Airports are interesting places. It’s a theme I have touched on before, but which makes for such a rich source of entertainment that I feel it is a place to which I must return occasionally in my writings. That airports are interesting places is due, at least in part, to the fact that people are interesting – and that a representative sample of some of its weirdest members seem to enjoy flying. Or at least, enjoy flying the Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg route. They are not all of what makes an airport interesting though, mind you. There are things like the fascinating futuristic or culture-centric architectures that various governments invest daft amounts of money constructing, and the many little coffee shops, viewing decks, escalators and hidey holes that are waiting to be discovered in the average terminal building.
Port Elizabeth Airport bears a passing resemblance to the departure gates of Addis Abbaba airport, if you took away any architecture to speak of and the many little coffee shops, viewing decks, escalators and hidey holes that are waiting to be discovered in its terminal buildings. Which is to say that all that is left are the people. One of whom is doing something which can only be described as glaring at my laptop while I type this. And who in fact served as the inspiration for writing this missive in the first place. While I enthuse at the opportunity to fly (to anywhere, even the Addis transit terminal), she seems positively angry. At something on or near me. A rational assessment suggests that it clearly could not be my laptop (which, while enraging me on occasion, does so for reasons she could not possibly be familiar with). It might be me, since I am dressed like something out of a drug-fiddled corner shop novel – beads, a shirt proclaiming HOW I MINE FOR FISH and… actually, I think it might be the shirt.
But I digress from my rambling.
It is another interesting fact about airports that they generally put you in your place as to the specialness and amazingness of your particular journey. Sure, you may feel that wherever you are going is a more meaningful adventure than that being had by the snot-nosed brat being shoveled into the boarding gate ahead of you, but even allowing for such conceit, it is only a matter of time before someone will pass you by for whom (if they cared for such comparisons), you would take on the mantle of snot-nosed brattery. I am talking, in my case, of the guy who isn’t simply returning to Johannesburg from a week away from the city, but who is so bedecked in beads and interesting baubles that the x-ray jockeys simply sigh and let him through with a prayer that he will not feel the need to bomb anything. It is people like that who just scream ‘interesting story’ from a mile away. They inevitably don’t carry a bag, but something baglike, ranging from the ostensible backpack to what appears to be their unwashed sleeping bag stuffed with interesting or useful items picked up from places and events that would truly make for an amazing novel if the author would slow down for the year or so it would take to write it.
It’s pure speculation, of course – where the happy couple might not, in fact be a couple (or happy), and the beaded airhobo that I find so fascinating may in fact be a drugs mule for some filthy cracklord.
The appearance of such individuals is usually rendered in beautiful contrast by the expected white noise of the Joe Average business people on their way to (presumably) some sort of business thingamabob at the other end of the flight (if you see them in the morning), or returning from some sort of business thingamabob (if you see them in the evening). In the domestic flights they make up the solvent in which the more interesting bits float – sort of a bath of laptops, touch phones and self importance that our previous traveller, the glaring woman, the collection of other flotsam move around in. And me.
Mostly, everyone seems to be doing their own thing – reading a paper, looking bored, glaring at someone or, like me, looking around and trying to put some histories to the more obvious characters around the lounge. It’s a fun activity when you have, say, four hours to kill. It also reminds you of how many little narratives are running alongside your own. How many people, starting as a fat little screaming ball at birth (much like you or I) have ended up on so many divergent paths, and how fascinating it can be to contemplate the infinite variety in the things we can do differently to the life we have, yet still end up with an apparently successful and productive life. Certainly a life that allows you the luxury of coming through the eye of the middle class needle that is affording air travel.
It’s pure speculation, of course – where the happy couple might not, in fact be a couple (or happy), and the beaded airhobo that I find so fascinating may in fact be a drugs mule for some filthy cracklord. Where the guy with the daft T-shirt that you glared at might in fact be writing about you in his blog while you stare at him in such a hostile manner. But, like many of the lessons we learn in life – it doesn’t matter that it is true. It matters that you think about it.