I remember when flying was romantic – the wide-eyed gaze out the airport window at the exoskeletal T-Rex, which would take us to some foreign place. We’d dive out at the white zone, ink one of those luggage twisty tags, and then plant ourselves at the gate for ten minutes before heading down the body-odor-filled hallway toward the metal dinosaur. The stewardess – they used to be called that – would hand us a status-wielding set of captain’s wings and a deck of cards and, if we were lucky, we’d get to see the cockpit and be told “someday, you too, could be a pilot, kid..”
But, travel is different now.
I am currently sitting in Chicago’s Midway airport on a two-hour layover. Outside, brontosaurus-looking bulldozers scoop massive mounds of dirt as little Lego-like workers review brown clipboards with expansion plans. When the shovels drops toward the turf, workers scatter like Japanese civilians in those old Godzilla films. Nearby, jumbo jets dip their snouts into giant drier hoses, downloading and uploading people with the sort of frenetic desperation only teenage boys could understand.
Inside the building, things have changed more drastically. Ticket counter personnel have proctological compassion. Dogs are now allowed in airports and at least one corner of the terminal has already seen a fang-bearing row, not to mention a stool sample, which, if we’re being honest, could not possibly have come from a dog that small. There are people pushing wheelchairs who look like they should be the ones in wheelchairs, and even the people in the wheelchairs have a permanent scowl like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” While many years ago, people wore deodorant on planes, presumably that is no longer a socially recognized custom, and based on the amount of tank-tops now showcasing back hair and an uncomfortable number of skin disorders, this trip is going to set aromatic records.
The terminal is also filled with a haunting absence of sound, the only interruptions coming from Starbucks baristas shouting out names, what must be Charlie Brown’s parents on the overhead intercom system, and an unrelenting and truly vile, ubiquitous coughing. I’ve apparently developed a phobia for people coughing on flights, the likely result of watching too many Hollywood films – a nearby sniffle is like the Reaper’s death knell and anyone’s throat starting to tighten gives me the howling fantods. So, it figures this week’s version of “I have the flu and I’m going to make sure everyone around me gets it too,” is presently seated right next to me, no matter where I sit.
Everyone’s head tilts down toward phone screens, computer screens, ipads, ipods, and Gameboys. I remember when connection meant holding a hand, but now it’s a hand that holds a connection. Speech is muted, reserved for intermittent giggles at Google pages or a grunt at an unwanted email. The flight attendants – that’s what they are called now – don’t even give professional smiles anymore, focusing instead on balancing their drink trays and making sure their seatbacks are straight enough to ensure an uncomfortable ride. They read safety instructions at radio announcer speed over what Graham Bell’s first telephone line must have sounded like, and then plop themselves into the jump seat with a scowl that just dares you to press the call button. If you rise to ask about captain’s wings or a deck of cards, an Air Marshall takes aim at your chest and the flight attendants grimace at you like you should be wearing a helmet.
I could go on, but you get the point. Fiying isn’t romantic anymore. Oh, sure, you still get fucked, but, rather than a nice night out, it’s more like a prison rape.
If I arrive at my destination, I’ll report about Tennessee.