What to say about my guest today? I’m so honored to have her here I might be at a loss. Tarja of The Flying Chalupa weaves words so expertly I read her posts once through tears of laughter and another wondering how did she just do that. The summer memory she chose to share today will convince you, as it has me, that she should be churning out best-selling novels as soon as she finishes her next blog post. I can’t thank Tarja enough for sharing her talent here.
The Dhahran Airport
There was only one way in and one way out.
(Well, that’s not entirely true. You could take a camel. And I suppose you could take a car as my parents once did, driving their brand new blue Peugeot – The Big Blue Moose – all the way from Paris.)
But if you’re not Lawrence of Arabia or my parents, the best way to get in and out of Dhahran, Saudi Arabia was through the Dhahran Airport. And if it was summer, then let’s emphasize the OUT OF part (not that 120 degree heat wasn’t fun).
Most people have memories of Memorial Day launching summer, but for the first fifteen years of my life, the Dhahran Airport launched summer and I loved that rectangular shitbox of concrete and florescent lighting unconditionally. I loved that one dirty sandwich shop, I loved the stale smell of sweat and cigarettes, but mainly I loved the electronic chimes that blasted over the loudspeaker whenever an announcement was made in Arabic: bong-bong-bong-BONG! There we were like Charlie Brown, all the expats listening enthusiastically and uncomprehendingly to the teacher – MWAH-MWAH-MWAH-MWAH.
Yes, I loved it all.
Wait. I take that back. I feel less than neutral about the women’s bathroom with the three stall-less holes in the floor. That shit will scare the shit out of a kid. Literally.
All over America, kids were tooling around town, blasting Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out, while I ran laps around the Dhahran Airport, probably singing “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress” by the Hollies. Because they had actually performed a concert in Dhahran. And because my dad played that song repeatedly on this new fangled thing called a Compact Disc Player.
The best and most beautiful thing about the Dhahran Airport was that we were all there together: the expats from the oil company, the Saudis living in Al Khobar, the Sri Lankan laborers, all stations and classes, everybody. It was a true melting pot, not unlike the Newark Airport but without pork products or the America! Store, and invariably, I would see half my classmates there.
The kids owned the Dhahran Airport. We were a large and dangerous pack of wild dogs hopped up on exhaustion and adrenaline and the promise of a Coke Cola once on board (Saudi Arabia was the Land of Pepsi and if the Dhahran Airport was Step One To Summer Vacation, then Coke Cola was Step Two). The high ceilings, which you couldn’t see because of the cigarette smoke, echoed with our screams and laughter and I’m pretty sure the airport clock consistently read Half-Past-Delirious.
The one flight out was always late at night and by the time we boarded Air France or Lufthansa, we were all as dazed and confused as Matthew McConaughey in that same summer movie. My parents would make us comfy beds on the floor of the plane (air safety was called “hold on to the seat legs, honey”) and eventually we would close our bleary, burning eyes.
As the lights of the Dhahran Airport receded in the haze of the desert dust, Mom and Dad would order their scotch on the rocks, knocking one back in farewell to the strict Saudi rules against alcohol. Everyone would light their cigarettes and breathe a cancerous sigh of relief and elation.
I’m told there was always turbulence over the mountains of Lebanon, but by then you were only four hours to Europe.
Summer had officially begun.
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