I don’t like airports. There was a time when I did, when travel was an adventure and an airplane flight still seemed a miracle. It lasted a long time.
When I was young, flying would take us to strange familiar places – to visit aunts and uncles and grandparents in Germany and Switzerland. When I got a little older, it would bring me home for the holidays.
Later I worked near the airport. I would sometimes go at lunch to watch jumbo jets take off, and slowly, improbably, ponderously land, almost motionless over the trees from the right angle.
Always when I flew I would ask for a window seat, to watch the geography – the geology roll by below us. To see clouds from inside and above. To watch the sun and moon a little longer before they set.
In airports I would watch the ebb and flow of people and planes like the tide. Families and friends left behind or come to meet – little dramas played out – at every gate.
Then for a couple of years I worked for a consulting company, and I took flying for granted. Airports and airplanes became part of the background of my job, an inconvenience, a waste of time, something to be minimized. I flew too often, so that no one came to see me off, and no one came to meet me. I was part of the background, too. I sat in aisle seats and read. I was tired.
When I started working for myself I traveled less, so flying became less tedious. But I also became more attached to home, so flying became more unnecessary, an irritant, taking me away from where I wanted to be.
Now I try to look past the homogeneity of airports, of airlines, of business travelers to see what individuality I can. I relish an oddball passenger nearby, or children who still behave like themselves no matter where they are, who can’t quite conceal their excitement, their happiness, or even their pain.
In the airport
Sealed but not protected
Sterile grime – high-pitched whine – jet fuel.
Washed but not clean
Stale air – fluorescent glare – gray skin.
Slept but not rested