Robert (gurdonark) wrote,
Robert
gurdonark

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Testy flight attendants and grilled cabrito, a travel story

Today my wife had the day off, but I headed in to my office. I got a couple of things accomplished, and then headed off to the plane. A business cell phone call distracted me a bit, and I got to the "ticketless travel" machine at American Airlines four minutes after the last time to use the machine.

I have a bias. American Airlines has a Dallas hub. Although this means that we have tons of convenient flights on American, the fare structure of this dinosaur "legacy airline" remains as yet horrendous for the business travel.



Delta managed to pull out of DFW right before it finally abandoned "legacy fares".
For long-distance travel, I will frequently one-hop through Phoenix, Vegas or Atlanta on discount carriers to avoid my clients having to pay exorbitant airfares. As a result, Phoenix's curious airline, America West, gives me something called "silver elite" status, which makes me feel like a really high-mileage manufacturers rep or a "B" soap opera actor on cable with a quirky expense account arranged by an over-reaching manager.

American Airlines once offered reasonable fares and Cadillac service. But now it offers unduly high fares and a staff disgruntled by a war of attrition upon its union wages, such a war being essentially understandable given the competitive disadvantages the airline faces. Dinosaurs made sad sounds when they die. I wish everyone at American well.

When I got to the front of the "see a human" line at American, it was still a goodish while before my scheduled departure. This is not the end of the world. You get a ticket on the next flight, and then you get through security fast, and try to get onto the flight you're originally "on". I've done this often, as I often find myself early or late at airports, because I earn my living working for clients, and not boarding planes.

Today, though, the staff person behind the American desk was one of those "I may be a science-geek looking 'wish I were ex-military' guy, but I am still mas macho than you, because I can rationally tell you you're screwed" kind of vibe, who kept insisting, "sir, you won't make that flight" in a robotic if friendly dead pan. Male hormone takes odd forms sometimes, to my chagrin.

I wish that like that fellow who was home on some range or other, I never said or heard a discouraging word. But when the fellow told me that instead of a 1:56, he insisted I catch a 7:20, I uttered the discouraging word that if need be, I would fly another airline (Southwest) to get there earlier, and
when he said that robotic "have a nice trip", I was simply awful, and said "I will--on a better airline!". I hate being that kind of passenger, and I routinely roll my eyes inwardly, where they can't be seen (but I get a good view of my mind) when I hear others act that way. But those words flew from my mouth. I blame male hormones again, but that is too easy on myself.

It is almost needless to say that I actually ran to the 1:56 flight, pleaded my case, and got on without difficulty. Despite the foregoing paragraph, I do not fly 50,000 to 100,000 miles a year and fail to acquire a kind of breathless charm, particularly when I am, in fact, breathless from running to get on a flight a flight-geek-guy-with-hip-glasses-and-a-tone-of-death told me I missed. But I will be kinder next time. It's the right thing to do.

On the flight I continued to read Brush with the Law, by Byrnes and Marquart. I saw the book in the remaindered book store yesterday. When I was a 1L law student, I read Scott Turow's (the Presumed Innocent guy) breathlessly idealistic book One L, about his first year at Harvard Law School.
As I had a lot of the same moral qualms that Turow did about entering law school (albeit, without the fuzzy-hippie-think accompaniment, being of a different generation in so many ways), I found the book quite inspiring. Then during my first 6 weeks of school at my "anything but Harvard" school the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, people said and professors did things exactly the same as in One L, and I thought that Turow was a genius. I re-read the book recently, and wondered at how much different the 1970s were from the early 1980s.

I could tell from the cover that Brush with the Law wished to be something of a retake/rewind/contrast and digress from the Turow book. The reality is that it's an attempt to cross Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Been Down So Long it Looks Like Up to Me, The Paper Chase, One L and, of all things, William F. Buckley's God and Man at Yale, into one unwieldy book filled with soap opera stuff and some offbeat insight. It's an odd, intriguing thing, like blending lots of different play dough colors, but as if by a miracle, the colors don't mix and don't turn into that brownish ooze they do in real life.

The thing alternates chapters between a Stanford law student and a Harvard law student (the number 3 and 2 law schools respectively, according to the way markets and academics think), each not really "into" the whole law thing. The supposed revelations? Well, law students enter into silly and often transitory intimate relations and sometimes drink, drug and even gamble at cheap casinos. Also, elite law firms get paid ridiculous sums of money, and finally, that you can pass a law final while skipping a lot of class.
Last, some people go to law school to actually study and be lawyers, and the authors think this is exposing the underbelly of everything wrong with America. Actually, I think they're proving that shallow people with money and prestige have shallow affairs with shallow, ill-defined goals, but I think I knew that already. But it is fun reading--a cautionary tale about losing your soul, in which Hell nonetheless has its fun side.

