It was 9o’clock at night by the time I got to LaGuardia to meet Jerry Newport.It was winter,the airport looked tired and half-deserted,the dense gloom of the low corridors and escalators touched by a scent of snow.By Terminal C,the retail outlets were even grimmer than they are by day,and exhausted Mexican staff were closing up the Sunglass Hut with elaborate rings of keys that made them look like guards in some desultory tropical jail.I went to the Wendy’s and sat down under its undulating strawberry neons.Jerry Newport had not told me where exactly to meet him,merely that his fiancée would be arriving at Gate 4 from Houston and that I was to meet them both there. But what did Jerry Newport look like? And what did the fiancée of Jerry Newport look like? Jerry Newport was as much a mystery as his fiancée,and I may add that it was a further mystery to me why Jerry Newport had insisted that we meet inside LaGuardia airport at 9o’clock at night. But he hadinsisted, saying with admirable certitude,“I’m afraid I can only be interviewed in an airport.Sorry.”
In the lobby of Thailand’s most august hotel, the house string quartet had just struck up “The Blue Danube.” The high notes were a half-tone out of tune, and nobody was dancing, but the lobby still brimmed with the fever mood of Hedonopolis, the world’s pleasure capital. I slumped in one of the lobby chairs and watched the Japanese-executive groups and the farang businessmen with their Bangkok girls flirting to the sound of “The Blue Danube” under huge bell-like lanterns. The Oriental has something maniacal about it—circular fountains of unreal flowers, ornamental elephants, ubiquitous mirrors. Here is the apex of the nation’s tourist sector, the nub of it all.