I swore during that last flight out of Singapore that I’d never get on another airplane, which casts me in a nonconforming role as more than half the people I know are constantly catching flights to cruises in the Mediterranean or cooking tours in Italy. Well, they didn’t live their middle years the way we did and it’s understandable that they want to see what’s out there. But six years ago, as far as I was concerned, I was done.
But my reasonable expectation that David would want to slow down was apparently unfounded. Since we returned to the states we’ve taken at least two holidays a year that required getting on a plane. Some have been trouble-free and some have been irritating. None have been comfortable. I’ve chronicled every one of them so my friends and family have suffered right along with me.
Today our destination is Boston, where tomorrow we’ll cheer for Sam’s girlfriend, Julia, as she graduates from the Harvard Kennedy School of International Studies. Talk about a couple of overachievers. As it looks like Julia will be a permanent part of Sam’s life, it’ll be an opportunity to meet her parents, who’ve come from London.
Yes, she’s British and the two of them have plans to eventually settle in the UK, which is far away from Texas. Honestly, the only way they’re getting me there for a visit is if a baby enters the picture. Other than that, see you on Facetime, Young Sam. Or hey, you can come see us.
Because we’re traveling on United we must switch in Houston to get to Boston. It’s one-thirty when we alight in Houston. Though I hate flying, I love airports, which are gold when it comes to people watching. I like to stroll slowly, observing body types, quirks, clothing choices, family dynamics.
But there’s no going slow for David. He rushes, frantic to move forward. When he gets hungry he becomes fidgety and tense, which is only a step away from becoming snappish. My new priority is to find him food.
“Hungry?” I ask.
But typically before he can relax for a meal, he wants to get to the vicinity of our gate. Oh, but look at the information screen. Our two-thirty departure has been pushed back to five-thirty. I point it out to him and he visibly deflates, then rises up, even more determined to push onward toward the gate in order to make sure that no mistake has been made. Nope. It is what it is. Originally planning to arrive at our hotel between seven-thirty and eight, now it looks like we won’t get there until nearly midnight.
This happens to people all the time. It’s happened to us again and again. But still, each time it hits like a slap. Dehumanizing. No apology for the inconvenience. No explanation as to why.
Back to basics. While I could easily live off my fat for a year, David isn’t fortunate enough to possess my famine backup plan.
We passed several nice eating establishments on the way to the gate, but because we’re here and we’re hungry, we go to the nearest restaurant. It looks okay.
An apathetic woman mumbles that we can sit anywhere; then she turns and shuffles away. iPads are set on stands in the center of the table, which precludes cross communication. A waiter appears and explains how to use the iPads to place our order and pay. Okay, we comprehend. The waiter fades away.
“If we order our food and pay here at the table,” I ask, “what does this waiter do?”
“Brings it to us, I guess.”
But it’s delivered by someone we haven’t seen before, a woman who asks who ordered what. She sets our corresponding meals before us and then she, too, disappears.
Behind David six or seven people hang out. They’re dressed alike, all in black, so I assume they’re staff. They laugh and tell stories and when one of them pushes a tray off the counter where he’s leaning, making a huge noise, the volume of the laughter rises to a disturbing level. I wonder who’s in charge. No one, it seems.
I look at the table, befuddled. David, also, looks confounded.
“Were we supposed to order silverware on this thing, too?” I ask, clicking the food icon on the iPad to see if silverware must be ordered separately, as though not actually wanting to eat the food is a normal option.
David’s a fixer. He hops up and goes in search. Seeing a woman in black who seems to be guarding a drawer, he asks for silverware and napkins. Apparently she tells him no, because he drags himself back to the table.
“She said she doesn’t have any.”
It’s a mystery. He ordered a Korean chicken sandwich, sixteen dollars. I ordered chicken shwarma, fourteen. These are things you can eat without silverware, but not without a napkin.
“Look at all this dry lettuce, fresh from the bag,” I say. “Shouldn’t there be dressing of some sort? And how am I supposed to eat it?”
The guy who initially introduced us to the process shows up with silverware and napkins.
“May I have salad dressing?”
“Ranch or lemon vinaigrette?” he asks.
I tell him ranch and after a “right away,” he takes off to join the joking and laughing group. The ranch dressing is forgotten, never to be seen. The dry green and purple leafy stuff remains untouched.
As we’re leaving I comment that the guy doesn’t deserve a tip.
“They charged the tip at the front of the meal,” David says.
The chicken was so dry that it took me half an hour and lots of water to choke it down. David’s sandwich was too salty and the French fries were cold.
I realize that airport food is notoriously crappy, but walk the extra hundred yards to a better place. Hell, Wendy’s or Potbelly would have been better.
The place is called Ember. Avoid it. Turn away.