Sunday, June 29, 2008

Chicago O'Hare (ORD)

June 2004: You say merlot?

The bartender, a small asian woman, doesn't appear to speak much English, but she winks a lot. Big exaggerated winks that crinkle up the side of her face and end with broad grins and a quick head nod. Real Liza Minelli winks. I order a merlot.  It arrives with a wink and smile. I begin drinking and take in the surroundings.  I'm in a bar called Prairie Tap, which I think a nice name.  Wholesome sounding.  Makes me think of amber waves of grain, big wooden barrels and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Nice logo too.  I'm staring at it across the bar.  It's very Frank Lloyd Wright. The glass is about two-thirds empty when the bartender walks past.  She stops and gapes at the glass.  

"You say Merlot?" she asks in her heavy accent, pointing at the glass and giving me a look of horror.

I nod. Maybe the accent is Korean.

"Oh shit! This cabernet!" She grabs the glass, dumps the remaining wine into the sink with a violent twitch of her wrist and gives me a new glass of wine. "On house! on house!" She cries and gives me the wink.

A few minutes later as she walks past, I order a salmon burger.  She winks, produces the merlot bottle from behind the bar and sloshes my glass full without speaking. I hadn't indicated that I wanted a refill, but I accept it and think its good prairie-hospitality. She winks again, leaning pretty far over the bar this time.  It's a wide bar, otherwise I might have thought she was being rather forward.

A variation on this event happens five times. One other time she does the "Oh shit! You say merlot!" thing.  Four other times she simply grabs the bottle and gushes wine into my glass without words.  I never protest, eat my salmon burger, and eventually remember that I'm in the airport for more than wine and salmon burgers.  I frantically check my cell phone for the time. I haven't miss my flight yet, but I might have to run for the gate. I ask for a check, suddenly considering that a glass of  wine in an airport costs between seven and nine dollars a glass. This bill could be more than I paid for my rental car. As I try to shake the fuzziness out of my head so that I can do some tip-math with the check, I think, "Damn!  This bartender is good."  I wonder how much 15% is going to be. She gave me good service, but can I afford 20%?

She slides a check my way, leaning in and giving me the wink.  It has one glass of wine and a salmon burger. When I ask her about it, she says nothing. Just winks.

Now that's good prairie hospitality! I tipped significantly more that I anticipated.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Dallas/Fort Worth international Airport (DFW)

June 2004: The Cowboy Couples go to Vegas

One seat left in the crowded TGIFridays in terminal C between two ten-gallon hats. I take it, but feel small and cramped.  I order a merlot. To my right is a beaming cowboy and his big-haired blonde Tammy Faye traveling companion. They're headed to Vegas to get married Smiley Cowboy tells me.

"Ever been to Vegas?" he asks me.

"Not really," I say.

"You can't believe the deals in Vegas," he says into his beer, shaking his head (which is dramatic because of the hat!)

To my left, a more somber cowboy and HIS big-haired blonde Tammy Faye. He stretches his back in order to sit taller and talk over my head. "Chew say y'all 'er goin' to Vegas?"

"Yup. Y'all too?"

"Yeah. Same flight?"  They compare times, gates and finally flight numbers getting increasingly excited by this discovery.

Smiley Cowboy say, "We're gettin' married!"

"Well, hell! Us too!" Somber Cowboy is really loosening up.

Soon the two couples and laughing and hooting over me, slapping me on the back and buying drinks (even for me!). 

"Y'all want to be our wedding witnesses?"

"Hell yes!"

I'm caught up in the excitement too.  I'm even mildly disappointed that I won't get to see the big event(s).

"Where y'all stayin?"


"Hot damn, us too!"  There was a literal "yee-haw" at this moment. I swear to God I'm not making this up. I'm slapped on the back again and nearly spill my merlot on the way to my mouth.  I grip the sloshing juice glass in both hands and offer a controlled toast.  More toasts come.  Soon I'm given another round so I continue to be involved in the toasting.

I not really a part of the conversation this time, and yet I am. I feel like the catalyst.  The link in this joyful meeting. Had Smiley Cowboy and I not started talking, Somber Cowboy would never have known to ask about Vegas and destinies would have been completely changed.  I sip my merlot and think, wouldn't it be cool if these couples become life-long friends?

It's time for their flight and they exit whooping, their snakeskin books clicking on the tile, the ladies huddled as they walked, finally able to girl-talk.  I take a deep breath and stretch my arms into the wide open spaces left by their absence.

Dallas/Fort Worth international Airport (DFW)

September 2004: Florida Hurricane Bitch

I mean that with the greatest respect, love and kind wishes. She has been my favorite bar-pardner thus far!

Sitting in the TGIFridays when this thin blonde lady already holding a martini walks up to the end of the bar, beside me.  She is talking loudly on her cell phone.

"Do you think I'm attractive?" she barks at me.  I'm momentarily confused about whether she's talking to me or to her cell phone.  She stares me down, says, "Hold on" to the phone and commands me to respond,"Do you think I'm attractive?" My merlot actually ripples and I hold the glass with both hands.

"Of course" I respond.

"HE thinks I'm attractive," she says, proving her point into her phone.

