At 21 years of age, I flew into New York City, alone, on American Airlines. The company had allowed me to check two bags, therefore I chose the largest I could find and threw in everything I could think of. I navigated one of those push carts and finally made my way to the taxi pickup area. The horns honking and people shouting were just like in the movies. I smiled at all the noise. It seemed so exciting. I was a Flight Attendant living in New York City. Yes I know I hadn’t unpacked, or found a place to live, but that would be easy it’s NY City, there must be a million places to live.
Fortunately I was meeting three other new hire Flight Attendants at the Milford Hotel in the city. When you are a New Yorker, you start calling it “the city.” The Milford Hotel at that time was one of our layover hotels, until a maid was found stabbed to death in one of the bath tubs. The rooms were tiny, really tiny, but on a new hire salary, all four of us were sharing one room. I still don’t know how we got all of our luggage in that little box. It was wall to wall luggage and lipstick. One of the girls from Dallas TX had lived in a larger city, and actually had a plan. She had scoured the papers and magazines for rentals, but at the disappointment of most of us, our budget would end us up in Queens instead of “the city.”
We were the first Flight Attendants to move into 119-40 Metropolitan Ave., Kew Gardens, Queens. The building was family owned, and we all knew the owner and head of the family as Frank. Frank and his sons, made it a point to be very good to us, even picking us up in the family station wagon to move us from the Milford to Queens. The apartment building was brand new and very nice. We even had an intercom to buzz folks in when they came to visit. Pretty hi-tech for where I came from. We furnished the two bedroom apartment with modest means. The bed I purchased was a futon type thing. Early on I knew that I would never truly call New York home. Exciting and fun that it was, the big city life was great to visit, but as the saying goes, “I wouldn’t want to live there.” To this day, New York City is one of my favorite cities to visit.
After about a week in New York, I flew my first trip. Back then the crew would sometimes play jokes on the new hires. I was asked by the Captain to take an air sickness bag into the cabin, capture an air sample, and bring it to the cockpit. Luckily about half way through the retrieving of the bag, I realized it must be a joke. I was also put into the overhead compartment in first class. I was pretty small back then. The agent failed to give the crew a heads up that we were boarding, so first class passengers got a peak at the crew trying to get me out of the bin. My first layover was on the beach in Ft. Lauderdale, I still have a photo somewhere of me and the crew on the beach having a cocktail. I knew I was going to love my job.
My second month in New York, I was on what they call Reserve. I had certain days off, and the rest of the days I had to be on call to the company. I carried a beeper and the one who had my number was crew schedule. I was on call to three different airports, so my bag always stayed packed and ready to go. Flight attendants on reserve kept two staples in their bags, a swimsuit and a sweater because you never knew where you might end up. I was still a huge country music fan and on one evening I went to a concert at Madison Square Gardens. Alabama and The Judds. Half way through the concert my beeper went off. I was given an assignment for early the next morning. I don’t remember going to bed that night.
In the small area where we lived in Kew Gardens, we felt almost like celebrities. Everywhere we went we were asked if we were Flight Attendants. Looking back, we were all young, cute, girls with accents from other parts of the U.S. and we hadn’t quite made our way in the craziness, so I’m sure we stood out. Back then I didn’t mind standing out, I liked the attention.
I became pretty good at getting around using the subway system and buses. I loved going into the city. We would go shopping, out to clubs, and sometimes just walk the city to see the sights. I didn’t realize back then that I wasnt’ be very smart at times with my travels. I would take the subway alone and sometimes come back later at night than I should have. I was flashed by a middle aged white man, and mooned by a crazy man, but I was never hurt or robbed. I learned to walk like I was on a mission. That first few months I saw Donald Trump, Cindy Lauper, and Cheech Marin from Cheech and Chong.
Then one day the announcement was made. American Airlines was opening a Flight Attendant Base in Nashville, TN. Yee-Haw pick me….and they did.
It was my dream. I’ve never really talked about it, somehow I knew it wouldn’t come true.
