The flight plan called for us to proceed up Airport Road, turn north to a heading of 350 degrees, pass between the truck stops, go over the hill, under the interstate, and park at the dollar store.
Yeah. It was time to replenish the airport snack baskets.
Regular readers may recall that my plane pal Lisa adopted the SXU terminal back in the winter of ‘17. It used to be one of those ratty, Third World kinda terminals that we cross country fliers are all too familiar with. In fact, it was that very familiarity that inspired Lisa’s adoption. After seeing the worst—and the best—that small local airport terminals had to offer during our SARL travels, she took things into her own determined hands and gave our little terminal a serious makeover. Now visiting pilots often tell me what a nice little FBO we have.
No small compliment.
Some of what she did was simply cleaning. Some of what she did was organizing. Some was hanging art on the walls, and hanging shear curtains to frame the windows. Missing light switch covers were replaced with new ones that look like cockpit instruments to create the appropriate aviation atmosphere.
But a lot of the transformation came down to amenities. The fridge is now always stocked with bottles of water and a variety of soda—both regular and diet, some with caffeine and some without. There’s now a microwave, and one of those Keurig coffee pots you find in high end hotels—the ones with the instructional hieroglyphics on the side that make one cup of coffee at a time.
In the bathroom, a shiny, round metal tray holds a glass bottle of mouthwash with one of those little metal pouring spouts, and a stack of Dixie cups. And then there are the snacks. Lisa found two large baskets and filled them with all manner of “snackage.” Chips. Cookies. Candies. Crackers.
I never realized until just now that most snacks start with the letter “C.”
She also got Cup-a-Soup (there we go again) to sustain those weathered in for a few hours. Now most of you know Lisa as an amazing aviation photographer, but that’s actually a very small sideline for her. Her day job is that of a part-time Adjunct Professor for a community college. That means slave wages and no benefits. So while she didn’t mind some sweat equity, and even absorbed the startup costs of the project, she could ill-afford to be the airport’s benefactor. Accordingly, she set out some donation jars.
At first things went well. Passing pilots donated generously, and when the snacks ran low, shee had the funds to replace them. Then, over the last six months, things started to change. Donations dropped off. Coins became more common and bills rarer. Then, donations nearly dried up. To make up the short fall, she passed the hat among the local pilots.
Which, of course, is just the two of us.
That wasn’t sustainable. We discussed the problem. Are we suddenly getting a rash of cheap pilots? Or did the visitors think, as they were buying gas, they were entitled to some free snackage—not realizing that the airport had nothing to do with the amenities? Or was it that most people don’t carry cash anymore? Or… worst of all… could someone be stealing money from the jars?
I didn’t want to think that.
One day, not long ago, we came to the airport to find the food cleaned out and exactly 12¢ in the jar. Lisa blew a gasket. Well, three or four gaskets, actually. Reluctantly, I went online and found a secure donation box, which Lisa—literally—bolted to a table so it couldn’t be stolen. Well, at least not easily stolen.
In the first two weeks the new box collected $54. All bills. No coins. Yeah. I guess we were being robbed. By whom? Who knows? Maybe by some ex-city worker with a grudge and the gate code. Maybe by one of the trash truck guys. Maybe by outlaw drug-smuggling pilots who are down on their luck.
But, that mystery never to be solved, we now had the funds to do a serious restocking of the snackage. Hence the flight plan to the dollar store.
And it was at the dollar store that a can of bologna caught my eye. Yes. A can. I’d never heard of canned bologna. I mean, bologna is typically in the cooler section with sandwich meat, hot dogs, and those fake cheese slices that are individually wrapped in plastic, right?
But of course, sandwich spreads come canned. Anyone over the age of 45 will remember Underwood Deviled Ham, which the dollar store still sells for fifty cents a can.
And Vienna sausages come in cans, I realized. As does tuna. And White meat chicken. Hams are sold in cans. And, of course, there’s Spam in a can.
So why not bologna?
Heck, what did I have to lose but a dollar? Plus, although I was stuck on the ground, the can was offering me a way to continue to visit distant new horizons, and experience new adventures. If only in a very small way. I snatched up the can.
Lisa thought I was mildly crazy, but she knows I get a little bonkers when I can’t fly (and for the last two years I’ve been getting increasingly loco as long periods of maintenance-induced groundings take their toll).
When I got home with my new treasure, Grandma Jean, the original adventurer, was enthusiastic. Rio, cautiously so. My wife, on the other hand, was having nothing to do with bologna in a can. She called Texas to check on the progress of the plane’s repairs.
After searching for about half an hour for our rarely used can opener, I clamped the plier-like tool on the edge of the can and twisted the handle, recalling that at one time canned goods were such a part of our culture that most households had electric can openers. The top off, I turned the can over and gave it a shake. Thump!went the solid mass of meat as it fell out of the can and onto my cutting board. It was bologna-colored, but only smelled vaguely of bologna.
I set the disk of meat product on end. Like jellied cranberry at Thanksgiving, the lump of bologna had the ridges of the can’s lid embossed in its surface. Taking a knife, I cut the disk into four thick slices. It cut easily. Smoothly. More like butter than like meat. Of course, I’ve never sliced bologna before. It generally comes pre-sliced. All you have to do is pull the red paper off before you put it into a sandwich.
How’d it taste? Not quite like traditional bologna. The flavor was milder, but pleasant enough, with—as they say in wine tasting—notes of Vienna sausage. And the consistency was different, too. It was softer than traditional bologna, but not as soft as Vienna sausages. All of that said, I enjoyed it. It has a boxed mac & cheese comfort vibe to it.
Grandma J liked it, but Rio, usually a fan of all food not jicama, was uncertain. He didn’t hate it, but didn’t give it his seal of approval either.
That said, he ate his entire share.
Lisa was in the same cockpit as Rio in her evaluation. And in her lack of left overs. Maybe she would’ve liked it better with a can of wine. And yes, they sell wine in cans now, and they’re not bad either.