Departures

There are three settings where it is socially acceptable to drink alcohol before noon – brunch, catholic mass, and the airport.

Among the Great Truths of human existence, this may not be exactly profound, but it does provide Randall steady morning business. Only minutes after he unlocks the doors and takes the stools down from their nightly perches, a shapely blonde in leggings and a light jacket takes residence at the far end of the bar and orders a screwdriver. Her accent says Alabama – or maybe Arkansas. Everything else screams nervous flyer. Randall is in love.

Randall has been in love no less than one hundred seventy-four times since he began tending bar two years ago – a remarkable feat when you consider he has only spoken more than thirty-seven words to roughly twenty-five women in that same period of time. Usually, his combined output hovers right around four modest sentences.

The key to his prodigious affections is that Randall works in an industry with built in volume. Last year, more than 5.3 million souls passed through his airport, with nearly 3% of them helping themselves to a drink at The Cockpit. He works three normal shifts and three double shifts a week, only taking Sundays and holidays off. Any way you slice it, Randall pours drinks for a hell of a lot of women.

Among others, Randall has fallen in love with nurses, teachers, lawyers, co-eds, bankers, street vendors, musicians, accountants, dental hygienists, advertisers, housewives, hookers, reverends, saleswomen, shop girls, tennis players, baristas, farmers, factory workers and secretaries. As a general rule, he is more likely to fall in love with repeat customers than one-timers. But, as recently as last month he was particularly smitten by a day trader who ordered three dirty martinis before running to her plane with his heart in her carry-on, never to be seen again.

At the end of the bar, the blonde has shed her jacket and is busy texting while Randall retrieves a glass from the shelf behind the bar. Her lips are glossy and wet, and she moves them silently along with whatever she is typing into her phone. He wonders what they would feel like against his.

One can make a number of assumptions about Randall. The first – and most obvious – is that he is a hopeless romantic. The evidence would certainly suggest this, but in fact, he is not an overly romantic man. Next, you might deduce he is lonely. Some people are so desperate for the attention of others that they seek companionship at every turn. But again, Randall defies this logic. He has many friends, and while he would prefer a wife, his existence is full even if his bed isn’t. This leads naturally to third most common assumption made about Randall – in lieu of any sort of natural pining or desperation, he must be a shameless horndog, on the hunt for itinerant tail. Strike three. Randall’s passions are on par for his gender, class, economic standing, and faith.

In truth, the explanation is far less fantastic – Randall believes in clichés. He throws salt over his shoulder when it spills. He paints his face for football games. He plays air guitar when “Free Bird” comes on the radio, without the slightest trace of jaded irony. Most importantly, he believes in love at first sight. Unfortunately, love at first sight is a fickle thing. A foul mood or careless exchange can completely void the entire experience. Rather than risk such a narrow miss, Randall plays the odds and falls in love several times a week – just in case.

So, Randall pours the blondes screwdriver with extra care – adding an extra splash of vodka and a thin orange slice to the rim. He walks slowly towards her, giving her ample time to make the eye contact that may very well lead to the fairy tale he has worked so hard to foster. She shifts on the stool, bringing one leg over the other. Is she nervous? Does she feel the same butterflies that are swarming inside Randall? He isn’t sure, but he makes a show of placing the drink on a napkin in front of her, smiling widely and dipping in a slight bow.

“Your screwdriver, ma’am.”

She mumbles her thanks, but nothing more. No matter. Love sickness can often tie the tongue.

“So…where are you headed today?” he asks, trying again to catch her eyes as she takes an enormous gulp of the cocktail.

She wipes the corner of her mouth with a sleeve, catching a bit of juice that has dribbled.

“Phoenix,” she says finally, “my boyfriend’s parents have a house there.”

“Ah,” Randall says, only mildly crestfallen, “well, you have a safe flight. Let me know if there is anything else I can get you.”

He returns to his station by the register and begins slicing limes. After her initial onslaught, she eases into the drink, milking it for half an hour. The bar fills in with anxious flyers – some in groups, some alone. She is gone by the time he gets done taking a double order from a pair of college students in gray hoodies, leaving only a ten-dollar bill in her wake.

Silently, he wishes her safe passage to Phoenix as a Delta flight attendant pulls her rolling suitcase into The Cockpit and his heart skips a beat.

 

 

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