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Ogling airline collectibles with Kelly Kelly, and reintroducing cougars into S.F. parks

Wednesday, Oct 16 2002
Two weeks ago, we wandered into the Orbit Room Café on Market Street to see if the talented bartenders there could make us an Aviation cocktail. We got a bit more Aviation than we'd bargained for. Alberta Straub was mixing drinks while dressed in a stewardess' navy double-breasted blazer and rakishly angled cap. Propped behind the bar was a bag from the defunct Aussie airline Ansett, wreathed in miniature Australian flags; the Australian rock group AC/DC was playing on the sound system.

We'd stumbled into "Trip Out Tuesdays," a weekly theme party that Straub ("Your Flighty Hostess") dreamed up as a way of marrying her passion for airline memorabilia with her real-life job. Each Tuesday evening, Straub mixes drinks in honor of a dead airline and decorates the bar with vintage mementos scored from thrift stores and eBay.

Suddenly, Straub squealed with delight; a ponytailed, transgendered woman seated next to us at the bar was showing off a battered tin United Airlines lunch box with a red plastic handle. For the past 20 years, we were told, Kelly Kelly, aka "Jet Girl," has been collecting all things airline -- from seat instruction cards to vintage airline bags with '60s graphic logos a San Francisco hipster would drool to accessorize with. "For a long time I was embarrassed to even tell people I collected this stuff," she confided. "I've been told it's real cutting edge now."

A few days later, we pay a visit to Kelly's Noe Valley flat. One room is devoted to Jet Girl's collection, housed in glass display cases, mounted on walls, and organized neatly in stacked boxes. She holds up the lunch box she was carrying at the Orbit Room. On the back is a picture of flight attendants and pilots, standing together, wearing sun goggles. "See here, the stewardesses all have miniskirts and white gloves. Very sexist. Very, 'Hi, I'm Barbara, FLY ME!'" She laughs appreciatively.

The (former) son of a United flight attendant, Kelly grew up an airline brat, obsessed with airline paraphernalia. When he was 12, Kelly's relatives encouraged him to write letters to airlines asking for tchotchkes. The companies sent everything from wings to flight cards to napkins -- all stuff that's now worth something. Kelly became a flight attendant after dropping out of college, and continued to work for the airlines after a male-to-female sex-change operation in 1999. Traumatized by 9/11, Kelly is uncertain whether she wants to continue as a flight attendant; she's now on leave from United.

Recently, Kelly began selling her less-cherished paper collectibles on eBay, and has brought in as much as $500 a month. "I got this one from a homeless guy on Fifth and Mission," she says, pointing to a brown Braniff International airline bag. "I think I gave him the backpack I was carrying, in exchange."

She lifts up a shadow box to reveal a collection of kiddie airline wings, most of which were given to her as a child. Another is full of pilots' wings and label pins. She tips a tin toy plane in her hand, showing how the wheels retract and a trigger spins the propellers. A framed Viceroy cigarette ad from the '60s shows a pilot and two stewardesses in front of a plane, cigarettes in their hands. Behind them, two baggage carriers are enjoying a smoke while unloading suitcases onto a cart.

"Look, they're all smoking right out on the tarmac! That would never happen today! I love it!" says Kelly.

But the jewel of Kelly's collection is a Braniff stewardess uniform, designed by '60s couturier Emilio Pucci. "I am too big for it, but I think it would fit you," Kelly says. Our vintage-clothes-loving heart soars.

The now-defunct Braniff, once the icon of the '60s jet set, commissioned artist Alexander Calder to paint a wildly colorful abstract on the body of a DC-8-62. It was most famous, however, for its beautiful flight attendants, outfitted by Pucci.

In one of his first mid-'60s Braniff uniform lines, the Italian designer created the layered costume for what became known as the "Braniff Air Strip." Flight attendants wore an apricot coat during boarding, which was removed to reveal a pink gabardine suit for meal service, which was removed to reveal a tunic and culottes, and so on.

The uniform we are about to model, however, was one of Pucci's later lines, for Braniff's South American routes. The satiny minidress, tights, and matching bowler hat are very Twiggy; they're covered in a wild orange, lemon, and pink print, and dotted with drawings of little guitars, drums, and Aztec symbols. Unfortunately, the Braniff Babe who had served "coffee, tea, or me," in the uniform was a bit more petite than we are. Fearing runs, we waddle out to model the uniform, the crotch of our tights a foot lower than it should be.

"Oh that is so GREAT! You look a-DOR-able!" Kelly, the Jet Girl, cries, and we wish, for an instant, that we had some peanuts to offer her. -- Lessley Anderson

Call of the Wild

A new political force has waded into the war between native plant enthusiasts and their sworn enemies, the owners of dogs, over control of city parks. Last week, a secretive group calling itself the Glen Canyon Park Neighborhood Carnivore Coalition released a 10-point program that, if nothing else, could cause plant and dog folk to unite against a common foe.

In an earnest but illegibly signed press release sent to SF Weekly and a half-dozen other media outlets, the Carnivore Coalition declared itself to be incensed by the monopolization of city parks by a single species of carnivore, Canis familiaris. The carnivore program calls for city parks to be open not just to dogs, but to the "free range" of all carnivores, on leash and off.

The Carnivore Coalition secretary, a self-described "scat protector" who, when tracked down last week, demanded anonymity before he would be interviewed, said the group intends to stock San Francisco parks with California cougars, brown bears, wolves, foxes, and rattlesnakes. The spokesman said that the coalition consists of an alliance of diverse interests disgusted by the antics of both plant and dog extremists.

San Francisco native plant and dog advocates have been at odds for years over uses of city parkland. The native plant folk say dogs kill vegetation, through acts of defecation, urination, and digging. The dog people, who view attempts to restrict off-leash dog-walking as un-American, outnumber the plant people and have gained clout at City Hall by employing mass lobbying tactics.

The dog people-plant people struggle is generally regarded as intractable. The arrival of the Carnivore Coalition on the scene, however, could scramble the political equation in unexpected ways. For example, the Carnivore Coalition spokesman said his group is open to the idea of releasing jail inmates, the homeless, and Gavin Newsom into newly carnivore-stocked parks, on the theory that food-chain dynamics would solve several related overpopulation problems at once.

Omnivores interested in joining the Carnivore Coalition should write to P.O. Box 318007, San Francisco, CA 94131 for further information, the spokesman said. -- Peter Byrne


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