When I started with American Airlines in 1988, I was sent from Clovis, NM population 30,000 to live in New York City, population way too many. I was scared out of my mind, but so excited I could explode! I never really felt like I fit in back home, more my insecurity than anything, so NY was a fresh and exciting start. I lived with three other young women. in a two bedroom apartment, in Kew Gardens, NY in the borough of Queens. We were the first Flight Attendants to move into the new building. To this day, it is known as a flight attendant favorite, crawling with blue uniforms, Travelpro suitcases, and five am taxis to the airport. I loved New York. I loved the city and all the excitement, but never saw myself staying. Instead of a bed, I purchased a futon type “thing” and put it right on the floor. Six months later, American announced they were opening a Flight Attendant Base in Nashville, TN. They were recruiting for the base. Here’s where my dream comes in.
From the time I was a little girl, I loved music. Specifically Country Music. I can remember sitting in my room playing Ronnie Milsap and The Bee Gees. I know The Bee Gees weren’t Country, but they were…. The Bee Gees. As I grew older, I enjoyed many genres of music. I just loved good music. I especially had a heart for the songs. To me, a songwriter was in a whole league of their own. They were gifted people. Lyrics and Music. That was my passion. I find as I write this, that I am still embarrassed to share my heart. I wanted to work in the Music business, or possibly even sing.
The Flight Attendant base was opened in Nashville, and I got my transfer. There could not have been a happier young lady on the planet. The airport held a luncheon at Opryland Hotel for all of the new Flight Attendants and to announce the opening of the base. We were treated special, like the city was waiting just for us. It was such an exciting time for Nashville and particularly the airline industry.
I found an apartment close to the airport and settled in. If you asked me then, and even now, I would say, “I was born to live in Nashville!” I met another Flight Attendant who liked music as much as I did and we instantly became friends. Her name was Tamara and she was from Kruger, MS. Being from a small town also, I had a lot in common with not only her, but the way she grew up. We always had some concert or event to go to on our days off, and because we could fly for free and had the energy of 20 somethings, we stayed busy.
Here I was, living in the perfect area to pursue my dream. It wasn’t hard to meet people in the Music Industry, they were everywhere and I was amazed how easy I could strike up a conversation. That was not me. But when it came to music, I really had a passion that was hard to turn off. It also didn’t hurt that I was young, somewhat cute, and could fly around the world. That leads me to the finding of a star.
When I was in college at New Mexico State University, my girlfiends and I loved to go dancing and listen to live bands. One band that was very popular in the area was The Easy Money Band. The lead singer had also written a lot of songs so they would do original material instead of just cover songs. I remember thinking that the way they traveled in that beat up school bus, there was no way it was easy. I loved to dance but I really loved to sing. My roommate and I became friends with the band and somehow I convinced the lead singer, Toby, to sing a duet with me. We practiced during the day at the club, and he allowed me to sing it with him at night. We sang a Crystal Gayle song, “Makin Up For Lost Time.” I shutter now to think how bad I must have sounded, I could never go on stage without a sip or two of encouragement. I loved it. Those were some of my best memories of College.
Now here I am in Nashville, flying, going to concerts, and hanging around a country music crowd. I was had no idea how a simple flight to Los Angeles would make my life to come so exciting. I also had no idea that flight would change another persons life, in a really big way, for the rest of his life. I was picking up trash in Main Cabin, not First Class, when a gentleman asked me for a market bag like the one I was picking up with. I said sure and retrieved him a bag. During the flight the same man would listen to cassette tapes, think late 80’s early 90’s, then toss them in the market bag. Sometime later, he handed me the bag and asked me to throw it away. Ok, just for the record, when you ask a flight attendant to throw something away, we usually take a looksy first. Can’t help it, I think we were just made that way. I took a look and saw what to me looked like demo tapes.
“Wow, some poor people have poured their hearts into these tapes. Oh Lori, don’t be so dramatic. They are probably just looking for a song for an artist. Not like someone’s career is on the line or anything.”
I couldn’t help it, I was dying to ask, so I did.
“You listen to a lot of music.” I must have sounded like a total airhead.
“Yes I do that’s my job, he said. Then he went a step farther and pulled out a business card and handed it to me.
