Tag Archives: Everything’s Bigger in Texas

When You See Me Sprinting Through an Airport, Please Step Aside.

There’s this amazing moment in one of Carl Reiner’s and Mel Brooks’ “2000 Year Old Man” sketches, when Reiner is moving through a line of questions about the early days of man. He’ll get to the good stuff in a second — questions about Joan of Arc, questions about the secrets to longevity — but first, he’s got a softball. “What was the main means of transportation back then?” he asks.

Brooks’ response is classic deadpan, and he crushes it. “Fear,” he says. “You’d see a tiger, and you’d run a mile in a minute.”

We don’t have such sources of transportation inspiration anymore. Except for one, really: the fear of missing an airplane.

On Thursday, I was nearly confined to the multi-thousand square foot beast that is Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

So I ran.

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The last time I made the airport sprint was in San Francisco. My shuttle to the airport was late — by an hour. My flight was on time. From curb to last-call at my gate, I’d been given 14 minutes. But San Francisco International is a relatively easy airport. Each wing has its own security checkpoint, servicing just a dozen or so gates, and I didn’t have any bags to check in, so I butted in line, apologized profusely and then ran — my left hand keeping my pants up, my heavily duct-taped roller bag and belt over my head and waving behind me. I ran like Reggie Bush on a punt return, dodging travelers, spinning away from golf carts, my eyes upterminal at all times. I made it to the gate — the very last gate in the terminal, of course — in time.

I gasped.

I heaved.

But I was on the plane.

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My sense is that Americans, in general, love to procrastinate. We also love to be lazy, to lounge around and to waste time.

So it should follow, logically, that getting a few hours to kill at the airport would be an American pastime.

That’s how I used to feel, actually. When I was young, I’d to ride the subway down with my dad to National Airport in D.C., and we’d sit by the windows and watch the planes take off. Some fathers and sons went to baseball games or the zoo to relax; we went to the airport.

But most Americans don’t see the airport as a relaxing place. That’s why we have a phrase for the occasion: stuck at the airport. Or worse: stranded at the airport.

In all your years, have you ever heard anyone outside of a first class lounge talk excitedly about an extended airport layover? Don’t worry about me, honey. I’ve got four whole hours to spend at Boston Logan!

As a society, we are not claustrophobic, but we fear airport-based confinement, and all of its trappings: patience, non-reclining chairs and doubly-overpriced Starbucks.

Maybe it’s just the way we define airports. We break them up into sections — Terminals, we call them — but we view them with a lower case ‘T.’ As in: beyond curable. Beyond suffering.

As in: the stage just before the light.

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The first sign of trouble hit my inbox on Thursday. There they were two e-mails from Continental Airlines informing me that my flight to Houston had been delayed. I looked at the details. Both said my 8:35 flight had been delayed to…. 8:35. Whatever.

By the time I’d gotten to San Antonio, the departure monitors told a different story. The 7 a.m. to Houston still hadn’t taken off yet. The 8:35 was delayed until 10:15.

My connecting flight in Houston left at 10:30.

I’ll fast-forward for you: I got on a non-delayed 9:15 flight, due to land in Houston’s Terminal C at 10:10. The connection was over in the B gates, no. 75. High numbers are never a good sign, and when my San Antonio flight stalled on the runway for 10 minutes — broken radars in the control tower, the captain said — I wasn’t optimistic about getting to B75 in time.

But we touched down at 10:04, and I was sitting in row 8, and the flight attendant said that since so many people had been delayed that morning, please, for the courtesy of your fellow passengers, let’s have only the passengers with urgent connecting flights stand up when the plane stops.

The plane stopped. The first eight rows stood up.

One guy was connecting to Kansas City. Another to New York. Someone else to Albuquerque, I think.

The doors opened, and we ran.

We ran through the jetway, where the emergency alarm had sounded when the gate agent had goofed in a rush to open the doors for us. We ran through the noise and into….

…Terminal E. Not, as I’d been told, Terminal C, only a quick one-hop subway connection away from my B gate. Instead, I was in the third-to-last gate in the terminal farthest away from where I needed to go. I’d have to cover over a mile of airport in about 12 minutes.

Naturally.

But my next gate hadn’t changed: B75. At least I knew my destination.

Houston Intercontinental Airport

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There are three keys, in my opinion, to surviving the airport sprint:

1. Use the Reverse Jinx: Sitting in San Antonio International on Thursday, I knew two things:

A. If I didn’t eat, I’d make my connecting flight but not have enough time to grab a bite in Houston, and I might not eat anything until 2 or 3. That wouldn’t do.

