Posted by: ankneredelstein | August 28, 2008

Leaving modern America to Europe in 2008….

Catching the Amtrak from New Rochelle, NY (I stayed with friends) in the pouring rain, I rode in a cab with someone who could only be described as “RainMan Cabbie”…very nice…oddly measured cadence to his speech, as if he was carefully calculating each word crafted into his sentences to make sure they came out correctly….he was very nice and dropped me at the new train station in New Rochelle where I awaited the Amtrack #93 to NYC and Newark Airport beyond…..

After dragging my two 70 lb. wheeled duffles precariously topped with a carry-on-dimensioned third suitcase to the outside benches at the Amtrack and NY Metro station, I unloaded by laptop from the backpack and found an unsecured WiFi connection strong enough to send and receive emails and remotely log in to the servers at work where I retrieved my Brother Glenn’s cell phone number. Catching him at McDonalds on his lunch hour, I described the trials and tribulations of packing the house and getting the renters oriented with the quirks and winter maintenance chores required to keep the house functional in our absence, I bid him farewell and boarded the crowded Amtrak #93 to NYC and finally, Newark Liberty International airport.

For those who do not know, the 21st century is alive an well in New Jersey. Exiting the Amtrak at the Newark Airport station, I found the little station manned with one person who directed people to the – for a lack of a better word – “people mover train” – an unmanned series of little monorail train cars big enough for maybe 4 or 5 people with luggage. The automated voice recording described each upcoming station stop and gave advice to hold on and watch the doors as they opened and closed. After learning from the automated voice I needed Terminal “B” for Air India, I exited the automated, unmanned train and entered the Newark International Airport.

Newark Liberty International is perhaps typical U.S. International airport in that its mix of travelers and level of activity is as diverse as the world it serves. As I attempted to gracefully control my 175 lbs of balanced luggage in 4 separate wheeled and unwheeled packages into the escalators and elevators to find the Air India check-in, I discovered it would not open to admit passengers and their checked luggage for two hours.

Bummer.

So…my circus balancing act of man and luggage traveled through the terminal in search of….what else…a pint. I find a little bar and order a Samuel Adams lager. The bill comes for $9:45….before tip. Ouch. I nurse it like it was worth $0.59 an ounce. The conspicuous act of people-watching in an international airport is always great sport, and getting better all the time. If you close your eyes, the sounds you hear are Italian, Chinese, French, Portugese, Spanish, English, Irish, African, Caribbean, unidentifiable and everything in between. The fashions oscillate between sweatpants with t-shirts, tre-chic Euro styles, grunge-rat baggies with hoodies, middle-manager business suits, high-flying executive business suits tailored to perfection, middle-eastern dress, American preppie, Valley-girl classic, New Jersey girl classic, fake tans, real tans, bleach-white skin, ebony black skin and every shade in between. People with too much baggage, people with no baggage, veteran travelers oblivious to the routine, newbie travelers showing nervous insecurity, families, single people, people showing signs of being away from home too long, family reunions, happy newlyweds, golden anniversary couples, fitness freaks, sickly people, babies, fossil-like old people, obviously wealthy people, wealthy-wannabe people, teen and twenty-something world travelers avoiding work and school, wheelchairs and kids with wheeled sneakers, single moms, single dads, families with screaming kids, families with delicately sleeping babies and completely eccentric oddballs. Airport staffers have their own cliques…retail shop staffers, restaurant staffers, baggage handlers, ticket clerks, security folks…the guys taking cash boxes from the retail stores and restaurants, local cops assigned to the airport, cleaning people and unidentifiable employees of all kinds. The restaurants have a constant circulation of new patrons, and with each new visitor, the customary routine repeats itself anew…over and over for hours…new faces…same rituals. Fascinating to watch and enjoy.

Finishing the last drops of my golden travel nectar brewed by Samuel Adams, I decide to get some exercise by wrestling my stack of luggage across the terminal, weaving and dodging the old folks, pilots, families, business people, airport staffers, luggage rent-a-carts, blind people, kids, over-madeup model-wannabes, travel worn veterans, strollers and just plain looking crazy people with or without rabies to find another bar and kill another hour……

I find a Chili’s restaurant at the other end of the terminal with an empty table just waiting to be filled. It has a spot for my parade of luggage, and so I sit and order a Bass ale. Maybe it will be a little cheaper. The beer arrives with the tab….$10.29 – before tax or tip. Ouch again. I take care not to spill a single amber drop. I watch a baggage handler, obviously from the tarmac with this long-waisted overcoat striped with reflective fabric and badges still weighing him down, meeting his wife and kids for a quick dinner at the Chili’s…sneaking in a bit of family time while on his dinner break. I, like so many others around me, suck my beer and type into their laptops.

After finishing my beer, I wander down to the now-open Air India check-in counter and get my boarding pass and check my two rolling duffles. The bad news is they are each a few kilos overweight for the “free luggage” allocation…so I pay $25 usd each to get them aboard. A quick $50 to Air India – I guess there’s no dinner out for me tonight…..sheesh. Suck it up and move on….

As I pass through security to the terminal gate area, CNN begins broadcasting President George Bush’s condemnation of Russia’s attacks and intrusion upon Georgia. Everyone in the gate areas remains glued to the television monitors broadcasting the news over the PA system. As the images of tanks, explosions and troops permeate everyone’s mind, the attention level and uneasy feelings rise in everyone’s faces. Odd feeling in an international location such as Newark Liberty International.

I find an open electric outlet and check for unsecured and free-for-the-taking WiFi ( a typical sport for travelers – trying to find WiFi for free wherever they go….), but the only signal available to the traveling pubic is monopolized by the infamous Boingo network…..a pay-for-the-access monolith of airport terminals all around the U.S….so sad…no WiFi for me….I decide to type this story instead….then head over to the Samuel Adams Brewhouse across the multi-gate lobby and see what they charge for another dose of traveler’s lubricant in a glass…..

And the winner is…….Samuel Adams Brewhouse at gates 60-67 with a pint registering at $8.87 before tax and tip. For those keeping score, 3 beers cost me a total of $28.61 (before tips and tax)….

[note to self…I gotta up my airport beer budget for the next trip.].

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