Without looking at it, I muttered a few, wow you must like you job, and how exciting, do you need anything? Then went on my merry way right back to the galley to take another look. Not sure I even noticed the name but there was the title:
President Mercury Records
Woah…….I was wrong. Careers were potentially made by this man. Someone on one of those tapes may get their chance, or not. I just threw a bag of dreams in the trash. Certainly those people have given tapes to other important record people, hopefully. Nothing against this man, he has a job to do, but wow what a job. Then I remembered something I had put in my tote bag…………….
On the way to the airport this morning I watched as several men crossed the road adjacent to the Davidson County Jail. I pass this road at least once a week. The faces change, but the pain can always be felt. It may be in their dirty clothes, their faces, the words on the cell as they beg someone to come get them. But the pain can always be felt.
This is always a familiar sight, and sometimes brings back memories of my own journey. This morning, I think of a particular time that my drinking didn’t quite turn out as I wanted…..surprise surprise surprise.
It all started at the hairdresser. You wouldn’t think anyone could get into trouble at a hairdresser, right? Well if you are an alcoholic like I was, then the idea seems quite reasonable. I was trying out a new hairdresser in my home town. Everything…
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My Mom Could Do Anything!
One of my earliest and scariest memories happened when I was about 4. We lived in a trailer in Las Cruces NM. It was me, my sister who was 6yrs older than me, and my mom and dad. I was adopted before I was born. Dad was a truck driver, and mom stayed at home with my sister and I. One day when my dad was gone and my sister was at school, there was an awful storm. I can remember it being very dark and load noises like tree limbs breaking and lightning flashing everywhere. Then it happened. Things started flying, dishes breaking, pictures coming off the walls…mom and I flying though the air and finally resting on what had been the side of the trailer. Things are a little foggy here, but I remember my mom picking me up and running her hands…
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Cole receiving a Pride Award at Poplar Grove School. He was 6 years old. I wasn’t there that day to see his sweet smile. I was in a Treatment Center in Utah. Cole would receive another award that year. I missed that one too. Looking back I’m so grateful to the Aunts, Uncles, Grandma’s and friends who stepped in to try to make things seem as normal as possible. There was also Coles sweet counselor at school. She kept an open door policy for him, and if he needed to talk he could. I would encourage any parents who have issues at home, don’t be afraid to reach out to the school counselors. Most times the children won’t reach out themselves, but as a parent or a family member, you can talk with the counselor and they are more than willing to reach out to the child. That certainly was my experience, and I will forever be grateful. Cole has shared many times the huge impact this woman made on his life.
Today, I am present with all my heart and soul! I am grateful for Gods gift of another chance in life. Next time, I will be there, because I don’t want to miss a thing!
God Bless You
As I scrolled through my blog today, I decided it was time to continue a story I started quite some time ago. If you would like, you can read the Finding Betty posts in my archives. I will try to catch you up a little here.
After a wine filled day watching Montel Williams, I decided it was a good time to find my birth mother. I was adopted, before I was born and had found my birth mothers name when I was in my twenties, but never really considered trying to find her. I think I was afraid of what I might find, good or bad, or that maybe she wouldn’t want me to find her. But fueled with alcohol, it seemed like the perfect thing to do. Her name was Betty Jean Ducham. I used the tool that Montel had said was a great source “Find Anyone Anywhere.somethingorother” I typed in the words Betty Ducham. My heart started to pound out of my chest as I saw a number come up 78. Your kidding, only 78 found, this might actually be easier than I thought. There were several Duchams listed in Michigan, but I was born in New Mexico. There weren’t any listed in New Mexico. Well, maybe she moved. Such a small number….I quickly search my own name Lori Payne. Just to give some perspective, there were 48,000 people with the last name Payne that were in the database, and only 78 Ducham. I knew at that moment there was no stopping. With half of the names in Michigan I started there. There was no Betty, but many others. I chose one picked up the phone and dialed, without a second thought. That was always the way I did things when I was drinking, no second thought, just do it. A male voice answered on the other line. Hello….. Hi there, I said while holding my breath. My name is Lori Payne. I believe I might be a relative of Betty Ducham, do you happen to know her? Yes I do I’m a relative of hers. Oh that’s great, I say as I start to shake. If I give you my number could you please pass it along to her and ask her to call me? Even as I write this today, years later, my hands are quivering. Such a huge decision to have been made so recklessly, but then again that is how I lived my life when I was drinking. The voice on the other line said, “sure” and I proceeded to give him my number. What would happen next was even more shocking, not weeks later, not days later, but two hours later my phone would ring. “Hi Lori?” Yes this is she. “My name is Alan, I am Betty’s Son.” I know my breathing sounded like a woman going into cardiac arrest. Oh hi there, thank you for calling me back. I fumbled through my words and managed, “Did Betty ever mention maybe having a …….daughter?” Yes, I was told I had a sister out there somewhere, but I never knew how to find her. Is that you? The tears started to flow, as I said, I think so. We talked for a moment and he asked me if he could scan and send me a photo of Betty over the computer. I immediately said yes. This is what came up on my screen. I was speechless. I knew it was her.
