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People Who Knead People

By M.L. Lyke
Sunday, January 11, 1998; Page E04


Heels click a harried rat-a-tat beat on the concourse. Electric carts beep like dying smoke alarms. Loudspeakers cut through the anxious buzz of voices with urgent messages:

"John Thomas, John Thomas. Please meet your party at the Alaska Airlines ticket counter on the main level."

This is seize-up, stress-out, short-circuit territory -- the perfect, and perfectly odd, setting for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport's Massage Bar, plopped in the thick of the noisy terminal's cacophony.

It's an incongruous scene. Clients, fully clothed, sit upright at a hexagonal kiosk, their faces squished into cradles that look like padded toilet seats. They've ponied up $15 for a 15-minute rub, hoping for a quick fix to knotty backs and frozen shoulders.

"People are stressed, they're in a hurry. They sit in cramped seats on airplanes, carry heavy luggage and they're anxious about flying," says Massage Bar owner Cary Cruea, who opened the first of two bars at Sea-Tac in 1994. She has since expanded her $1 million business to the Nashville International Airport and is scouting other sites. Similar businesses have popped up in airports across the country, with names like Touch 'N Go.

Cruea's clientele surveys show that more than 60 percent of Massage Bar customers are business travelers, and almost 90 percent have experienced professional massage before.

Most, like nurse Catherine Sims, could not care less who's watching.

Sims, at the airport to pick up her husband after a grueling 12-hour hospital shift, settles into one of the ergonomically designed chairs at the Massage Bar and mooshes her face into a cradle.

Her young, muscular masseuse goes to work, moving down her vertebrae with an elbow and powerful hands.

"Harder? Higher?" he asks. He has to talk loud to be heard above the din. He ignores the stares.

Sims mumbles an "mmff." The "mmff" soon turns into gravelly "ahhs."

And, 15 minutes to the dot, she rises, wearing an improbable smile of terminal bliss.

For more information on the Massage Bars at Sea-Tac and Nashville international airports, call 206-781-7819 or, on the World Wide Web, check out, where you'll also find a coupon for $1 off your next massage. Other airports where you can get a hands-on experience:

- Chicago O'Hare, Spa Nation, 773-601-0630; $12.95 and up.

- Denver International, A Massage Inc., 303-342-7485; $20 and up.

- Orlando International, Profiles Express, 407-825-6485; $1 a minute.

- Pittsburgh International, Touch 'N Go, 412-472-3323; $1 a minute.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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