Quick Thoughts on Some Airports

I spend too much time in airplanes
Eating peanuts and getting high.
Dean Wareham

Generally speaking, airports are more pleasant than airplanes. I don’t mind airports. And despite my once upon a time claim that all airports are essentially the same space, well, that’s more of a metaphysical than a practical contention. Practically speaking the experience of airports does differ. What follows is a totally unsystematic, entirely anecdotal, non-ranking of some airports I’ve been to.

I am currently in LaGuardia (LGA) in New York. Pleasantly surprised. Clean, minimal but sufficient food options, phone chargers in the seats, proximal to Manhattan. The folks at the coffee stand messed up like 15 orders in a row, but that’s OK. I forgive them.

Verdict: LGA is fine.

Newark Airport (EWR), on the other hand, is terrible. If I had the choice of sleeping in an outhouse or spending a day at EWR, I’d take EWR. But not by much. It’s a pit.

Verdict: EWR is terrible.

Seattle Airport (SEA) is poorly run. There’s been news about it. Compared to Portland (PDX), and admittedly smaller airport that is solid, or even SFO, an operation of greater complexity, SEA struggles. Maybe they’ve turned things around, but I doubt it.

Verdict: SEA sucks. PDX is solid. SFO is decent but could be cleaner.

The best experience I’ve had at a U.S. airport is Tampa (TPA). Now this is not a major hub, however I found it super convenient. I stayed in a hotel right in the terminal, security was a breeze, everything was efficient and sound. When folks say that U.S. airports suck, relatively speaking they are correct. Omit TPA from the list though. I like it.

Verdict: TPA is excellent.

O’Hare International Airport (ORD) in Chicago exemplifies the fall of the U.S. Basically. It’s not BAD, it’s just faded. Faded glory. U.S. public infrastructure is weak and everyone knows this. ORD is a case in point, but it’s survivable.

Verdict: ORD is OK.

The Los Angeles Airport (LAX) was under construction for like two decades. It’s probably still under construction. LAX is far from everything. It is not a destination airport, although it is major.

Verdict: LAX is f***ing far.

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Airports Outside the U.S.

Let’s get out of Milwaukee and we’ll talk about it.
Michael Clayton

The Singapore Airport (SIN) is everything it is cracked up to be. Singaporeans have an inordinate about of pride in their airport, but it’s totally justified. I find SIN tranquil in the extreme. They’ve got butterflies. The’ve got Indian food. They’ve got a great attached hotel. They’ve got nap rooms, showers, a gym. Security is omnipresent and unfelt. Sure you can call Singapore a soft-authoritarian state if you like. I could care.

Verdict: SIN is the best.

The Bangkok Airport (DMK), on the other hand, is not pleasant. Sinage is bad. Information is thin. Food options are minimal. It’s simultaneously packed and cavernous. I have not enjoyed my time here.

Verdict: DMK is bad.

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Andrea Flies to Seoul, South Korea

5C105D1B-5CAA-4FA7-B455-35E91B1ADB53She’s got the Eye of Fatima/ on the wall of her motel room.

Camper Van Beethoven

The plane eased into its docking point, 15 minutes late. Andrea wasn’t fretting; she’d been around a bit and knew that things sometimes worked. Other times, well they didn’t.

She was not on the run, not exactly anyway. Nonetheless, the 27 hour trip from Buenos Aries to Seoul via Atlanta would put half a world of distance between her and M. Azur. Welcome distance for Andrea, as the formerly desultory attentions of her blue friend had recently taken a turn for the more incessant. In short, he was calling her daily, one thin pretext after another. “Everything’s thin,” she mused, and M. Azur could thin paint. A classy guy who makes decisions and implements is what she needed, not some milquetoast beta-male in the medical tubing industry.  For Christ’s sake already. So Seoul beckoned, and the plane, the plane was late.

Andrea scratched her nose, adjusted her glasses. The turnaround crew would need 20, 25 minutes minimum to turn the plane over for the flight. A quick scan of her messages showed three new bleats from her would-be paramour. Pretext, text, contex—still a no. She could handle herself, could Andrea. “Many apologies, I have been so busy,” she texted. “Dinner meeting is not possible this week. Tubing sales are up—talk again.” M.Azur would be a blue mist in no time. Ground staff opened pre-boarding, and Andrea, zoned in section 4, made a lateral move into zone 3 to make sure her carry-on had the room it needed. “Who’s better than me?”

Andrea is settled into her seat, 14A, a window seat. Bottle of water, headphones and a sleeping mask. Structured correctly, a plane flight can be made to feel like an undersea journey. All it requires is a little imagination.

Andrea has all she needs to swim a little up there in the ether. Her phone is set to airplane mode and the seat next to her is vacant. Bonus, she tells herself. A non-descript business traveler has the aisle. He looks more like a brown than a blue. Won’t be an issue.

