UAL 5364 STL to DEN
Notes scribbled in an airport restaurant at Lambert St. Louis airport.
1. Visiting our facility in rural Missouri today, right off the Missouri River and the Lewis and Clark Trail, I was struck that I grew up on the Columbia River, right off the Lewis and Clark Trail. The Expedition (1803-1806), commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson, used these two rivers to make their way to the Pacific Coast in the early 1800’s. A very long walk.
2. One of our companies dates back to the 1800’s when they produced canvas Conestoga wagon covers and grub boxes and whatnot for the westward migration prompted by Lewis and Clark. This was “outdoor gear” for an entirely different sort of camping.
3. When I arrived, I was flattered to see my name, spelled correctly, on the welcome marquee in the entryway, just past the “Please No Firearms” signs. Evidently we prefer people do not bring guns into our offices in Missouri. I’m quite pleased about that. In our Colorado or California or Honk Kong or Shanghai or Chittagong locations we would never think to remind visitors about this preference.
4. I love airport “bar and grills”. And I love the camaraderie and comfort level most folks feel there. And that folks are comfortable getting well into their cups at the Bar and Grill. I used to like to do that too, but now it’s more fun to watch. I also used to like to drink in United’s Red Carpet Club, but I’ve let that membership lapse. I knew a bartender at O’Hare’s Red Carpet Club: A sad commentary. The Bar and Grill is looser, more convivial, more populist. The “clubs” are more exclusive, for snobs or travelers with pre-2009 expense accounts. The international clubs like Lufthansa’s or British Airways’ or United’s outside the US have free drinks, but I was usually too tired to lap them up or it was 5:00 am. The world’s business leaders is make important decisions in the Clubs; working people relax and get fucked up and complain about the world’s business leaders in the bars and grill.
5. The Bars and Grills are noisy and sometimes rowdy, populated with traveling sales guys or the hardcore IT warriors or writers who can’t afford Red Carpet any longer.
We’re here in the Budweiser Bar and Grill in St Louis-Lambert:
• Over there we have four guys in identical dark suits, white shirts, loosened, conservative ties, Blackberries buzzing and big-ass doubles. These are mid-level guys, not senior management. Their bosses are in the Club. They carry the presentation portfolio and the laptop projector. The bosses carry only The Journal. If you carry a big brief case you are not at the top of the food chain.
• That guy is easily 300 pounds and looks like he lives in airports and didn’t know any of his four wives very well at all. If he continues to eat that way he will have a coronary.
• Four young marines with a pint each and seven empties on the table, duffel bags on the floor, trying to look relaxed, fidget and shift nervously.
• A single female soldier, sitting alone, looks at photos in a plastic wallet, wearing desert camo with sand-colored boots and a small backpack with little colored hearts all over it.
• Five guys in sneakers, jeans and Member’s Only-type jackets are at the bar. I figure them to be a logistics consulting team flying to Memphis as they do weekly to work on the new distribution facility project. They use terms like “on-boarding” and “milestones” and “metrics” and “failure rates”. They stay at the Fairfield near the airport and eat every night at Applebee’s. The younger, handsome guy with the Cardinal’s cap is fucking the client’s consultant when he’s in Memphis.
6. None of these people is nervous about missing a flight or is bothered by the inconsistencies of TSA’s security “protocols” or one-quart Ziploc bags or the inevitable flight delays. These are Road Pros.
7. Budweiser has the music right, that’s for sure. Al Green was followed by Chicago and then St Louis’ own Chuck Berry:
“Ridin’ along in my automobile
my baby beside me at the wheel
cruisin’ and playing the radio
with no particular place to go.”
8. Four flat screen TV’s stream an endless flow of actual sports and conversation and senseless opinions about sports. Two screens have Charles Krauthamer on Fox explaining why our new President is a socialist. I’m a socialist, so I find this interesting.
9. Occasionally it’s fun to watch Fox News and pretend the host or “contributor” or “analyst” is actually thinking when they speak. My only real concern here in the Bar and Grill is that with so many people drinking so heavily, they might not understand Fox is comedy.
10. Fox reports today’s Dow Jones Industrial Average at a level more like the Blue Book value of a 1999 Corolla with 135,000 miles on it.
11. Two gals have been at the bar since before I came in and are easily a half-dozen drinks into it. They flirt with the 350 pound guy who is over-filling his Boswell’s Harley Davidson-Nashville t-shirt. They must feel safe here behind the “TSA curtain” since the option of “wanna come to my place to see my condom collection” is remote.
12. I swear this is true: I got onto the National Car Rental shuttle bus and nine of us, including me, were all staring into our palms at playing-card-sized devices. I knew then that some of us would go to the Bar and Grill and some would go to the Club. Mobile computing apparently is not an indicator of preference in drinking establishments while traveling or where we fit on the commercial food chain.
13. I had the burger with Swiss, two iced teas and the molten chocolate cake. The waitress called me “babe” and appreciated it when I told her to “take her time”, I wasn’t in a hurry. Hugh Masakela played, “Grazin’ in the grass is a gas, baby can you dig it?” I realized I had always taken this to be a rhetorical question.
14. The Road Pros in here who just came from doing audits for their Private Equity firm or their Big Five accounting outfit (Ernst, Anderson, Price, KPMG, Deloitte) have a different look. They know they don’t belong here. They are never boisterous or inappropriate. They look tired but composed. They order one beer and discuss the day’s numbers. Women and men are more equal. They wish they were in the Club. They plan to be some day.
15. St. Louis has an arch that’s much bigger than those at McDonald’s, but it’s not gold. It’s a dull white I think. I believe it’s known as “The Gateway to the West”. I would have expected this gateway to not be so far east. McDonald’s has two arches. I’m not sure what else St. Louis has.
