I haven’t slept in 32 hours and my stomach is a churning wheel of those magical LA street tacos, my eyes burn from prolonged artificial light, my feet smell and my hips are tight. My pounding temple is the most pronounced, so I try to breathe. I don’t realize how much I’m holding. Suitcase, backpack, presumptions, expectations, and the strain of 3 flight connections weigh on me. Nineteen kilos to pounds doesn’t compute. I’m too exhausted to translate everything, and with my dusty sneakers back on US soil, I don’t have to. I think of the parents I work with back home, translating their safety plans and court documents, straining to learn a new language in the midst of fleeing violence.
I order an “impossible burger” with a lettuce wrap. The other patrons at this overpriced airport restaurant have lips puckered with chemicals, fresh blow outs, Coach bags. We’re in south Florida. Spanish floats through the recycled, stale air. The workers are every shade of mahogany and I catch them roll their eyes knowingly at each other behind the backs of blonde patrons. Camaraderie, I smile to myself as the blonde pleads with the waiter to use fresh avocado, not the brown stuff. A 5-year-old kid with a Justin Bieber combover tells the waiter “Merry Christmas!” She laughs, pats her graying bun, and turns to me: “I love kids like that.” Sighs. “Not those little assholes that usually come in. Sorry, but damn!”
I find myself nodding and laughing with her knowingly – “right?!” – like I know these little assholes personally. Like I’ve stood on my feet for 12 hours a day and called a white kid “sir” while placing his chocolate milk in front of him. The closest I’ve came is trying to reason with a wealthy toddler I was nannying, one that was already growing into the authority that comes with being a white male with a trust fund. But this, I don’t know this struggle. I’ve been told it’s clear I come from the ‘burbs from the way I eat my chicken. When you know hunger, you leave nothing on the bone. You suck the marrow out. You capitalize on this opportunity to eat good – not a right, but an occasion. I have never known this hunger. I’ve had escape routes, stilts, handouts, connections. The whole chessboard is laid out right here at these fake-wooden café tables. J. Lo said it best in the corny airplane movie about strippers that run heists on their johns – “the whole word is a strip club. Some dance, some throw the bills. Which side you wanna be on?” Tell me: how will you play these sides?