Tuesday, November 18, 2008

AA: Super Mario Brother

After arriving in Miami, I had been trying to move my morning flight back to Baltimore until the evening 8pm flight. I figured that since I was in Florida, I might take a quick trip down to Key West to check it out.

Unfortunately, the cost to change my flight was going to be just over two thousand dollars, so Key West would have to wait. Guess First Class doesn't have it's privileges.

I'm not the kind of flyer who likes to board right away. I prefer to be last. I've already got a seat and my hand carry is small enough that I don't have to worry about storing it. Plus, by waiting, I've avoided all the crowds and jockeying for position that happens no matter if you're in steerage, business or first. I can simply walk on, go to my seat, sit down and order my mimosa.

I'll admit it: when it comes to flying, I'm a sissy. After years of flying in upgraded seats, it's so difficult to fly regular economy. And after having status with United, I really couldn't bear the thought of flying as just a regular anonymous passenger on American. So, I went out and bought a first class ticket to Managua.

Now, I know that may sound excessive and that I'm harboring delusions of being a Big Three Executive (I am!), but when you consider that the coach fare on United was just over two thousand dollars (BWI-MIA on UA and MIA-MGA on Taca), the not quite eight hundred dollar first class fare on American is a downright bargain. And I don't have to pay baggage fees plus I get free use of the Admiral's Club Lounge at MIA.

Anyway, those reasons are neither here nor there. As I'm boarding my flight back home to Baltimore in seat 1B, I notice that my flying companion in 1A is watching a Seal video on his iPhone and listening to it with a pair of very large, full ear coverage headphones. That's not necessarily unusual but the volume at which he was listening certainly was. As I'm standing in the aisle, stowing my bag, I can hear the refrain:

"And now that your rose is in bloom,
a light hits the gloom on the grey."

I mean that shit is LOUD. I can hear it. Rather clearly. This kid is grooving to the music. He's in the zone. He's all about Seal.

After I get seated, we chat a bit. He's a newfound Seal fan and asks me if I'm into Seal. I tell him that I like some of his music but am not well versed. He's recently discovered Seal and is just digging it. I don't want to tell him that I've been listening to Seal since 1995.

I've always found people in business and first to be an eccentric lot. They have to be. Most of the people on this side of the curtain fly a lot. Typically, they fly at least 25K to 50K miles per year. Many push over 100K miles per year per airline. It's amazing. I find 50K a year to be excruciating. I can't imagine doubling, tripling or quadrupling that amount. I'd get mildly eccentric too.

My seatmate is no different. He's got tattoos, dresses stylishly, wears a fat watch and has a stack of chicken wing boxes from Pizza Hut that he starts to tear through as the flight safety video starts.

I've never had Pizza Hut wings and I've never seen anyone eat wings like this guy. He's got the technique. One bite and the meat slides off. There's none of this chomp, chomp, chomp I see at Hooter's. This efficient technique keeps the lips clean and the fingers minimally soiled. Both the technique and the speed at which this guy is devouring his wings is most impressive.

He's got four boxes but only eats three. He offers me the fourth box stating he can't finish any more. I thank him for his generosity. Actually, I could use some wings right about now.

Later, after the flight safety video is done and we're in the air, I'll eat the wings. They're not bad but they're not good either. I don't know if they were crispy at one point but the sauce has softened the skin. The wings are tender. Extremely tender and the meat slips off the bone quite readily. I try his technique and success! I feel accomplished as an expert wing eater should.

My seatmate is a pretty relaxed and chill guy. We chat a bit about Miami and what was going on that weekend. He was in town for some Victoria's Secret event and is heading home to visit his mom. I guess he travels quite a bit. We chat more about work and he tells me he sings for a living. In a group? No, as a solo act.

To be honest, I've never heard of him before and tell him that. He's not offended (or doesn't seem to be anyway), which is good sign that he hasn't been affected by the industry like many others. As we chat, I think to myself what I was like when I was 22 and venturing out to see the world. It was a fun time and he seems like a pretty good chap. As we depart, I wish him well in his life and career.

I'm not familiar with his music, but maybe you are. Here's his website.

Miami: La Carreta

When asking about Cuban food in Miami, one name always seems to be in the mix: La Carreta. Luckily, there's an outlet in Miami airport right by American Airlines check-in. I decided to investigate.

Even though I'm in the coffee business, the one drink that has always eluded me is the Cafe Cubano or Cuban Coffee. When you're so far removed from Havana (or Miami), you hear all sorts of conflicting things about how it's made. That they put sugar in the portafilter, in the cup or whatever. Point is: you can't be sure because no one seems to have investigated it for themselves.

Today, I watched them in action and it's merely putting lots of sugar in the bottom of a cup and then pulling a double shot of espresso over it. Simple. Easy. Done.

Cafe Cubano

Sadly, they're using some commercial coffee like Cafe Bustelo but perhaps that's the true flavor of a Cafe Cubano. Either way, the crema is kinda thick and the coffee is decent enough but densely sweet.

Next up, a ham empanada. The crust is flaky but the ham and cheese filling is extraordinarily salty. Man, it's like a blizzard of salt. I need water just to cut the salt on my palate.

Cortadito with Evaporated Milk.

Of course, one coffee drink isn't enough so I order a Cortadito with Evaporated Milk. It's a small drink of espresso, evaporated milk for sweetness and steamed milk. It's not as sweet as the Cubano and the bitterness of the espresso has been toned down by the milk. It's actually kinda tasty. I make a mental note to try it when I get home.

I grab a couple more empanadas with the intent of eating them on the way home. I don't actually eat them until much later at home. Both the chicken and beef empanadas are decent but still way too salty for my tastes.

Sadly, I've had better.

Ham Empanada

Chicken Empanada

Beef Empanada

La Carreta
Terminal D - 2nd Level
Miami International Airport
Miami, Fl