by Allan Shewchuk

2019 Jul/Aug

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As the chaotic summer travel season commences, it’s appropriate that I am stuck sitting in an over-crowded airport restaurant after my super-early morning flight was postponed three hours due to heavy fog at my destination. “Heavy fog” actually describes my brain, since I have been up since 3 a.m., full of adrenaline from not wanting to miss my plane, and now that the rush is over, I’m so tired, I could lay my head on the table and crash out. But falling asleep would just mean another dose of adrenal anxiety about missing my plane, so I’m struggling to pass the time figuring out what to eat while keenly observing the goings-on around me, which, believe me, “chaotic” doesn’t even begin to describe.

As for what to eat, I am conflicted, because I ate breakfast at home and don’t feel like eggs, but I’m watching the servers bring heaping platters of nachos, hot wings, and burgers dripping with Sriracha aioli to their bleary patrons. That food seems wrong at 7 a.m., and I can’t stop thinking that these diners are shortly going to board a cramped aircraft smelling like the dish pit at an all-night diner, and I’ll be wedged in between two of them. The thought of that also has me debating whether to order an alcoholic beverage, since I’ve been up for so long that it is, in fact, lunch-time, but there is the trepidation of being “that guy” who slides into his seat on a morning flight reeking of booze and being a little too chatty for everyone in his row, thereby making a complete nuisance of himself.

That gets me to observing the goings-on around me in the airport eatery, which involve shocking amounts of morning drinking. I’m not talking about dainty champagne flutes of mimosas here, but full on giant-size margaritas, double Caesars and Moscow Mules by the tray-full. It’s deafeningly loud for this early in the day, and tables of strangers are watching sports highlights and laughing and yelling at each other like they’re long-lost friends.

I start to wonder where on Earth these fliers are headed that they can arrive in the morning completely smashed out of their gourds and smelling like aioli. The obvious answer might be Las Vegas, where night and day are topsy-turvy, and eating dinner at the crack of dawn is the norm. But there are no flights to Vegas from this gate area, so I’m left to ponder whether these daybreak boozers are headed home to a sister’s wedding or to visit their aging parents. I picture the family reunion at the arrivals gate as being a bit “frosty” when they can’t walk in a straight line to the baggage claim.

As the morning drags on, I notice another disturbing trend as every flight that has boarded makes an announcement looking for fliers who have failed to show up at the gate. I’m bombarded by constant desperate announcements, like “Paging passenger Smith — your entire flight has boarded, please report to the gate immediately! Paging passenger Smith! The door to the plane is closing now!” I sit in disbelief that someone could go AWOL, given what I went through to get here, which included barely sleeping, setting four alarm clocks in various parts of the house, showering, packing, getting to the airport, checking in, getting a boarding pass with a boarding time on it, dropping luggage, going through security and coming out on the other side at the gates where every 10 feet, there’s a sign showing a boarding time for departing flights. After all that hassle and so much notice, how does anyone miss boarding time? I suppose a possible reason for not making a plane after all the work it took to get there is that there are exhausted people who fall asleep accidentally, or geeks who get on their laptop with headphones and get lost in gaming, or maybe just folks who get distracted with all the shops for travellers.

But given the day drinking I watched, my bet for the reason someone is paging passenger Smith is that ol’ Smitty made the unfortunate decision to use his boarding pass as a coaster for his sixth Moscow Mule and to laugh so loud, he never caught, “This is a final boarding announcement for….” or “Paging passenger Smith!” To which I can only say, “Have a safe flight, passenger Smith…tomorrow.

Allan Shewchuk is a lawyer, food writer and sought-after Italian food and wine guru. He currently has kitchens in both Calgary and Florence, Italy, but will drink wine pretty much anywhere.