The funny thing is that the whole thing is a bit like "Melrose Place". Everyone is cuter, more exciting, smarter and less dependable than anyone could imagine, nobody has a soul, and yet you watch, as it's as good an escape as running things in the dryer. It's good escape. An interesting read--but so foreign to my own life. Maybe this is as close as I come to understanding Harlequin Romances.

I suppose I am grateful that I was not bright enough to be a truly gifted slacker, and that all my revelatory moments at age 17 about the hollowness of corporate life did not require getting into Stanford to experience. These authors are about 31, now, and I realize that they were living in a world in which casual relationships and controlled substances seem "revolutionary", which suggests to me that, after all, the world is less decadent than when I lived my non-smoking, no-drugs, boring in most respects youth. I'll finish the book, though, which is kinda fun to read. I wonder what those fellows are doing now, but I'll bet they're either practicing law or "disdaining it", and getting teased about their "composite characters" book every month or so. I'll have to check it out and see.

I left Dallas in 40 degree weather. I landed in McAllen in 65 degree weather. Everywhere I see signs that say "Tropical Texas". I picked up my rental car, and went to my hotel. Finding no messages on my office phone, I got directions to a nature preserve. I wandered a bit, but soon found the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. The trails here were really cool--woodlands covered with Spanish moss,
wetlands with swimming duck and teal, and curious birdcall from birds I don't know. I only saw one landbird, a pea-hen-like thing whose name escapes me, and no butterflies. I left just as all sorts of serious birders seemed to be beginning,but I left the birds to them. They were cool, and obviously for the birds.

I noticed I was very near the Mexican border, so I parked my car in a pay lot, and walked over the International Bridge. The Rio Grande River, which separates Mexico from the US, was fairly small here.
It cost a quarter to walk the bridge into Mexico. The immigration people said I did not need any permit or visa.

I met a taxi driver who offered to drive me into town to a nice restaurant for five dollars. He showed me the Presidente Palace, which looked like City Hall, and the town square, a quiet plaza with vendors.
He told me that Reynosa, which looks quite sleepy, has a population between 500,000 and 1,000,000. He dropped me off a side road at Restaurant al Pastor.

Restaurant al Pastor was a somewhat fancy table-cloth restaurant. I saw from the menu that the prominent dish was cabrito, so I ordered a dinner order. They brought me more salad than four people could eat (the restaurant was impressive enough I actually ate green salad in Mexico), as well as not only corn tortilla chips but also flour tortilla chips, huge and tasty. The tortilla soup was distinctive, rather different in Reynosa than in California or Texas.

The cabrito came out in an individual grilling pan, rather as if it were fajitas. It was very tasty, not "stringy" or "loose" as goat can be, but almost like a grilled chicken. The cabrito and the beans were very tasty, indeed. I noticed that all the other people in the restaurant (throughout the evening, I was the only gringo I saw) also ate cabrito, so I assume it was the house specialty.

I finished my meal, which cost a bit less than in Texas, but not a whole lot less. By contrast, the little cafes I passed in town were much less expensive. I wandered down the little lighted shopping area, a no-cars plaza where families strolled while Tejano music, heavy on accordion, blasted from CD shops. There was virtually no shops to appeal to tourists--it was all for the locals.

I stopped in the town square, and paused outside the little parish church of the Virgin of Guadulupe.
I could see from its windows it was an interesting place, but the church had numerous worshippers taking Monday night mass, and I did not want to be a tourist at Mass. I wandered towards the border, but felt a bit uncomfortable straying from the bright lights. I got a cab to take me the short way to the square.
After ascertaining that I did not wish to see senoritas, the cab driver, a white-haired man with sideburns, a charro hat, and boots, implored me to ask for Hector Lopez whenever I needed a cab in the future in Reynosa's town square. I felt this a critical advantage to any future Reynosa travels, and I solemnly promised I would do so.

I asked him about other restaurants in town. He said he's be happy to take me to them. I clarified that I wanted names, not assurances (a bit proud of myself as I intoned "nombres, por favor"), and he reeled off several. I kept saying over and over "hector lopez", to solidy our new alliance, to be renewed if ever I return to Reynosa. He told me the name of the park was the Parque of the Revolucion or some such,
and I felt I had an encyclopedic knowledge of town.

At the border, a diligent border officer scanned my license, alert to the potential for evildoers to enter our country, and critically asked me "Where were you born?". I replied with a smile, "San Antonio".
She turned up the heat: "Why did you go to Mexico?". I was ready for this, and my smile widened as I said "Dinner". She allowed me to pass, obviously impressed by my patriotism.

It took less than twenty minutes to get from Mexico to my hotel. I listened to jazz on the same Reynosa station that earlier played baroque music with early instruments, departure from the "tropical" easy listening on before. Tomorrow I fly back home. I want to finish that book, and then read some poetry I also bought, whose cover blurb says it is "honest". Who could ask for more?
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