I'm in Heathrow, sitting at the bar at a place called Huxley's. The place makes a big fuss about being British; celebrating modern British food. When the alternative is half a lobster and champagne for some princely sum, and I'm facing three more hours before a flight to Menorca, that seems just fine. When I approached the one remaining bar stool, the young man sitting adjacent gave a friendly look as he shifted his stool over to make room, but left his headphones in. He was not the only one with headphones in. Even the people without headphones are looking at their phones. I'm not.
I order a beer. A fast-talking guy, a speaker of Lithuanian as can be gleaned from the small badge of the Lithuanian flag on his nametag, assisted by two other guys, a colleague and trainee, both from India, provide efficient service, but are too busy to chat. The bar is L-shaped, and I'm sitting on the small side looking across towards the long end. Halfway down the long end, a young woman is passively rubbing her significant other's back with one hand, while in the other hand she holds her phone up to her face, giving it far more attention. At some point, the Lithuanian unsuccessfully tries to bum a smoke from his coworkers behind the bar. Unsuccessful, he heads to the kitchen and emerges with a cigarette behind his ear and leaves. I order another beer. The stool beside me opens up.
"Which of the beers has the most alcohol?" asks the 40-something American man who's sat down next to me of the trainee. The American, he's delayed, he's been at the airport awhile and will be for some longer, he announces, perhaps to bartender, perhaps to me. The trainee doesn't know much about the beers and calls over his remaining colleague who runs through the list of lagers and ales on tap: unadventurous selections with a alcohol contents that, no lie, range only from 5.4% to 5.6%. The bartender suggests a slightly stronger Belgian beer in bottles, but the man, while he could imagine drinking said beer in a café in Paris, decides he wants the strongest tap beer.
Something about the American makes me uneasy. There's a boisterous affability to his interactions with the staff, but it seems to be a mask over something: an angry volatility, a short fuse. Something feels like it's not going to end well. For awhile we're both silently drinking our beers.
"Is there a room or a dungeon or some place where I can smoke?" he asks the trainee.
"No..." the trainee softly intones, trailing off. I think the specification of a dungeon has thrown him. It's thrown me too. Dungeon? What the fuck? He riffs a little on the idea of a dungeon, talking a little about chains, taking things in a vaguely sexual direction. The trainee is still listening, but seems at a loss of words. The American seems almost apologetic on behalf of the trainee. His voice has conciliatory tone, as though he's fighting something back. "Can't do anything in an airport anymore. Fucking Muslims right?" The trainee gives an anxious grimace in response. Not ending well is starting. My second beer is soon finished, much faster than the first one. I eagerly pay and spend the rest of the layover sitting by the gate.
TO BE CONTINUED