flyingsober Chapter 1
I wake up freezing with my face just inches from the cracking paint of a ceiling. As I reach down to grab the covers, of which I find there are none, my eye catches the first glimpse of orange. Like pumpkin orange, but even brighter. My memory starts to come back, along with a horrible, pulsating headache. The shaking starts, then the tears come. I’ve done it again. I’m in jail somewhere, and even with my foggy head and slow memory, I know it has something to do with alcohol. I realize that I’m on the top bunk of a metal bunk bed. Below me, someone is snoring quite loudly. What time is it? No watch on my arm. The lights are flooding into the room, or now I know, the cell. I can see my breath. I’ve got to get out of here, I will freeze to death. Well actually freezing was the least of my worries. The room was about the size of my bathroom at home. Oh, I just want to go home. I can vaguely remember my husband Todd, refusing to pick me up. Did I call anyone else? I can’t remember. Lord, I need a blanket, or coffee, or both. So getting back to the small room, uh, cell, it was small. Yes I said that already, sorry. Anyway, the bunk bed took up most of the space, and then there was a half wall with a toilet on the other side. I vaguely also remember two drawers attached to the wall. Drawers? Maybe there was a blanket, a sheet. I would even take a t-shirt right now if I could find one. I looked down over the side of my top bunk. I can see a human form under some blankets. Yes blankets. As in two. Well if I had a blanket I now know where it is. Maybe I can just go down there, politely tap her and say “Excuse me for waking you, but could I please have one of your blankets?” But first, I need to find the ladder, there has to be a ladder, right? How do they expect for me to get down from here. On second thought, how did I get up here? Well I looked up one side and across the foot. No ladder. The other side was attached to the wall, so of course no ladder there. How about the foot. No ladder. Tears came even harder, and I realized I needed to go to the bathroom. Well only one way down. I would have to jump. The thought of landing on that cold tile, or whatever it was floor, made me procrastinate until I had no choice. I slid as far down the side of the bunk that I could and then dropped. My ankles were on fire. I hopped over to the facilities, and did my business. I stood up to flush, and that’s when it happened. A thundering voice from under the blankets yelled, “Don’t ever do that again!” I think I just met my cell mate. I can’t remember her name, or even if she gave it to me, but I do remember those first words to me. I also remember not caring at all what she had to say. How could anyone hurt me anymore than I had already hurt myself.
So just how did a Christian wife, mother, flight attendant, end up staring at the ceiling of a jail cell? The answer, simply put, alcoholism. However as you will hear in my story, there is nothing simple about alcoholism. The journey through alcoholic hell took me about 8 years to stagger through. There were six rehab centers. Jail stays, yes stays, as in more than one. A psychiatric facility. One homeless shelter, and 2 half-way houses. I stayed in the homes of 2 friends that I met in recovery and also graced my parent’s home, back in New Mexico, for what I am sure was a long 30 days for them. They didn’t know how to help me, which was understandable, how do you help a crazy person! I was even taken into the home of a dear Pastor and his sweet wife down in San Antonio Texas. I had a few come to Jesus moments, but still didn’t put down the drink. It was only in desperation that I finally took steps which enabled me to surrender my will to Christ and begin another journey. One of simply put, freedom, freedom from bondage. The bondage of my own self will. The will that kept me from being the person that God wanted me to be, the will that kept me from his plan for me. The will that started the ball rolling, and plummeted me and my family into the nightmare of alcoholism. This is my story.