Friday, February 09, 2007

Gold! Gold, I Tell Ya! And Diamonds!

I read a story at When Your Only Tool Is A Hammer... about a New York cab driver who returned a bag of diamond rings to the jeweler who lost them.

It reminded me of something that happened to me once.

In the late 1980s I was working for Delta Airlines at DFW Airport.

The part of the company I was in, is called Cabin Service.

At the time, Delta only hired temporary part-time employees. We might work 60 hours per week, but we were officially TPT, so Delta didn't have to fork out for any benefits.

Not complaining, I was a big boy, and went into the job with both eyes open. And at the time, Delta was a super great company to work for.

All TPTs lived for, and worked hard for, the day when we would finally become "permanent."

The length of time spent as a TPT varied based on company needs. I finally became a "permanent" employee, with all rights and benefits heretofore paid for out of my pocket, now paid by the company. I became a permanent employee around March of 1988.

The entry level position for newly Permanent Delta employees was in Cabin Service.

Delta's Cabin Service personnel are the ones who clean the plane's insides when they are staying overnight, and also do quick cleanups when the plane is at the gate, before the next batch of passengers is loaded.

Cabin Service also cleans the restrooms, cleans up vomit, recovers soiled seat cushions and seat backs, empties and re-lines the trash cans, and restocks the galleys with soft drinks, liquor, cups, etc. that flight attendants need for the in flight service.

Cabin Service was a little better pay for us, but the benefits were nice, and we felt like we were with a good company with good future prospects for advancement and so forth.

As the newest of the new in Cabin Service, myself and those who became Permanent at the same time as me, ended up on the graveyard shift, 11pm to 7:30am.

Our job was to thoroughly clean the innards of the empty planes that stayed overnight. Windows, vacuuming, emptying ashtrays and washing the ashtrays, restocking the magazines and all kinds of other details were added to the list.

We did this all night, but at the end of our shift, early the next morning, we would have to work on "live" flights. We would only have the few minutes between the plane emptying out and the gate personnel letting the new passengers on to clean as fast and as much as we could. We divided up the tasks and one person cleaned the bathrooms, one person on each galley restocked drinks and such, and the rest of us put all the seat arms down, picked up trash, reorganized the magazines and in general did quickie cleanup work to make the plane as nice as possible in 10 minutes or so.

One of these end of shift morning flights was and old MacDonald-Douglas "stretch" DC-8. They were late 50's / early 60's relics that Delta was still flying. They had four of these planes left, and had been bought by UPS to fly cargo, but Delta was flying them on routes right up until they had to take them off line to reconfigure the plane's insides for UPS's use.

The particular flight my crew had to work every morning came from Las Vegas to DFW. The "red eye" flight.

The plane was always a complete and total wreck on the inside, as if the passengers were still in Vegas mode and there were decks of cards strewn everywhere, everything that could be in disarray was in disarray.

Another thing I need to mention, is that people ALWAYS left stuff on planes.

Things that were actually worth something, we were required to turn in. People left coats and watches and paperback books, kid's books, and the list goes on.

On the particular morning I'm trying to get to here, I was working on the seating and magazines and picking up left behind items.

In the crack between two seats in coach, I saw something glimmer with light.

I dug it out, and it turned out to be a large, men's gold and diamond ring.

I know very little about jewelry, but everything about this ring screamed "high priced."

I stood up and turned on one of the lights over the seats and paused to take a good look at it.

Several of my crew noticed it, and came up and wanted to see it. There was almost complete silence as everyone thought about how much this ring must have been worth.

I'm no jewelry person, but I would have been petrified to wear this ring, in fear of someone cutting off my finger to get it from me.

Anyway, this all happened pretty quickly, and I said, "Well, I'm gonna go run this up to the gate agent real quick. Maybe they can page the passenger before he leaves on his next flight." Because if I tell them which seat it was found in, they can look at the passenger manifest and eventually return lost items like this one.

It stopped me in my tracks when one of MY crew, a person I LOVED to work with, looked at me with bug eyes and said, "You're not going to keep it? Man, ain't no way I'd turn that ring in.

Several others of the crew mumbled, "I wouldn't either."

I have a pretty long fuse, I don't get mad quickly despite a real problem with a flash paper temper as a kid.

But I saw red in about a nanosecond, and said, "Well, lucky for the owner of this ring that I'm the one person on this crew who found it."

I gave them all my best evil eye, trying, probably in vain, to give them "The Look" like Moms and Wives the world over give their children and husbands to denote disappointment or to get them to shut up in church.

I stomped up the aisle of the plane and up the jetway and to the gate agent who filled out a sheet about the ring right in front of me. (I didn't want him to steal it either, and apparently he wanted me to be sure to watch him fill out the description and what seat on the plane it was found in.)

Having done my duty, I ran back into the plane to help finish our work, they were waiting on us to leave and were ready to load the plane back up with the next leg's passengers.

When I got back on the plane, my crew was still mumbling about what I had done, and mentally and verbally spending the money they'd have gotten from selling or pawning the ring, had they been the one who found it.

I'll never forget how I felt at that point. I have always been pretty naive, and expect that the people I'm around are doing and thinking the best thing.

But I learned a hard lesson, that even the folks you call friends, and who otherwise are good, hardworking people, have the potential to turn into deceitful thieves if the provocation is valuable enough.

Side Note: During my time in Cabin Service at DFW, I brought home dozens of children's books, popular paperback novels, cheap toys, and the like, because the gate agents didn't want to be bothered with five dollar items.

My daughters, who were pretty little at the time got spoiled. It was always a disappointing morning when I would come home empty handed.

When I transferred to Hartsfield in Atlanta to get back onto the ramp as baggage handler again, they were totally bummed. No more books and toys from me when I got home from work!


hammer said...

There aren't many like us out there anymore. I noticed that quite a few on my blog said they would have kept the rings.

Weird. I can't fathom it.

Reminds me of another blog post.

Travis said...

Never even would have crossed my mind to keep it.