Southwest to Portland, OR

The lady at the Southwest check-in counter was smiling and cracking jokes as I checked my bags.

Maybe she had just eaten a handful of pills for lunch or I just caught her after a nap, but either way it was highly unusual behavior for the staff of a busy airport.

Strangely enough, the sense of dread that weighs in my stomach when I approach an airline ticketing counter suddenly vanished. All my reservations were in the system, the friendly staff was not disgruntled to the point of brandishing weapons, and I even walked away feeling good about myself.

I watched as my rucksack lumbered along the conveyor and disappeared through the little black hole to airport never-never land.  There had to be some catch, this was going way too smoothly.

Surely there were two bald, Russian-accented goons waiting just on the other side to teach my bag a lesson with a couple of Louisville sluggers?  Or perhaps Satan (who lives and works at the Atlanta airport by the way) would cause my ride to Portland to loose a landing gear?

Ding-ding-ding-ding!

That was to be the new soundtrack to my four hour Las Vegas layover. As I made my fifth round out of boredom through the small terminal, I tried to suppress the urge to grab a cab and point it towards all the pretty lights in the near distance.

I knew that’s where the action was.  I was in a nervous sweat just thinking about winning that black $100 chip in Temecula, California a few weeks ago….I wanted more, and I can see how people living near casino’s could easily find themselves on food stamps.

Unfortunately, it would also have meant my odds of making it to Portland tonight would suffer. A miniature Rolf Potts appeared over my right shoulder glowing like Obi-Wan and said “Greg….trust your instinct….use the force….you are vagabonding.”  I obeyed, collapsed into a nearby chair, and tried to drown the electronic sounds of money loss out of my head.

The airport was dimly lit, making it seem a little dirty and dodgy – more fitting for a riverboat casino than the glamorous Vegas.  The smell of jet fuel and Starbucks mingling was intoxicating.

I do have a confession.  Somewhere in a flashing light induced trance, I stumbled up to one of the numerous slot machines and fed a precious dollar of vagabonding funds into the glowing square.  It was a “nickel” slot so hey – 20 plays should provide some entertainment value?

Slot machines are one of those things they have made extravagantly more complicated than required….what happened to the simple lever you pull to loose your money?  No lever here, I pressed one of the “bet now” buttons and the thing spun to life.  The flashing lights, animated rows, and music was mesmerizing until the 20 or so lines grated to a non-climatic halt.

I pushed the button again and nothing happened.

CREDITS: 0

That was it.  With one button push I had bet every line and apparently lost all 20.  I think I would have gotten more entertainment value out of folding my dollar bill into a tiny airplane and throwing it once.Lesson learned.

I slumped in my chair and resigned myself to people watch for the remainder of my layover.  I resisted taking out my camera, but I pretended to be on a photojournalism assignment to capture Vegas airport.  Why go deep in the Amazon to photograph exotic species when we humans are about as exotic as it gets?

I would guarantee that our social habits and mating rituals about as bizarre as any bird.

Rather than observing blue-breasted boobie I was observing fake-breasted floozies. I also managed to spot Asian techies, sideburned hipsters, and popped-collar high rollers….it was quite fascinating to see the diverse life – no matter how much their choice of fashion scared me.

When it was time to finally board, Southwest has an interesting method where people form 2 queues and its always open seating.  I remember my experiences with open seating in Italy and China, and prepared myself for the inevitable elbow to the gut – usually thrown by an old lady to get on board first.

It never happened. Somehow we each found a seat without inury, and the extra legroom was amazing – every row on the plane might as well have been first class.  The good thing about being in the last group for open seating is that you can survey your neighbors.  I wisely steered clear of infants, mutants, and talkative types and found myself seated next to a woman that likes to sleep on flights as much as I do.

Southwest definitely gets my stamp for best domestic airline….and the next time I opened my eyes I would be standing on the West Coast – woohoo!

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