A poem: “After I learned my flight was delayed four hours” (Gate A4)

April 27, 2013

Albuquerque International Airport, at Gate A4

Albuquerque International Airport, at Gate A4

After learning my flight was detained 4 hours,
I heard the announcement:
If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic,
Please come to the gate immediately.

Well—one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,
Just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.
Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her
Problem? we told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she
Did this.

I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick,
Sho bit se-wee?

The minute she heard any words she knew—however poorly used—
She stopped crying.

She thought our flight had been canceled entirely.
She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the
Following day. I said no, no, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late,

Who is picking you up? Let’s call him and tell him.
We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and
Would ride next to her—Southwest.

She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.

Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and
Found out of course they had ten shared friends.

Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian
Poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering

She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies—little powdered
Sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts—out of her bag—
And was offering them to all the women at the gate.

To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
Sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California,
The lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same
Powdered sugar. And smiling. There are no better cookies.

And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers—
Non-alcoholic—and the two little girls for our flight, one African
American, one Mexican American—ran around serving us all apple juice
And lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.

And I noticed my new best friend—by now we were holding hands—
Had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing,

With green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always
Carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought,
This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.

Not a single person in this gate—once the crying of confusion stopped
—has seemed apprehensive about any other person.

They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere.

Not everything is lost.

Banner inside Albuquerque International Airport (ABQ) showing the city's sister cities.  Wikipedia image

Banner inside Albuquerque International Airport (ABQ) showing the city’s sister cities. Wikipedia image

The title of this poem is “Gate A4.”

Naomi Shihab Nye (b. 1952), “Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal.” I think this poem may be making the rounds, this week, but that’s as it should be. (via

awelltraveledwoman) (Source: oliviacirce, via awelltraveledwoman)

Certainly this is copyrighted, and you’ll honor that by making sure that the name of the poet, Naomi Shihab Nye, remains attached to it.

It’s National Poetry Month.

Analyzing this piece, I’m not sure where the greater poetry is, whether the meter, or the story.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Dr. Kelly Sennholz, who Tweeted links.

Is this viral yet? (More, and resources):

What do you see when the Southwest Airlines craft finally takes off?

YouTube caption:

Published on Sep 25, 2013

A Southwest Airlines 737-700 takes off from Albuquerque, New Mexico (ABQ) for a flight to Chicago Midway (MDW) in September 2013.

Southwest's gates at Albuquerque International Airport

Southwest’s gates at Albuquerque International Airport, on Concourse A

Best burger in the nation

September 6, 2009

Sophia Dembling wrote about it in today’s Dallas Morning News:  The Owl Burger, from the Owl Café — this one in San Antonio, New Mexico.

It’s the best burger in the world, I think.  It reminds me, and it’s a painful memory.

Back in better younger days, before I’d left American Airlines, Kathryn and I made one last run to Salt Lake City to retrieve the last of the stuff in storage.  It was a motley combination of stuff, mostly hers, that we couldn’t fit into our apartments on Capitol Hill in Washington, and then that we just didn’t need during law school.  The monthly storage bill finally got to be a burr after we’d settled in Dallas, and we had room for the stuff in the house.

We gave the kids a vacation with Grandma and Grandpa, flew to Salt Lake, rented a much-too-large truck (the smaller one we reserved wasn’t in), loaded up and headed out.

A drive from Salt Lake to Dallas can be dull as dishwater, but we worked to add some spice.  “Adventure in Moving,” the old U-Haul slogan ran — and one usually works to avoid such adventures at all costs.  But this was different.  This was planned adventure.  We took the Xtreme Scenic Route™, through Southwestern landscapes that squeeze the creationism out of the most fundamentalist Christians.

The first night we camped in Torrey, Utah, at the edge of Capitol Reef National Park.  Someone recommended a local Mexican restaurant in an old farmhouse, a place that was really top notch, as demonstrated by the autographed photo in thanks from Robert Redford behind the cash register.  Redford knows almost all of the great places to eat, and stop and look, in Utah and much of the Four Corners area (ask me about Redford and Dick Cavett in Farmington, New Mexico, sometime).  Great dinner in a great place.

