Saturday, August 16, 2008

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)

June 2007: Illegal Immigrants!  Stealing out jobs!

I just spent a week at the fabulous Wigwam resort in Litchfield Park, AZ on the Department of Education's dollar (it's dirt cheap at the Wigwam when the temps average 115 degrees.). Now I'm at Sky Harbor headed to Philly for a summer visit with the family. I'm in this tiny bar in old terminal two--which seems like the least "sky harbor" terminal now, being little and simple and lacking towering parking garages on either side and above.  The bar has six stools and two tables with two chairs each.  It's packed.  Beside me is a very cute, very Phoenix-looking blonde. He's athletic but not bulked out.  Thin and tan, I'm guessing he's an engineer or in some corporate sales job.  He has the blue-eyed, all American look that could easily sell. It's not long before we are chatting, exchanging the usual where-ya-headed info.  He's going to Winnipeg.

"For work?" I ask.

He chuckles into his beer and says, "Kind of."  He then proceeds to tell me all the trials and tribulations related to being a canadian working in the United States.  He tells me how often he has to go back to Canada to renew his visa, and all the paperwork he has to fill out and how easy it is to forget and fall behind.

"What's you job?" I ask.

"Well, I'm kind of between jobs right now. My last job had to lay me off cause I forgot to renew my visa." It was a computer company, big name like Dell or Gateway or something I forget. Then he's off on a soapbox about US immigration law, but more importantly, how at fault his company was in not doing the paperwork for him. 

I'm nodding, agreeing that it's a tough process. I'm about to begin telling him about my experience with immigrants and the immigration process when I suddenly realize: "Oh my God! You're an illegal alien!"

This is after two glasses of wine and my tactfulness might have been lacking.

"Well, kind of." He says, furrowing his brow and swirling his beer. He looks pensive as if this is a new concept for him.

I am laughing out loud now, "I know quite a few immigrants with expired documents," I tell him, "but none of them would be stupid enough to tell a stranger about it in an airport bar!" He did not seem offended, though I thought he should have been. "Must be because you're blonde and not brown," I said.

He shrugged and swirled his beer.  It was obvious that he did not associate himself with illegal immigrants, and definitely not the brown ones.  I couldn't stop shaking my head, but I did try to muffle the laughter.  He went on complaining about the bureaucracy and how unfair the system had been to him.  Maybe he had no sense of irony, but I simply could not handle it.  I remember reading once, a long time ago, that the highest number of illegal immigrants working in Los Angeles were canadians.  

As I listened to him go on, I couldn't help thinking of my clients, friends and neighbors who have to wait decades for work permits.  Those who are separated from husbands or wives or even children for years and years with little hope of reunion. Those living in tiny unfurnished apartments with eight other exhausted men sleeping on inflatable mats strewn all over the floors sending every cent home, dreaming of a day when their families will all be together and living in houses in some nicer part of town. Each time I try to bring up stories like these, he swirls his beer and resumes talking about himself.  These struggles are not connected to him.  These stories bounce off.

Not only was this blonde 20-something no longer humoring me, I was actually beginning to not like him.  I drained my glass and left the bar without saying adios.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW)

July 2006, Heaven on Earth

Going home after Nate and Erin's wedding. Gemma and Keith got me to the airport two hours early thanks to good traffic and Keith's nervous pedal foot.  I have to say, as an aside, that Gemma's superpower is seeing road-side animals.  The amount of wildlife we saw on the drive here, while doing 85 mph, was unbelievable. 

After a quick tour of the old terminal at Detroit, I'm in the only bar in the concourse. I sit and order a pinot noir. In a few moments a gentleman comes in and sits beside me.

"Damn flies!" He says to the bartender, smiling, a huge grin really, and waving his hand around his head.

"I will get them!" The bartender declares holding up his fly-swatter. I had been watching the bartender go after flies since I got here. He and the gentleman have a brief conversation about chasing flies. "Clean!  This is a clean bar!" The bartender cries after missing one. SWAP! "Got it." 

"Flies don't bother me compared to those mosquitos in the north woods.  Big as dinner plates!  And can they bite? Mary and Joseph!" The gentleman beside me says.

I like the use of Mary and Joseph without the traditional "Jesus" beginning, and I smile his way.

"Just been to an AWESOME wedding in the north woods of Michigan," he tells me.

"No kidding!  Me too!" I am genuinely amazed.  I briefly wonder if we were at the same wedding.  I didn't know all of Erin's people, but surely I would recognize him. We begin to chat.  
"Where you headed?" He asks.

"Tucson" I say. 

"Me too!  You from there?"

We have the classic not-quite-a-native conversation about Tucson, and we are suddenly great chums! 

"What are the chances?" I say, but we immediately agree that these kind of synchronicities should be expected.

"It was my son Liberty's wedding," he tells me. "Liberty's an interesting name doncha think?" 

I have to agree that it's not common.

"When Lib was born his mom and I couldn't agree on a name. So I grabbed the biggest book from the bookcase behind my desk and we agreed to ask God to give him a name.  We asked God to give him a name that would keep my son free of the nastiness of the world. When I flipped open the book the first thing I read was the phrase 'sons of liberty.' Then, twice more I laid my finger on the word liberty on different pages.  We decided there was no struggling with fate."

