The Miami Airport Toothpick Man

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Every time I see or use a toothpick, I think of my grandfather. Toothpicks were a common part of his generation (he was born in 1915) and most of the men he palled around with also used them after a meal.

When we were kids, whether the meal was at home or at a restaurant, my visual memory of him as we were leaving the restaurant or after he finished his dessert was of him nailing the food between his teeth with an old fashioned wooden toothpick.

Toothpicks were always at the hostess stand at every restaurant we ever went to and we had plenty at home, and not just for ‘toothpicking.’ The 1930s and 1940s era indoctrinated groups of trendy couples who threw manhatten and martini parties – with olives…..olives with toothpicks of course.

On my way through Miami recently, I was quickly reminded how ‘fast’, how ‘chemical infused’ and how ‘cheap’ our food culture was in the states. Saddened by the reminder after spending a few weeks in South America, I ordered my chicken (minus all the greasy fried crap that were included on the side by default), and took my seat in the overly bright, ambience-dead room with tacky neon Budweiser and Michelob lights.

I decided not to take a table in the middle so I wouldn’t have a broad view of hundreds of people eating junk. Instead, I took a counter seat so I could watch travelers buzzing to and from their gates, some of them looking lost gazing up in search for a monitor, while others were in a hurry to catch a connecting flight.

Miami is a hub for connecting flights between countless islands, and Central and South America. I also encounter a lot of Europeans every time I pass through and when I spend any time day or night.

As I was finishing my meal and in a hurry to trash the remaining fast food on my cheap plastic brown tray, a man in his early sixties in a blue shirt passed me and put two plastic covered wooden toothpicks on the counter to my right. He didn’t say a word – he just put them there and walked off.

It brought an immediate smile – something from the past, something from tradition, something from another era no longer common, and lastly, something that added a personal touch to an otherwise human-less trip. I would soon face yet another airline leg, a far cry from a great customer experience and airline experiences are only getting worse, not better.

By next year, I wouldn’t be surprised if they charged for toilet paper and if some marketing rep actually did get toothpicks added to the cheap food boxes of potato chips, processed cheese and crackers and cookies, they’d probably charge you an additional buck for the pleasure.

Thanks Toothpick man for bringing a smile to my face in Miami and for bringing back a humorous and touching memory of my grandfather in the process.

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