A welcome escape

I was at GSP, a lovely little Class Charlie airport midway between Greenville and Spartanburg in South Carolina. The blue shirts had just decimated my luggage, thanks to the bastards at American Airlines, who punished me for getting a reasonable airfare on Expedia by not including my TSA Pre✓ known traveler number on my boarding pass.

Shoes off.

Computer out.

Flightpad out.

Crap, no zip lock bag for my single tube of toothpaste.

Don’t you know you have to take projectors out of their cases? How would I know such a thing? I’ve been Pre✓ for years, plus I don’t see a sign telling me this. Smile at the nice blue shirt and apologize for being so ignorant.

Swab for explosives.


Don’t you know that you have to take speakers like these out of their cases? How would I know such a thing? I’ve been Pre✓ for years, plus I don’t see a sign telling me this. Smile at the nice blue shirt and apologize for being so ignorant.

More swabbing. More x-raying.

Finally, satisfied that I was no threat to national security, they handed me back my bag. Open. Its contents heaped high on either side, overflowing over its aluminum sides. Granted, fitting all the gear, cables, and adaptors I need to schlep for a Rusty Pilot Seminar into the case requires finesse that combines three-dimensional thinking and jigsaw puzzle skills; and—like a Rubik’s cube—is a process that tolerates no miss-steps. I gathered the dismembered remains of my luggage into my arms and sought out a bench to re-assemble it.

It had been hot and humid out, leaving me wilted; my day had just hit the 14-hour mark; and my flight didn’t board for another two hours.

I needed a drink.

The first thing I encountered in the “grand hall” of the GSP terminal was a Chick-fil-A. They don’t serve booze at Chick-fil-A, and besides, they were closed. I guess because it was a Sunday. Next door was a hotdog place, but as I’d stayed at a Drury the night before. I’d had my quota of hotdogs for the year. Not that I’m complaining. There was also a Wolfgang Puck. But it was crazy-crowded, and somehow looked more expensive than the typical over-priced airport eatery & drinkery.

I continued my patrol. At the far end of the grand hall a large sign said: ESCAPE. Actually, I’m really not feeling all that trapped, but thank you anyway. As I closed in, I made out a second, smaller word: LOUNGE. Ah! Now you are a-speakin’ my language. A vague memory percolated through my head. I’ve seen an Escape Lounge before. It was at Reno-Tahoe. I recalled it being waaaaay over budget for me. Still, there’s no harm in asking…

I sauntered in and inquired what the scoop was. The young lady manning the fort asked if I had a Platinum American Express card. If I had one, entry was free. Or maybe not. That damn card has a $550 annual fee. No, I have no Amex, I have no Amex today. All I have is a debit card from the First Bumpkin Bank of New Mexico, and an AOPA Mastercard.

Not surprisingly, neither of those granted access.

She showed me three pages of other cards that would give me a discount. I don’t know what’s in your wallet, but none of them were in my wallet. I’d have to pay the standard walk-up fee of $45 if I wanted to escape the grand hall. I dunno…I asked for clarification on what I’d get for my dinero. Access to the bar and the buffet. A cozy retreat with a view. High-speed Wi-Fi. Bountiful charging ports.

OK: Down to the business at hand. Tell me more about that bar.

It’s a two-tiered bar. There are complimentary offerings and premium offerings. You pay more for the premium, but I gotta say, at least at my end of the economy, I found the complimentary offerings to be pretty primo. Robert Mondavi Private Select cabernet sauvignon, along with white and sparkling wine options. A choice of bourbons and whiskeys: Jack Daniel’s, Jim Beam, Jameson, or Canadian Club. Three Svedka vodkas. Beefeater gin and Bacardi rum. Johnnie Walker Red scotch. Jose Cuervo Silver tequila, plus Baileys Irish Cream, Kahlua, and a cognac I’d never heard of: Remy Martin VSOP. For beer drinkers they had Michelob Ultra, Samuel Adams, and Thomas Creek Trifecta IPA—all draft.

Hell, a man could live there for years!


But I still hesitated. Then the hostess had a light bulb moment. Was I a triple-A member? Why, yes, yes, I am. Will that get me in for free?

Of course not.

