The Real America

My wife Sue calls it an “artificial environment.” She is speaking of the sterile, forced cordiality you find in airports. It doesn’t matter where the airport is located, there are some basic social tenets that most people follow. Always be polite, patient, quiet, unassuming, and seemingly friendly if you’re a terminal employee, airline representative, or working in one of the shops or restaurants in the terminal.

After a recent flight from Riverton to Denver, the reality of the setting came to mind as we took our seats at a table in the Pour La France restaurant in the middle of Concourse B.

If you’ve watched the film, “The Terminal” starring Tom Hanks as a hopelessly stranded international passenger preyed upon by a Nazi-like junior airport bureaucrat you’ll have an idea of what I’m about to describe.

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To say the staff at the Pour La France had an international flavor would be both a play on words at an eating establishment and an understatement all in one short phrase.

We were seated by a friendly 20-something Hispanic hostess and quickly attended to by another friendly gal, this one in her 30s, and from her accent and appearance a Somalian immigrant.

Airports are a microcosm of America, a microcosm that most of Wyoming is largely devoid of. We in Fremont County have the benefit of experiencing the culture and traditions of our friends on the Wind River Indian Reservation if we take the time to enjoy it.

The Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone cultures are worth the time to learn, as are the smaller enclaves of Oglala, Crow, Kiowa, and Blackfeet that live with us, but an international airport puts that experience on steroids.

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The Hispanic hostess, and our Somalian waitress, were hard-working, efficient, and helpful to a fault. On the other side of the half-wall separating our table from the “grab and go” counter was an Asian woman handling a barrage of early morning customers with style, grace, and humor.

I couldn’t make out her features since she was wearing a COVID-style mask, but her voice and accent sounded Korean to me. Her nationality didn’t matter, she was doing a job that many people would never consider with style, courtesy, and amazing dexterity. As with the other staff, she was adept at what she did and had obvious pride in her work.

It wasn’t the work these women were doing that caught my eye, but rather the comradery they shared. It was evident that English was not their primary language. Each one spoke with a different accent, which is how I was able to determine they were first-generation Americans.

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As an African American manager came out of the back all three gals stopped to admire her shoes. As I eavesdropped on their conversation, I learned that the thin tiled floor of the restaurant above a concrete surface was giving the manager’s feet problems.

The manager had a large, dark orange knitted cap on her carefully styled hair, and though she was in her late 40s, she showed her shoes off like a little girl with a new pair of patent leather shoes.

Remember how Dorothy modeled her ruby slippers to Glenda the Good Witch in the Wizard of Oz? If you do, you have a perfect mental image of how this manager was showing off her shiny, black, orthopedic shoes.

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As women do from kindergarten to assisted living centers across the globe, these four women, from disparate backgrounds feigned and fawned over their friends’ new shoes. These gals weren’t just co-workers, they were friends.

They shared work experiences, no doubt adjustment problems in acclimating to American society, and I can only imagine, all shared the trials of raising families in an ever more challenging environment.

We live in an era where politicians, talking heads, and the mainstream media make obscene amounts of money by working to tear us apart. They spread fear and hate with a general sprinkling of disgust for others who appear different than us. I find this divide and conquer mentality revolting, and far too common in the dollars for influence con game that is modern American politics. These women broke those fearmongering profiteers’ goals asunder with their kind, compassionate care for each other.

It wasn’t just the shared experience of working in a single, isolated restaurant in the “artificial world’ of an international airport.

The Asian woman at the grab-and-go station took a break as a young, muscular black man came up to the counter.

“Morning beautiful,” the young man said. “How many today?”

I didn’t hear her answer, but the delivery man quickly began stacking containers of Pepsi syrup, 10-gallon jugs of water, and carbon dioxide bottles on the shelf behind her counter.

The delivery guy was built like a college halfback, or maybe a strong safety, with a back belt firmly attached to protect him for a day of lifting and delivering heavy items.

As a guy who has had many heavy jobs carrying shingles up ladders, stacking thousands of 90-pound bales of hay, tying iron, pouring concrete, and working as a hod carrier working on a high wall for a brick mason I was impressed by the ease with which he lifted those 80+ pound bottles of water. Effortless describes his technique well. He moved them as if they were empty, but they weren’t, and he did it with an engaging grin and friendly banter.

The entire exchange lasted maybe three minutes since he had a schedule to keep.

“See you tomorrow darling,” he said with a smile as he headed away.

“Looking forward to it,” the Asian gal said in her heavily accented English.

It was just another day in America. A land where we celebrate each other’s differences and don’t let how we look, what we wear, or how we speak get in the way of friendship.

It is what we are, and despite the idiots trying to divide us for their own petty power plays in influence and money, it remains the hallmark of our great nation.

It may have been in the setting of an “artificial environment”, but it was a concrete example of how our society really does work.

Even from my jaded, sometimes cynical view of the world, it was a refreshing reminder of why so many people want to join us and become part of what we’ve achieved on this continent.

Hurray for the real American people.

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