I am not an avid traveler. I fly occasionally–once or twice a year, sometimes not at all. I wish it was more. My family always drove wherever we went, enduring the cramped car trips to cut expenses. I think this is why, whenever I do travel by air, it sticks out in my memory like champagne among pop cans.
Recently, I flew to Massachusetts to scout out a pontential college for the next school year. The journey, rather than the destination, remains the focus of my memory, probably due to the brevity of my visit when compared to the lengthy transits of my trip. Still, I like to think I remember it most vividly because my encounters in the airports were in some way more interesting or more meaningful–maybe they were.
I saw a great deal, in these airports. I discovered that they are places of contradiction, proffering the attributes of both business and vacation, excitement and boredom, observation and experience, dismissal and niceties, isolation and connection. One look at the average airport carpet says it all: busy and monotonous pattern, so soothing and beyond irritating. It is usually a beigish, dull color, but at a closer distance it reveals itself to be made up of a rainbow of parts, each in dizzying contrast to each other. This is why one cannot look too hard at it for too long without getting a headache. Yet, even in the midst of all this confusion, there is a repetition that allows the viewer to assess it in its entirety without so much as a second glance. It is like the bustle of people, I think, intertwining in predictable ways, forming lines in polite silence and obnoxious annoyance.
In the O’Hare airport, where I had my layover, I dropped something out of my bag, and these waves and rows parted, consciously moving around me as I bent to pick it up–though not without a few hurried huffs I might add. You see, this is the thing about airports: in all the closeness, there is an undeniable distance. I do not think this is a bad quality, just a human quality.
The other thing about the airports is the waiting-while-you-rush. Rush to the check-in; rush to the gate; rush to the bathroom. Wait near the gate; wait on the plane; wait by the exit–and did I mention for hours on end? Some people dispose of this waiting by talking. And these people are lovely, but also tax those who have to-do lists, those who force themselves to listen. Other people busy themselves, and these people are the oh-so-important ones. And then, finally, there are those few, very few, usually older or odder people, who just wait. They are content. I wish to know what they think about as they stare off into space, entirely unaware of the self-conscious need to do something. Many times, I find myself watching them.
At other times, I scan the pressing masses. The people who are going somewhere, freshly dressed and alive, exude an unmistakable presence, finding invigoration in their trip. Yet those others, those who are almost home, who look tired and blank and sleep a lot, they are just holding on. Because, I think, in the end no one wants to be in an airport with mazes of people, no matter how interesting the carpets. There is, after all, no place like home: no place like the place you want to go.
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