But AAA, combined with a “first time visitor discount” would drop the cover charge from $45 to $35. I was powerful thirsty, and this was starting to sound like a pretty good deal for an airport terminal, post-security. All you can drink and eat, plus refreshments for my thirsty electronics? I whipped out my First Bumpkin Bank of New Mexico debit card, wondering for a second if I shouldn’t have used my AOPA card. It has some sort of rewards program I’ve never been able to wrap my head around.

But I have to say: What a wonderful escape. It was quiet. Comfortable. Cool. There was a fabulous view of the apron out the windows, and the inside walls were bedecked with gloriously silent big screen TVs displaying a real-time map of inbound and outbound flights, alternating with the arrival and departure screens from the concourse.

I got my much-needed drink (followed by a refill… or two or three). Then I checked out the food. It tended toward small bites, but they were delicious and there’s no limit on how much you stuff into your face. The onsite chef had prepared steak chimichurri, grilled salmon, truffle risotto, devilled eggs, watermelon feta salad, a charcuterie board, a wicked-good spicy tortilla soup, chicken almond salad, pretzel bread sticks, muffins, cobblers, pies, and cakes. And because it’s the south: Boiled peanuts. Don’t knock them until you try them. Plus, sodas, tea, etc. It all tasted as good as it sounds.


It sure beat the hell out of hanging out in the concourse, and cost me no more than a typical airport meal with a drink or two.

According to their website, Escape Lounges are also found at: Bradley, CT, Minneapolis, Oakland, Providence, and Sacramento; as well as in the United Kingdom at East Midlands, London, and Manchester. One thing’s for sure: Anytime I’ve got a couple hour layover at any of those airports you’ll find me making my escape.

Do you think they’ll give me a frequent escaper discount instead of a first-time visitor discount?


Where’s a good place to eat around here?

Before you pack a picnic for tomorrow’s cross-country, run to your mail box and fish out  the latest issue of Flight Training magazine and read my article Eating Local: Fine Dining on the Fly. The article shares the wisdom I gained on how to find a good place to eat when you are a stranger in a strange land. Wisdom gained from 17,748 miles of cross country flying at put-put speed during my first race season. The article is another lovely three-page spread with awesome illustrations from the art department!

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Eating local

“Where’s the best place to eat around here?” I asked the lineman.

“Well, we’ve got an Applebee’s,” he replied with great pride, “about four miles down the road, on the left, you can’t miss it.”

Rio and I exchanged a critical look. “Uh… any thing more local?” I pressed, “We’ve got an Applebee’s back home, and we always like to try something we can’t get at home when we’re traveling.”

The lineman seemed befuddled by this. “Well… what are you in the mood for?”

Now, Lisa and I made that mistake a few weeks ago when we were in the mood for a steak in a town that didn’t have good steaks. I parried, “What’s the local specialty?”

The lineman hesitated. Fidgeted with his pen, and finally said, “I’m not sure what you mean.”

Clearly he’d never had this sort of conversation before. Clearly my new plan of when in Rome, eat what the Romans are eating, wasn’t working out too well either. The conversation started to go downhill from there, so I placed our fuel order and signed for the crew car.

At the hotel I asked the front desk clerk, “Where’s the best place to eat around here?”

“We have an Applebee’s,” she replied with upbeat enthusiasm, “about two miles down the road, on the left, you can’t miss it.”

“Uh… anything more local?” I pressed, “we’ve got an Applebee’s at home and we always like to try something new when we’re traveling.”

The clerk bit her lip, “That’s pretty much the best place in town.”

I found that hard to believe, but I didn’t press her further.

The gas gauge on the crew car was on “empty,” and remembering the time in Liberal, Kansas when the crew car gave up the ghost on us and left us stranded, we stopped at a station next to the hotel to add a few gallons. I asked the guy at the gas station where a good place to eat was. You guessed it: Applebee’s. When I pressed for local flavor he said, “Well, we’ve got a bunch of Mexican places that are pretty all right.”

We are from New Mexico. This was Texas. Even the best Mexican food in Texas is bound to disappoint.

And you know what? In the end, the Applebee’s was very good.

When in Rome… even if the Romans are eating at Applebee’s.