Whoopi Goldberg, honey, this is all your fault.
There I was, your basic mild-mannered moviegoer, taking in an early Friday evening show of "Jumpin' Jack Flash." I had carefully planned to meet a friend for the film, which got out at 7:30, and then leisurely catch an 8:30 flight to San Francisco for a work assignment.
But when you see "Jumpin' Jack Flash," the happiest, kick-up-your-heels-and-go-for-it movie of the year (forget what the critics say), you get inspired.
Even if it's just in little ways, like say, deciding on the spot to try to make the 8 p.m. PSA departure instead of the sanity special on United at 8:30--and unwittingly setting in motion a deliciously surprising string of events.
They say great movies change your perspective on the world. In "Jumpin' Jack," Whoopi has such a great time taking all manner of inane risks (she even makes it look like fun to get a sequined gown caught in a paper shredder), my world shifted the minute I stepped out of the theater.
By then, the options were clear-cut: Peacefully proceed to LAX for the 8:30 flight on United, be assured of a reservation and arrive in the Bay Area as scheduled, the very picture of corporate composure.
Or, play Beat the Clock! Try to catch the 8 o'clock PSA flight and maybe win an extra half hour in S.F.! (Of course, losing would mean not just missing the flight but frantically schlepping a bag over to the United terminal on the other side of the airport and getting on board looking like I'd been through the paper shredder.)
When the plans were first made, peace of mind was the operative factor. But after "Jack," serenity started looking pitifully dull. Peace of mind was quickly redefined to include a stiffer dose of adventure. The options suddenly became: Be cool and composed--or dare to go a little nuts, have some fun tonight!
Well, I made it to the gate at 7:58 and, Whoopi, it was worth it.
The first omen that this might be one of those rollin'-and-a-strollin' trips came before takeoff on what usually is a 68-minute flight. A guy back in smoking yelled, "Hey, what's the movie?" A few minutes later, a voice on the PA system identified itself as "Capt. James T. Kirk." "Capt. Kirk" fancied himself a comedian and reported the air traffic controllers' flow problem: "The joke is that they have all the control and none of the flow." Nice try, Captain, but nobody laughed.
The real comedian did appear, however, when the plane was finally moving. Only most of us didn't notice. The noise on the PA system sounded like the standard safety-regulations spiel in the standard den mother/stewardess drone. Most passengers had completely tuned out.
But a few were laughing. Repeatedly. At first, I wondered why they were making fun of the flight attendant and figured they were just rude, probably friends of the guy who wanted to know what movie was playing.
They kept on, laughing louder, and finally, even I listened to what was being said:
"As our lifeguard is not on duty, you'll note your seat cushion is removable and may be used as a flotation device. . . . Should there be an unlikely loss of cabin pressurization, an oxygen mask will miraculously appear overhead. Immediately, fasten seat belts, extinguish cigarettes, pull the mask down sharply to release the flow of oxygen and secure by placing the elastic strap around your head. Careful not to mess your hair."
Pausing for laughs, she continued: "Those traveling with infants or small children or someone just acting like a child, place your mask on first, then assist your child with an additional mask if they've been good. . . . Now in preparation for taxi and blastoff, please bring your seat and tray tables to their full, upright, uncomfortable position. . . . Federal aviation regulations require that all hand carry-on luggage be shoved under the seat in front of you. Or crammed in one of our spacious overhead compartments."
This woman had a whole act. It's nothing that Whoopi, Joan Rivers or Rosanne Barr will be losing any sleep over. But after the fourth time you've circled Big Sur because of air-traffic tie-ups at SFO, it sure helps to hear "Well, folks, it's time to sit up, drink up and buckle up. . . . Please bring your seat backs and tray tables to their full upright position. It's required we pick up all cups, glasses and any 18-karat gold jewelry."
When we landed, there were more jokes. The cabin roared. Nobody seemed to mind that we got to S.F. an hour late.
I talked briefly to our stand-up flight attendant, a pretty, 30ish mother from San Diego named Laura Dalton. She said she had several different routines, with some bits borrowed from other stewardesses, many of them created herself. She recalled that a few weeks ago, some people from Paramount Pictures were on board and told her she was ready for the comedy-club circuit. So did "a publicist for Steven Spielberg." And Donny Osmond "loved it. He was rolling on the floor. He was crying. I thought, 'Geez, what a simple mind.' "
Dalton, who said she has no intention of leaving her flying job, may be the only ham within a thousand miles of Hollywood who isn't interested in becoming the latest comedy queen. She insisted she's quite content with her in-flight audiences, one of which included the president of PSA. (Since she still presented all the safety rules, he reportedly enjoyed the act, too.)
For me, Dalton provided the perfect, life-imitates-art payoff, a worthy bonus for having Beat the Clock.
Thanks for the ride, Whoopi.