B. If I did eat, I’d miss my connecting flight and have three hours of waiting in Houston, with plenty of time to eat. And I wouldn’t be hungry, because I’d already eaten. That wouldn’t do, either.

So I grabbed a sandwich and secretly hoped to reverse jinx my way into the perfect scenario: eat early and make my connection. (Spoiler alert! It paid off — except for the part where I had to sprint through an airport terminal with a belly full of McMuffin. But more on that later.)

2. Be Loud: When you’re running, make sure people hear you coming. Be loud, and people will clear a path for you as you run. An airport sprinter is a wrecking ball-in-waiting, so make your presence known. Yell, holler, wear clogs — whatever it takes. There’s a reason those airport golf carts have sirens on them.

3. Look Desperate, But Don’t Panic: If you only take one piece of advice here, take this one. When you’re clomping down a terminal, you want people to look up and instantly know which person is rushing to a flight. Your face needs say, Please, for all that is holy, don’t make me stay one second longer than I need to in this place. But internally, you’ve got to stay poised. I’ve seen roller bags go flying out of control in airports. Stay in control, and let your legs do the rest.

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I ran right, then left, then across a moving walkway. My roller bag skidded behind me; the duct tape on the handle seemed to be holding things together nicely. I wheeled past the international terminal, passengers from Guam and Guatamala looking both groggy and very much not on high alert for me, this 6’6” thing cannonballing into Terminal D, where I could catch the inter-terminal train. Up the escalator, passing a couple on the right — sorry! — I made it to the train.

If the Google Maps tool over at WalkJogRun.net is to be believed, I’d just sprinted just over a quarter mile. In sandals. While wheeling a bag and hauling another one over my shoulder. Through an international terminal.

We reached Terminal C at 10:19. I had a chance, but the train pulled away slooo….. ooowwww…. wwlyyyy. We inched along. Terminal B arrived at about 10:22. My gate was just closing, if I was lucky. Maybe the airport door hadn’t shut, too. I had two minutes, tops.

Out on the platform, there were two escalators, both headed down. The guy going to Kansas City was a step behind me, and I beat him to it. I was in full-on “American Gladiators” mode, demolished the escalator and spun onto the main concourse. Lesser airport gladiators would crumble at the sight of the Houston Intercontinental eliminator; I hung in.

I should say here the floors in Terminal B are different, older. They’re a thin layer of carpet over concrete, and I was running in sandals. The thwap of each step echoed behind me, like “Riverdance” in snowshoes.

Terminal B opened into a square-shaped area, with four corridors leading out from each corner. Gates 76 and above were up on the side next to the train.

Gates 75 and below were not.

So there was another run, this time through the square, past another food court and to the right. It was the home stretch, the last tenth of a mile sprint through the B concourse, and my legs sagged. I wanted to quit. I wanted to stop sprinting. I was defeated.

And then, the tunnel turned. There was light.

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“Breathe, honey, breathe.”

I continued to pant, gasp, sweat. The gate agent, Rosetta, printed out my boarding pass. “Oshinsky? Coming from San Antonio? No way I thought you’d make it. Where’d you come from?”

E22.

“That’s amazing.”

The airplane door hadn’t closed yet, so she walked me down the gateway. I was still sucking for air. She mentioned something about wishing that she had my speed, and I laughed. No one had ever called me fast before.

I tried to tell her that, but it came out something like, “Eyyyee [gasp] mmmm not [gasp gasp] thaaat fass [gasp] ttt.”

I was boarding a puddle jumper, so my roller bag had to be checked plane-side. My breath was coming back, and I asked Rosetta if airport employees had a word for what I’ve just done.

“You know, we used to call it — well, before the trial — we used to call that the O.J. sprint.”

I looked back at her before I board the plane. I got here, I wanted to tell her. But I won’t go there.

A Eulogy for Dexter, the Boykin Spaniel.

Like many people who I refer to as aunts and uncles, my Aunt Lois and Uncle Bobby aren’t actually related to me. They did, however, have the unfortunate privilege of living across the street from my family when I was growing up, and they had the poor sense to engage my mother in regular conversation. At some point, they were granted familial status, though I’m not sure exactly when.

In the time that they lived on Pollard Road, they had two dogs — one of whom I was apparently quite fond of, though he died before I’d even learned to walk — and another, named Dexter. Unlike all the other dogs in the neighborhood, all pure-bred from well-known lineages, Dexter was a Boykin Spaniel. Before he came to live with Aunt Lois and Uncle Bobby, he’d come from a long line of South Carolinian hunting dogs. Judging by Dexter’s ability to chase but never capture neighborhood squirrels, we didn’t think much of South Carolinian hunters.

