Thursday, July 4, 2013

Airports, People-watching, and Adventure

I love airports.  And it's a good thing too, since I've probably spent more time in them than most.  I'm not talking about specific things, like how I love the international arrivals area of YVR, or the food at La Carreta in MIA, or the impossibly posh duty-free shopping at Heathrow T5.  I'm talking about loving airports in general - in the abstract.

I have always found that the people-watching in airports is exceptional.  As soon as you set foot in the terminal, you are surrounded by farewells and reunions that run the entire gamut of the human emotional spectrum.  Soldiers returning from a tour of duty.  A toddler visiting their grandparents for the first time. A long-distance romance leaving again after too short of a long weekend.  So many glimpses of so many stories in just a few short steps, from the entrance to the check-in desk.

And the security line - the source of so much angst, so many missed flights, and so much unintentional comedy.  Watching people struggle with the concept that their beltbuckle is made of metal, or that a 6oz bottle of contact lens solution is, in fact, larger than 3oz, is surprisingly entertaining as long as you're not running late because you forgot about how long the shuttle from the parking garage takes to get to the terminal.  And the absurdity of seeing a burly TSA screener pat down a 10 year old because he left a foil-wrapped piece of gum in their pocket serves as a discordant reminder of the security-in-exchange-for-freedom transaction that we made a dozen years ago.

But it's past security that I probably love the most.  Every passenger on the concourse is beginning or ending a trip that carries with it the potential for adventure.  Young twentysomethings returning from their first trip to Europe, memories of the people they've met and will never see again swimming in their heads even as they start to plot out their next voyage.  Immigrant families, travelling home to reconnect with family and old friends, wondering if their old neighbours' son, the same age as their daughter, is still single.   Even the jaded, weary, salaryman sitting alone at the airport bar, killing time before his 27th trip to Kansas in the past 27 weeks by nursing a Jack & Diet Coke wonders if this might be the day that a young-but-not-too-young divorcee sits next to him on his flight.  In every face, every Hudson's News purchase, every black rollerbag, there is a story about to be written.

As I write this, a young muslim girl has just sat down across from me in the Saudi Airlines boarding lounge where I have camped out to kill some time during my flight delay.  Co-ordinated blue-grey track suit, hoodie pulled up to conceal her hair, punctuated with an expensive looking handbag and designer sandals.  Her carry-on luggage is an American Flag backpack, from which a very new-looking neck pillow dangles at the ready.  We trade some friendly smalltalk as she awkwardly looks for a spot to plug her cellphone charger into. It takes me a second to realise that she has a double-charger, and she plugs in both an iPhone and BlackBerry to it. The back of her iPhone case has a stylised portrait of Marilyn Monroe on it, but the iPhone goes neglected as she taps message after message into the BlackBerry.  What's her story?  Where's she from?  Where's she going?  Does pulling up a hoodie really satisfy the modesty requirements in the Koran?  So many questions, the answers to which are almost certainly mundane.  Judging from her native-sounding English, she's probably American.  Probably off to visit family.  And she probably doesn't care about whether her hoodie is strictly compliant (kosher? halal? what word am I supposed to use here?) or not.  But that's OK.  For me, just the potential for ridiculous adventure is enough for me.  For instance, she could be the heiress to an enormous petro-fortune, travelling home to meet with the executors of her father's estate, where she will need to head-off a powerplay by her younger half-brother who intends to use her American residency and secular lifestyle against her.  Yeah, I think I'm going to go with something like that.

As for myself, I'm on my way to Russia.  Basically just tagging along with Liz on one of her work trips.  But you know, we are flying into Sheremetyevo Airport, which just happens to be the same airport that Edward Snowden is hiding in...

Let the adventure begin

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