At this point I’ve lost track of how many hours I’ve been up without sleep in transit from Ireland back home. I’ve just spent two weeks traversing Counties Clare, Kerry and Waterford on my folks’ 60th anniversary trip where I was their willing driver. We had quite memorable travels and I’ll probably share bits of it over time. I’ve been up since 1:30 AM Ireland time for a wake-up at 5 AM—and it’s gone on from there.
But now I’m sitting in the Newark, NJ airport in a restaurant called Gallagher’s Steakhouse tucked into a corridor in the back, thankfully away from the chaos of the airport. I was attracted by the Caesar salad with grilled shrimp, there being a noticeable absence of fresh veggies in the last two weeks.
My folks are safely settled over in Terminal A waiting for their plane home and I’m here in C with another four hours yet before I take the next leg. You’d think that with the many hours of travel and absolutely no sleep, plus the onerous stress of travel these days, that I’d just want to veg and people watch. Part of that was true.
If you sit in a place long enough you begin to notice the dynamics of the interactions or let your imagination run wild—at least I do. I guess the first thing that sparked my interest was when the server approached my table, a dead ringer for Hattie McDaniel, in a black and white uniform. It was clear in no time that she ran the show, firing off side retorts to the other servers and some kind of gesture shorthand I didn’t understand—and they immediately snapped to. Or a look that screwed up her face and they scurried away in response. I filed away a mental note for a potential story later.
My mind quickly ran off to other times when I sat in restaurants, parks or other places and gave myself leeway to imagine the lives of the inhabitants.
In 1998 I sat in a pub in Brighton, England passing time. I happened to have a journal with me. I’d been leisurely observing two elderly gentlemen on their third or fourth stout: Beamish. Paul McCartney singing “Yesterday” came through the sound system and one of the gentlemen softly sang along under his breath, ending with “Ahhhh…yesterday.”
“Do you remember when Hudson’s used to be down along the corner? Now they were ones who offered service, not like it is today. They had those boys with bicycles and baskets.”
“Yea…delivery. And they had so many things. Sometimes they’d even throw in the odd bottle of wine. You know, to show your worth to them.
A few minutes passed in silence.
“Yea…Christmas will be here soon.”
“My daughter always gives those abominable books. The ones she likes to read, you know. Not me. Can’t tell her anything though. Quite so. She just pops off.”
“Yea…Well, must be pushing off now. Thursday then.”
Sometimes I’d have an accomplice and we’d muse together. I remember years ago in a small bagel shop outside Bar Harbour, Maine when my companion and I tried to decide if the man and woman who worked the place were married. We decided they were and then made up a life for them when the town virtually shut down for the winter.
It’s part of the license given to a writer—and one who imagines life into being. It’s an indulgence but also a creative exercise. In the meantime, here in Gallagher’s Steakhouse in the Newark, NJ airport I can see the woman at the table in the corner stealing looks at me as I write this…perhaps wondering what I’m up to. Hmmm. I wonder what her story is.
Written July 29, 2012.