“Ohhh, Dammit,” Keith said as he looked at me. “You just had to stop to look at that tree. I knew we’d be late.”
“Sorry man,” I replied. How was I supposed to know we’d need a whole hour to get through the airport?
We both looked at the airline customer service agent. She wore a forced smile that showed the wrinkles around her eyes. Her blonde hair showing gray at the roots. She started tapping away at the computer in front of her.
“I can put you on the four fifteen flight this afternoon,” she said as she looked across the desk. “It’s scheduled to arrive in Las Vegas tomorrow morning at 5 a.m,” she had perfected the feigned sympathy of our misfortune as only a veteran customer service professional could.
“Weeeelllllll, alright. I suppose it’s the only option we have,” Keith said in his high-pitched fun voice he used when irritated but trying to maintain calm. He turned his back to the counter and started to carry off his bags.
I finished taking care of the flight change with the customer service agent, thanked her once more, and collected my things. I’d figured we had plenty of time to make the flight – at home I regularly arrived at the airport thirty or forty minutes before flights no problem. I just underestimated the Hawaii airport system. With agricultural check stations and a steady stream of tourists, we were just about twenty minutes too late.
I found Keith near a row of seats and piled my bag and surfboard next to his. He was stretching his back, bent at his waist and touching the ground beneath his outspread legs. His long hair tumbled down almost to the floor.
I sat down as a breeze wafted in through the open walls of the airport lobby. Outside the palm trees bent gently in the wind. The early afternoon sun leaving short shadows along the cracked pavement.
“Too bad we only have three hours to wait for the flight,” Keith said from below. “A little more time and we could hit the surf once more.”
“Yeah,” I exhaled. “Wouldn’t be enough time. A bus ride would be a little over an hour one way. Surf is flat right now, anyway.” Keith was still stretching out. I sat back in my seat and noticed the TV in the far corner.
Bold, bright text flashing across the screen informed me it was Breaking News – a CNN Exclusive. ‘TRUMP SCANDAL’ It said. The title, the flashing, the news… As if a branded product being sold to viewers nationwide on primetime television. The 24 hour news cycle grinding away. On the screen a well-dressed man sat with crossed legs while training his attention on the woman sitting across from him. She was blonde and looked like a former playmate. She was, supposedly, one of Trump’s former mistresses. The world knew it to be true, but people would still tune in to see the carnival on display. Her intimate affair with the president laid out on national cable news. It would certainly earn money for the networks. It would also provide more ammunition for the left wingers, and more for the right to scrape into the closet.
And for the next week, the networks would be buzzing with outrage on both sides. Some would say ‘the moral fiber of our society is at stake. Our country has lost its way.’ As far as I could tell, our society had traded its self-respect for comfort and excess. Greed. A slimy real estate tycoon as our president was an inevitable consequence.
“Hey, what time is it,” Keith asked, from a seat now. He was reading a book.
“About two fifteen,” I checked my phone.
“I’m hungry,” he said.
“Ok,” I replied.
“I should eat something,” he said back.
“Alright, have at it, there are plenty of food places around,” I told him.
“Aaaaaahhhhhhhhh, I can’t spend any more money. I spent too much at the bar the other night.”
“Well, I think I have half a leftover sandwich from earlier. You want that?” I asked.
“Sure. But does it have onions. I don’t like onions.”
“Shit, Keith. I don’t remember, probably. You can pick them out.”
“Alright, give it to me then,” he said.
I handed it over to him and he thanked me. I wasn’t hungry, and I didn’t feel like packing that old sandwich around anymore anyway. The TV was just back from a commercial and the two well-dressed people were still at it about the president. The digital banner across the screen blinking – “CNN Special Edition. Porn-star dishes about former affair with president Trump”. The whole thing like a marketing campaign to sell a product – a brand.
My mind started wandering and I was tired of wasting time with the TV. We had a couple more hours of hanging out in the airport terminal and I was beginning to feel restless. I needed something to take the edge off. I was playing around with my phone in my hand and remembered I had small hit of acid tucked inside its case. ‘Shit,’ I thought. ‘I hadn’t remembered it was there and had been flying all over with it – made it through security at least once.’ At any rate, I was happy to have found it and so I stood up and walked to the restroom to settle the matter.
“Hey, Keith,” I paused. “I am going to the bathroom.”
“Yeah, alright,” he said with a mouthful of sandwich.
