Thursday, April 06, 2006

I had to go to the airport yesterday to pick someone up. The flight ended up being delayed so I had a few hours to kill. I wrote my poem for NaPo and then I people-watched for a while. Going to the airport is like going to the movies, only better. You can sit and watch the entire range of human emotion unfold and it won’t cost you eight bucks.

I should point out that I don’t actually like to fly. I’ve been on an airplane exactly twice in my life and didn't care for it either time. If I can’t drive, I don’t go. Part of it's residual 9/11 paranoia but mostly, I just prefer driving. I’d rather ride for ten hours in a rusted-out hatchback with bad brakes and no air conditioning than fly. As long as the radio works, I’m happy.

I don’t even like to watch the planes land and take off. The planes hold no mystery for me, despite what they're capable of. It’s the people that interest me; they're the ones I’m still trying to figure out. There are all kinds of people at an airport, all between destinations in one way or another.

Take the pilots, for example, catching a bite to eat between flights. They always sit alone, away from the crowds. They seem to eat with the same calculated ease with which they fly. The thing I've noticed about pilots is that no one ever talks to them. People seem to avoid eye contact, as if it's forbidden to look.

When I see people saying goodbye, their expression is almost always the same. It's part sadness, part fear, part reluctance to let the other person go. It’s as if there is an invisible thread stretched between them that is cut the moment the airplane door closes. They watch them until they disappear, making sure until the last second that their loved one is safe.

The ones who are returning are entirely different. They walk off the plane and up the jetway and begin searching the crowd for someone they recognize. They're hopeful, anxious, excited, all at once. The moment they see a familiar face, the confusion is replaced by the sweetest emotion of all: relief. You’re here. You know me. They’re coming back to someone, to something.

I always wonder about the ones who don't have someone waiting for them, what it is they're coming back to. These are the people I want to run to, to throw my arms around and say Welcome home. They're people-watchers too, even if they don't realize it. They're always looking, always observing, trying to untangle the mystery of how not to be alone.

2 Comments:

Blogger Neil said...

I grew up in Queens, not far from LaGuardia and Kennedy airports. And I remember taking a bus there with my friend just to hang out and watch the people. I think it was the first time I actually saw "International" visitors -- Indians with turbans, African women with colorful dresses, etc. Since 9-11, you can't walk around so freely anymore.

4/09/2006 8:41 PM  
Blogger Writing Blind said...

It's weird, living in a southern city post-9/11, because we do get a lot of tourists here and you can just tell what people are thinking sometimes, especially at the airport. Southern hospitality only seems to extend so far sometimes.

4/09/2006 10:20 PM  

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