The last real Northwest men's club may just be Horizon Air's regional shuttle service. When I ventured into the Portland and Seattle airport gate areas for a recent weekday roundtrip, I felt like I was the only one who didn't know the secret handshake.
Not that anyone was at all rude. In fact, I was called ma'am at least three times, which gives a sense of the age range on these flights. I was not, however, offered a seat, a courtesy that apparently kicks in sometime after 50.
The club atmosphere comes from the very-frequent-flyer nature of these business travelers. Lots of nods and greetings, many by name, among the computer-toting army of (mostly) salesmen moving between the centers of regional commerce. Each flight on the 37- or 74-seat Bombardier prop planes was full. Who knew Wenatchee and Redmond, Ore., had so much business going on?
The younger men in this club are fascinating hybrids. In the morning they have the same up-and-at-'em look as their older peers; at night a similar weariness. (I confess I was meanly pleased to see that the clearly more fit and active younger men were just as pooped as the old guys who close out the trip sitting in a sea of empty potato chip bags and nodding off over the weather graphics in USA Today.) All are armed with laptops, Starbucks cups, Blackberry-like devices. But their spiky haircuts and dialect sets them apart. On my flight back to Portland, I eavesdropped on two 30-somethings in back of me who recognized each other from some previous trip, and proceeded to catch up.
Question: Dude, how's it?
Answer: Same. You?
Q: Good. Hey, that new project a go?
A: Yeah, awesome. We've been killing ourselves and it is so worth it.
(I momentarily worried that this next exchange was about some health issue, then realized they were discussing checked baggage.)
Q: You walking?
A: Nah, waiting. I've got a load of stuff in the belly.
That universal worker pastime – bitching about the boss – has not changed much, except for the liberal use of terms once only heard in a psychiatrist's office. The boss is hostile, a narcissist, a borderline, in need of meds, on bad meds, and, like, totally without bandwidth. (That last point is not yet in the shrinks' DSM-IV, but give it time.) Feminism has definitely taken root; the epitaphs for the female boss are the same as the male. Let's call that progress, shall we?
There's a nice little streak of rebellion running thorough the dark-suited crowd in this club. (Yes, suits. If you are reading this in Portland, you may be surprised to learn that there are still places, quite nearby, where these quaint ceremonial costumes are worn.) My favorite mavericks are the ones who coo audibly into the phone to their kids, not worrying that their fellow sales sharks will think them soft. Also sighted with pleasure: a guy toiling on his Inspirion laptop, on which he'd pasted an Apple sticker over the Dell logo. ("It's my way of making a statement. Calling Dell's service hotline is like direct-dialing hell.")
OK, Arthur Miller and Death of a Salesman it ain't, but Scenes at the Gate clearly has potential. I'd like Holly Hunter to play me, if that's not asking too much.