The Global Bazaar began as a simple food court across from terminal C80 at the Newark Liberty International Airport, but then it evolved–like antibiotic resistant strep–into something more costly and uncomfortable. Its pillars are embedded with tall televisions, depicting their self reported range of international delicacies prepared by real humans up close: powdered hands chopping, kneading and rolling dough; smiling chefs building pasta like dextrous children with Play Dough; chopstix delicately placing spinach and pork atop squiggly noodles and awaiting brothy euphoria; and forearms with brightly colored tattoos–having well-defined borders of course–grinding coffee beans (from Colombia or Costa Rica or wherever Americans demand our fair trade coffee from these days) and making swirls at the brim of little white cups. The word “artisanal” was everywhere.
Artisanal Twists. Artisanal coffee.
Artisanal granola bars.
Artisanal smoothies (arguably not smoothies because they refuse to make them with milk).
Artisanal Lays potato chips.
Artisanal paper plates. Artisanal lamp shades.
And so forth.
I purchased artesian water (not to be confused with artisanal) that was apparently “Born in America.” Purchased it at one of the mandatory self-check out counters. The scheme had shopping baskets lining the far walls with counters, tables and a full-service ramen bar in the center–every seat was accompanied by an Ipad. I sneered at the impersonalization and forced screen time, the fact that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the other ones were already pre-loaded, and the ads and pay-to-play virtual games with addicting tokens as I watched children and adults alike glued to the tiny screens. Tablet was the only method of ordering food.
I searched for a KFC or Pollo Campero or just any fried chicken place and there weren’t any. Apparently, United Airways had gentrified the entire terminal.
My seat at Kaedama Ramen Bar was an arm’s length from Philly Cheesesteaks by Pat La Freida and Custom Burgers by Pat La Freida respectively. The noodles were a little over $20.00, but also delicious. The whole time I ate I was looking around and judging the whole process. I felt dirty about how the self-checkout and tablet model had completely replaced the need for any person-to-person interaction and reduced all customer service to the despicably low level of say, the United States Government. People were buying celebrity gossip magazines and ordering fake cheesesteaks and grabbing six dollar bottles of water without ever having to look another human in the eyes to admit what they were actually doing. I was drifting into yet another slice of armageddon correctly predicted by science fiction novelists fifty some years ago.
To accompany the noodles, I’d ordered a ginger ale. I don’t know why, I just really like ginger ale, but I didn’t receive the ginger ale. It was on my order. I viewed the receipt on my personalized tablet several times and every time it said “ginger ale.” There was no option to re-order the ginger ale without paying for another one. I couldn’t remove it either because I had already closed the tab. I grew nervous. There was only one thing I could do. One thing I had to do if I wanted that ginger ale I’d already paid for and that was to say excuse me and ask the waiter handing out the drinks about the ginger ale.
I didn’t want to. I had no desire to talk to another person. I was getting along so well with the tablet and things just appearing in front of me and polite exchanges that consisted solely of “thank you” before parting ways. I waited. It took me a little while to come to terms with the fact that now I had to have a conversation. A brief one, but still a conversation, right after I’d thought what I thought and felt what I felt and as soon as the words “excuse me sir” left my lips, making me feel sour and excessively human, I knew. That “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.”
Damn it all.