the beauty of the airport

A mini voyage this last weekend, to Providence, Rhode Island to see an old friend.  Get back into the mood of it, since bigger traveling is imminently approaching.

At the train station, sitting at one of the tables, gazing at the timetable announcing the train times and boarding calls, I am reminded how much I love traveling.  Yes, the destination, of course, but I love the act itself- the train station, the airport, the bus terminal, and then as I sit coursing idly through the countryside that part too- the train ride and the airplane ride, the bus and car trip.  Its boring as hell of course, and uncomfortable (although being very small helps a lot), and one is stuck with limited food choices.  But this in-between space continually fascinates and charms me.  There can be no ‘I’m late!’ or ‘There’s somewhere I have to be!’ while on an airplane; there is nowhere you Can be but There, and you are being perfectly productive, moving from one place to the other place, totally passively completing a necessary task.  A very slow one, and one that necessarily forces you into a meditative state.  There’s not much to do in the terminal or in your seat but think, or read, or observe.  It is also a perfect excuse to watch terrible hollywood movies, and to eat fast food (the only time I do), for lack of other choices, which in that context are lightly sheepish delights, exonerated as you are from the ‘guilt’ part of guilty pleasures.

There is also a small miracle that takes place in these waiting spaces.  People define themselves by the communities they belong to, the groups they identity with.  But they are rarely willing to create new ones without some introduction or connection, whether it be a mutual friend or a shared hobby.  Extraordinarily, in the waiting space a sort of exception to this rule is accepted, similar to the one made in emergencies, strange weather, or extra long lines at the movie theater- any circumstance that is extreme in any way causes the normal boundaries of interpersonal communication to break down.  With the unusual circumstances are allowed unusual interactions, a ‘Wow its really coming down, isn’t it?’ when only rushing past silently with heads down would usually have been appropriate.  Something about airports and airplanes, especially if something unexpected happens, such as a delay, clicks this ‘exception mode’ on, and people are much more likely to start a conversation.  Again, there’s not much to do on an hours-long flight but talk to your neighbor.  And in the airport, like on the beach, or in the hospital, or a few other locations, the rules of conduct are altered.  Loitering is fine, as is sleeping.  You can lay down on public furniture, and take your shoes off, and stare into space.

We have created the structures we live our daily lives in with much purpose and conscious thought, and they work very well to keep things in order.  If someone is shouting at passersby, or talking to themself, sleeping in public or staring at people, we understand them to be outside of the boundaries of our order. Perhaps they suffer from some mental illness, or perhaps they have willfully put themself in this outsider’s world, as a rejection of the system.  But it is clear to us and to them that there is an inside and an outside, and they are sitting on that side of the line.  Perhaps these constructions are limiting and confining, strangling our creative or social impulses, they are regardless our reality as it stands for now, and, personally, as allergic as I feel to the group mentality, I feel that they are brilliant structures based on collective social intelligence that indicate when something is not quite right, and which assure when everything is humming along smoothly.  The desire to break them is as irresponsible and juicily fantastical as jumping off a bridge- a thought experiment about what would happen if you did it, what it would feel like, but not something you should ever do, even consider doing.  So in the moments in the airport or the bus terminal, as people snooze on their luggage and make friends with strangers, as these social tropes are slightly skewered and a new set of rules are temporarily installed, if one takes a moment, one can experience the lightest of thrills as these structures shift on their foundations, the slightest group-wide breaking of rules that makes that crowd of the waiting-space align momentarily into a community, enjoying each other’s naughtiness, before arriving at the final destination, the baggage claim, the train depot, the bus stop, when the airplane-fellows fade away back into the everyman, collecting their bags, walking outside, waiting for the crosswalk sign to change color, looking straight ahead: the smallest death imaginable.

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