Traveling seems to be my obsession lately. Maybe it’s a part of the general unrest that’s become my work life lately. With insecurity surely must come unrest and there’s nothing more restless than the modern airport. It’s a place of transience, a hallway between two states.
The first state is physical – you are traveling and that, reasonably, entails moving from one place to another. As I sit at the terminal, waiting for my flight, I watch dusty travelers bound for destinations across the country and around the world. There are the vanquished fans of the visiting football team, the road-weary business travelers heading for the next corporate call, and then there is the endless stream of bleary-eyed refugees. Even the flight crews are just passing through – either on their way to their next plane or home for a little sleep before taking off again.
The transition is more than physical, though. When I step through the doors and walk into the ticketing level of IND, my mental attitude changes. I’ve long lauded the ‘old fashion’ concept of air travel – the days when boarding a plane and was part of the enjoyment of traveling. There’s something lovely and nostalgic about pictures of stewardesses with little airline hats pushing carts of complementary comfort items down the broad aisle between rows of seats and travelers who dressed (jacket and tie and a nice dress for the ladies) to travel. Merely going from ticketing area to terminal destroys that image – the process is something like passing through a Star Trek transporter where you are disassembled molecule by molecule and reassembled on the other side of the x-ray machines. No amount of nostalgia can survive such a trip – its hard enough to maintain your dignity.
Security isn’t the problem. I don’t think you could find a single person who’d like to reduce airport security to the level that would allow crazies with exploding underwear to board of their own volition. Personally, I believe the blame for the death of pleasurable air travel on a variety of factors. Airports have become ticket kiosks attached to low quality, over priced strip malls. Airlines no longer have to provide service. Unless flying first class and on a luxury carrier the traveler is considered an irritating inconvenience instead of a customer. The airlines have strangled the service they provide down to the utter minimum and shoehorned as many travelers as possible into the smallest amount of space. And, unfortunately, I’m sure that it only will get worse until the air travel industry is forced to reinvent itself.
So, I sit here at terminal B7 waiting for my flight to Dallas. It isn’t dawn outside and when I look out the cantilevered windows I only see the lights of the waking city, the blinking indicators of the runways, and my own reflection. Everything else is uncertainty, a dark canvas to be filled in by the light that time will bring. After tomorrow I may have a secure future, a great new job, and an assurance that my life can move forward in some trajectory that resembles what I’d hoped for before the Great Economic Decline. Then again, maybe there’s only more uncertainty out there – another airport and more waiting and wondering.