He goes on to tell me that his son's middle name is Robertson.  He waits, clearly wanting me to ask about the significance of Robertson, so I do.

"I'm Robert!" He answers robustly and thrusts his hand forward for a shake.  I ask if his son's middle name really is Robertson for that reason and he says, "Yup."

Robert goes on to tell me that he and his wife had a second son, and when Lib was five and the baby was two, the mother was killed in an automobile accident. His life story continues: He was in the army.  He was a musician and a songwriter. Now he is a caterer.

"I've got my own catering company with some other guys," he tells me, "All started from an experiment to find a fat-free or low-fat cheesecake recipe. I ended up creating one.  Seriously, almost fat free!"

"Wow." I say.

He continues, "My buddy really liked it and the company grew from there."

There is a pause and he asks a few more questions about me and my life.

"When I was a kid there was no diagnosis of ADD or anything like that. No drugs for hyper kids. My poor parents just had to put up with me!" He laughs from the middle of his chest.  Loud and deep. I can suddenly imagine him on stage. "My parents tried special diets and vitamins, but I'm just hyper, you know."

I nod.

"The wedding was awesome."  He's staring at the bottles behind the bar. "Man, it was great. I put on this cape and danced as James Brown on the dance floor. I DANCED! Me and Lib, we were the first ones dancing and last ones off the floor."  He tells me that Lib lives in Phoenix, and among other things, he has an internet radio station of '70's funk music. "He has some collection of funk.  Some rare stuff." Robert raises his eyebrows and his forehead crinkles.  I am suddenly touched by how much he loves Lib.  Something in his eyes made me almost want to cry.

Robert tells me many more things about this life.  The amazing thing about his undiagnosed ADD is it gives him the ability to talk, almost monologue.  He completely mesmerizes me. I feel like I say barely a word and yet I'm fully part of the conversation.

He tells me about the religion he subscribes to.  Started by some guy (He told me the name, but I forget) who is responsible for many things in our world today (He gave me examples, but I forget.).

"It's totally nonjudgmental," he says, "and there's a church in Tucson."

I nod.

"You know, I really believe this: Heaven is now.  You have to experience some hell on earth to appreciate heaven.  Hell is now too. But it all depends on you.  If you can find heaven on earth, then there is more heaven to follow. You gotta enjoy it."

That made a lot sense to me.

Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG)

May 1, 2006: Citrus and Cherry Scents

I was in Kentucky with Jim because his Mom had an emergency hip replacement.  Jim's staying in KY a little longer.  I'm at Cincinnati airport between Lexington and Atlanta flights.  On my way home.   I'm drinking Fosters at Max and Irma's, sitting at the far end of the bar.  When I walked in a very chatty woman with long dark hair and tiny disco ball earrings offered me the seat beside her.  She looks to be in her mid-twenties. A little voice inside told me to decline and I did.

"You'll be able to see the TV better from here," She said patting the bar stool's seat.

"Nah." I said.

She eyed me suspiciously and I half expected her to call me a queer. Then she turned back to the two men sitting on the other side of her. 

She's sitting with two very drunk men.  One is wearing a t-shirt that says "Sometimes I amaze myself." He has a Sicilian look.  He's got a big belly and heavy lidded dark eyes.  His face is puffy.  His hands are often pushing a thin comb-over back into place.  His thick southern drawl is slurred. He seems like a character I vaguely remember from Bugs Bunny cartoons. 

Next to him is a man with curly red hair.  He has blue eyes that remind me of the liner of my parent swimming pool.  Blue pebbles. His black t-shirt says NASCAR Staff. No southern accent.

"I love NASCAR." Chatty lady says to them, rejoining their group.  There is a brief conversation about NASCAR (I gather that a much longer NASCAR conversation has already happened. I also gather that these two men work for NASCAR.). "I can't believe you know Jimmy Johnson! I'm so totally into him!"

Chatty lady seems to refocus on the furniture catalogue the two men are pouring over. They crunch together closer so that they can all get clear views of the images.

"Does that come in cherry?" The red head asks.

"What you see there comes in citrus and cherry." She chirps.

"That'd look nice," the sicilian says to the red head, who nods. One of them turns a page.
"Those have some real cheery colors!  Go to the website, seriously, you'll love this stuff!  One day shipping from Florida!"

This seems to impress the men who nod. The sicilian mumbles something about candles.

"Candles!  Here--" She takes the catalogue and flips ahead. Soon she's off and running describing in detail the company's candles, "They're the best, seriously, no one can beat them.  Go to the website, seriously."

Sicilian says, "I buy all these scented candles at Christmas, but when you burn 'em they don't smell enough.  Pretty soon they don't smell like nothin'"

"These candles will hold their scent until they are burnt to puddles!  Even the melted wax holds the scent!" She's wagging a finger at the sicilian who raises his eyebrows.

They have reached the last page of the catalogue.  

"Check out the website guys.  You'll love this stuff."  Last words. The catalogue is closed and remains on the bar.  All three turn toward the television, which I just notice, is showing NASCAR, and in perfect synchronicity light up cigarettes and blow smoke to the ceiling.