(Can I remember the name of the restaurant more than 20 years later?  Not at all.  I could drive to it . . . if it’s still there.  Perhaps this is its successor.  If so, it’s gotten a lot fancier, and to me, less charming.  You don’t expect such fine dining in such a small town.)

Coyotes started to howl about 2:00 a.m.  We hadn’t bothered to pitch a tent, the weather being what it almost always is in Utah in the summer.  I don’t know how long I sat up, looked at the stars and listened to the coyotes all around the canyon, next to Kathryn as she slept.  It was one of those nights you remember for the rest of your life.

Coyotes sang til dawn.

Capitol Reef N.P. demands more than one night’s stay — we had both been there before, though, and our task was moving furniture.   From Torrey we drove through Capitol Reef and on to the Moqui Dugway, about an 1,100-foot drop down off the Mogollon Rim, on the way to Monument Valley.

Moqui Dugway, from the rim -- see the road at the bottom, in the middle of the picture

Moqui Dugway, from the rim — see the road at the bottom, in the middle of the picture.  The sign reads “Mokee Dugway Elev. 6,425 Ft. – 1,100 Ft Drop Next 3 Miles”

Remember, this was a big truck.  It was over 20 feet long, but just how much over I don’t remember.  I do remember that when we stopped at the overlook at the top, some guy on a Harley came over to ask if we were going to “try to drive down,” and when we said yes, he said he was betting we would make it, and he had some good money riding on it.  He wished us luck.

A note in the visitor center at Natural Bridges National Monument explains, now:



The Mokee Dugway is located on Utah Route 261 just north of Mexican Hat, UT. It was constructed in 1958 by Texas Zinc, a mining company, to transport uranium ore from the “Happy Jack” mine in Fry Canyon, UT. to the processing mill in Mexican Hat. The three miles of unpaved, but well graded, switchbacks descend 1100 feet from the top of Cedar Mesa (on which you are now standing). The State of Utah recommends that only vehicles less than 28 feet in length and 10,000 pounds in weight attempt to negotiate this steep (10% grade), narrow and winding road.

Here’s the Moqui Dugway (or Moki, depending on how much paint the sign maker has):

The Moqui Dugway -- no place for too-big trucks, or trailers - photo from Craig Holl at Midwestroads.com

The Moqui Dugway — no place for too-big trucks, or trailers – photo from Craig Holl at Midwestroads.com

We waited until there was no traffic coming from the bottom for several miles, and started down.  About six switchbacks down we encountered a long, crew-cabbed duelly pickup towing about a 30-foot cabin cruiser boat.  Fortunately we found a wide spot so he could get by, though it took him what seemed like a half-hour to make one turn in the road, and I swear he had wheels spinning in air at one point.

If the motorcycleman did indeed wager on us, he won.

The Mittens, sandstone formations in Monument Valley, Navajoland - Wikipedia image

The Mittens, sandstone formations in Monument Valley, Navajoland – Wikipedia image

We camped again at the Monument Valley Tribal Park, on the Navajo Nation.  The Mittens dominated the skyline; I remember the frustration at being unable to capture the beauty of the place through the lens of a 35-mm SLR on any film.  Images could not be big enough, exposures could not do justice to the color and natural beauty of the place.  In some SUVs and RVs in the campground, people retired to watch television in their vehicles.  They were probably the same ones who pulled out at 6:00 a.m., unable to wait to watch the sunrise complete its glorious stretch across the desert.

The third day we planned to stop and see my widowed Aunt Fay in Farmington, New Mexico.  For a couple of years in college I had the pleasure of doing air pollution research in and around Farmington after the Four Corners Power Plant was in operation, and before the San Juan Power Station came on line.   Uncle Harry Stewart, my mother’s brother, lived there and worked with El Paso Natural Gas.  Weekends I spent with Harry and Fay and their friends the Woodburys.  Harry died a few years earlier — I hadn’t seen Fay in 15 years at least.

But first, I got us stuck in the sand about 50 miles west of Farmington.  We pulled off the road to check the map — off the road meant “into the sand,” though it looked firm from the highway.  Tow trucks were 80 miles away.  A passing woman drove me 40 miles to the home of a Navajo Tribal Policeman, and back; by the time we got back a passing couple from Tucson, Arizona, and a couple of local guys with shovels had dug away feet of sand to hard soil and stone; we gunned it out of the barrow and onto the road.  (How it works today, with cell phones and satellite phones — I hope it works better.)

