I’m excited as I board the plane to Nashville, continuing on to Charleston, South Carolina. This trip is about learning, listening, and immersing myself in a somewhat recent movement, the “revival of southern cooking.” This revival, spearheaded by a small group of chefs, farmers, and geneticists, has spread across the entire South like wildfire. My goal is to eat my way through every socio-economic level in both cities so that, hopefully, I can grasp and communicate to you what in the hell is going on. Five Star to Dive Bar is what it’s all about.
Traveling as much as I do and stacking up flight miles isn’t always glamorous, and I’m finding myself turning into a traveling prick, a lighthouse of sorts, guiding the blind toward the holy land. People who know me would no doubt laugh and say, “no shit, you’re a prick generally, so why single out traveling as part of the problem?”
Here’s the thing: Traveling brings out the best and worst in me. Patience is something I lack, and that’s putting it mildly. On the other hand, smooth, deliberate planning, early arrival, and floating through the airport without issue puts me into a Zen-like state. For each little problem I run into, my distaste is vocalized with such myopic focus, I make myself laugh. Why? At the ripe old age of almost 49, you’d think that I might’ve settled down and achieved some inner calmness around travel. I’ve gained some, I’ll give myself that, but when dumb presents itself on a platter, it’s time to speak out.
Arriving early for my flight, I float into the VIP mileage area to drop off my bag, and it’s smooth as Astroglide. Stage one, check! As I move toward my first-class security area, I see a woman working on the adjustable barriers that define the tedious walk of death. It feels like lining up at a casting call for Deep Throat XXX, waiting my turn to get undressed, X-rayed, frisked, dusted, and, hopefully, groped.
I, of course, am wearing a Fresca-colored Speedo under my leisure suit, ready to cruise through security, daring someone to ask what the color my Speedo is before I even get in line. I walk up to my priority entry point, but it’s closed. I look around and see the pre-TSA line filled with old men and women, happily meandering through the line with that look of cruise-line bliss on their faces. I glance over to the economy line, and it’s inundated with children, moms, men, and travelers, all looking confused and in no particular hurry, most staring off into the ceiling lights.
WTF is happening? I look at the nearest attendant and belch with 100 percent authority. “Where’s the first-class line?”
He looks around and says “It’s closed; go to the economy line.”
In that moment, I’m perplexed. “What did you say? Hey, I’m going to ask you again, where’s the first-class priority line?”
Again he looks around and says, “I don’t know, it seems to be closed. You should go through the other line.”
Ummmm, say whaaaa … The inner battle ensues; don’t do it Jim! Hold your tongue! Sadly, I cannot comply with that voice of reason. Does this guy know who I think I am? Obviously not! The mental tug of war lasts about a second; this isn’t happening. “Hey, line manager,” I say, “its 8:30 a.m., the busiest time of day, in the largest security line at SFO, and the premium line is closed? Wow, who’s the genius managing this cluster fuck?”
He stairs at me, struggling to manage the barrage of perplexing questions I just pumped at him, stutters a bit, then points to a TSA agent on the other side. Now I’m leaning over the barriers, and I lob a remark at the TSA Agent. In my mind, it starts as a lofty shuttlecock, but lands like an ICBM, in the vicinity of four TSA agents. They all look at each other and realize that I’m making 100 percent complete fucking sense. Again they look around, then start shuffling a few people, and like fucking Mosses parting the Red Sea, the premium line opens. I walk through, completely pissed off and laughing hysterically simultaneously before beginning my orchestrated and rehearsed strip show—effortlessly removing shoes, belt, jacket—emptying my pockets and shoving my belongings onto the conveyor belt and through the X-ray, before ending up on the other side, in the next dimension.
Stage two: check! Jesus, that was more like getting assaulted with sandpaper than fondled with Astroglide. (FYI, the company “Clear” is gaining momentum; I’ll be with them soon.) Fucking security lines; I hate ‘em. I get dressed again, look through my pockets and baggage, and stroll off to line up with the next bunch of idiots to grab a coffee.
Ever been in a coffee line and wanted to kick every single person in front of you? How is it that someone can treat Starbucks, Taco Bell, or McDonalds as though it were a completely foreign concept? You know the type: morons who haven’t given any thought whatsoever to their order till they’re standing face-to-face with the cashier? Its fucking straight-up abuse of their fellow human beings. All fast food/drink places should have an I-know-exactly-what-I-want line and an I-have-no-idea-whether-my-socks-match-or–even-if-I‘m-wearing-underwear line.
“Martha, I’m so excited about our trip; this is going to be so great, lots of wine, hahaha, snort. So, what do we have here? Oh, look at those beautiful croissants and, my God, cake pops, too! Gosh, I’m overcome … hmm, what to order? Well, let me see … OK, I’ll do a double double, light on the milk, 1 percent, of course, extra whip and, and … no, scratch that. I’ll do a Frappuccino … no, hold on. What about a tea? I really need to watch my weight; I have a new bathing suit for this trip, Martha, very sexy, snort. Oh, OK, how much is it? Oh wow, let me see, where is my wallet? God, I really need to get organized. It’s here somewhere … One minute, I’ll find it … Oh, here you go, here’s my credit card. Oh, it’s not working. Hmmm, oh, my kids, they must be getting crazy with it. Don’t worry, I have cash. Let me see, how much did you say it was? Five-sixty? OK, here’s three—sorry it’s crumpled—oh, lemme get rid of this change … fourrrr, fiiiive and … oh, poop, I don’t have 60 cents. Martha! Sorry, do you have any money I can borrow?”
It’s happened again, second time in 10 minutes. I reach a mental Mt. Vesuvius erupting and jump over the four people in front of me, landing on the counter like a WWF wrestler with a $100 bill. “FUCK, FUCK, FUCK, I’m buying everyone’s coffee; just get them out of the line, PLEASE! Aaaaaaaahhhhh!!”
Now that Santa Claus has come and gone and paid for everyone’s coffee, I find a nice place to sit, hide, and enjoy my newfound freedom, away from cross-breeding cattle lines. Searching for inner calm, I find it, mediate, and relax. I glance down at my watch: one hour till my flight; all’s right with the world.
I finish my coffee and look at my phone. It’s a little after 9:00 a.m. I walk into the men’s bathroom and straight into another line. Looking around, I decipher that everyone is waiting for stalls. WTF is going on today! I walk out and find another bathroom, and it’s just as bad. Scratching my head, I walk out, and then it dawns on me; the bathrooms are all right next to the coffee kiosks. Holy shit, literally, Coffee shops are causing the lines for the stalls, and I’m caught in 9:00 a.m. dump stall traffic jam!
Frustrated and agitated, I head to the nearest bar and order a drink. No more than 30 seconds after I sit down, a woman sits next to me and says, “Hey!” I turn to her and say “Hey!” She smiles and says, “What color is that Speedo, turquoise or baby blue?”
“It’s Fresca,” I say, turning toward my drink and smiling. Hmm, a southern revival isn’t so far off.