Bookworm: ‘Girl A’ has a plot-twist, or two or three

And:Bookworm: Sharp characters, humor in ‘Better Luck’

Also:Bookworm: Advice on getting, keeping love

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.