I spend a lot of time in airports. I travel frequently for my job, and I travel alone. I'm fine with it now, but it used to be incredibly nerve wracking, as in "take a valium, don't open your eyes, focus on anything other than what you are doing, white knuckle the armrests" nerve wracking.
Eventually, I got over it. Which is to say that I still don't relax enough on a plane to, say, sleep (which is too bad, especially if I'm on the redeye from LA), but I do relax enough to enjoy a drink on the plane and read a book.
However I might feel about flying, however, I do enjoy an airport. They are worlds unto themselves, I think, much the way hospitals are -- and, like hospitals, they provide an excellent opportunity to watch people and see how they behave.
It's funny how travel -- perhaps especially air travel -- is an equalizer. Gay or straight, Christian or Muslim, soldier or pacifist, if your plane is delayed, you're all stuck there together. It doesn't matter if you think Glenn Beck is the devil and the person sitting next to you thinks he's WONDERFUL -- for a moment -- even just for a few moments -- you have something in common and you can recognize that under the ideology and the rhetoric and the desperate need that so many of us have to be right, all the time.
If you've ever been trapped at a gate, waiting for a plane that's significantly delayed, there is usally some grumbling, right? But then things start to happen. Children from different families start to look at each other curiously and then to talk to each other -- then they're sharing toys. People will ask one another "What's that book you're reading? Are you going on vacation? This is a drag, huh?" and conversations will commence. The longer the wait, the more likely this is to happen. I've seen some people be complete jackalopes, but not very many -- and it turns out that the more awful someone is about the delay, the more the rest of the group bonds. "He needs to CHILL" someone will murmur, and someone else will agree, and then they're sharing stories about where they're from, and where they're going, and why.
I love airports because they're a reminder that, when I despair about humanity -- which, I confess, I sometimes do -- that people are not that bad. They're just people, and like all people, they have the capacity for great selfishness and great kindness. Good or bad, we're all in it together.
Especially at the airport.
(For my favorite riff on airports -- watch this: