Note: I’m a columnist for the Reader Weekly, an alt-weekly newspaper in Duluth, MN. Every Monday I post a new column.
The air is tense at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The long, winding security line slides along slowly, like a snake eating a baby. Bags are searched, people are studied and judged, and every personal possession is scrutinized. Castro may be dying in Cuba, but his vision is alive and well in America’s airports.
One man paces nervously, worried about missing his flight. A woman with two kids stares blankly into space, resisting the urge to beat her rotten children in front of security. Another man forgets to remove his shoes, and breaks into a sweat realizing he’s become the asshole of the line who’s making everyone else late.
Most people hate this sort of turmoil, but they don’t realize the immense joy it brings me as I watch it from the bar on the other side of the security checkpoint. This is what makes MSP the greatest airport in the country. Who cares about lousy service and poorly-managed flights? It’s the only airport I’m aware of where you can comfortably drink a beer while watching other people get molested by airport security.
If this design was intentional, then it’s pure genius. If it wasn’t, then it’s a gift from God. It’s like drinking outside of a mental ward. You get to watch a herd of angry, frightened people get pushed to their limit without being able to show their frustration. The tension makes for fantastic entertainment. If there was a TV channel that just showed people getting pissed off at airports, I’d watch it every night with a cold one.
It’s also perfect entertainment because you don’t have to feel bad about gawking. Anyone stuck in the hell of that security line will soon be through it and able to join the drinkers who are gawking. The bar is like the reward at the end of a long journey. The only thing that would make it better is if you could heckle the people still waiting to get through security.
Airport bars in other cities aren’t as good. The Los Angeles airport bar looks like a cross between a really smelly Bennigan’s and a sports bar for the elderly. It’s enclosed, so you can’t people watch or see anything other than the cheesy garbage they’ve nailed to the walls. The depressing posters of sports legends – so old and faded that even the most undersexed middle-aged men wouldn’t appreciate them – look down upon the drinkers in sadness. If you listen closely, you can hear Larry Bird whispering, “Tear me down. I’m embarrassing.”
The MSP airport bar, on the other hand, is an open area right in the middle of the terminal. There are no walls. It’s just a roped-off bar in the middle of the floor. Every Leinenkugel Red I order costs $6 or $7, but the ridiculous airport prices are well worth it for the show.
“Shut up! You shut up now, Steven!” yells an irate woman with kids. Three more bar patrons turn around on their stools to watch the fun. They now realize why I’ve spent my entire time at the bar sitting the wrong way on my stool. I went from being an airport weirdo to an airport genius.
As a bar patron, I’m also a show for the non-drinkers in the terminal. It’s kind of bizarre to have a bar in the middle of the floor, so non-drinkers often stare in disbelief. Sometimes I wave at their children and hold up my glass for them to envy.
The bartenders in the drinking area are great. Most airport bartenders start to give you sour looks after your third beer, but the MSP ones seem utterly oblivious to the alcoholism of their patrons. I usually stick to three beers unless there’s something dramatic, hilarious, or sexy happening at the security gate.
In my 29 years on this Earth, there has never been anything sexy happening at the security gate. This is partly because all the people who work there are fat.
Most people are too busy or cheap to visit the airport bar, but they’re missing out on one of the greatest parts of traveling. It’s not like drinking at a regular bar. Airport bars are filled with interesting people from all over the world, and most of the time these people are extremely friendly. They know you’re not hitting on them or being devious; you’re just passing the time until your flight leaves, like them.
I’ve been known to hate human beings, especially ones who want to talk to me, yet I’m oddly social in airport bars. It’s the perfect atmosphere for conversation. You already have an opening line, a topic, and a perfect excuse to leave if the person you’re talking to asks you to have sex with them in the bathroom.
When the boarding of your plane is announced, it’s a sad occasion. Coach passengers don’t get a frequent flyer lounge, but the airport bar is the closest thing to peace and quiet that coach travelers get. When your boarding is announced, it’s like the end of recess. You take one last swig and march off to your horrible little plane, which will undoubtedly be filled with obnoxious children and old people who fall asleep and lean on you.
Fortunately, if you drink enough at the airport bar, you might fall asleep and lean on them first.