Andrea is a lady, a women really, somewhere in her later 20s. Probably, and we won’t ask. Attractive, but no waif, she enjoys fine dining and a glass or three of wine. When she drinks her cheeks get rosy red which accentuates her dimples. The gym is not the place to find a girl of her kind; the Mr. Blues of the world are advised to try the patissiere instead. Buy her a piece of pie. Cherry, lemon, coconut cream. Pumpkin, peach, pecan. Andrea might be a little picky with her guys; her pie game is more omnivorous. Without really trying, she has the attention of a half-dozen men within a thirty-year age range, all of whom she deflects with the grace of a fencer. Buenos Aries, Rome, Tampa, Algiers it doesn’t seem to matter where she goes there will be a guy or two. Boys on board and boys on deck. What’s the opposite of a chick magnet? Andrea might not be quite that, but she has options. A passing funny thought, so she dials up an early Bitch Magnet record on her phone.  That was Sooyoung Park’s first band, pre-Seam. Little Park, big city, Korean heritage. Going to Seoul, apropos. Bitch Magnet rocks.

What does Andrea do? It’s a question she can’t quite answer herself. Broadly speaking, she is in sales, a cog in the vast machinery of deal making between multi-nationals. In other words, she is around transactions, helps to facilitate them. An “industry conference” awaits in Seoul. The Korean word for blue is “puleun.” Will there be any puleuns at the industry event? almost surely. Andrea sighs at the smallness of it all. White wine please, make it a double.

The plane is well up over the Pacific by now and Andrea is tipsy at thirty-thousand feet. Where is she really from? It would take a month of pies to get that out of her.  A month of pies and a month of Sundays. So we shall say she is post-racial, like the women in Code 46.

“In a dystopian future, insurance fraud investigator William Gold (Tim Robbins) arrives in Shanghai to investigate a forgery ring for “papelles,” futuristic passports that record people’s identities and genetics. Gold falls for Maria Gonzalez (Samantha Morton), the woman in charge of the forgeries.”

Is “topian” the opposite of dystopian, she wonders. Three drinks and an hour of Bitch Magnet in and she’s feeling a little topian herself. Andrea would be fine in the world of Code 46. Hell, she’d probably thrive.

to be continued…

Works Cited/ Referenced:

Bitch Magnet.

Camper Van Beethoven, “Eye of Fatima.”

Code 46, dir. Michael Winterbottom.

The Hold Steady, “Spinners.”

Michael Knott, “Double”

Song of the Day: Luna’s Tracy I Luv You

The song of the day today is “Tracy I Luv You,” from Luna.  Our operating assumption this month is that Luna is the best active band and that Craig Finn is the greatest active rock star.  We will continue to explore this assumption on the kibbitzer.

Tracy was first recorded for the Penthouse sessions (released in 1995), and left off the record.  It was later collected on the deluxe version.  The Penthouse version sounds pretty finished to me, however the band would hold it back and rework it for Pup Tent.  It is hard to say where the song would have been sequenced if it had made the cut.  Especially in the early version, it is not as uptempo as “Chinatown,” still the obvious single.  It would also not have fit well around “23 Minutes in Brussels,” which needs its own space.  I could see it sequenced second, with “Sideshow by the Seashore” moved to anchor the back half somewhere–but that’s party because I like Tracy better than Sideshow.  Or, it could have gone late–say 11th if Penthouse had had 12 tracks.  I like a really sneaky good song like Tracy second to last.  A good example of this move is on Lambchop’s Flotus, where “NIV” sits 10th and sets up the shaggy-epic “The Hustle.”  Here, Tracy would set up “Bonnie and Clyde,” maybe not a natural fit but I kind of like it.  The Penthouse version is only 3:50 though, while the Pup Tent version is 4:50.  4:50 is a better length to set up a song like Bonnie.

Anyway, the slightly more syrupy, marginally slower early version was redone and ended up on 1997’s Pup Tent.  I like the fact that the new version gets an one minute extended outro with the cascade of “doooo/ doo doo doo,” though I’m not sure that I don’t like the early version better.  Pup Tent’s sound was notoriously labored over, and in his memoir Wareham writes that Tracy was especially tough to get the vocal for.  Although the album was trying to record, Wareham writes that “Pup Tent was not our best record, but it was our best-sounding record, containing all kinds of sonic textures.”  He also told filmmaker Noah Baumbach in 2016 that “there are some really cool sounding things on Pup Tent; ‘Pup Tent’ itself, ‘Tracy I Love You,’ ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy.’ So, sonically, I love it.”  Indeed Tracy has stayed on the set list and established itself as one of the standouts of Luna’s catalog.

The song opens with a classic Wareham verse:

Tell me stories on my birthday
Buy me gifts on Halloween
She’s pretending not to know me
But I know where she’s been.

Nobody does needy/ cheeky/ sly/ sexy in quite the same combination as peak Wareham.

Two verses later we get another deeply quotable verse:

I spend too much time in airplanes
Eating peanuts and getting high
Don’t know why I can’t stop smiling
When I only need to cry.

It is this verse especially that I prefer on the Penthouse sessions–there is a weird stuttering reverb that almost pulls the vocal back in time–it’s like a car trying and not quite getting into third gear.  For the Pup Tent version, Eden’s guitar behind the vocal has been improved, and the vocal is much smoother.  To each their own–both versions rock.

Someday soon we’ll do a top 15 or 20 Luna songs, and it will be interesting to see where Tracy lands.  I’m thinking top 10 is in the cards for and it’s the song of the day, by a mile.

Works Cited/ Referenced:

Lambchop, Flotus.

Luna, Penthouse.

Luna, Pup Tent.

Salon.com. “The ultimate Luna interview: Noah Baumbach and Dean Wareham talk super-groups, the Velvet Underground and the history of one of New York’s greatest bands.”

Dean Wareham.  Black Postcards.