I have what some might say is an irrational love of airports.
When I was right around the age of 16, going off on my first international adventure in the form of a mission trip to Mexico, I remember trumpeting off to some of the older folks about how much I loved the rush of the airport! I received kind but patronizing responses. Wait ‘till you get older and have been through a few more airports and have suffered some layovers. Wait until you get flights cancelled on you. Wait until your baggage gets lost. Wait until you can’t find your gate…and on and on. They all started in on this story or that of how “there was that one time…” and “it was the worst day of my life.” (Right.) My elders simply found my zest for our modern ports of flight innocently misguided.
I’m usually a Mark Twanian believer in the wisdom of age trumping the faux sage of youth – but not in this case. I’ve got a few more years on me now, and a slough of stamps in my passport, airports, train stations, bus stops, and Middle Eastern taxi cab debacles to go along with them. In short, I’ve seen the inside of more international airports than most folks will in a lifetime – and guess what? I still love them.
Whether it’s the sleepy terminal of the Cincinnati airport on a Sunday night or the aging hangar in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, packed with Hajj pilgrims from all over the world, I still wander into airports with the kind of anticipation I always have; an anticipation of excitement, alertness, and a subliminal prayer that the security lady will not make me throw away my contact solution that’s technically an ounce and a half over the limit.
Speaking of which – don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen the flip side. I’ve had my fair share of unpleasantries in the airport. There was the security gal in Greece who caught me on the wrong end of the red-eye and got the wrath of my middle finger in her face. (She also got my contact solution, and I almost got thrown out of the airport.) I’ve had to step out of line, shuffle to the corner, and yes, I’ve been that guy dumping every spare effect in his suitcase into the trash to try and avoid what is nowadays a roughly 9 million dollar per-extra-pound overweight fee. I even threw away my suit – which I of course now regret.
I’ll never forget being in the Athens airport (yes, this was the beginning of the aforementioned long ordeal) and hauling off to the waiting lounge to ditch as much stuff as I could into the aluminum bin next to the pillar in the middle. I thought I was being inconspicuous, until:
“You’re one of those guys aren’t you?”
It came from behind me, and was Australian, feminine, and lovely.
I turned around to see jet black hair and brown eyes laughing at me. I stopped hurling belongings away like I was being exiled to prison camp by the Nazis and started to laugh with her.
“You want some help with that?” She walked up to me shaking her head. “You look looney, mate.” I loved the way she said looney.
“My name’s Summer,” she said. I loved the way she said Summer. Like Summa. Australians are so cool. Particularly pretty ones named Summa.
She sat on top of my suitcase and squished it down so it could zip shut. We walked over to the lounge area full of those sterilized leather chairs and sat down and chatted about traveling and where we were from. She was making a run all over Europe same as me. I think I fell in love a little. Then it was time for one or the other of us to board one or the other of our different flights, and she waved at me and I threw her the peace sign and said good luck. And that was a great moment in the mayhem. 
I suppose my personal favorite airport debacle came a few summers ago in Berlin, when my buddy and I were on our second to last leg home. We’d booked a Ryan Air flight to Heathrow, and naturally – in the course of our scurrying around Europe and sleeping on pull-out couches and hostel bunks – we had, silly us, neglected to read the uber-fine print at the bottom of the internet reservation which stated that Ryan Air policy mandated we print out boarding passes ourselves, before arriving at check in. (I then found myself asking, with not a few intermingled expletives to the obnoxiously fat German lady at the counter, what in pluperfect hell was the reason for having a check in counter at all…but I digress). Long infuriating story short, we made our way to the gate after each purchasing an additional ticket. No, you didn’t read that wrong. Yes, we payed twice. Oh, but the worst was yet to come.
No sooner did we round the corner than we were confronted by an even more menacingly buxom female who pointed to a rack and informed us that our luggage must fit into said designated cube – or we would not be allowed to fly.
Our luggage did not fit into the cube.
So, the college-educated young men we fancied ourselves, we quickly formed a plan. We were not going to be denied access to that plane. The second coming of Christ might have prevented us; but I’m pretty sure if we saw God coming down in chariots of fire we would have hustled out the jet way just so we could stick our tongues out at the check-in lady one last time. So, options running short, we unpacked our suitcases right there in the crowd and started donning our additional articles of clothing. One shirt, two shirts, three shirts, four. My linen pants – those got turned into a scarf. Three pairs of pants. On. My extra belt strapped around my chest diagonally like I was about to go on the Last Crusade with Indiana Jones. Our cowboy hats – bought on a whim in Marseilles, just to let everyone know, in case they were wondering, that yes, we were Americans – these went on too. We were laughing and swearing so much at the same time that by the time we looked up, all 100 passengers were looking at us, and the good-hearted guy next to us cackled, “You guys are Australian, aren’t you?!”
But as strange as it sounds, this is exactly why I love airports. I love them because they magnify the dichotomy in human nature. They are at once exacerbating and exuberant. Businessmen swear at their blackberries while families shed tears over soldier sons walking down the arrival gate. Nowhere else on earth do so many different brands of people collide at such an accelerated rate. So whether you’re shoulder to shoulder down the escalator in Seoul’s sleek Incheon airport, in Beirut being greeted by some of the most gorgeous customs agents in the world, or trying to avoid getting ripped out of a hundred baht  by the taxi guy in Thailand, try stop for a minute – or ten hours (layovers can suck) – smell the overcooked Burger King, and have a look at what’s happening around you. Grab a Twix bar and the latest copy of your favorite glossy magazine and take to the sterilized leather chair. You’re in the the middle of the most chaotically beautiful set of a thousand human interactions. Soak it all in. Then give security run for their money.
Title Photo Credit: flickr
Photo Credit: flickr
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