Tuesday, October 9, 2007

On Airports and Ecotones

I was thinking about this last time I was waiting around in Charlotte. Since this was Charlotte, every single person there was on a delayed flight, and everyone had his laptop open and was not even there, at the airport, really, but instead, in his own personalized internetland.

So right away you have: this physical place of transition which is not even really the city where you are, just the changeover spot, and then you have this added internet element, so no one is even in the nonplace. They are there, twice-removed.

In crowd situations, I'm the first person to retreat into my book or yeah, to the internet, if I have my laptop, but since Everyone was doing this, it made me feel petulant and rebellious. Usually we solitary types like being solitary alone. If everyone's doing it, you're just a sheep, you see.

Right. So I’m there, feeling kind of self-important about wanting to be Present and Seated in my Environment like a living, breathing creature on this planet. For about…a minute. I mean, you might be seated in the damn plane next to whomever you talk to. Then you're stuck together for the next five hours in some space that’s really got no intrinsic value all its own. Which can be uncomfortable for both of you. So I did end up opening up my laptop after all. And that was that.

Then there are airport bars. All these young men watching their home teams, all these businessmen talking about cities like they're not cities, in this sort of modern-cowboy frontierspeak: “Oh, I did Charlotte, today. Tonight, it's Daytona, and then (low whistle), I am gone-!”

There's this complex thing that happens to your brain when you are in an airport. I think it happens because you're still in the place you were leaving (or in some weird middle place that you would never want to go to like Charlotte) but you haven't yet gotten to the place that you are going. So, you aren't exactly yourself. You are place-less, adrift. All you have is a gate number and the bizarre food choices that the airport has chosen to offer you.

It's a liminal space, really, where you are both free from yourself but SO MUCH yourself. In the real world, I have trouble sitting still and I can't make decisions, so when I am in airports, all that gets oddly exacerbated. I wander around, I stare at the screens, I try to get on earlier flights, I go through this elaborate decision-making process about whether or not to eat the bad-for-me food they sell there. Last week I talked myself into and then out a McDonalds snack wrap. Even though in my real life, I would never each such a thing. In an airport, when things are going well and you aren't having to fight with a customer service representative about how to get yourself home after your flights have all been cancelled, it's all you have to think about.

I walked away from the McDonalds with the intention to go to the airport bar, in LaGuardia it's the Brooklyn Brewery, but I have such a complex relationship with airport bars. All I want to do in airports is drink, and yet, I don't want to be the KIND of person who drinks in airports, even though I AM totally that kind of person. I drink all the time: why can't I drink in airports? So, I walked up to the bar and then I realized that there wasn't one woman in the bar at all, just a bunch of middle-aged dudes watching the Jets on big TV's. And I imagined someone asking me about the book I was reading or talking to me about why the Jets and the Giants play in New Jersey, but they are still said to be from New York, and I just couldn't handle it. So as quickly as I had talked myself out of the snack wrap and into a Bloody Mary, I was talked out of it and then I had nothing to do but just go to the gate and watch a woman pick up the Cheerios from the floor that her baby had thrown there.

I hate that the moments we have free time end up being when we’re in places like airports, doing things like that: watching the woman pick up the Cheerios. Like we were born for that moment. But maybe we were.

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