Sometime around middle school, Uncle Bobby and Aunt Lois started wintering in Arizona, and they asked us to take care of Dexter. My mother, naturally, was delighted. I’m not sure what it was about Dexter, but she loved him. I’d always guessed it was Dexter’s coat, long and brown and curly, with the kind of poof not seen outside of one of my dad’s high school photo albums.

Dexter would stay with us for a few weeks at a time in the winter. Aunt Lois would drop off Dexter and his doggy bed, and then he would immediately decide to instead take up residence on our couch. He’d arrive smelling like an Herbal Essences commercial — Aunt Lois liked to pamper Dexter at a place called Bone-jour, a salon for suburban yuppies and their puppies — and he’d leave smelling of mud and filth and the salt that they use to de-ice roads. Mom loved Dexter, even when he smelled, and even though she usually made my dad walk him on the coldest days in winter.

Dexter died when I was in high school, and afterward, my mother was as sad as I can ever remember her being. I guess I don’t really remember how Aunt Lois and Uncle Bobby felt about his death; we often joked that Dexter had been “bark mitzvahed,” but we didn’t sit shiva for him after he died (1).

I haven’t thought too much about Dexter since, but today, my boss sent me down to take some photos at a local dog show. It’s about what you’d expect from a dog show in Texas: there was an American flag hanging over the premises, but it only had about 23 stars on it. The dogs at the show were enormous, which seemed to explain why I had one of the only non-RVs in the parking lot.

They had about eight large rings set up inside, with dogs parading around each. I stopped by a ring of small dogs, then taller ones that looked like miniature llamas. I rounded over to a ring in the back, where three brown dogs with floppy ears were being judged. I heard a voice.

“They’re Boykin Spaniels.”

I looked up from my behind my camera. A woman at a judging table was looking at me and pointing to an official dog show program.

“They’re Boykin Spaniels,” she said again, now pointing to the ring.

I looked back at the dogs. The middle of the three was being coddled by his owner. The dog had those floppy ears that hung like the flaps on a Russian man’s winter hat. He had that shaggy coat. And he had this brown ring around his pupils, just like Dexter.

I looked back at the woman. “I know,” I told her. “I used to have one just like them.”

She seemed surprised, and I asked her where the dogs were from. She placed her thumb over one of the dog’s names. I didn’t see the name, just his home state:

South Carolina.

I looked back at the middle dog, and I wondered whether or not he’d ever been quick enough to catch a squirrel.

  1. UPDATE: Aunt Lois and Uncle Bobby have written in to say that, yes, they did sit shiva, though there may not have been a full minion present.

Dedication. Multitasking. Longhorns Football.

I’d like to take just a minute to discuss a word that, too often, gets misused and misapplied in the English language.

I’m talking, of course, about the word ‘dedication.’

It’s a word that gets associated with athletes and scholars and really anyone for whom hard work is a core value. But I’d like to suggest that dedication may simply involve any act in which the soul and the body unite for common purpose.

Naturally, I’d like to bring an anonymous University of Texas Longhorns fan forward as proof.

On Saturday, I was up in Austin for Day 2 of the Austin City Limits music festival. Between sets by the Levon Helm Band and Dave Matthews Band on the main stage, I found my way over to the stage where Austin-based band The Scabs were playing.

The Scabs are a pleasantly and refreshingly weird act. They’re fronted by singer Bob Schneider, who’s something of a legend in Austin. Nearly ever band he’s played in has become a local favorite, and The Scabs are no exception.

On Saturday, Schneider and Co. put on a show too obscene to be called quirky and too absurd to be underestimated. Their 45-minute set featured material that’s entirely unprintable in this forum. (On the set list: a tune inviting comparisons between oral sex and French explorer Jacques Cousteau, and a faux-death metal parody about shopping at H.E.B.) But the band kept the crowd rocking and laughing all at once, and that’s no easy feat.

But while Austin music fans were loving the joyfully bizarre set, I noticed one fan who was enjoying the music more than most. He kept bobbing his head and pumping his right fist in the air, even between songs. I didn’t understand why.

I assumed that — this being a massive music festival — some combination of alcohol and drugs were at work. (They were.) But then I got closer and found out what was really causing this man’s spontaneous celebrations. YouTubing the clip below is believing:

That, in the name of all things Merriam and Webster, is dedication. Skipping Austin City Limits was out of the question. Missing Miami’s 21-20 victory over Oklahoma wasn’t going to happen, either– and DVRing the game simply wouldn’t cut it. This fan had decided that it all had to be experienced live.

What this Longhorn fan found, I believe, is a remarkable testament to the pursuit of hedonism. He fused two outstanding passions — in this case: great music and college football rivalries — and found a way to multitask the many causes to which he dedicates his time.

