From Lithuania With Love: Lithuania Airport
Another deleted scene from the book pertained to a business trip I took when working as in-house counsel for The Williams Companies. I originally wrote the “From Lithuania With Love” series as a short story, and it read like that in the book.
London, frankly, was a bit of a blur. My colleague, Teresa, and I arrived via a trans-Atlantic coach class ticket after a restless night of the business traveler’s preferred mode of relaxation: vertical sleeping. As far as we knew, we were the only employees to not travel business class overseas. Ever vigilant (some would say paranoid) to appear personally cost-conscious in the corporate political arena, my boss strongly “suggested” we book a coach fare so he could casually report the savings to other executives who no doubt already thought he was an idiot. Somehow, Teresa and I managed The Tube and train during rush hour traffic shuffling seven bags full of three weeks of clothing between us. We were silly with exhaustion for the immediate post-landing meeting with our boss, and outside counsel. The boss, on the other hand, was well rested, having arrived the day before on an upgraded ticket. Outside counsel seemed very competent and sarcastic. I liked her immediately. The boss showed us around his old stomping grounds in Mayfair and tried to appear magnanimous. Isn’t trying to appear magnanimous missing the point? In any event, Boss treated us to dinner at a pub on the company’s bill and then sent us on an outrageously expensive taxi ride to our airport hotel located practically on the tarmac. We collapsed immediately. After a brief meeting with the boss and English counsel in London that afternoon, Teresa and I were dispatched without further delay to Lithuania to commandeer tens of thousands of documents housed in several haphazardly organized musty rooms in ill-fitting boxes and molded files at the refinery in Mazeikiu and the Butinge Terminal in Palanga, a small village off the coast of the Baltic Sea.
At 6:30 a.m. the next morning, 12:30 a.m. by our internal clocks that were still adjusted to central standard time, Teresa and I boarded a Scandinavian Airlines jet with a layover in Copenhagen. “A bit early to be crawling about, eh, love?” an obnoxiously pert airport attendant asked me as he looked lustily into my bloodshot eyes. The scarcity of herds at this insanely early hour finally made us feel a little less than cattle class. It was a relief to be amidst business travelers instead of the amateur families who would no doubt be en masse in the high season of summer vacation travel in a few months. Secretly, I yearned to hear the inconsolable cry of some Euro-infant to break up the sound of foreign voices talking loudly and incessantly on cell phones. But Euro-infants only made me think of empty dixie cups back home. Nevertheless, I was comforted to be cast into the adult-only ocean of anonymous clingy black attire and leather-soled shoes. The air hostesses lavished us with hot breakfast and lunch. I swiped a set of the airline plastic-wear because it looked so cool. The airline even had suave packaging for the sugar, salt and pepper. Granted, it was easy to impress us at this point. The packets proclaimed: “The color of snow. The taste of tears. The enormity of oceans.” and “Pepper has been called the gift of the East though ‘gift’ means poison in Swedish, don’t let that put you off.” Loitering in the Copenhagen airport for an hour was like walking down the Magnificent Mile (meter?) of shopping. Denmark 90210. Dis ist de part of Sprockets where we board the plane.
We finally arrived in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, where we were suppose to be met by our driver/bodyguard who was charged to introduce us to Lithuania, provide us with cell phones and deliver us safely to our hotel. Instead, there was no one to meet us. Hence, Teresa and I were like innocent peasants shuffling off the boat in our new country. An opportunistic cab driver, George, saw us befuddled in front of the public telephone (I was fairly confident this was not his true Lithuanian handle) and mercifully befriended us. We were glad of it. Well, actually, I was glad of it. Teresa, on the other hand, was quite suspicious, anxiety-ridden and clearly in need of a shot of Krupnika. George directed me to the drab nondescript bulky she-man sitting behind an even bulkier governmental desk in a dark corner where gringos buy “the phone card” in order to make a local call. I think selling phone cards was the she-man’s only vocation and she was not humored by my nervously cheerful incompetence. I have no doubt Teresa and I would never have been able to decipher the public telephone without George’s assistance. The thirty-year old telephone commanded a certain mid-evil ritual with the phone card including lots of purposeful waiting and peculiar beeps. I miraculously managed to speak to someone at the security service desk who was unimpressed by the urgency of our predicament and glibly suggested I find a ride to the hotel where a driver would rendezvous with us later. Teresa was not as desperate (or reckless, depending on your viewpoint) as I was to hitch a ride with the unmarked taxi in the country we were suppose to not go anywhere unchaperoned. We suspected the security warnings were greatly exaggerated by the people who wanted to sell security services, but operating on intermittent sleep and having no choice, we climbed into George’s taxi. I was glad to report there only minimal cursing and I managed to keep my own high anxiety in check by means of sheer adrenalin.