Get Thee To An Airport: Summer’s Here!

Short final in St Maarten

Short final in St Maarten

This post was originally published in the Glendale – Cherry Creek Chronicle in July of 2009.  I have just arrived home from a four-day trip replete with mechanical delays, duty-time legality issues, and Orlando, that seems to have officially rung in this year’s summer travel season.  After a couple glasses of wine and a good night’s sleep, I am moved to repost.

I have about twenty different renditions of the song on my iPod, sung by everyone from Sarah Vaughan to Angelique Kidjo: “Summertime, and the living is easy.”  Yeah, well, this is my sixteenth summer as a flight attendant for a major airline, and I am pretty sure those lyrics didn’t come to George Gershwin on an airplane. For nine months a year, airplanes are filled with seasoned travelers and million-mile frequent fliers who more or less “know the drill,” and flight attendants pretty much know what to expect.  The off-season traveler means business: he’ll get on the airplane balancing an open laptop and talking on his cell phone, clog up the aisle while he fills up an entire overhead bin with his oversized carry-on bags, and then sit and make comments to the flight attendants about how people need to hang up their cell phones and travel with smaller bags and the boarding process will go more smoothly for everyone.  These passengers breeze through security with slip-on shoes and TSA-approved toiletries, know exactly what they want to drink and how much it will cost, and can be counted on to have the laptop fired up from way before we tell them it’s OK until way after we tell them to turn it off, some of them hard at work, most of them watching Family Guy on DVD.  They don’t bother us, we don’t bother them (certainly not with “service,” not these days), and everybody’s happy.  I’ve got an Us magazine to read, after all. Continue reading

Coffee, Tea, or… This Stuff?

Cafe au lait in Paris, France, where I first learned to love coffee

Cafe au lait in Paris, France, where I first learned to love coffee

As a rule, I am not a particularly early riser.  I’m not a milkman, we don’t have kids that need tending to, and we have the Golden Girls in the DVD player in the bedroom almost all the time — I am happy to seize any opportunity to loll in bed that may arise.  It is definitely not my habit to leap from the bed at the first sign of the new day, but when I’m working, it is kind of my preference.  I like to get my flying out of the way early in the day, before the operation has had a chance to fall apart and people have really had the chance to miss connections or otherwise be disserviced (read: before people have good reason to turn cranky).  Morning flights are generally low-key, as many passengers use the first portion of a morning flight to come to terms with the idea of being up and at ’em at what airlines are dictating to be a more and more ungodly hour.  (Yesterday, we worked a flight that started boarding at five in the morning.)  I like the pink light of the sunrise in the cabin, and I like to get home and have the day ahead of me, even if I am going to end up spending much of it napping.  (There go those Golden Girls again…)

Here’s the thing about me and morning: there’s gotta be coffee.  Not in-room brown water, not some instant powdered mess, and certainly not the swill made from grass clippings and the remnants from the chicory factory floor that it embarrasses me to serve on the airplane, but please: real coffee.  At home, this is easily achieved.  I buy yummy coffee — nothing fancy, half the time it’s from Cost Plus (sorry: World Market) — but it’s dark, it’s strong, and the dispenser-style coffee maker that Jared got me for my last birthday makes it easy (and fun!) to drink way too many cups of it every day.  Yes, at home, I look forward to getting out of bed (at a reasonably leisurely hour) and going coffee crazy.   Continue reading

City Code Snapshot: MCO

It is my personal experience that Orlando has little to offer the traveler who is not 8 and counting the seconds to Disney World.  Not that I wouldn’t have a ball at Disney World — the minute my youngest nephew is old enough to walk the entire park without need for a stroller, we’re there, budgeted to load up on churros and Phineas and Ferb souvenirs.  But if you’re not on a theme park mission, or on a quest to eat every meal for the rest of your life at Chili’s, Orlando can be kind of a dud destination.  When we used to layover at the hotel that seemed to host every college football team that came through town, entertainment was no farther away than your pool-facing balcony, but we haven’t stayed there in ages, and now there’s little to which to look forward.

Except for ZaZa, the Cuban coffee oasis ensconced in the back of a stereo store at the Orlando airport (note the complete absence of anything even vaguely cafe-ish in the photo).  While the prospect of an 18-hour layover at our airport-adjacent hotel holds little appeal, I thrill at the opportunity, such as I had yesterday, to pass through Orlando en route from Point A(re we there yet?) to Point B(e serious — we’re still not there?).  Like so many of Life’s Pleasures (ahem!), the coffee is hot and dark, strong and sweet.  Almost inky — much like my favorite guy behind the counter, who wears a neoprene sleeve under his t-shirt to cover a tattoo that I am dying to see.  I always smirk inwardly at the company policy that no doubt requires him to cover in this manner, drawing, as it does, ten times more attention to the fact that he’s got a giant tattoo than the tattoo itself probably would in this day and age.  And so I wonder, is it especially “offensive?”  Has it been deemed inappropriate for kids (with which this particular airport, obviously, is infested)?  Is it overly sexual or violent in nature?  He’s the nicest guy — a little bit cheeky (he always calls me Papi) but ever-ready to be of service, and he always remembers my order, even if it’s been months between visits — and so I wonder How bad could it be?  Would it shock me with its theme?  Amaze me with its artistry?  Its lack thereof?  Is his manager being overly officious, or is it really some kind of Big Deal?

Maybe he’s become the draw.  As much as my afternoon is improved when punctuated with a swirling shot of cane-sweetened oil slicky goodness (with a shot of milk, just because it’s fun to order a cortadito), here in the Town That Disney Built, where every place that isn’t a tragically predictable chain restaurant sells Tinkerbell t-shirts Ten-for-Ten-Dollars!, it’s well worth the three bucks to be served a cup of coffee — or anything, really — with a dollop of mystery.