One For The Road, And Back

“Please step over here, sir. Your scan showed a ‘groin anomaly’.”

Depending on where you are when you hear these words, you are likely to have a variety of reactions.

If it came from your doctor, you might wonder if you should expect to start singing soprano, or if you should start getting your affairs in order.

But, if you happened to hear that where I did, which was in the Transportation Security Authority line at Oakland International Airport, you’d be more likely to do a spit take as you hack up the words, “Uh…What did you say?”

“A groin anomaly, sir,” repeated the TSA agent. “Something showed up. I need to use my hands to pat you down.”

“Well…A groin anomaly,” I said while cracking a smirk and then thinking, “I don’t know whether to be proud, or offended.”

Thus began what was to be a quick and dirty weekend trip to visit my mom. And it was a solo trip, too. While it would have been nice to have brought my wife and daughters with me, the thought of paying close to $1,000 for plane tickets, plus whatever it would have cost to rent a vehicle big enough for the four of us and all of our stuff was too much to bear.

So, after my “groin anomaly” checked out (it was most likely my belt that set off the machine). and the TSA folks were satisfied that I wasn’t the WASP-iest ISIS recruit in Oakland, I proceeded on my way to that location that is the best place in any airport anywhere: the airport bar.

My glory days of destroying my liver through the competitive sport of bar crawling are long in the past. With a wife, two young daughters, various streaming TV options and a job that requires me to get up at 5 a.m. during the week, there really is no time left for parking myself on a stool and commiserating with the local barflies over beers and shots. That scene doesn’t really play well when you need to be reading the latest Julie B. Jones story to your kids at bedtime.

And yet…When I get to any airport, whether it be in Oakland, Seattle, New York or on the Big Island of Hawaii, if I don’t have one drink at one of the bars in the terminal, then to me, the trip to wherever it may be isn’t complete. I know the markup on whatever is sold anywhere in an airport is at least 4,000 percent. And I don’t care.

At first, it looked like my airport bar-drinking dreams wouldn’t come true. This bar was inside the Oakland Airport Chili’s and every seat was taken. My disappointment had just started to register when two travelers must have decided it was time to make haste to their departure gate. I shadowed them like a Secret Service agent guarding the president and, as soon as they started to get up, I began cramming myself into their area and had my ass on a seat before the bartender could clear away their empty glasses. I looked at what was on tap and decided on a Pyramid Brewing Thunderhead IPA (6.7% ABV).

The bartender and I both knew the next steps in this dance.

Airport Bar Beer No.1: Pyramid Thunderhead IPA (6.7% ABV).

“Fourteen or 20-ounce?” she asked.

And like there could have been any other possible choice, I came back with “Twenty, of course.”

I sipped on my beer, ordered up one of Chili’s three-appetizer combinations (two slider burgers, boneless wings and some of the horribly awesome southwestern egg rolls) that had to have a minimum of 5 million calories, and looked around. There is something about sidling up to that wooden counter next to some strangers and then figuring out which of the stereotypical categories of traveler they fall into. Those are:

-The guy who is on his way way to, or coming from some kind of business meeting and feels the need to call someone every two minutes to let them know his flight’s been delayed. He’s drinking double vodka and sodas.

-The family with the two little kids in tow. The parents look exhausted and they haven’t gotten close to their destination. The kids, of course, are hungry because little kids always want something to eat. That is, except for what their parents want to feed them. Mom and dad would kill for a beer or glass of wine at this point.

-The single, college age girl wearing a sweatshirt with her school’s name on it. She’s having a Coors Light.

-The dudes on their way to Vegas. They’re having Coors Light, And a shot of bourbon on the side because they want to be just a little bit “hipster”, but not too much.

-Myself. And since I am, of course, Mr. Wonderful, I am the only “real” person in the bar.

Actually, the whole reason I was paying for an overpriced IPA on tap was because I was killing some time as I waited for that flight to my mom’s that I mentioned about 700 words ago. My mom had just visited us for a week at Christmas. But, for various reasons, nearly six months had passed between that visit, and the last time we had seen her, back in July. Mom still has her wits about her, but she is 76 years old. And let’s face it, anyone who is pushing 80 has probably slowed down a bit from when they were 40, or even 60. Not everyone on the far side of 70 can continue to live like Keith Richards.

Because of that, I have decided that it’s imperative we, or even just I, need to see mom more. Once a month would be great. But finances, time and responsibilities are such that seeing mom every other month–whether I/we go see her, or she comes to visit us–is an imperfect, but more reasonable expectation. I probably look up airfares a minimum of five times a week, searching for a good deal for either of us to jump on. Anything below $200 round trip is a possibility. If it’s less than $175, I’ll consider lining up all four of us for a weekend jaunt from Oakland to Sea-Tac. Or, I’ll shoot mom a note in the hopes that she’ll grab that seat and be at our house before school gets out this afternoon.

The times that we do have all three generations of us together aren’t nearly often enough.

And the return Airport Bar Beer, Denali Fusion White IPA (6.5% ABV).

As we all get older, the necessity of us seeing each other only increases. Traveling to do so may not be easy, but we know is has to be done. And when we get up to my mom’s, whether it’s after the annual two-day drive we do in the summer, or the two-hour flight that I think we will be doing more and more, we know we’ve done something that keeps our family closer together.
And like I did at the beginning my most-recent trip, I ended this one with a stop at the airport bar at Sea-Tac, where at the Alaskan Lodge I had a Denali Brewing Co. Fusion White IPA (6.5% ABV) and, again, it was the 20-oz. version. The airport bar beer has become a milestone for these familial flights and serves as a sign that something is beginning, and then ending.

Something that once it begins, I don’t want to end.

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