'm sitting at the Prairie Tap in
O'Hare's Terminal 3, eating a portobello mushroom sandwich that's
both too salty and underpeppered.
A man sits to my right, heavyset, glasses, his hair also with
more salt than pepper. He adjusts his sweater vest with a few pulls
and orders a Leinie's Red. Mike the counterman fills a plastic cup
To his right sits another man, younger, also heavy, his glasses
thick, wearing a sweatshirt with the word "Abercrombie" across the
chest; what's left of his hair is covered by a hat emblazoned with
the logo "Polo Sport."
They sit in silence until the younger man's food arrives.
"Want some fries?" he asks the man in the sweater vest. The
older man declines, but it's an opening for conversation, which
begins with the younger man providing updated football scores.
They discuss coach firings and sportscasters' Super Bowl
predictions, but the conversation becomes more lively when the
topic moves to travel.
"Where're you headed to, sir?" the younger man asks.
"New York. And the name's Phil."
"I'm Chad. New York? Where're you staying?"
"Not bad! You travel in style. What line of work are you
"Legal. I represent a securities firm."
"This trip business or pleasure?"
"Business. There are no pleasure trips anymore. Even when I'm on
vacation, I don't enjoy traveling."
Chad says nothing, but the curiosity on his face encourages Phil
"Security's driving me crazy. Crazy! I travel 40 weeks a year. I
value every hour at home.
"So -- Thanksgiving weekend, right? Every news report says I've
got to get to the airport early. I'm flying out of Midway, and I
check in three hours early. I breeze right through security ... and
end up conversing in a bar for two-and-a-half hours.
"So I think it's all hype, right? I'm flying back out of
LaGuardia. I get there an hour and a half early. The first class
check-in line takes a half hour, then security's an hour and a
half. I miss my flight."
Chad nods sympathetically. "You know what I miss, Phil? Meals.
Meals on flights. You never know anymore whether you're going to
get fed. I don't know about you, but I get grumpy when I get
hungry. Believe it or not, I miss the old Bistro bag."
"You ever been pulled for a random security check at the gate?"
Phil counters. "I've got status with American. I'm Executive
Platinum. I get to board early, and I like it -- I never check bags
and always have carry-ons.
"When you board early, there's always room above your seat. But
twice now I've been pulled out of the boarding line for a random
security check. By the time they've gone through all my things,
there's no longer room overhead, and I've got to check a bag at the
"To be honest, I don't mind the tougher security," Phil says
"Of course. But it's a hassle. You fly internationally?"
"Just wait until you go overseas. Leaving America, it's hit or
miss -- you just never know how long it's going to take. But coming
back on a U.S. carrier -- everyone's freaked out. Just get to the
airport way early, that's all I can say."
Phil paused and ordered another Leinie's. "Chad, this may sound
funny, but I actually used to like to fly. I actually liked it! I
know they've got to do all this. But I miss the old days. I really