Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Dog breath, please

She sat down next to me and smelled like sweaty buttcrack, cigarettes, and Juicy Fruit gum.

Unfortunately, the Enterprise shuttle bus returning to Orlando International Airport had at least a 15-minute trip to go as I had learned on the way over the day before.

I had gotten on the bus when there were but four 20-something Japanese guys who looked like they were from LA – I always lump into LA residency anybody who is difficult to categorize as to their origin. These guys were hip and looked like Beatles in the early years, and they were chatting about the Sheryl Crow song which was on the shuttle bus radio, which I happened to like, too, so we all got along in principle. For some reason, I didn’t think they lived in Japan because…they just seemed West Coast.

Then the family of six started to pack in. She had just finished throwing her cigarette butt down outside the bus, spitting the blue-grey cloud down toward her chest as only accomplished smokers do. The man, sweaty buttcrack wife, two sons about 12 and 14 and two daughters about 8 and 10 wearing red t-shirts that said, “Thing 1” and “Thing 2” got on and, seeing we’d be tight, I moved to the end of the row that ran along the right side of the bus. She sat next to me. And I smelled her.

Now, Dear Reader, I often cannot smell Karen’s wonderful perfume. I often miss roses and roasts and jasmine because my nose is not what it should be except in its liberal size and the assurance it brings to our home that I will indeed each night snore loudly. But my nose worked fine this afternoon. Really fine. I have sat next to many a homeless person on the New York City subway, even next to one who decided to rise up and take a leak on the train door next to me while we were traveling between stations. (That was a new one; haven’t seen that repeated.) My point is that I have smelled much that is rare. She was rarer. And what made it worse is that I couldn’t see why. Why did she smell like this? Certainly, she and her husband had just footed the bill to spend a week down at Disney, they lived somewhere in Suffolk County on Long Island (I discerned from accents and their conversation), which isn’t cheap, and yet she smelled like someone who couldn’t scrounge bus fare. Oh, summer Coppertone beach odeur, where are you? Oh, magnolia blossom breeze, where art thou? Oh, Pluto, breathe dog breath on me!

Then, I thought: Certainly it’s not me. Oh. Heaven forbid it! It…can’t…be…me!? She’s chewing the gum, and she smoked the cigarette, which would leave me with…sweaty buttcrack. Oh. Please. No.

No. It was indeed her. To be sure.

Perhaps my recollection of all this is because I am grouchy right now. I was supposed to be home tonight at 11:45 after landing at Logan at around 10:30. Orlando, I learned, has thunderstorms nearly every day in the summer and, as the gate agent tells me, “some days are worse than others.” Today it is worse. We are grounded for more than two hours because of lightning strikes. The tower has a meter and every time lightning strikes, it means another fifteen minutes’ worth of automatic shutdown of the ramps, so that no workers can load or unload baggage being that close to a large chunk of metal. Frankly, I don’t see why high voltage electrocution doesn’t come under workman’s comp.

We are sitting there in the terminal, and one mitigating feature of the delay is that I strike up a conversation with a guy named Tony, who ends up sitting next to me in First Class (free upgrade, folks…I didn’t pay for this. Those of you who do pay extra, please read my post on Why First Class Doesn’t Pay. Not sure if that’s what I called it, but it’s how I feel now.) Tony works for a European company that is the second largest manufacturer of avionics and plane fuselages and such, whose main competition is Boeing, and he supports all the IT folks around the country. He is pretty cool, easy to talk to, tells me about how the US government militarizes their planes and, because of this, all parts and even documents and emails cannot be passed from the European company to the American company it owns and then back again because of security concerns. Once the American company gets anything, it is owned by the military and cannot be transferred back to any non-U.S. entity. There is a software called Orchestria that actually stops users at the moment they start to type in any technical data and reminds them of international protocol.

Tony, perhaps 60, bald deep brown-skinned head, glasses, crooked front teeth, and doesn’t smell of anything but pleasant cologne, tells me how he is raising his two grandkids, a 12-year-old-boy and 8-year-old-girl, after their mother, his daughter, died four years ago because of kidney failure. She died while on a dialysis machine. I don’t know what happened to the father, and I don’t ask. But Tony takes his wife and the kids to Florida each year – they split a week between Disney and the beach – on the autotrain, which leaves from DC where he lives and takes 15 hours to get to its destination. They board a little after 3 in the afternoon, let the kids run around, have dinner at 7, the kids watch a movie at 8 before falling asleep at 10:30 or so, wake at 6, have breakfast just in time for arrival. No sweat. Sounds like the way to travel. He says they serve good food on the train, “quality food,” on china. We talk about anniversary trips, his trip to San Francisco, our recent trip to New York, his wanting to take his wife on the cruise from Seattle to Alaska, my wanting to take the lovely K to Tuscany.

Meanwhile, the thunder is pounding away like some tribal war beat threatening all commuters and Disney-weary vacationers. He and I grab a sandwich from the food court and make it back just in time to board. No more lightning.

We’re on the plane now, and he’ll be home tonight. Me, I made a reservation at the airport Marriott at Reagan International and will take an early morning flight back to Boston, getting in around 9:15.

“I’ll still be sleeping then,” he says with a smirk.

“Thanks,” I return.

We laugh.

photo: ubik2010

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