I’ve always been fascinated by people who work at the airport. The same is true of industrial parks, those lone spaces on the edge of the city. Airports are like that, located just beyond the usual urban spaces most of us are familiar with. How do airport employees get to work? Where do they live? Were they excited when they found out they got the job? Do they ever travel anywhere? I wonder about these things as I sit at the end of one side of the bar at Urban Crave in Terminal Three.
I often begin my time here in utter despair because this is the undisputed ugly step-sister of the larger, more cosmopolitan Terminal 1. I pull my maroon Samsonite carry-on down the hallways of white cement, glass, and offensively bright neon lights. I look for a bathroom, where I spend a comfortable 7 or 8 minutes. I’m in no rush. It’s always rather weird sitting so close to other women shitting, pissing, farting, and doing other bodily things. “Your eyebrows always stay the same colour as your hair” a pubescent girl wearing a pink toque says, in genuine admiration, to her auburn-haired mother, who laughs and looks at her daughter through the reflection they share in the large mirror. I pass by and smile at the girl.
I continue down the non-descript tiled floor, past the Duty-Free stores that are not yet open, under the various signs hanging from the ceiling that provide instructions: upwards arrow and underlined airplane silhouette A13-A20; huge dot matrix digits announcing the boarding gates; another upward arrow and two ‘human’ silhouettes (one in a dress and one not in a dress) next to a knife and fork. All the arrows, cutlery, and silhouettes are in white. I find my seat at the restaurant, say yes to coffee, and begin my survey of the laminated menu that promises authentic street food. God.
The options are not endless, and the breakfast poutine is the first thing struck from the menu- gross. The urban bun is an option: egg omelette, melted Canadian cheese and bacon on a toasted brioche bun, but I ultimately choose the Yuppie Wrap ($10.99): thick cut bacon, cheddar and jack cheese, hand cut fries, salsa, avocado spread on a flour tortilla served with breakfast potatoes (minus the bacon). I’m not sure how hungry I am but it’s good to eat and I’ll wear it off soon enough. I remember as soon as I unlock the airplane mode how shitty the wifi is here and after a few quick swipes of nothing much, I turn the airplane mode back on and pull Palimpsest by Gore Vidal out of my knapsack, my book for this trip.
I like the women who work at Urban Crave immediately. They talk a lot amongst themselves, mainly in English but also in Spanish and they all look very different from one another. The younger one is tall, slim, has dyed hair of some blonde colour and evenly applied make up. The oldest one behind the counter has thin arms and a plump middle, with her cute poodle curled hair partially pulled back at the sides back by two brown clips. The middle one has a kind face, shiny dark brown hair that bounces on her shoulders, and she seems a little tired. They are good servers and spend lots of time chatting with the women in the kitchen, who prepare the food and seem to be embroiled in a dispute of some sort. From the moment I arrived I detect the tension at the service counter and could see snippets of the women in the back as they moved back and forth, yelled quietly, and talked about something that happened.
The two servers repeatedly implored the kitchen women to keep it down, refuted what was being said, and defended themselves or that’s what it sounded like. They’d bring food out with exasperated looks on their faces and laugh to try and break the stress. I couldn’t help but pay close attention, I was right there and had all the time in the world to observe. I picked at my breakfast, sipped the weak but strong-tasting coffee, and watched the drama unfold. I used to be a server and I often miss the camaraderie, the fun interactions with customers, and the pleasure of keeping it all together under pressure, which generates a special kind of satisfaction. I thought I’d jokingly say something like “some people are so dramatic” to one of the two servers, whose eyes I tried to catch more than once—trying to be one of the gang!!
As I ate and drank, I noticed that the middle one had tears in her eyes and this broke my heart. I heard her say that she does her job, doesn’t stand around, and something else I didn’t catch. Shame, what a couple of bullies in the kitchen. She looked so hurt as she loitered at the service window, turning away from the crowd to still herself and wait for the tears to recede. I got mad at the kitchen women and even though I didn’t want any more coffee, I gladly said ‘yes’ when the middle one asked if I wanted a top up. I wanted to stay longer to see that she recovered.
The tall one from the kitchen came out to get coffees for herself and her mean friend, and I threw her a gristly stare that she didn’t see as she poured the dark liquid into two white plastic cups. She was all smiles and that irritated me, as did the fact that she seemed to be in the way of the younger one. Get back into the kitchen I thought. The middle one chuckled when I took a photo of the menu. “I’m going to write a story about my breakfast here…She shouldn’t have made you cry” I said to her. She looked surprized and said “oh…” and looked at me for a few seconds more, momentary closeness among strangers.
By this time, the American had been sitting to my left for about 10 minutes. Americans often say “mam” and he had a camo backpack, so I guessed he was a hunter or a solider. He ordered a traditional breakfast, pulled a large pill bottle out of a Ziplock bag, and proceeded to put pill after pill after pill in his mouth in such a routinized manner that I was unnerved. I glanced his way more than once in amazement, hoping to see an actual pill. OMG, what an interloper. ‘Sir, why all the pills?’ ‘Sir, what’s wrong with you?’ He asked for hot sauce when his meal arrived, yet he left his food untouched for over 10 minutes before digging in. Why?
I neatly stacked my unfinished food, three creamer containers, the long popsicle stir-stick, and faux cotton napkin on my metal “urban” tray plate and looked at my bill: $16.70. I left a twenty-dollar bill underneath the receipt, next to my half-full coffee cup. I continued to watch the women. I appreciated how they took care of me and I wondered when or if they would resolve their tensions. I said “no” when the middle one asked if I needed change. I took my time packing up and thought it was cute how the younger one perked up when two younger men sat behind me, making dumb jokes about tequila at 5.30 in the morning! I said “thank you very much” loud enough for the middle one to hear me from her place at the register. She turned around and said: “I’m sorry for that”. “It wasn’t your fault” I said as we held each other’s glance for a few minutes, smiled, and said good-bye.