Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Russians Are Coming at Gate 18

I only know a few people who hang out at airports when they don’t have to, but I’m one of them. It’s more fun than it sounds. It’s possible that all airports are decent places if you’re not jet lagged and worried about missing your flight, but SFO is especially good for passing the time. For one thing, it’s easy to get to by BART, which takes you to the international terminal. As soon as you get off the train you find yourself surrounded by parked jumbo jets from all over the world. This is heaven for plane spotters. (I once saw an Aeroflot jet taxi by and almost started tugging on people’s sleeves.)

There’s also surprisingly good food, all of it located before security, so you don’t need a boarding pass. A lot of San Francisco restaurants have outposts there, so you can get wood-fired pizza, sushi, and real coffee. No Pizza Hut or Starbucks here.

And if you’re lucky, you might get treated to a sight like what I saw there this afternoon. As I was strolling from snack bar to snack bar, I was passed by a procession of statuesque young women all wearing long red wool coats. They all seemed to be blond, and fair, with their hair done up in buns. There were about 20 of them, all trailed by smart little black bags on wheels. These weren’t clumsy roller boards like the proletariat drag around; these bags were more like Gucci purses on casters, and they almost seemed self-propelled, needing only the tiniest flicks of the wrist for control, like show horses.

I realized after a moment that there were a few men in the group, dressed in simple black suits, but they were puny and gawky in comparison to the stunning army of women, and had to trot like terriers to keep up. The women seemed oblivious to their presence, strutting a little like catwalk models, and a little bit like they were parading through Red Square. They looked like Robert Palmer girls as dressed by Raisa Gorbachev. A photographer with a blunderbuss of a camera was following them. One of the women in the rear kept turning and frowning at him with an extremely photogenic pout, and I bet those shots sold like nobody’s business.

I wish I could say they goose-stepped aboard a Tupolev and flew off to their conclave in Minsk, but no such luck. As it turns out, they weren’t even Russian. Their bags all said “Virgin Atlantic” in tiny letters, so they were probably just advance scouts readying for Virgin’s low-budget SFO launch. Still, it beats watching canned CNN and eating TCBY.

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