As a lover of live music and a hater of opposing college sports teams, I must say: I was inspired. The bar has been set high for us all.

The San Antonio Theory of Relativity.

Ignoring the contradictions and laziness in general sentence structure for just a moment, I’d like to suggest that context is everything. (1)

When I was a kid, a 45 minute drive to Baltimore was an interminable exercise. Maybe it was just childhood antsyness (2); maybe it was just that at that point in my life, 45 minutes amounted to a fairly significant chunk of my existence. But when I went to school out in the Midwest, my concept of time changed. Suddenly, an hour and a half seemed like the normal amount of time it should take to drive to the nearest airport. Strangely, a four hour drive to Omaha seemed short. Oddly, at the end of a two-day, 23-hour marathon from Phoenix, I found myself saying, “Wait, it’s already over?”

So time became relative within the particular regional context. The Midwest is enormous; it’s no surprise that people there have to tailor their concept of time to local geography.

Which is why I find it strange that in Texas — a state that touts itself with the tagline “Everything’s Bigger in Texas” — their concept of relativity is so different.

It’s true: they embrace big here. The people are, on average, morbidly obese. Their trucks have beds that extend beyond the limits of modern metallurgy. The two biggest Jumbotrons in the world are in this state.

And yet, there is one thing that Texans do not like more of: walking.

I’ve seen locals happily pay $10 to park a block from the Alamo, even though just two blocks from the landmark, there’s street parking available for a quarter (which buys you 75 minutes in the meter). I’ve seen Texans sit in their cars for twenty minutes at a drive-thru, even though they could just as easily get out of their cars, walk into the restaurant and leave in a third of the time.

But nothing compares to what I saw last Saturday at the AT&T Center, home to the San Antonio Spurs and the Silver Stars. I went to go see the latter play in a WNBA game last Saturday.

Upon arrival, I pulled into the AT&T Center parking lots. There were two lines of cars waiting to enter the lots. Actually, that’s not entirely true: there was one massive line of cars, and there was another lane that was completely empty.

The lane on the right was for the $8 parking that’s closest to the stadium. That lane was filled. The lane on the left — the empty lane — was for $5 parking farther away from the stadium. (For the visually-inclined, note the infographic above.)

So, logic suggests, the $5 lots must’ve been infinitely farther away from the stadium to warrant a discounted price — and a lack of interest from fans. And thanks to Google Maps, I’ve done the calculations.

Based on the approximate location of my parking space in the $5 lot, I walked a distance of about 0.14 miles from my car to the stadium’s entrance. Had I parked in the pricier lot, I would have walked a distance of about 0.08 miles — or less.

I can only assume that eventually, the AT&T Center will began offering even more expensive parking — perhaps for $20 or even $50 — in which fans will have the opportunity to allow their muscles to completely atrophy as an airport-style moving sidewalk guides them into the stadium. We can only hope.

  1. Technically speaking, “context is everything” makes no sense, because placing something within context means taking it out of the general text and inserting into a more specific subtext, which does not and can not encompass the whole of everything. But that’s just semantics and me taking an idea entirely too far. Too far out of context, really.
  2. This does not appear to be an actual word.

Whatadrivethru: Where The Other Line Always Moves Faster.


There is a force in San Antonio that is often discussed but rarely experienced. I’m talking, of course, about the weather 1.).

It is hot here; that should not come as a surprise to you. But what is a surprise is how little time people spend outside in San Antonio. It’s so hot that humans here do not venture into the open air, save for the fleeting moments spent between air conditioned house and air conditioned car. If you are fortunate enough, your car sits in a temperature-controlled garage all night, and you park it in an indoor garage at work in the morning, and the only hours spent outside are the spartan steps between your driver’s side door and the entrance to the Central Market, where valets will park your car while you buy foccacia bread.

Locals spend so little time outside that, if not for regular news reports, you’d never know how obese this city’s population really is.

One 2009 analysis named San Antonio the third fattest city in America 2.). And yet it’s easier to spot albinos in this town than it is to find a fat guy.

When I first arrived in San Antonio, I asked if there were any neighborhoods where residents could walk around, grab a bite to eat and enjoy a local park. I was promptly told that if those were my priorities, I should consider moving to Europe instead.

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In the days since, I’ve learned that there’s one thing – other than air conditioning – that San Antonians are especially passionate about: finding ways to never leave their cars.

I have never seen a town more obsessed with drive-thru restaurants, be it for coffee, donuts, hamburgers or tacos 3.). In this town, there are thousands of paths to rejecting Jenny Craig as your personal savior, and almost all of them start with the phrase, “Hi, I’d like a number two combo meal, please.”

