Mostly Air

Plus: Sowing Old Seeds

Most would agree that the best person to perform such an act would be a federal air marshal, but there are only enough officers in that agency to cover 5 percent of U.S. flights. Even when the armed marshals are on board, the attendants say they have little training in how to assist them.

The new training regulations are a result of the 2003 "Vision 100" aviation law. The law also mandated the creation of an optional advanced self-defense course for flight crew. The three-day, 24-hour course, developed and supervised by TSA, debuted in January and is now taught at community colleges in 10 air hubs across the country, including Tarrant County Community College in Fort Worth. The course has gotten generally favorable reviews from participants--a relatively small group. "The numbers are not where we want them to be," Moran says. "We have been a little bit surprised that demand hasn't been higher than it has."

One obvious explanation: Because it is voluntary, flight attendants must take three days off to attend. Not only is a work-related course an unusual use of vacation days, but three days off in a row are especially difficult to arrange for junior flight attendants, who serve long periods on call, never knowing when they'll fly.

California Senator Barbara Boxer has been the attendants' most outspoken ally in Washington. The Democrat pushed for more specific requirements in the Vision 100 bill and was instrumental in instituting a federal certification program for flight attendants.

Despite the power of Betty Ong's voice, flight attendants fear that as the memory of 9-11 fades, public complacency will undermine any effort toward further improvements. "The public innately wants to feel safe, so they might not drill down deep enough into the facts," Massoni says. "The veneer looks like all is well, but from our perspective, the days of veneer and deterrents heading off a situation are gone." --Rick Kennedy

Sowing Old Seeds
At 10:30 on a Monday morning in South Dallas, men in denim shorts and women in loose tank tops leisurely stroll through overgrown fields where houses once stood. Many of the lots here on Grand Avenue have been vacant for at least a decade and are valued at a few thousand dollars. At the moment they might as well be worthless. And yet, here on Grand Avenue, a street whose name long ago became ironic, Ethel Campbell and Janice Fowler imagine these very vacant lots filled with flowers and vegetables--a little greenery that might bring color to a neighborhood that's the bleak shade of disrepair and neglect. But the closest they've come to achieving this dream was growing some corn and collard greens in the front yard last fall, which some neighborhood children came by to pick, to experience a little country life here in the middle of Dallas' inner city.

Campbell and Fowler refuse to budge from the small house at 2522 Grand Ave. that, since at least 1956, has housed the Texas State Federation of Garden Clubs, the headquarters for the African-American women who weren't allowed to join the all-white garden clubs popular in the 1940s. Campbell has been president for the last four years, trying to sustain an organization that's literally dying off, with the recent passing of a 102-year-old woman and another who was 96; at 65, Campbell's easily one of the youngest. "We're part of a different generation," says 50-year-old Fowler, a Chicago native who came across the club as part of her graduate studies at Texas Woman's University.

For years, folks have tried to run off the South Dallas garden club: In the 1990s City Hall claimed the neighborhood wasn't zoned for an establishment such as theirs and forced them to pay several hundred dollars to acquire a community service center permit, which cost the organization several hundred dollars it didn't have. And then there are the crackheads who've broken in so often the neighborhood regulars know there's nothing left to steal, save for pots and bottles used for planting. In January someone even went under the house to strip the copper off the plumbing and, finding only plastic tubing, sabotaged the water pipes anyway.

The women want to restore the house, which has had most of its windows sealed to keep away thieves, who've even stolen burglar bars for spare change. But that, and planting their garden in the concrete wastelands, will prove a difficult task. "The dues were $3 when I got in" in 1957, Campbell says. "When they went to $6, the members had a fit, and when we raised them to $12, well..." Adds Fowler, with optimistic understatement, "It's challenging." --Robert Wilonsky

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