Saturday, July 26, 2008

Dallas/Fort Worth international Airport (DFW)

June 2005, Flying While Black

I'm returning to Tucson from PA, happy to be halfway home and sipping wine. To my left are three characters who engage me some mild chit chat.  At the far end of our cluster is a large woman with a south Philly accent.  She has a loud laugh which feels generous. She's going to Tucson too and we recognized each other from the bar in PHL. Beside her is a classic Dallas blonde bombshell who is already tipsy and wiggles her manicured fingers over her red zinfandel when she talks. Between Dallas-gal and me is a black man named Derreck with an African-sounding last name. Without Derreck the rest of us would never have become a grouping.

Derreck, who fascinates us all, tells exciting stories about his success that combined with the generous laugh of Philly-lady and the wiggling red nails of Dallas-gal makes me feel incredibly optimistic. 

I order my merlot and Derreck asks the waitress for a napkin.  I get my drink, but no napkin appears for Derreck.

Derreck tells us about how he worked for a small internet company that was bought by Yahoo!! He tells is it so enthusiastically that Dallas-gal actually says "Yaaa-hoo!" and would have waved her cowboy hat, had she been wearing one.  Instead, the fingers wiggle a little faster than normal and don't fold into her palms when she's finished.

"Now I get to travel ALL OVER," Derreck actually beams as he says this. I'm grinning too.  There is something beautiful and refreshing about the way he makes us all feel successful.

He tries to flag the waitress again, and is ignored again.  I notice the frustration on his face. The waitress asks Philly-lady how she's doing.  Derreck leans across Dallas-gal to get the waitress' attention.  I am shocked as the waitress appears to actively ignore him, yet slaps the napkin he was requesting onto the bar without looking his way.  Derreck takes a deep breath while studying the napkin. Then, he seems pleased to have the napkin and shows no indications of anger.

Derreck proceeds to tell us the ins and outs of traveling all the time for work.  Dallas-gal is especially interested in learning about valet parking at the Dallas airport.

"Such a time saver!" Derreck proclaims. Then excused himself from conversation to make a rental car call to Los Angeles. When he hangs up, he drains his beer.  The waitress is refilling Dallas-gal's zin and Derreck asks for a refill, "Please?".  The waitress walks away without acknowledging that she hears him. "Hey!" He calls after her. "Excuse me!" He's standing on the rung of his stool leaning over the bar.  Amazingly, his tone is not angry.

She returns and pours him a beer, saying nothing.

"Thanks!" Derreck chirps. 

I am impressed with his control, and wish I had some of Derreck's characteristics.

Dallas/Fort Worth international Airport (DFW)

September 2004, Who Were Those Masked Ministers?

I squeeze myself in at the end of the bar at the TGIFriday's in terminal C.  I'm standing on my toes, leaning and stretching to shout my drink order to the bartender. Beside me is an older man and a younger man.  The younger man looks too young to drink, but he's holding a beer. Our luggage is piled together in such a stack that I briefly ponder crafting my own bar stool out of it.  I decide it might be dangerous.  I hover over the pile instead.  

The men are talking about "the service." I'm only half listening because I'm distracted by their demeanor with each other. I wonder if they are father and son.  Doesn't seem like it. They have too much familiar ease (Was that an ironic statement?). Maybe they are uncle and nephew. Maybe lovers. I settle on lovers. Older man keeps leaning in to make another point. Younger man nods, looks over, makes a brief response and reverts to gazing at the TV behind the bar.  They are very comfortable together.  Enough to hold a friendly conversation while barely paying attention to each other.

"We're getting ready to leave." Older man says to me, "Do you want this seat?"

"Sure." I say.

"We're headed back to Vermont." Older man continues.

I nod.

"We were here for my mother's funeral." Older man says.

"I'm sorry," I respond.

"Been coming for a long time," he says and finishes his beer. "We're ministers," he tells me.

I nod again, this time adding a "Hmm." to note my mild interest. I note that I was right to suspect they were not related.

"He came down to do the service." Older man indicates Younger man.

I'm dying to ask why, but they are suddenly occupied with slinging luggage on to their shoulders and bustling out.  I watch them go, still filled with questions, and order a quesadilla.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Dallas/Fort Worth international Airport (DFW)

March 2004, Cowtown Bar, I Hope Michael Moore Reads This

"It's not as good as you think." She tells me, taking a big swig of her Molson.