I made my way toward the restroom, navigating around men and women. All either eager for adventure, or sunburned and a swollen from a vacation of excess. Now heading back to their suburban lives back home. Back to work. One particularly opulent woman waddled shortly after her husband. She had a pearl necklace around her leathery, wrinkled neck, and wore a low cut tank top. As if under the illusion she was still in her 30s, she was poured into a pair of tights like a truck stop hooker.
Another couple walked by. More conservative looking – they wore matching Hawaiian shirts and pants. They stopped together to check the monitor for departing flights and the man checked his wrist watch and then they both marched down the terminal. With them, a box of duty-free pineapples – a souvenir for back home. They would share them with friends as they bored them with photos of the beach and with stories about the culture of Hawaii that they only glimpsed from their resort hotel. “I got so burned this one day snorkeling!” she would exclaim. “I saw green sea turtles.” He would say. “I touched one even,” he would cackle. “You’re not supposed to touch them, but I did.” In his perfectly square life of keeping the rules, he now felt alive, having made a minor infraction of the law. Safely away from home and on vacation.
I was now at the bathroom. The floor was thoroughly covered in piss, paper towels, and toilet paper. The backs of several large men faced out as they lined the wall of urinals. I found an empty stall and went in to settle my business, then pretended to blow my nose. I stepped back out and settled up to a urinal. The urinal cake was eroded into a small disk; its sterile smell almost gone, and it sat atop of a rubber filter pad with the name Waxie printed on it. I remembered someone once told me that Waxie was a bad company. Treated their employees poorly. Payed them poverty wages. Unsafe working conditions. What the hell was I supposed to do with that information? Not piss in the urinal? The world is absolutely filled with injustices it seems. Doing you best not to support bad habits of humanity, you are certain to blindly be contributing to filth and human disregard someplace else.
I stepped back out into the terminal and started back for Keith. Stores lining either side, selling anything from daily newspapers to last minute Hawaiian souvenirs and clothing. A pastry shop. A lingerie store. Along one lonely wall was even a Best Buy vending machine where one could buy a new tablet or set of headphones. Down a little farther was a small pub and I stepped in and found a seat at the bar.
“Hi there,” what can I get ya?” asked the friendly bartender.
“Could I please have a pint of the pale ale,” I responded as the bartender wiped out a glass.
“Sure, thing,” he turned to the taps and filled a glass. He held it tilted as the beer streamed into the glass. Small bubbles rose up through the dark yellow liquid and formed the thin layer of head on the top. He finished filling the glass and set in in front of me.
I lifted it to my nose and smelled the aroma of hops and malt before sipping. It tasted good and I was happy to have a drink.
The TV here was also playing news. As if that’s all America wants now – a 24/7 news feed. This time – a breaking story from California. ‘A March for Science’.’ Thousands gathered’. People held signs and chanted slogans. No doubt, they had resolve to change the system. And it certainly would, eventually. But for now, they were practicing their constitutional right. One of the great symbols of freedom of our great country. The right to assemble. The right to free speech. The right to protest – providing the right race and skin color. But the shame of it all was that all the protests, all the marches, seemed futile. The masters still practiced their unscrupulous system of greed all while hidden away in the nation’s capital. As if a sick joke – ‘Let them practice their rights. Let them protest and march.’ The marchers were merely on recess; allowed out for the day to practice their freedom. Then they would return to their jobs. In a day. Or a week. They would return to their jobs and continue to grind away for the system.
I finished a beer, and decided it would be good to get back to Keith at the terminal for our flight. By now the drugs were having a small effect and the alcohol helped too. I walked back through the crowds of people. Like a sea of fish, we all moved in unlikely accord. Like braided channels of a desert stream, serpentine lines of people moved in different directions. To home. To adventure.
I found Keith back by the terminal. On the floor, he was in the middle of a set of crunches. Legs up and crossed, arms behind his head. He counted under his breath and hardly noticed me. All around, people filled seats and open spots on the floor. Stuffed together in the terminal like sardines, no one talked to each other, or hardly acknowledged one another. Headphones coming out of clothes and stuffed into ears. Everyone stared into glowing palms. Their digital screens feeding them information, news, entertainment. Algorithms developed to track, record, and generate reaffirmation feedback loops. Sitting in a room with world travelers, no one had to look up. Talk to a stranger. Hear something they may not agree with. Like a scene from George Orwell’s 1984, everyone safe inside their digital world.
I looked around for a seat with no luck, so I found a bit of floor near Keith and leaned against the wall. At this point, I wasn’t sure what was more bizarre. Keith practicing his floor routine in the terminal of a crowded airport terminal. Or hundreds of people packed into the small space, no one talking to one another, but all absorbed in the glow of their digital world.