Friday, October 8, 2010

The Traveler Consigned

This is the Austin airport. Cleveland's Hopkins looks nothing like this. At all.

This weekend is a friend's wedding. It's going to be wonderful. The Bunny and the Butterfly are made for each other, and it's just one of those occasions that are completely clear of any shadow, any doubt, any recognition of worldly troubles. Of course, that's how I feel, as a guest. Hopefully the couple at the center of it will feel that way tomorrow as well, which is why I volunteered to pick up one of her guests at the airport today, being my off day, and being an easy thing. The flight was coming in at 1:34, I live like 5 minutes from the airport, and yet and yet and yet, I still got there twenty minutes early. With lots of time for pacing back and forth trying to decide the best place to catch them when they came off the place, because I didn't know this guy and I didn't know if he'd have luggage, and in the end it turns out I need to travel more because I had completely forgotten that Hopkins bottlenecks every arriving person down this hospital hallway to one door and one door only. So all I really needed to do was sit there, get some coffee, and wait. Which is what I did.

It was wonderful. I love airports. I love how occupied everyone is in their own thoughts. I love the pace of it, which gives this wonderful impression of all of us being cogs in this great and complicated machine, this thing that is happening around us, the process of people flying and landing and traveling. The numbers glowing on the Departure screens. The airport employees walking around in their uniforms, chatting with others. The stewardesses arriving in their smart belted ensembles, smiling at security guards. And the steady ebb and flow of people checking in, their pants comfortable, sweatshirts on, bright newly applied lipstick and everyones hand on their cellphone, the other on their rolling suitcase.

I loved the Atlanta airport, all sprawling and thick with its own importance. The Austin airport was graceful, with sunlight and artwork. Houston looked like a very big very new public school. Chicago is like a spinal cord. I've taken the bus more times than flying, which is a whole 'nother entry now isn't it? The thrill of flying hasn't worn off for me. I prefer to think it never will. I remember the one time I went up flying thanks to science group, just on my own, with the pilot, in a small Cessna like thing. And I got to have control for just a little while, to steer on my own. I don't even remember the details of it, I just remember the elation, the jump of my whole little body when I felt the power in that plane connect with my fingertips.

So I think that's what remains in airports for me, that constant excitement of Holy Fuck we are going to load hundreds of people into these metal and plastic machines, and we are going to fly across thousands of miles in this vast coordinated design, and it will work day after day after day. And at the helm of each of these giant flying robotic brains, there will be a person, guiding a crew, like little ants coordinating the recovery of an entire mouse body back to the nest. Human beings will throw themselves across vast distances of time and space, and it will not be magic, but precision and consolidation, and effort so much effort. Science is the most noble achievement of man, it's the most heartbreaking and beautiful and true. It makes miracles happen just because we decide they have to.

I also thought that perhaps I should try and get a job with the airport, if you got discounts, and I could spend my life wandering around from hub to hub working, moving from apartment to apartment. Not as a stewardess of course. But just a worker bee. Stay in one place for a few years and then try something new. I doubt it works like that for workers B. But I wonder if it could. My grandmother used to work for the airport. She worked the counter, checking people in, and traveled constantly because she could. I never really thought about what that said about her. Its something we ended up having in common. I wish I could have talked to her about that before she lost her mind.


  1. I love the airport, too. Not so much the flying.

    It was better when people could meet the arrivals at the gate instead of having to stay back in baggage claim. Still, I can't decide which is better: Arriving alone or running to meet someone, even if it's only been a couple days since you saw them. Both have their charms.

  2. The new (ish) Austin airport is wonderful- but for the first 15 years I lived there we had an old, crappy two floor airport where the airplanes had to land right over I 35. By just a few feet.... it was pretty scary in a jeep with the top off when a southwest jet would fly right over your head..

  3. MWG - the best is meeting someone you don't know at all, or only barely.

    Lo - that sounds like a highway I would live on.

  4. I've been traveling a lot lately and, believe it or not, the Detroit airport is wonderful--brand new, simple design, and a great second floor tram. One drawback: There's a tunnel connecting two concourses where an intense light and sound show takes place (Kinda like between Hopkins councourses C and D but much more intense). If you had epilepsy, autism, or Alzheimer's I don't know how you could handle it--it's that overwhelming.


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