Thursday, January 16, 2014

Pigs with Four Stripes

Forgive me if I've taken a cynical turn with this post, but it's my blog and I feel like being cynical today.

It began with my stroll. I often have a lot of time to kill around this gargantuan airport and so I took a long walk down in the old underground train tunnel which spans the length of all the concourses. Silent little trams creep through it with only one or two riders on them. They go at a veritable snail's pace, jerking around the jinks and curves like a carnival ride, all of which has earned them the moniker, “The Disney Train.” When it was built it was the stuff of awe-inspiring state-of-the art airport improvement. But that was back before the TSA and screening, and before everybody got in such a damned hurry. Now a newer, faster, elevated tram serves all the terminals and doesn't require you to leave the “secure” area. But for me the old tram tunnel is a good place to take a stretch in relative solitude.

I like to walk the length of the tunnel and surface in the western-most terminal where a little Tex-Mex lunch counter serves savory burritos. As I waited in line I watched a captain ahead of me talking with the staccato rapidity of a machine gun into a device protruding from his ear, loud enough for me to hear from 20 feet away. Judging from the few words I picked out I was not in the least interested in his business, which was apparently, business. I think the guy had a side enterprise of some sort and was issuing orders to his underlings. He stood in front of the serving line ducking, weaving and gesticulating. I figured he was trying to get better views through a glass shield of the various trays of side dishes from which to choose.

Meanwhile an attractive, stately young woman stood behind him waiting her turn, and the contrast between the two struck me in a sorrowful way. She was a good half-foot taller than the chubby little captain. Not to disparage height-challenged people, it was the way he dressed and conducted himself that irritated me. He was a corpulent humpty dumpty wearing a uniform cut several sizes too large. His hat, far too big, rested on his ears, and he wore it comically tipped back far on his head, like Col. Hogan in Hogan’s Heroes.

In bygone times the young woman might have taken convivial notice of a trim pilot standing near her, clothed not only in a neatly cut uniform but in a quiet, confident demeanor as well. But to her, Captain Humpty was nothing more than an annoying obstacle standing between her and her lunch. He most certainly commanded no sway of esteem with her, yet she may have soon been placing her life in his portly hands. I’m sure if that notion occurred to her she resisted it with a shudder and purged it from her mind.

The server, barely able to understand a few words of English, was as confused as I was. Was Humpty talking to her or the person in his little ear piece? Poor woman. She finally got his plate prepared to his satisfaction and he wobbled away to a table, his lips still clapping like a reed in a clarinet, words jetting that might as well have been gibberish for all I could tell and cared.

I collected my burrito and surveyed the dining area for a table as far away from Captain Humpty as possible, unsuspecting that my disgust with him was about to be trumped by an even more repugnant sight.

Just as I sat down another pilot came into view at the table in front of me. He made Humpty look like fitness trainer. This man, in perhaps his early thirties, weighed at least 325 pounds. He wore neither hat nor coat. His rumpled shirt bore the four stripes of a captain and his wings told me that he flew for the regionals. This man's belly—I'm not exaggerating—spilled out over his belt and clung half way to his crotch, like icing melting off of a tilting wedding cake. The grotesque bulge dangled as if threatening to break off and slam to the floor.
He eagerly tore into his lunch, bantering between gulps with his mostly silent first officer, who had pushed his chair far back from the table in what I figured was symbolic act of distancing himself. This man was bound for the cockpit of a 50 seat regional jet. How he would squeeze into it, I cannot imagine. The nose up trim required of that plane must be near the limit.

I forced down my burrito only by averting my eyes from that ticking myocardial infarction. I didn’t feel as though I belonged here anymore. I belong in the past. I am among the last of the old guard.

 What would these men think of the two imposters I saw?

Captain Hamilton "Ham" Lee
United Airlines