The lady, the phone and I continue to hold a three-way conversation.  I'm never quite sure whether she's talking to me or the phone, but I find enthusiastic or sympathetic head nods and an occasionally "of course" satisfy her and we proceed.  I order another merlot.

She tells me that the west wing of her house--her son's wing--has been destroyed and double destroyed by the two hurricanes that hit Stuart, Florida this summer, Francis and Jeanne. They are fleeing to LA to recover. 

"The servants are in a tither," she tells me with a wide arm flourish (actually using the word servants), "but they'll handle the clean-up, contractors and reconstruction." She nods at me knowingly.  I nod back.  She orders a 3rd martini (3rd since I've been with her, at least.)

She is a tennis pro. "Maybe you've heard of me," she says pulling the new martini's olive off with her teeth. 

I had not. 

"I'm also an underwear and swimsuit model," She says, "among other things.  You've seen me" She pokes the empty toothpick toward me, "Really, when people ask what I do, I say, GOD! What DON'T I do?"

I nod.  She's well over 50 and looks it. She has an I-picked-oranges-in-the-sun-when-I-was-young-but-hide-it-with-surgery look. Her facelifts have not held.  Yet she repeats after brushing some of her spilled martini down onto my luggage, "I'm a swimsuit model." in present tense, "you've seen me."  She winks.

I suppose that possible. I'm falling in love with her energy.  She is so bold and brash!  In normal circumstances I'm sure she's be awful to deal with, but in the DFW TGIFridays, she's fabulous!

Her son, an overweight, slovenly young man with greasy black hair slouches in.  He is dressed entirely in black.  He had wires sticking out out of his ears and his hips. He is holding a GameBoy. He orders a beer. She pays. He slouches back out.  I wonder if it's legal to take your beer into the terminal, and I ponder how some folks are amazing confidant breaking rules.

"He's so torn up about the loss of the west wing," she tells me, talking a bit more quietly than before and shaking her head side to side. We watch him lumber back to the gate area with his beer and GameBoy. Suddenly her phone is ringing and we're off on a three-way again.  "It's my agent in LA," she tells me. Soon she is pacing and yelling.  He apparently did not arrange for their limo at LAX.  "Incompetent bastard!" she screams into the phone and dumps the remains her 4th martini onto the bar.

Tucson International Airport (TUS)

April 2005: The Joy of TUS

A contractor named Reeves with bright white teeth is going to Vegas to turn 40.  His family from Massachusetts is meeting him there.  His wife and two kids are standing in the Southwest airlines livestock line-up while he and his buddy (Who says at three times, "I LOVE this guy, but I'm not his wife." Then slaps Reeves on the back.) drink and schlep chicken sandwiches back and forth to the wife and the kids.  

"Vegas!" says Reeves and slaps the bar, "Great deals on southwest airlines to Vegas!  Four people, two nights under a thousand bucks! Love Vegas!" 

His enthusiasm is contagious.  "Right ON!" I have to add.

His kid had an earache coming home from Mass last time and fuckin screamed the whole God-damned trip. He walked up and down the aisle at least a hundred and fifty times. Everyone on the plane hated them so much that they decided to take a taxi to the parking lot instead of the shuttle bus.

He leaves and Fran the bar-maid serves me another merlot.

I love Fran.  I'd guess her age at ealy 50's.  She has permed, salt-and-pepper hair and glasses. Down to earth, calm and friendly, Fran represents the quintessential tucsonan to me. She may be hispanic, or she may be simply old-tucson but she has that native american/mexican accent, so subtle it could be overlooked.  I find the rhythm of that speech lovely and soothing. She never, ever neglects a glass-half-empty. She's going on vacation next week.  She's staying home, but going to finish some projects she started a long time ago.  And she's going to the movies. 

Another merlot? 


Fran, I miss you.

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)

April 2005: Three Characters

The Harley dealership manager from Austin who has "250 choices of rides, (dramatic pause, sips from beer, turns back to me, eyebrows lifting) Everyday." is returning from Kansas City where he'd toured the Harley factory. I think he'd be good in his own local TV commercials.

The Army dude is divorced and "can't see the kids." He's coming home from Iraq where, "Unlike in LA," he notes, raising his glass to the brunette beside him, a car chase ends with a tank running over the car.  He says, "Trying not to shoot people so much anymore.  So now we just stop the car by running over it with the tank, drag the driver out and beat the shit out of him." He leaves his beer only half full because he "can't be stumbling to the gate," but he eats a hot dog in three bites.  Three seconds flat.  Seriously, it was impressive.

Beside him is he LA Chick. The LA chick's Dad produced Bob Hope's USO specials.  Her Mom is Mexican, but she doesn't think that's very unusual.  "So many people say 'wow', but I don't even notice the accent." She's headed to Baltimore to do stage management for the Miss USA pageant where she must insure that the girls are in the right place at the right time.  Cause if they're not the names displayed on the screen won't match.  "It's happened!" She declares. "It's a challenge to manager an event that's judged live."

She nods to the Army guy, "Yes, there was a shooting-out-the-window car chase in LA today." They nod at each other in mutual understanding and she touches his shoulder, "But not in my neighborhood. And no tanks.  Tank drivers would definitely get sued."