May 30, 2011
To the Moon, Alice! I mean Susie!
For all the dystopian commentary on mankind’s distant future the 1968 film 2001 projected, it also allowed us to place ourselves in an optimistic and limitless near future as we neared the apex of America’s space program: the moon landing. This was one of the first films to feature low key product placement like the American Express credit card and the iconic scenes of Pan Am’s Space Clipper ferrying people to the a near orbit docking station on their way to the moon. If it was hard to visualize humanity evolving into that obelisk’s future, it was easy to imagine ourselves participating in the more consumer-friendly one.
Soon after Apollo 8’s orbit of the moon in December 1968 Pan Am began taking reservations for its first commercial flights to the moon. And, as it turned out, I was the 1043rd person to do so.
I remember calling Pan Am reservations. “I’d like to make a round-trip reservation to the moon,” I told the woman on the other end of the phone. And, without skipping a beat, she replied, “For how many passengers, please?” Using their traditional call center and an identical script added to the reality of what I was doing. I was making a reservation for a real future.
“Two,” I said. “For my wife and me.” I gave her my name and when she asked for my wife’s name I told her “I don’t know yet. I’m not married. But I will be when it’s time to go.” I was adventurous at 20 but had no desire to share this momentous event with strangers. I was planning ahead on multiple fronts.
At first she wouldn’t accept my reservation for my wife-to-be but I finally convinced her of my sincerity. She didn’t really have to follow every detail of her script and she finally relented. “Will that be coach or first class?”
Our present future is a bit different. Pan Am is no longer and airplane trips are as romantic as bus trips; I finally got an American Express card but leave home without all the time; and commercial lunar trips are still science fiction. Back on Earth and finally married (18 years today) my wife and I are firmly planted in the stratosphere that is our attic, downsizing and getting rid of the more extraneous parts of our past. But as I went through my first box of very important memories I spied this card—proof of my membership in Pan Am’s First Moon Trip Club and proof that, at one time decades ago, I was ready to leave home and this planet on the first commercial spaceship outta here. (Oh, this process is sure to be glacial if I keep unearthing important documents like this.)
Now that I have my wife firmly in hand I’m ready for our flight. If I could only give that reservation clerk Susie’s name.