Here, the fortunate ones, through money, or influence, or luck, might obtain exit visas and scurry to Lisbon, and from Lisbon to the New World. But the others wait in Casablanca – and wait – and wait – and wait.
It is ungodly late in the Midway Airport. I am in a foul mood. My phone rings. Ah, my buddy Chico calling.
"Hey Monsignor," he intones, "There was just a news report on the Chicago stations that they have run out of scotch at the Midway airport."
I leap out of my chair and begin running toward the nearby airport bar. But after only a few steps, I clearly see that the bar is open and all the scotch bottles – some slightly less full than when I showed up some six hours ago – are still in their place.
"What? What are you talking about ??!? Don't give me this, man!" I am yelling into my phone and causing a small scene in the midst of many travelers in foul moods.
"Yeah, they said some guy in a red beret has been there so long that he has cleaned them out! BWWAAAHAAHAHAHAAAA."
It is funnier than hell, but I am not in a laughing mood and a string of expletives don't relieve my anger. The Irish Mist (Yes!) and I drove through a snowstorm and are now waiting for a plane that is over four hours late. Not much engenders laughter at this point. Heck, it got so bad that I even gave up on gulping down the Chivas about an hour ago.
Chico's call sends me back to the bar.
Waiting … waiting … waiting … in the Midway airport, trying to get a plane to the warmer climes of Tampa, Florida, all for a few days of relaxation and gearing up for the Outback Bowl, aka, the late great Hall of Fame Bowl, aka, the Steak Bowl, where we hope our University of Wisconsin Badgers can top off a season with a win, providing some redemption for fans whose high hopes – in retrospect, impossibly high hopes -- were not fulfilled, and capping a fall campaign that otherwise was pretty darn enjoyable.
Others at Midway face the same dilemma, including one loud woman who is telling anybody who will listen, and many who would rather not, about her 12 hours in the airport. She's offering big dollars for any ticket to Florida and continues to drink away, somehow assuming that over-indulgence will ease the pain. Yes, it works for several hours, but as we approach the five-hour late mark, all it does is make me grumpy. AirTran compounds its mistakes by offering a voucher good for food (we already ate) or – HEY! It says "One Free Beverage!" Alas, the bartendress tells us, "You don't think they meant booze, did you?"
"Actually, we fail to see why they would mean anything but booze at this hour."
Finally, we push off after 11 p.m., causing me to do some math in my head and guessing that we won't hit our hotel in Clearwater Beach outside Tampa until sometime around 5 a.m. It is a lost night, and the Irish Mist (Yes!) must keep blabbering to me as I drive from Orlando to Tampa, stopping once to try to figure out how to get that stupid dome light off, on the phone to the rental company until we accidentally figure it out. Now we arrive at the hotel only to find some drunk asleep in the lobby.
Oh, he's not drunk. He's the overnight clerk. We drop off our bags and go the only place one can go at 5 a.m. in Clearwater Beach when you've been up almost all night and already have a hangover from cleaning out the Midway Airport bars of significant quantities of the brown liquor.
We go to IHOP.
This conveniently located breakfast icon should be a haven after a disjointed night of discomfort, but it is disheartening to see how far America's great symbols have fallen. The IHOP night help is scary, and the place has the fetid aroma of something rotting very close by; we can't tell if it is wet carpet or bad pancake mix, or just the collective stink of the waiter and chef, who bear all the earmarks of having recently obtained their work release permits from the local penitentiary. We eat what we can, and stumble back to the Best Western Sea Wake Beach Resort to try to catch a few zzzz's before facing the day.
Only one thing to do before crashing: I gather some ice down the hall, getting that look from the maid arriving for her day's work, surely thinking that she is in for a rough few days if unkempt old guys dressed in bright red are gathering ice at 6 a.m., and I put out the "do not disturb" sign and pour myself a cocktail. Nothing like breaking out the Official Scotch of the Outback Bowl, the Glenfarclas, for a nightcap or whatever the hell you call a cap as the sun is also rising. I wait, wait, wait, for sleep to come, which it finally does, but it lasts only few short hours, hours filled with savage dreams, most involving the upcoming scotch shortage …
To Be Continued ...