The year was 1982.
I know that’s a dramatic way to start a story, but roll with it.
Until that month, Mum had been an air hostess (“hostie”) for TAA, flying domestically in Australia. It was still a time when hosties were expected to be of certain weight, height and look. Hot, basically. They had to be hot.
Though Mum had recently quit her hostie job, she was using the final month of privileges to travel around the globe on a flight-attendant ticket issued from her airline. Those privileges meant that she was often bumped up into first class by other airlines, because that was the helpful, we’re-all-in-this-together kind of attitude everyone had back in the early 80s.
Which is how, on Jan 2nd 1982, Mum was seated at the back of first class, flying the LA-Denver leg with a spare seat beside her.
A screen on the flight was showing some American football game. As it turns out, it was a tape of the Rose Bowl game played on Jan 1st 1982, a huge game between rival football colleges. Mum couldn’t care less. She sat at the back of first class, reading her book.
A big, good-looking man was standing up at the front of the flight, talking to people, commenting on the match, telling jokes — a bit of an attraction up in first class. Everyone on the flight seemed to know him, except Mum. He spotted her, spurred on by her oblivion, and worked his way to the spare seat beside her.
“Why aren’t you watching the game?” he asked in his smooth, deep voice.
As soon as 23-year-old Mum began to explain that she hadn’t seen American football before and didn’t understand the rules, he spotted her Australian accent. “Where you from?” he asked her. And they were off. Chatting about Australia, about travel, about football.
Mum tells me now, “He stayed there the rest of the flight. He took an interest in me; it was a novelty for him to speak to someone who didn’t recognise him. I asked him who he was. He told me he was ‘an entertainer’, and that he used to play football. He told me his name, but I forgot it.
“He was charming. Very charming. And very good-looking. He was also very easy to talk to, asking questions about what Australia is like, where I’d travelled to… He was a stranger, but we chatted so easily.”
I’m pretty sure “chatting” is Mum-speak for “flirting”. Because then, the big famous man asked her out.
“As we were landing in Denver, he said they were having a party, and I should come and stay with him for the weekend.” He had a group of other guys with him too, and he told her they would all be there.
Mum considered it. Briefly. And then made a pretty smart decision.
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“I was travelling alone, and here were six huge men inviting me over for the weekend. He was charming… But I didn’t think it was a good idea,” she told me.
Mum reminds me that this was a different time, without smartphones and internet. She couldn’t just WhatsApp the address of the party to a friend for safety. Her only option would be to write a letter to Australia, and that was a pretty useless option.
So Mum told him… He laughed. She said she liked the offer, but she would fly on to Boston. He gave her a hug and wished her a safe journey. “He was a really nice bloke.”
About a year later, back in Australia, Mum flicked on the TV and saw his face, acting in some B-grade movie. Mum says, “I thought ‘Oh look! That’s the man from the flight to Denver!’.” She waited until the credits rolled and found his name.
OJ. Like Orange Juice.
Finally, she was able to fill in a blank space from her travel journal. A year earlier, she’d written about the flight from Los Angeles to Boston: “In first class to Denver and was asked for a ‘wild weekend’ by black entertainer…???… However, continued on to Boston.”
For a while, his face would pop up on television, usually in some average midday movie.
Until 1994. When suddenly, his face was all over the news.
Whenever Mum tells me the story, I ask the same question.
“So… Do you think he did it?”
Mum shrugs. “I don’t know. Probably. But it’s a shame. He was a really nice bloke…”
Will you be tuning in to watch The People v O.J. Simpson on Channel 10?