Meagan and I took a walk on West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz, California. We both flew for TIA (Trans International Airlines) in the ’70s. It was only recently that I learned, from Meagan, I had caused big trouble in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, by getting our airline banned from our crew hotel.
It was a hot day—well, every day is a hot day in Saudi Arabia. The crew had just flown Muslim passengers from Kano, Nigeria for the annual pilgrimage, known as the Hadj, to Mecca. It is the dream, no the duty, of every Muslim to visit the holy land at least once in their lifetime. It was my first of many Hadj trips which were infamous for the conditions of the assignments such as staying in dirt-floor huts for the duration. We were stationed in Kano for a month at a time and did biweekly trips to Jeddah, overnighting each time.
The Senior Stew (yes, we were stewardesses before we became flight attendants) advised us of local customs by which we were to abide—do not take photographs of the locals and wear clothing that covers most of the body. We checked into the hotel and agreed to meet in the lobby in fifteen minutes for an outing to the souk, the Arab marketplace. I donned an ankle-length skirt and a tank top. I still remember it all these years later—it was royal blue with spaghetti straps. It was cut straight across the top above the boob line. This is important because, in my opinion, since it didn’t show any cleavage whatsoever, it would fit the instruction to not “show anything.”
When I arrived at the lobby the senior shook her head and said, “You should put on a long sleeve shirt.” I flashed her a grin and said, “It’s too hot. I’ll be fine.” And off we went.
We barely made it out of the lobby when I felt the first sting on my ankle. And then came another and another and I realized I was being pelted by pebbles. I looked up to see a group of snarling men in white robes glaring at me and shouting insults. The Senior shot me a dirty look. My eyes got large and I sputtered, “I’ll be right back! Going up to change my top!”
Little did I know the hotel manager had witnessed the whole thing and banned TIA from his hotel. The next crew coming in was not allowed off the aircraft. Meagan was on that flight that had to overnight in the hot, stinky DC10 with the air conditioner only working sporadically. We hadn’t met yet and she carried a grudge against me for a long time. We were laughing about that at the outdoor bar overlooking the Santa Cruz Beach when a cute, blue-eyed, fair-skinned blonde lady sat a couple of stools away, cocktail-in-hand. She looked spunky and sassy, like one of us wild TIA girls and I was about to ask her to join us when a hunky dark-complexioned guy in aviator sunglasses appeared, martini, two olives, in-hand and sat next to her.
Meagan and I continued our chatter, reminiscing about the olden days of our adventures around the world. Something triggered a conversation between us and the couple—yes, alcohol was involved—which tends to foster conversations with strangers. I about fell off my barstool when the guy, Rod, took off his sunglasses. His piercing blue eyes shot across the bar like a torpedo as he casually asked what our favorite place in the world was. Down, girl, down. He’s with the beautiful blonde. Plus he’s young enough to be your son.
His companion, named Sandy, explained that he had traveled extensively with his job. He is a co-founder of Go Puck, which makes portable battery chargers, and happened to be in Thailand where, in conjunction with GoPro, the action camera, they were covering an event. He inadvertently left his camera in the three-wheeled vehicle (Tuk Tuk) he had taken back to his hotel after a hard day’s work and dinner at a local restaurant. When he got to his room he realized he had forgotten his camera. “Damn!” he shouted to no one in particular. “That’s a four-hundred-dollar camera!“
The next morning at breakfast with his crew, he told them about his loss. They chided him with remarks such as, “Say goodbye to that baby,” and “That thing was sold before you even got back to your room!”
Before setting out for the day he went to the lobby to check messages and the desk clerk said, “There is a gentleman here to see you.”
“What? No, there can’t be. I don’t know anyone here except my crew and they’re all with me. We just came from breakfast.”
The desk clerk pointed and there stood the driver of the Tuk Tuk he had taken back to the hotel last night. The man walked quietly toward him with a broad smile holding the camera in his outstretched hand. “This yours,” he said. “You leave last night.”
“What?!” as Rod’s eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. “You found me here? How did you…? The other members of the film crew gathered around and the desk clerk interpreted. Rod was so touched by the honesty and effort it took to return the camera, he gave it back to the driver. “Take it. It’s worth a lot of money here. You are so good to bring it back to me. I want you to have it. Please.”
The quiet, humble man broke down into tears. Turns out his wife was suffering from a terrible illness and they couldn’t afford the medical bills. If he sold the camera they could get her treatment and buy her medicine which would save her life. The other crew members heard the tale and started giving their equipment to him as well. He was overwhelmed with the generosity and kindness of these Americans. He will never forget the day Rod left his GoPro in his Tuk Tuk.
And Rod is still telling the tale which has touched the hearts of many, including my own. I’m crying as I write this.
Meanwhile, back to the question Rod had asked, “What’s your favorite place in the world?”
“Mine is the Virgin Islands for its white sandy beaches and warm, turquoise waters that feel like velvet on your skin,” I cooed dreamily.
The cute blonde with Rod piped up, “That’s me! I’m a white Sandy Beach.”
“Huh?” I cocked my head and scrunched my eyebrows together.
She laughed. “That’s my name—Sandy Beach.”
Rod nodded his head. “True. And her whole family is just as white and blonde. Scandinavians.”
She snuggled up to her handsome man. “Yeah, he’s the raisin in the rice pudding,” and we all four laughed.
You never know what can happen in a day. Meagan and I were simply having a liquid refreshment in the Jack O’Neil Bar at the Dream Inn in Santa Cruz after our three-mile walk on West Cliff Drive. After hearing the story of Rod from Go Puck and the Tuk Tuk, we simply must hear more. Same time next week? Cheers!