Traveling American

It's been a few years since I've had the opportunity to travel to a place which was pretty foreign to me, especially by some method other than car. It's been a good while since I traveled by plane or bus. This time it was by plane. Richmond to Seattle, by way of O'Hare in Chicago.

Traveling is somewhat different when you're an adult. I still get that vague feeling of being on some kind of adventure, but it's certainly a good deal less acute, probably aided somewhat by the fact that I can rely heavily on waking up where I remember falling asleep, not to mention remembering going to sleep and how I came to be where I fell asleep. These things have not always been the given they are today. But there is still very good people watching in places like airports and bus stations. This is something I've always loved about traveling.

In my rush to make sure I was ready on time and had everything together, had typed and printed the instructions for the friend taking care of our faithful, four legged companions, I didn't think to eat anything before we got to the airport in Richmond. These days, they recommend you get to the airport ninety minutes to two hours ahead of your departure time. The new regulations since 9/11 have slowed the process of going through security and boarding more complicated. But it was striking to see the degree to which people can be herded, calm as Hindu cows, through the entire process. They were calm and efficient and for the most part, well prepared. It took all of ten minutes, and I only saw one person who was attempting to board with some form of contraband. She wasn't trying to smuggle an AK-47 or an RPG onto the plane, nothing that exciting at all. She was trying to get a bottle of wine on the plane for her husband at home, in her carry on. That was her story anyway. By the looks of her, she was very familiar with the bottom of a wine bottle. Very familiar. But, she didn't protest, just pitched the bottle in the trash, and on she went. I've flown one other time since 9/11, and I'm still somewhat shocked by how well people actually navigate the whole thing, and how little chicanery and protesting goes on.

Once you've made it through the security gauntlet intact, and with your shoes, your kind of stuck in the concourse. They know this. And by they, I mean the airport personnel and the staff at the various little eateries and retailers, usually selling the kind of obnoxious bric-a-brac emblazoned with the name of the airports location, that you never actually see the people who live there wearing. I was actually thinking about picking up a couple of Richmond hats and sweatshirts, to wear myself. It would be just stupid enough to almost be funny. The VCU hat is going in the trash, I'm just going with the straight up, canvas, Richmond hat. Though I should probably buy a few because I have the sense they probably don't last all that long.

Don't get me wrong, you can get almost anything you would actually need for traveling. This is a good thing. If you've forgotten something, you're in a hurry and don't expect to have much time for extraneous activity at your destination, these places can be useful. But they know they've got you. A seven dollar stick of deodorant is a sure sign of this kind of thing. The other is the food, and the service. Mostly, the food is something akin to fast food, unless you're in the larger airports like O'hare or Sea-Tac, where you can get something that resembles real food, but it's under the banner of "Wolfgang Puck" or some other "upscale" chain, which really again means, you'd better grab your ankles.

This particular trip involved an attempt to get a burger at Cheeburger Cheeburger in Richmond International Airport. I've never been to a non-airport bound Cheeburger Cheeburger, so I hope no one takes this as an account of the kind of thing you normally find at one of their locations, because I sure don't. The airport is special, because as I said, they've got you. You're a captive audience, especially in a small burg like Richmond. Once you're on the concourse, through security, the choices are Cheeburger Cheeburger and The Sam Adams Grill. The Sam Adams Grill was full of suited business folks, a number of whom had either been traveling a good long while or sitting in The Sam Adams Grill, tying it on for quite a good while. It was pretty loud, and there were a few particularly obnoxiously loud folks right near the entrance. They were a conclave of business men and women, obviously engaged in that decade old ritual of "yeah, buddy, if you can get enough of those Vodka and Cranberry's in her, you might have a chance (even though we all know it's not going to happen, we also know you need to hold on to that hope, so we're all nice about it)". This is never good advertising. Unless, of course, said obnoxiously loud patron is a skimpily dressed young women enthusiastically braying the sorority/fraternity mating call, "OH MY GOD! I AM SO DRUNK RIGHT NOW!!" That's pretty good for any business which has specifically chosen the name of a micro-brewery as the centerpiece of it's own name. A name like that says, "we're a slightly more exclusive Bacchanalia, not just your run of the mill self destructive, nerveless decadence. We're a swill distributor, with ties and taste".

But, back to Cheeburger Cheeburger. With a captive audience, and no competition to really speak of, things like quality and service seem to be luxuries not even afforded to the business class traveler, though I guess the first class and business class traveler don't eat at Cheeburger Cheeburger. I have a feeling ti really wouldn't matter either way. The democracy of that degree of absolute apathy and near contempt is quite refreshing. Let's just say that if you're going through Richmond International Airport and you're in a hurry or really need to eat, Cheeburger Cheeburger isn't the spot to stop. They have some of that manufactured kitsch as the "decorating" in the place, one sign which read "same day service guaranteed". I think you might actually have to specify that before you order, and make sure they can handle it. Now, get me wrong, I hold no ill will for the folks working there. I deal with us, the general public, and have for year as part of my job. We're just not easy to deal with. We're bitchy, bossy, mean, and way too often for it to actually be true, we're special, very, very special, and this must be recognized. That's all very true, but some of us are also pretty friendly and polite. I do my best. I've been on the other side of a few too many of those counters to give these people shit. On the other hand, having been on the other side of many of those counters, I tend to have a decent idea of what it actually takes to get the job done with even the lowest level of competency. Cheeburger Cheeburger wasn't even reaching for it. Don't expect much in the way of actual nutrition. Unless transmission fluid, brake fluid and tire cleaner are the kinds of things you find nourishing.

We had a lay over in O'Hare for three hours and another flight, four hours long after two hour to Chicago, and we were both beat. We're staying at a little hotel called The Mediterranean Inn. It's a nice little place, which looks like it was an apartment building before. The room is clean, with all the normal things you'd expect in a hotel, though I haven't checked for a copy of Gideon's Bible yet.


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