Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tucson International Airport (TUS)

April 27, 2008: Oh When the Saints

I'm on the way to Saint Louis for the Commission On Adult Basic Education (COABE) conference.  Jim drops me at Downtown Campus where we meet Regina, Tracy and the girls.  Tracy drives us to the airport.  Without lines at the American Airlines desk, we breeze through.  Even carrying my PCC-issue laptop, security in Tucson takes just minute or two and we are in. I've already convinced Regina that we should head straight for the bar. So we do.

Regina heads out for 1) a book and 2) food.  I send a text to Jen to see if she's in the airport yet.  She texts back that she's in the security line removing articles of clothing.  23 seconds later she's on the stool beside me. The bartender, a straight shooting nursing-school student who quizzes herself during slow moments at the bar, recommends a Labatts for Jen.  Jen, on the recommendation, orders a Labatts, which caused out conscientious bartender to be concerned that the Labatts was well suited for Jen. 

"You don't like it."

"No, no! I do!"

And she really does.  Excellent recommendation.

Regina returns with her black forest ham on rye for 12 dollars. It's a rather skimpy sandwich. She settles in on the stool next to Jen. When the bartender sees her sandwich, she tells Regina that the same sandwich cost just six bucks if ordered at the bar. I feel affirmed. The bar is a good place. Then I tell her and Jen about my airport bars tradition, "I love drinking lousy, expensive wine in airport bars, waiting for conversations to come me!" Our friendly future nurse passes by at that moment. She frowns.  I make no apology.  She lets me sample every wine the bar carries.  The pinot and merlot SUCK! I have the cabernet, which also sucks but slightly less. Our future nurse really seems to like us! 

I tell Jen and Regina about the good old days with Fran at the Last Stop Saloon.  It's gone now. The terminal is still under construction. Updated and modernized with fancy coffee bars and uber-modern bar stools, the real heart-and-soul types like Fran appear to be gone. Not that there is anything wrong with our future nurse! But, really, could anyone top Fran?

Jen and Regina tell me I should write a book.  

"Well," I say, "It certainly has been educational."

"And cultural!"  Jen adds.

It's in the 90's today in Tucson and in the 50's in Saint Louis. Frost overnight. Regina is wearing flip-flops.  I express hope that her toes don't get frost-bitten.

"I brought my long underwear." Jen announces, taking a slug of Labatts.

Regina and I both look at her.

"You OWN long underwear?" Regina asks.  I admit, I'm wondering the same thing.

"It's a Minnesota thing." Jen says, glancing at Regina's exposed toes.  "You have gorgeous toenails. Manicure?" 

"Yup.  It was a birthday present back in March, but I just had them done." We all watch Regina wiggle her toes.  Conversation lulls.

Jen cocks her head to listen to an American Airlines announcement, "Are we boarding?"

We decide that boarding doesn't really matter and we order another round.

"You want to hear the joke the homeless guy told us in the Downtown Campus parking lot today?" I ask Jen. She nods. "Why are there no Kmarts in Iraq?"

"I dunno."

"There's a Target on every corner."

This makes the blonde guy sitting beside me laugh out loud.  "Good one!" He says.  About that time, Regina and Jen decide to hit the ladies room before boarding. I sit with the luggage and pay for the drinks.  They return and I head for the men's room.  I'm walking a familiar direction to a familiar men's room.  Things look different with all the construction.  There are no urinals, which gives me pause, but I know this is the right place and use a stall.  When I exit and find myself washing hands with ladies of all sorts, I feel perplexed. I exit, still indignant that this is the MENS room.  But, not anymore.  What was once a men-on-the-right, women-on-the-left entrance is now women-on-both-sides and the mens room is in a completely different location a few yards further to the right.  Who knew?  

I text Jim about this surprise and he responds, "U R Drunk." He's right.  But it makes getting to Dallas so much more pleasant. 

Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)

April 18, 2008: Turista

Coming home from Merida, we're back in Houston's terminal E.  This time we're sitting under Pappadeux at the food court.  No alcohol.  Jim and I both have serious bouts of Turista and don't want to have to run to the restroom between Houston and Tucson. I watch an Indian family interact at a nearby table. Husband takes the 5-year-old away.  Wife cares for an infant who doesn't want to eat.  No sir.  Black ladies at a nearby table help.  They pick up the kicked off shoes, the tossed bottles, and even the dropped food with coos and smiles and comments like "How sweet." Jim and I sit with out fizzy cokes and gurgle, trying to appreciate it all.  But the closest restrooms are closed for cleaning.  It seems that restrooms in Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport are often closed.  Clean, but closed.

Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)

April 9, 2008: Tropical Noises

In Houston, upstairs at Pappaduex, a New Orleans style place in the E terminal.  Jim and I have FIVE hours to kill before our flight to Merida, Mexico.  I'm drinking Pinot Noir, believing that my vacation has truly started while Jim is frantically tying up the loose ends of his real estate business utilizing the last of some iffy internet and cell phone coverage. This is the first time since he's been in real estate that we'll be in a locale where there will likely be NO cell phone or internet.  He's in a panic over it. I can't wait.

A large man next to me orders raw oysters.  They come on a huge plate.  The oysters are embedded in loads of ice, but the plate is leaking like a sieve.  He tells the young bar-boy as water cascades from the bar onto his leather shoes.

"I think this plate is leaking."

"It's just sweating." The bar-boy explains and waves off the concern.

The large man and I exchange glances and then we both laugh out loud. Instead of insisting bar-boy do something (bar-boy is quite busy), the man stands, adjusts his stool and positions himself behind it, out of the splash zone.  The water is making pleasant tinkling and splashy noises as it splatters to the floor. It runs and puddles here and there. From behind the stool, the man leans over, stretching to reach his oyster and slurps them all down one by one. He acknowledges, and even encourages me to watch his process, and we both continue to giggle as bar-boy breezes past, oblivious.  Jim is oblivious too, yakking on the phone. Poor thing. 

Once the oyster task is accomplished, the large man puts some cash into the water on his plate, laughs out loud again, shaking his head and leaves. After a few moments the older and much more pleasant bartender comes by and grabs the plate revealing a huge, gaping hole in the bottom.  The bartender sticks his finger through the hole and wiggles it at me.  Then he looks through the hole and looks to the right and the left.  He shrugs.  I shrug back.

The bar is very crowded, but the stool next to me remains empty.  It's wet and there is a large puddle around it.  I warn many people who approach.  They look around at the mess and quickly find another spot.  The bartenders show no concern.

Across the bar from me is a gay couple in their 60's.  They are on a "leisure trip" I hear them telling the babes around them. The men and the babes are chatting it up. The babes really are babes.  One is headed to Merida and talks glowingly of the city.  She is what I would call "scantily clad" in a halter-top and killer heels. She is traveling alone.  I am fascinated by her--and so are the other gay guys. At some point, a moment of distraction I suppose, the jauntier of the gay guys raises his visor to rub his head. I am stunned as his hair come off with his visor. He rubs his bald head a bit and them replaces the visor.  His hair gives him a very youthful look.  It's grey but wild and spiked.  I would have never guessed that it was part of the visor. I laugh out loud.

"Another Pinot?" Bar-boy points to my almost empty glass.

"You bet."

The bar has quite a tropical theme going on.  On top of the tinkling and splashing oyster plate, there are also random bird chirps and squawks.  But at some point in the five hour binge there is another strange noise.  Many of us do that muppet-looking-at-the-sky-for-God move in response to the sound. From across the bar a woman makes serious eye contact with me and mouths "What was that?" I mouth back, "I have no idea."  We raise our glasses to each other and life goes on.

And then Heather is here! We are fully distracted by her.  The hugs.  The laughs. The catching up. Her layover is just 45 minutes, which means we are so much closer to our flight to Merida! Suddenly SQUAWK!  SQUAWK! The bird noise is deafening!  Who turned up the volume? That woman across the bar is making serious eye contact with me again--but wait--not exactly with me.  I turn, and right beside me, just behind Heather is a man with a huge green bird on his shoulder.  That dude was here with his bird the whole time.  I thought it had been a recording. SQUAWK! The bird says again.

The glass is full again.  Heather and I toast the bird and tropical vacations.  Jim finally hangs up the phone.  And it begins.