All That Glitters
It wasn’t until the stoic German executive popped open the champagne and began drinking straight from the bottle that I feared we might die in the next few minutes. We were approaching Florence airport but the air-traffic controller wasn’t responding. We were lower on fuel than anyone aboard would have liked, and while some people might have respected a $40 million private jet, gravity sure wouldn’t — at least, not if we were 15,000 feet in the air when the engines cut out.
The pilot radioed another airport, but something was wrong there, too — the runway was too short, the winds too fierce. The plane veered around, aiming in yet another direction. The German executive passed the bottle around. Bottoms up. I imagined the plane impacting into a picturesque Italian hillside, killing everyone onboard in a cinematic ball of fire. Not exactly a normal way for a middle-class kid to go out.
With what might have been minutes to spare, we found salvation via a tiny airstrip more than 200 miles north of our actual destination, a Tuscan villa once owned by the Machiavelli family. As we descended, I sorted through my backpack for my notebook and my passport, and wondered once again how I’d ended up in this weird job.
For three years, I worked as what you might call a “luxury journalist.” This was back before the Death of Print, when magazines could charge $50,000 for a full-page ad, and even a title with a limited circulation could afford an office stretched across two or three floors of a Midtown office building. The job didn’t pay well, at least for those of us in our twenties who were only a few years into our respective careers, but it was a good way to explore the world on someone else’s dime. Like most of my young colleagues, I’d landed the gig through my previous clips, none of which had anything to do with plush leather seats or vests made from the finest alpaca.
Some trips (“junkets”) involved a dozen writers jetted off to some far-off locale to write about the golf courses and cuisine. In the van from the airport, you might find yourself squeezed between a laconic, middle-aged editor from the Robb Report and two associate writers from a Conde Nast magazine that paid them far too little. On…