The Who and the Where Now?

I booked my flight to Prague out of San Francisco to save a few bucks, but that meant a long shuttle ride from my quiet abode in Willow Glen. The driver was a friendly guy, prompt and courteous and so forth. He hauled my heavy bag down the stairs and stowed it in the back of the van while I said goodbye to my sweetie.

In the van, chinese music played softly; the twangy strings and the gentle pipes had a definite easy-listening feel to them. The driver climbed in, backed out of the driveway, and away we went.

There were two more to pick up for the trip to the airport, and the driver punched in the pre-saved address of the next stop. Then his phone rang. He pushed a button and for the next twenty minutes I was treated to one side of a jollly conversation – in Chinese. It didn’t sound like a very serious conversation, just chatting and joking. It occurred to me that between the GPS system (”Left turn in zero. point. five. miles”) and the mobile phone, the job of being a shuttle driver is a lot different than it was even ten years ago. I wondered if his friends dreaded when my driver had a shift, since he could chew up hours of of his friends’ days with no discomfort.

After we picked up the last passenger, he set the GPS to give him directions to the international terminal at San Francisco Airport. I suspect he’s been there before, but still the gentle female Voice of Magellan guided us up the highway and through the ramps that brought us to the terminal. I think the driver just thought the GPS was so damn cool that it would be a shame to not use it even when he knew exactly where to go.

I’m flying KLM today, the Dutch airline. I already had a boarding pass, but I needed to drop my bag at the counter. Waiting for me were two lovely Chinese girls in Royal Dutch Airlines uniforms, as cheerful and friendly as you please. My bag was a bit over the weight limit, but they let me slide with a warning. Then one of the tiny things tried to manhandle my bag onto the conveyor, to the great amusement of all, especially the big guy that came rushing over to help.

I picked up a bagel to munch at a little mom-and-pop cafe in the A terminal. Could this really be? Could there be a family business in slick and soulless place like an airport? I didn’t ask (they were busy), but it sure seemed like a family business. The guy running the register and the woman who fixed my bagel had to have been family, judging by accents (wild-ass guess: Bulgarian) and familiarity, and the guy at the register had that intangible “this is my shop; how can I help you?” atttude.

Now I sit waiting to go from the United States to the Czech Republic on a Dutch airline and tended by (ethnically, anyway) Chinese workers. Pretty soon these national labels will stop meaning anything at all.

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