Pan Am Nostalgia: When your own memories go vintage

The other day I was walking through my local Barnes & Noble bookstore and saw something that made me realize I’m getting old. Or at least older. That’s what happens when something you used regularly in your childhood suddenly becomes a vintage/retro cool collectible.

Gear from the defunct airline Pan Am (Pan American World Airways) suddenly has the hip retro factor akin to the Cool Brittania phase of just a few years ago. Barnes & Noble is selling cards, notebooks, journals, and tote bags featuring Pan Am’s stark blue-and-white logo, and plenty of other sites are selling a new line of luggage featuring the airline’s graphics. I’ve even heard that Marc Jacobs, a high-end designer, has designed one of these bags.

One site peddling the gear had me laughing my head off this morning. “These bags remind us of a better day when air travel was elegant,” it says enthusiastically. Maybe. But I traveled Pan Am a number of times in the years just before it went bust, and while the world-shaped logo might remind others of days when you dressed up for flying, the same logo was slapped on the cramped, overcrowded, smelly flights my family took back and forth to the Soviet Union in the late 80s and early 90s.

Seeing the Pan Am logo in my local bookstore, selling with all the hype of hip, did remind me of really awful airline food when you could still get it, but it also sent me back to those first heady days of living overseas when I was still a kid, when everything was absolutely fascinating and new and fresh and no matter how bad the transatlantic flight was, it was still the coolest thing on earth to be doing it. Sometimes we don’t know how lucky we are.

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