Monday, May 28, 2012

Paradise and Other Matters

How I spent my spring vacation:

When I turned in my column three weeks ago, I decided it was time for
a break.

It was, after all, my 300th column for this paper. Not what you would
call prolific but still a hefty body of work.

Writing at times is a contact sport, one that can leave your bruised
and battered. As Dorothy Parker once said, “I hate writing, I love
having written.”

So it was time to lick my wounds, real and imagined.

Mrs. Columnist and I fled to Hawaii where I would rise with the sun
each day and cast my nets into the sea to gather sustenance while she
deftly shimmied up trees to harvest coconuts and breadfruit.

Well, not really. We actually ate our share of cheeseburgers washed
down with mai-tais. But we did find a quiet corner of Maui where the
rest of the world seemed very far away. And it was good.

Hawaii is called paradise. That’s partly hype but mostly true. It has
become a family joke that whenever we travel there, wherever we may
go, the temperature is always 83 degrees. And you don’t have to look
hard to find beauty and serenity.

It seems that even in paradise, however, the inhabitants are always
at war with themselves. Tourism is the major industry here and
accommodating the visitors without spoiling the islands is a delicate

Some 7 million folks visited in 2011 and they spent north of $12
billion, according to tourism figures. Aloha, friends.

On the west shores of Maui, the Kaanapali area is beginning to look
like midtown Manhattan, jammed with massive hotels, time shares and

Just south, the town of Lahaina, once the royal capital of the
Kingdom of Hawaii, is now jammed with cheap jewelry and T-shirt
joints interspersed with lousy restaurants. It is what Hawaii does

A few miles north, the area is pristine, untouched by development,
with coves of crystal blue water and views that extend from the green
majestic mountains deep into the Pacific. It’s what Hawaii does best.

When it came time to leave, we departed from Kahului Airport in Maui
known for its scenic ocean views which exist at the end of a really
short runway. Takeoff is more like being catapulted from an aircraft
carrier, or worse, lifting off at Burbank Airport.

The idea at Kahului is to crank up the engines to maximum RPMs, then
simply remove your foot from the brake. If you don’t see assorted
crustaceans and other sea life on the windshield, you’ve made it.

Shortly after becoming airborne, the captain came on the intercom to
welcome us aboard and fill us in on flight time and weather
conditions. I expected the usual: a gravely, slightly Southern tinged
voice of a ex-military fighter jock with several thousand missions
under his belt.

Instead, the cool and reassuring voice of a female filled the
airplane. My captain was a lady.

OK, I know I’m probably violating Section 8, subparagraph (d) of the
Political Correctness Code. So the pilot was a female. Who cares? This is America, land of
unrestricted opportunity, where we are all free to pursue our dreams
unless you’re gay and want to marry or a Latino living in Arizona.

But like an ethical banker or black president, a woman captain is
rare enough to command attention.

And pique my interest.

Apparently, my captain was not one of a kind nor was she one of many.
Statistics are varied but as far I could tell, there were
approximately 13,755 women who held for-hire pilot certificates in
2010. That means they were qualified, not necessarily employed.

In 1960, that number stood at 763. But according to one study, women in the for-hire category represent
only 5.15% of the pilots holding a for-hire pilot certificate.
Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Labor reports that only 4.3% of
the population that reports making a living as a pilot or flight
engineer is female.

The flight deck appears to remain a man cave.

And that’s too bad. My captain safely maneuvered us across half the
Pacific Ocean through bouts of turbulence and landed the giant craft
at LAX like a feather caressing a down comforter. She was clearly the
best man for the job.

You go, girl.

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