Prone to Wander

The Airport Phenomenon

Have you ever noticed how an airport is like a mini country in itself, completely different from whatever city it’s located in? It’s a cultural microcosm in there, all sorts of people thrown into one place, wandering around like confused ants. It certainly makes for fascinating careful observation.

Something about being in the airport encourages a healthy inner monologue. Maybe it’s due to boredom, given the amount of downtime you are forced to spend waiting in lines, at the gate, or on the plane. For those of us who don’t Tweet every unique thought that leaps into our heads, we must be satisfied with amusing ourselves with our own thoughts, or chatting with our seatmates (which of course can be dangerous, as we all know… in fact, it’s been recently scientifically proven that there is a 1 in 3 chance that they will turn out to be the kind of people that won’t shut up for the entire flight if you decide to say anything to them.)

My favorite question to ask myself in the airport is: Where in the world can all of these people be going?

For starters, there’s always that old couple who seems to be confused by everything going on around them. They might be going to visit their grandkids, or perhaps they’re taking that trip to Paris that they always dreamed of. I really can’t help but have compassion on these people; maybe it’s been years since they’ve flown. And let’s face it, the skies certainly aren’t as friendly as they used to be. They now have to navigate a system of newfangled computer kiosks and bag checks where there is a fee to check a bag, a fee if your bag is heavy (i.e. if it contains clothing), a fee for the privilege of standing in the front of the line, and I have heard (mind you, I got this information from a very reliable source) that there’s an extra fee if the flight attendant smiles at you. Free peanuts? Not a chance, buster.

Next, they must endure being yelled at and beaten by TSA if their Ziploc baggie for liquids is larger than the prescribed size. And, oh, dear God help them if they don’t have a Ziploc bag at all! “BAG CHECK AND 20 LASHINGS AT SCANNER 4!” And of course we all know who is going to get a beating before we even get up to the front of the line – we see them blinking like wide-eyed infants in this strange new airport-world as they whisper to someone next to them, “Do you think they’re going to let me take my jar of pickles?” We say a slient prayer for them… and then we choose a different line in order to avoid the horror.

Yes, I have pity on the elderly and the retirees who have to endure all this at the airport, and I don’t usually blame them for their follies, like trying to sneak an extra-large bottle of hair dye onto the plane. They remember the glamourous heyday of flying – the days when they literally gave you a gin and tonic and a cigarette before takeoff. What a rude awakening the current state of affairs must be!

The people in the airport I have no patience for are the younger people who appear capable of mental ability on some level, but can’t seem to follow simple instructions. Usually they are on their way to some kind of frightful all-American summer vacation. These people have either decided to go ahead and turn their brains off in preparation for the mind-numbing effects of Disney World, or they are returning from Cancun where they have attempted to kill as many brain cells as possible with foul-tasting margaritas. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this exact thought while standing in security behind these fine people: Yes, it’s called a metal detector, and yes, you need to take your shoes off, and for the love of God, why didn’t you take your keys out of your pockets first? Good lord, is that a miniature bow and arrow in your suitcase?

There are many, many other types of people in the airport too. Internationals (another group I have pity on – we don’t exactly make things easy for foreigners), kids going to visit Grandma, friends or families on their way to weddings and funerals, entire volleyball teams on their way to play some an-excuse-for-a-trip game, college kids going back and forth to school, and last but certainly not least, that special and endearing group of individuals that can only be categorized as “smug business travelers.”

Smug business travelers come in all shapes and sizes, but all of them put on some level of the “I-fly-so-much-it’s-boring” air. Some are pleasant, some are rude, some are well-dressed, some are greasy, some are salespeople, some are executives, and some wear Bluetooth earpieces. Of all of the different species of smug business travelers, the latter is the worst. Bluetooth Person (especially when combined with First Class Person or Platinum Status Person) not only represents the highest zenith of smug fashion, but they also have an unsettling way of loudly talking to themselves anywhere, even on the plane or in the bathroom. Usually these conversations seem to consist of extremely important statements, like: “I told Donna that I would be back on Wednesday!!” or other shockers like: “I’m traveling right now so I will have to get back to you with that presentation later!!” Furthermore, Bluetooth person is always the first to jump up in the aisle when the plane lands, grabbing his or her bag and edging two seats forward, shoving an old lady out of the way (who has, of course, already been previously beaten by the TSA, so you can imagine how painful that must be.)

There’s really nothing like the airport, no matter where in the world you are. Tempers run high, and we’re almost always in a hurry, or worried, or confused, or tired. There’s almost always someone annoying in front of you in the line or sitting next to you on the plane. But I think it’s how we deal with the situation that counts. Can I overlook that person’s crazy? Maybe, maybe not. I certainly don’t always respond in the way that I should. But at least it forces me to turn away from my computer screen, my phone, my book – to talk to people and observe the world around me.

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