Airports are funny places.
Maybe it’s just me, or maybe it’s the incessant purr of jet engines constantly occupying background noise, but there exists a pervasive sense of excitement and change in every airport I’ve graced. They’re all more-or-less the same, really, just as all NFL stadia, while aesthetically different and possessing a handful of unique quirks, all ultimately serve identical purposes. The whole process resembles the American football experience1, really.
But I digress. Airports are not ‘funny,’ in the sense that your mother’s overbearing love of reality television is ‘funny,’ due to their architectural similarities or functional homogeny. Their strength, and, I suppose, their weakness, is the common denominator nature of these conduits from point A to point B. Save the extremely wealthy, whose travel itineraries circumvent the traditional methods used by the proletariat, and the relatively poor who simply cannot afford a plane ticket, the remainder of society is funneled through the same security lines at the same times and shoved onto the same overly cramped planes. Yes, of course, there exist amenities which can make the whole process more palatable (for a modest fee, of course, capitalism yadda yadda) but by-and-large it’s a great equalizer. This evening out of disparate segments of society is what makes airports so damn ‘funny,’2 but even that fails to truly encapsulate the unmistakable aura airports produce.
Due to their visually identical nature I can’t help but recall my past airport experiences every time I am scheduled to fly to my next exotic (lol) location. Memories of narrowly made connections and frantic searches for misplaced bags arise, sure, but mostly I recall my standing in life the last time I spent ten minutes searching for an outlet to charge my phone while climbing over a sea of limbs, the ever-present sound of CNN in the background. I will forever remember flying 3,000 miles across the country to attend college, just as I will remember flying by myself for the first time four years prior and the insatiable anxiety I felt.
A couple dozen flights later, however, and the whole process is a breeze. I enjoy flying for the most part and have even begun relishing the entire process for the marriage of the second and third paragraphs. While the person to your left is a grizzled professional who has flown thrice a week for seventeen years the single mother to your right is flying with her three-year-old for the first time. That middle-aged woman hunkered into a Nicholas Sparks novel is flying back from a divorce proceeding which dissolved her marriage of twenty-seven years. That young, effervescent twenty-year-old quickly falling head-over-heels for the guy in her psychology class from last semester. Everyone has disparate backgrounds and different final destinations. And yet, zone-by-zone, these people line up in a semi-orderly fashion, have their ticket scanned and exchange the most surface-level of pleasantries with the desk attendant and hop onto the same plane as everyone else. I’m socially awkward and tend to struggle with small talk so I rarely infiltrate these people’s lives; merely witnessing and, more importantly, extrapolating the tiniest observations into grand assumptions is the truly interesting part to me.
But perhaps the ‘funniest’ thing, and this is the most egregious misappropriation of the term ‘funny’ yet, is the two subsets of people which exist in airports. You could probably extrapolate this not-so-revelatory-anyways conclusion to all of life as a whole, just as you could assimilate people in your average NFL stadium (hey, the analogy still works!) or a handful of other similarly class-neutral settings. There are the people who have people waiting for them; people coordinating when they are to pick them up from the airport and loved ones to occupy the final moments before the flight attendant sternly repeats that all electronic devices must be immediately turned off. And then there are the loners, the fly-soloers (get it?!), the solitary souls among us. I’ve gotten fairly good at picking out which folks fall into which subset, or at least I like to think I have.
I’ve spent the past hour-and-a-half sitting outside my gate, waiting for the pilot to show up and for us to get this show on the road. Waiting to, after a pit-stop in Denver, see my dad for the first time in five months. Waiting to return to my home of four years for the first time in fifty weeks. Waiting, in essence, to leave the world of the solitary and join the ranks of the attached. In three weeks I’ll be on the other side of the ledger, leaving behind my loved ones and returning to plain, old Cincinnati, where I have friends but no lifelong relationships. Crushes but no significant other.
The world’s a big place, full of people both wandering listlessly from day to day and those purposefully marching through each day with unassailable determination. Most of these people, at some point or another, at varying frequencies and to disparate locales, will show up at an airport. And for two hours or four hours or forty-seven minutes, however long the flight is, they’ll be on the same pace. They might even be aisle-mates, fighting over the solitary elbow rest as they try to catch up on some sleep. Eventually the plane will land, its temporary inhabitants will meander out into another virtually identical airport in a different city entirely and these two people will go on their separate way.
It’s next-to-impossible to determine the final destinations of these folks. Even harder to discern their life-status, for lack of a better term. And while it’s certainly fun (there’s that word again) to concoct elaborate characters for these otherwise innocuous faces surrounding you as you wait to board the plane, it’s mostly irrelevant. Cause we’ve all been on both sides of the spectrum, and everywhere in between. Some are growing; some are rapidly disintegrating. As the crowd converges on the plane, packed into the fusel lodge like sardines on their way to their destination, whether temporary or final, they share one common goal despite overwhelming difference.
And, I don’t know, that’s just kinda funny to me, in a circle-of-life sorta way.
1 You show up, supposedly two hours before but, let’s be honest, you’re lucky if you make it there forty-five minutes prior. You trudge through an overly bearing security process set in place primarily to assuage the overly paranoid fears of the average passenger as opposed to truly thwarting any legitimate security threat. And then you find your seat and wait for the action to begin. Granted, this is where the analogy goes to pasture, considering the differences in the aforementioned “action,” but it’s fun to talk about.
2 I really need to stop using ‘funny’ here. It’s a juvenile device, really, to colloquially and lazily diminish whatever I truly intend to a mere ‘funny,’ particularly since the denotative definition of the term is entirely irrelevant. And yet I’ve sat here for about five minutes or so and can’t think of a better term. Airports aren’t quite enlightening, nor are they merely entertaining. Revelatory doesn’t work; nor does curious, although that probably comes closest. They’re just…funny. This footnote doesn’t bode too well for my future as a writer.