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Terminal Condition

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All Packed and Ready to Go: No place in SFO is better to wait than the Crab Pot Restaurant, where the New England clam chowder tastes pretty damn good.

Photo by Elana Koff

Millie searches for signs of life and luggage at San Francisco airport

By Millie

It's been almost a week, and Millie is furious. His signature leather duffel bag in Southwestern hues has disappeared after a disastrous flight from JFK. (The airline inflicted some interminable Michelle Pfeiffer/George Clooney pic on the passengers.) Now the bag is nowhere to be found, leaving Millie's wardrobe severely compromised. "Our computers show that your bag made it to San Francisco, but what happened to it once it arrived is anybody's guess," claims a vague and evasive airline employee.

Millie's in Jessica Fletcher mode (or maybe it's McGruff, the neighborhood watchdog). Nevertheless, it's time to sniff around for some answers and get to the bottom of this mystery. At the United Airlines terminal Millie begins poking around. The first stop is the Crab Pot Restaurant just outside Gates 20-22. The clientele looks suspicious, but so does the turkey deli sandwich ($6.95). The New England clam chowder ($4.50), on the other hand, is delicious.

Next up is the tastefully appointed Books, Inc. Compass Bookstore--the Rizzoli of SFO's booksellers. With hardwood floors, a well-stocked business section and all your favorite magazines, this place makes it easy to miss your flight while browsing the well-stocked stacks. (Millie is briefly distracted by the surprisingly up-to-date gay/lesbian section. Oops. How did that get in there?)

Anyway, as Millie goes to leave, he spots a man in a turban toting a familiar-looking bulky leather duffel bag. Could it be? Millie silently falls in behind the mysterious gentleman and soon finds himself walking the long corridor that leads to the rest of the United gates. On either side of the corridor, display cases feature artifacts from the Airport Commission Exhibition "He'e Nalu: Wave Riding," an exhibit commemorating the endless summer and history of surf culture on the West Coast. The exhibit includes actual long boards, short boards, hollow wooden paddle boards and black-and-white surfer stills from the '30s and '40s. There's even a tribute to the hunky granddaddy of the Hawaiian surf movement, Duke Kahanamoko, who, with his fabled redwood surfboard, first introduced surfing to California in 1915. There's also "The Universal Circus: Georges Berger 1924-1974" in the United/International connecting corridor, which looks at French circus posters and dioramas from the 1920s.

Millie hangs back and watches as the man in the turban walks into GGB Cocktails, one of the SFO's only independently owned bars. With businessmen smoking and staring into cloudy drinks, the scene here looks just as depressing as the late-night movie you could fall asleep to. Millie orders their infamous Whiskey Sick and Sour. "You'll be halfway to Bermuda before you even board the plane!" the waitress chortles. Instead of entering the bar, the mystery man disappears behind a door marked Admiral Club across from Gate 61. The lock requires one of those hotel card keys or, as Millie discovers, a carefully bent Safeway card and a supple wrist. Once inside, Millie can't believe his eyes--high ceilings, wood paneling, plush overstuffed chairs, a coat room and cocktail waitresses. There's a low murmur of executives making deals over cell phones. Someone's smoking a cigar. Millie overhears the word protocol twice in two minutes. Ever wonder about the Old Boys Club? This is it. This calls for either a hasty exit or a popular revolution. Millie opts for the former.

The man with the turban has disappeared. Millie only gets depressed as he passes the baggage carousel and watches passengers bustle around picking up their luggage. Suddenly Millie realizes he's in the International Terminal, which means duty-free-shops (DFS) with tax-free items. Sure, the DFS gift shop is a tacky tourist trap flooded with Mickey Mouse and 49ers crap, but the upscale DFS fashion department features labels like DKNY, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Fendi and even Joe Boxer. "Who needs that old mangy bag?" thinks Millie. "My wardrobe was in need of an upgrade, anyway."

Bon voyage!

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From the January 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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