"No. A lot of Canadians come to the U.S. for surgeries."


"Because they don't have to wait," she raises her eyebrows.

"But do they pay for American surgeries?" I ask, picturing the bills for thousands and thousands of dollars.


I gasp. "The cost beats the wait?" This is very hard to believe!  I thought Canadians loved their healthcare!  


"Wow. That's pretty bad."

She is a short haired women in khaki pants and a plain white t-shirt.  She appears to be neat and orderly and wears burgundy tinged rectangular glasses.  She is sitting alone at the corner of the bar when I join her. She starts the conversation by asking, "Where ya headed?"  I respond and ask her the same question.


"Are you Canadian?" I ask.

"I live there, but I grew up in San Antonio.  I was there for my mother's funeral."

"I'm sorry," I say.

"She was old," She says, shrugging and gulping her beer.

We talk about old age, retirement and nursing homes, which leads us to the topic of socialized healthcare.

I take away two morals: 1.) The grass is always greener, and 2.) If you've got the money you can get the services, but you might not want to get them in Canada unless you've got a lot of time on your hands and you'd prefer to spend the money on jewels or trips to expensive places like Moscow.

Tucson International Airport (TUS)

June 2004, Last Chance Saloon

"Do you remember me?" I ask.

"Yes, she says.  "You'd like a merlot." My heart sinks.  "How's your granddad?" She asks.

I could cry.  "Fran," I say, "I feel just terrible."

"Oh!  I'm so sorry!" Her eyes wet with sympathy.

"No, no, my grandfather is still doing OK.  I feel terrible because the last time I was here I asked you to break a twenty so I could tip you and then I left without tipping you!" I'm begging for forgiveness.  I hate the thought of kind and good Fran holding bitterness in her heart toward me.  It would be like Mother Teresa spitting at you.

"You did?" She asks, putting on that sweet smile and lowering her eyes to watch my glass fill.

"Yes!" I proclaim, "So take this, please!" I hand her a twenty dollar bill.

"No!" She says, humbly, waving a napkin at me, "Oh no!"

"Yes!" I insist, "This has been on my conscience ever since it happened. Please. Help me out."

"Well, OK." She blushes as she takes the money and I am released. Still loved by Fran! From then on, when she saw me coming, the merlot was in the glass waiting for me before I even got to the bar, and she always asked about my Granddad.

Tucson International Airport (TUS)

May 2004, The Last Stop Saloon

"My grandfather is dying," I say to the bartender. She tells me her name is Fran.

"I'm so sorry." she says.

Three merlots (my flight was delayed) and a chicken quesadilla later, I ask Fran to break a twenty, "so I can give you a tip," I say.

She counts out five, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen seventeen, eighteen nineteen and twenty and pushes the bills toward me. Fran has the kindest face.  I could fall in love with her. That's not the merlot talking either.

"Thanks!" I say and proceed to shove the cash into my wallet with great effort.  Somewhere over Las Cruces the flight attendant hands me a plastic cup of water, and I realize it.  Of shit! I didn't tip Fran!

Chicago O'Hare (ORD)

July 2004: Out-living My Expectations

My sister calls.  "How's Poppy?" I ask without saying hello. I expect the worst. 

"He's sitting up.  Reading the comics." She says.

"WHAT?" I raise my voice, "he's supposed to be dead!"  

I'm at PF Changs in O'Hare.  I'm drinking Merlot and eating squash soup. Just five hours earlier I was relaxing at home in the hammock with a book, the dog asleep on the bricks below me. The monsoon clouds were roiling along the mountains and some distant thunder rumbles were sounding promising.  Then I got the call, bought this ticket, re-arranged my whole life and left for the airport in less than 30 minutes. Poppy's dying, my sister told me. This is it. Get here now. 

The guy next to me at the bar looks over. 

"Well, that's good, but I can't believe it." I say, lowering my voice.

"I KNOW!" My sister sounds incredulous "We really thought this time was it."

I am suddenly filled with guilt.  I'm glad he's not dead.  He'll still be there when I arrive tonight. I am a little angry though.  The hammock, the book, the pooch and the thunder...not to mention the simple pleasure of being home for a weekend with nothing to do.

"I'm glad I'm coming home." I say.

"I know." She says.

"I'll be glad to see him," I say.

"You will," She says.