I’ll tell you, a middle-aged bald guy with a starched white shirt containing epaulets, that’s what kind.

Drinking on planes and in airports has always been fascinating to me as I am such a cheap drunk and therefore it’s hard for me to fathom how the bar flies you see sitting in the all the concourse bars of the world carry on with their lives. I remember switching planes a long time ago in Salt Lake City, essentially a dry state, and seeing the bars packed at 10 AM. I suppose many of these people don’t carry on very well; some get off the plane, drive the wrong way down the interstate and kill a family. Others get arrested leaving the airport. But I imagine the bulk of them just manage their travel through a stale alcoholic haze, arriving in a rotten state and looking forward to their next opportunity to continue their buzz.

I’ve had a drink on a plane exactly two times, both since the beginning of this year. The first was a free Bailey’s on one of my Lufthansa legs and the attendant had such a big smile that I couldn’t say “no.” The second was on my last trip, in business class where it’s pretty much an insult to the United Family if you don’t pick a glass from the wine list. In this latter case, the sommelier came out of the galley and stood at the end of the aisle lest I claim to be a teetotaler. Neither of these laid me particularly low – it was early in the trip and both were associated with meals – but both did remind me that having a working drink would never mesh with my metabolism.

But today’s guy really shocked me. This was a flight departing at 6 AM, and drinks were served at 6:20. He didn’t order a Bloody Mary, he had two bottles of Chivas, with a bit of ice. Now since we were heading back in time, he was effectively drinking at 5:20 AM on a plane arriving at 7:00. How can someone do that and have any chance at a reasonable day? Or maybe this is his regular, reasonable day.

While his choice in how to live his life didn’t directly have an impact on me, the smell of those two scotches wafting over to my seat did, and it made me feel pretty ill in the way that only a pressing olfactory memory can. Stale drinker smell is pretty evocative, and it’s not something I like after coming in from a night of bar hopping, let alone after being awake for all of 2 hours. It was gross, and I was glad when he chugged the lot and went to sleep, leaving me feeling like I was sharing a cab home from the neighborhood tavern with an old rummy acquaintance.

Other than being transported back to the dives of my youth, the trip was easy and the landing was typically fogged in. I got in early relative to the opening of the Lounge and so I wandered up and down the international concourse watching the workers opening up the swank boutiques.

The doors opened to the Red Carpet promptly at 8 and I went in behind a guy who was trying, to no avail, to get his friend in. Not being a Gold Member, his pal was turned away which didn’t stop the requester from heading in, apologizing to his now discarded companion. I guess leather seats and free drinks trump work friendships.

The agent at the desk offered me a drink coupon which I politely declined, preferring instead to go for yogurt and a Danish. In the “small world” category, the flooding in Ruidoso was on CNN when I came in and they were talking about the washed out bridges and flooded race track.

The Olympics are definitely in the air. The guy behind me on the first leg was heading to Beijing to help set up the NBC coverage. He spent a lot of time talking to a Grandma in his row about world travels and I overhead that she had worked at Connecticut General, perhaps in the same time frame as my grandpa Charlie. Another tick in the small world column. While sitting here, the men’s US Water Polo team wandered in and out in their blue athletic suits. Makes me wonder just how packed the 11:30 Beijing flight will be, and making me doubly happy that I am heading to Shanghai.