Thursday, August 6, 2009

Delta Sky

Well, it’s official. Northwest Airlines has been swallowed by Delta. I know this because today’s in-flight mag offering is no longer the Northwest version. Today I am being introduced to Delta Sky.

Frankly, I've always thought in-flight magazines to be a pretty lame form of distraction. But maybe that’s because I've never flown Delta. I’ve done Eastern and Allegheny, but my primary transportation vehicle has been NWA, simply because no other airline wanted to have anything to do with these tiny airports ringing the outskirts of civilization known as "Up North."

So there it was, in the sleeve behind the seat in front of me, waiting for my curiosity to be aroused.

When I was a young wanna be freelance writer, I remember interviewing at a publishing house in St. Paul that produced some of these magazines. While sitting with my modest portfolio in a waiting room I talked with a woman who was on retainer to write for the company. She was paid six hundred dollars a piece, she said, which I thought was pretty good money considering my best paying gig had been about fifty bucks. (Do the math and you quickly see why I wasn’t quitting my day job painting apartments.)

The thing is, I wanted to write for these in-flight mags because they paid real bucks, but honestly found them so dry you could dip them into the Mississippi and they would still come out dry. Why is this? I’m sure the writers are trying to be interesting. I mean, some of those pieces I'd written for peanuts had lingo that really sang.

So I was on the plane this morning sliding my August Wired magazine into the pocket and there it was, Delta Sky. A smiling Serena Williams, tennis superchamp, graced the cover next to a large headline, “Got Game?” The subhead explains, “The Extra Mental Edge It Takes To Win.” OK, an article with celebrity sports stars telling their secrets.

After the plane is filled and we’re doing the runway thing I reach for my reading material, but instead choose SKY. First impressions can say a lot sometimes. I well remember my first impressions of the very first Wired magazine I purchased back in 1994. I’d attended a class at UMD on The Internet, and the instructor recommended it. So, like a dutiful student who was in awe of that first introduction to all things wired, I picked up a copy at Barnes & Noble…. And… whoa, wow, way cool. I mean, the ads were just so strikingly original. This was an incredible magazine. I hadn’t even reached the content yet, but had reached a conclusion. I was determined to linger on every page.

It think it was the sense of style that hooked me. To this day Wired strives for that occasionally elusive but hip stance. Elusive because styles have cycles and can you really hit the bulls-eye with every burst?

And as the first pages glide past, I immediately sense that Sky is not Wired. The ads have no continuity and are uneven in quality. Feeling a little ho hum already I stumble past pages of print ads that must be either selling the wrong products or just have become too cliche to bother stopping at. I realize it takes a little work to come up with a compelling concept and a little more to bring eyeballs to a standstill. My goal is usually to attempt cardiac arrest. At least I'm aiming high.

OK, we're reaching the real magazine now, and the first section, after the clutter of introductions, is called Wheels Up. It is a section with articles related to travel, business and lifestyles. At least the title has a little panache. The section has that USA Today feel of little entertaining snippets and infobriefs. Sports stars and their paychecks. A Guide to the new "Freeconomics". Getting your point across in a foreign country. Five minutes with..

Here's a page about Brussels for Road Warriors. And something about Bernadette Peters speaking out for the animals. (Not the rock band. Sorry.) Followed by a half page on how to craft the perfect cocktail.

On and on. Too cluttered for my taste. And it still feels so much like an in-flight magazine. I dunno how they do that.

OK, here's an interesting page. It's called August Citylicious. It's actually attractive enough that one could theoretically enlarge it, and frame it as art. Or make it into a poster. It lists cities all over the world and cool things that are happening there, like the Guy Expo in St. Paul this weekend, or the World Water Week symposium in Stockholm. I wonder if Woodstock would have made this list forty years ago. Alas...

The rest of the mag has features and ads, most of them so cliche I am zoning out and paging through to the end of the book. As is the custom, the very last section is airport terminal maps to help you get oriented when you finally get your feet on the ground again.

As for this month's Wired, I will have to savor it on my return flight this weekend. That cover shot of Brad Pitt alone is worth the price of my subscription. Cover stories include Unintelligent Design and Is Google A Monopoly? Is Google a monopoly? I'll find out Saturday.


Sandra said...

I don't know if it's a monopoly, but it does monopolize me. I use it a lot!

Maybe Woodstock would have made it onto the list, but I was just young enough, by a little, to have too much parental authority for me to make it to Woodstock. I was so bummed.

ENNYMAN said...

I'm sure we'll be reading a lot about Woodstock for the next few weeks. "By the time we go to Woodstock we were half a million strong, and everywhere was a song and an celebration." Sadly, the Hippie dream evaporated into nightmares like Altamont and the Isle of Wight. But that's another story.
Thanks for the note.