But – and this is strange for a town as obese as San Antonio – mainstream fast food isn’t the source of the problem here. There are not that many McDonald’ses or Burger Kings or Taco Bells in this town.

The problem here is Whataburger.

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Think of Whataburger as the In-N-Out of Texas. It has a signature look: each restaurant has this sloping, blue and orange striped roof. It has a signature feel: though each burger is ordered at the counter, employees hand deliver the food to your table. It even has a signature market: Whataburger is only available in a handful of states across the south.

But unlike In-N-Out, no one’s confusing the Whataburger crowd for gourmands.

The chain serves big burgers, the patty drooping out over the buns, and salty, skinny fries. And the drinks – my God, the small drink at Whataburger is as large as a 7-11 Big Gulp. It’s a serving size that the FDA clearly should’ve gotten wind of by now; apparently, those winds were lost somewhere over Beaumont.

Let me put it this way: if Morgan Spurlock had tried to eat thirty days of Whataburger, he’d have died within a week.

It seems obvious, then, that a burger this fattening in a city this fat can only be enjoyed one way: within the comforts of one’s air conditioned car.

Which is where the double lane Whataburger drive-thru comes in.

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There is such a drive-thru in the northwest corner of San Antonio, off Fredericksburg Road. The set up is as such: there is a central kitchen contained within one main building, and on either side, there is a drive-thru lane. In front of the restaurant, there is a window for walk-up orders, but this seems more for show. It’s taken about as seriously as the NFL preseason.

It’s worth noting: there is no inside to the restaurant. You cannot walk in. You cannot sit down. You cannot find yourself in the presence of free air conditioning. Under these circumstances, you are actually forced to stay in your vehicle. This seems to please the good people of San Antonio tremendously.

It is here that I should say that San Antonians are an unusual breed: they tend to take things at a slower pace. They walk slower. They talk slower. They’re even willing to wait a little longer for convenience.

In this case, make that extra convenience, because the sensation of being served a beefy ball of grease – with pickles on the side – isn’t enough, apparently. San Antonians will actually wait longer to enjoy the convenience of not reaching across their vehicle to grab their freshly purchased, previously-frozen slab of meat.

I know this because on the day I first visited this Whataburger – and on the subsequent days that I have returned to survey the store – one drive-thru line has always been busy, and one line has always been empty. In many cases, the one line may have upwards of six vehicles waiting for food, while the other is completely deserted.

Perhaps I should explain why.

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The full line is always to the right of the store. It is a traditional drive-thru set up; you yell your order into a speaker box, you pull around to the window, and there, directly next to the driver’s side window, you exchange cash for burger. There is no effort or lunging involved.

The empty line is always to the left of the store. It is identical to the right-side line, except for one alteration: the store’s window aligns – almost tragically so – with the passenger side’s window.

Curious, I tested out the left-side line last week at Whataburger. I ordered the smallest thing on the menu – the unsurprisingly named Whataburger, with fries and a drink. I pulled around to their window. I opened my passenger side’s window. And then I waited.

A young man inside the store opened his window, and as such, the pirouette began. He placed his bottom on the window’s sill. He scooted himself toward my vehicle, like a tyke creeping toward the high dive’s edge. And then, with a single, practiced thrust, he suddenly burst headlong into my car, his entire upper body squeezed through my window and nearly onto my upholstery, his legs still dangling inside his restaurant.

“That’ll be $6.15,” he told me.

I looked at his face. To say that he was coated in sweat is an understatement; he was layered in it, looking as greasy as the burger I was about to eat.

I handed him my cash, and – just as violently as he’d entered – he thrust himself back into the store. Then, once more, he scooted to the sill and rocketed almost fully back into my car.

“Here’s your burger, man,” and he thrust out.

And there I was, stuck for a moment, my hand not wanting to shift the car into gear. I was not sure how the man had managed to thrust himself into my car with such dexterity, or why it had happened at such alarming speed.

And then I closed my windows and ensconced myself in the familiar chill of my car’s air conditioning, and in that moment, as I pulled out of the drive-thru and looked back at the other lane, some six cars waiting to be served, I found peace.

And in the moments after, as I dug into my no. 1 Whatameal combo, I found something else:

Nausea.

I think I liked peace better.

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1.) In this sense, the weather in San Antonio is a lot like Washington Nationals baseball or openness in government. >return to post

2.) The question you’re asking is, “Even fatter than Houston?” Yes, I am sorry to report, they’re even fatter than Houston. >return to post

3.) Both of the breakfast and regular persuasion. >return to post