16. Blackberries are like “time-space compensators”. When you use one frequently, you could really be most anywhere and not notice. I experience this from time to time.
17. Business and First-Class fliers are a somewhat more sophisticated group, though not always. Usually, they just came from the Club where they were conducting the world’s business, instead of Bar and Grill. A handsome, 65-year-old Ted Turner look-alike, casually-dressed but well-groomed, struggles to get his bag above him in 2B. He takes it down to rearrange the contents so it will fit more easily, as a younger, Wharton-MBA with cold eyes and a well-fitted Armani suit slips his Tumi bag into the open space, while, Spock-like, he says into his Bluetooth earpiece, “That’s fine if they take that position. We’ll just put them into Chapter 11.” Ted doesn’t object.
18. I’m surprised more market analysts and investment advisors don’t just fly around the country and eavesdrop on conversations in-flight and in Clubs, and in Bars and Grills. I would suspect amazing market insights can be gained this way. Often, when I hear an executive on his mobile, with The Journal in his lap, finishing a call to his office just before take-off, I picture a director or manager or assistant or supervisor on the other end of the line, finger on the mute button, shaking her head, rolling her eyes, surrounded by her team clustered around her desk, saying, “what a fucking asshole.”
19. Once, Eric and John and Chris and I shared a flight to Chicago together. Somehow John or Chris sweet-talked the gate staff into letting us into First, even though we held Coach tickets. In First you get all the free drinks you can order, but since we were “carrying” as it were, our objective was to order free Cokes and Sprites and spike them and not get caught. At the time, if we had considered it at all, I suspect we may have assumed no one noticed when we got to the “knuckle-dragging drunk” stage. I would not have counted us among the “more sophisticated” business traveler group.
20. Doesn’t it seem incredible today that it was ever okay to smoke in an airplane? But they still have the “No Smoking” light right next to the “Please Fasten Your Seat Belt” light. Like that smoking light is EVER going to go off.
21. I noticed that in flight, I always force myself to take enough time while in the bathroom. It’s not a conscious thought, but when I looked at that more closely, I found that I wanted to make sure that even if we were to crash horribly, I had cleaned myself up a bit beforehand.
22. Apparently, Wichita, Kansas is reeling economically these days. More private aircraft are manufactured there than anywhere else, I understand. Their business is “off” so to speak. They might have seen this coming when the clowns from Detroit embarrassed themselves flying to DC recently. Can you imagine Jim Schuster, the CEO of Beechcraft or Jack Pelton from Cessna calling GM’s CEO Rick Wagoner and saying, “Thanks a lot, asshole.”
23. Sandy has special headphones she got for travel for three hundred bucks or so through which she can hear ABSOLUTELY NOTHING perfectly clearly. I will need to tell my friends at Zen Center about this.
24. I think the “Gateway To The West” is actually sleeping outside for one hundred nights.
25. I’m trying to clean up my language when I write, or at least find more literate alternative expressions than those I default to. I realize that in these notes I’ve already used “asshole” twice. I’m sorry, but I love to say “asshole”.
Asshole, asshole, asshole. See, it’s funny. Poor Ben Stiller in “Meet the Fockers” teaching that little kid to say “Asshole”. Very funny and quite literate actually.
26. Everyone I’ve traveled with for business knows that I plan the itinerary to take maximum advantage of local food. Peter and I once had lunch at In and Out Burger on Rosecrans in San Diego and then immediately drove to Mission Gorge Road to have a second lunch at Taco Fiesta. This didn’t seem excessive. Gareth knows this pattern too. I just realized with a small degree of panic that next month I’ll be in China and Hong Kong and Vietnam and other places I’ve never been and I have no food plan.
Travel is emotional. Outbound, I feel like an explorer, energized by the journey and new discoveries, like Lewis and Clark, even when I go to familiar places.
Coming home is like running the gauntlet, running for cover, that last push to make camp and get the tent up before the storm comes in and it really begins to blow.
Each step in the reversed sequence is a milestone, a small victory, an obstacle overcome, a third baseman thwarted, rounding to home.
Return the rental car. “Have we got time to fill it? Fuck it; we’ll pay the six bucks. We’ll be late if we stop.”
Wait for the shuttle, check in, and try to relax through TSA’s capricious “security” ruse.
God dammit, delayed a half hour.
Let’s go to Bar and Grill.
Finally on the ground.
“Open those FUCKING doors and let me the hell out of here! I can’t breathe this guy’s ass another minute! Apparently HE wasn’t worried about cleaning up if he’d crashed!”
“Come on, come on, COME ON! Are the baggage guys stoned or what?”
“God, I hope the car starts.”
“Good, no flat tires.”
Do I get in the longer line that appears to be moving or slide in behind the Escalade that’s been there awhile?
Beautiful West African girl named Malia takes my ninety bucks for parking. I tell her I like her name. I’m nearly home, after all.
Free and clear now. Sixty minutes, DIA to home.
Off the toll road and onto the Parkway. Around Boulder and across Broadway. So far so good.
Out of the prairie and into the Rockies, just like that, from one of America’s most prominent geographical features to another, in the blink of an eye.
Through my very own Gateway To The West.
Up Lee Hill, no smoke or flames coming from our ridge.
The Jeep’s in the driveway, no police cars and the lights are on.
Sandy opens the front door and my heart stops when she smiles at me.
A thick, brown beef bourguignon with at least a bottle of red wine in it is on the stove and fresh bread is in the oven. A whole cube of butter is on the table.
We hug and smile and tell each other our stories.
I’m home now.