We had a nice visit with Aunt Fay.

Owl Cafe at night, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Owl Cafe image (?) TripAdvisor

Owl Cafe at night, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Owl Cafe image

There is no way to avoid scenery between Farmington and Albuquerque.  We pulled into the intersection of Interstates 25 and 40 in Albuquerque near 8:00 p.m., found a hotel, and were happy to find a decent-looking café nearby, with an odd, 50-foot owl at one end.  The Owl Cafe.

Who possibly could have guessed?

We seemed to be among the last people there.  It was not crowded.  I probably had a beer.  And I ordered a burger.  “Owl burger?” the waitress asked.  “Made from owls?” I asked back.

She explained it had a touch of a green chile sauce on it.  Sounded good.

She came back.  “I mean, it’s hot.  You’re not from New Mexico, right?”  I stuck with it.


I mean, WOW!  It’s made from sirloin — moist and tender, not overcooked.  The bun is fresh, heavy and yeasty.  And I think it was the green chile stuff — heaven!  I told Kathryn I thought it might be the best burger anywhere.

Now, I’ve had some good burgers at roadhouses and fancy restaurants.  I’ve had burgers in the burger outlets near the stockyards of Greeley, Colorado, Fort Worth, Kansas City and Chicago.  I’ve had aged and marinated burgers at little joints around the Saranac Lakes of New York.  I’ve had burgers at restaurants overlooking the cities of Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, Indianapolis, New York and Denver.

And if I’ve eaten one Big H from Hires Drive-in in Salt Lake City, I’ve had a hundred (and would like a hundred more).  I used to argue that the Big H was the El Supremo of burgers.

The Owl Burger topped them all.

When I finished the Owl Burger, I ordered apple pie, and I wondered out loud if I should just have another burger instead.

In the morning, we found the place open for breakfast.  I joked about having another Owl Burger for breakfast — and it was on the menu.  But I didn’t.  I had some great egg dish.

Before we got out of Albuquerque, I regretted not having another Owl Burger.  All day long as we drove to Dallas I thought about that burger I didn’t have.

I’ve thought about that burger now for the better part of two decades.  The closest I’ve come to the Owl Café is a couple of passes through Albuquerque’s airport on the way to other places.

I opened the paper this morning, and there was that burger!

Owl Burger, from the Owl Cafe in San Antonio, New Mexico (photo from ABQStyle.com -- not from the online DMN)

Owl Burger, from the Owl Cafe in San Antonio, New Mexico (photo from ABQStyle.com — not from the online DMN)

Alas, according to Dembling in the DMN, management of the Albuquerque Owl Café differs now from the San Antonio Owl Café — can the burger recipes be the same?  Do we now have to make the drive to San Antonio (New Mexico)?

•Owl Bar & Café, State Highway 1 and U.S. Highway 380, San Antonio, N.M.; 575-835-9946. There’s an Owl Café in Albuquerque, but it isn’t under the same management.

The San Antonio site has some history related to development of the atomic bomb and the nearby Trinity bomb site.  One could study history, and have an historic burger at the same time.  I’ve wondered:  If the Germans had had Owl Burgers, would they have gotten the A-bomb first?  It’s that good.

[I did get excited three years ago to read that another Owl was open in San Antonio, Texas — but reading the article, I discerned that the author was unaware of a San Antonio in the Land of Enchantment.  Geographical error, gustatory disappointment.  If any of my students are reading this, that’s why you have to know geography — so you don’t drive to San Antonio, Texas, and find yourself 542 miles off target (thanks to Geobytes for the distance calculation).]

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Live blogging conferences: Physics!

May 23, 2008

Our Italian friend at A Quantum Diaries Survivor is in Albuquerque for PPC08 — don’t ask me what that stands for, but it’s a physics conference.  More, he found another physicist blogging away:  World o Science.

If you’re interested in science research, check it out.  Some of the posts are terribly technical — I don’t understand them, so I’ll have to get one of our sons to explain it to me — but you can catch the drift of what’s going on.  Tommaso also offers a few photos of the Albuquerque area and Sandia Peak, worth the click alone.

It’s a good model of what some of us should do more of (yeah, this is self-flagellation).

Some samples:

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