Music for Airports

Prior to my fact-finding trip a few weeks ago, I had never flown before. I suppose I am a product of car culture; if I wanted to go somewhere, I’ve always driven. This is difficult when you are on a limited schedule though. Flying is faster. I’ve done buses and trains, but never planes.

I notice that almost no one writes about airports; they write about destinations, and conferences, and almost everything but the intervening flight, or negotiating the ubiquitous airport. I’ve been known (prior to 9-11) to loiter at airports. I’ve always thought they were interesting spaces. My only experiences were with LAX (Los Angeles) and Little Rock’s airport, picking up and dropping off people. As a smoker, my perspective always centers on how difficult it is to get “out” of the damn things to level out my body chemistry. The last time I was at LAX they had little arboretums set up so that smokers could step out without running the gauntlet to get outdoors; at Little Rock, the place is small enough where it is only a minor hike to get out of it.

Boarding the little CRJ for the first leg of my flight, I wasn’t in the best of shape physically. A persistent ear-infection had everyone around me worried about how I’d deal with the change in pressure. That proved to be the least of my problems. Nothing was open at LR airport, so I was forced to drink a coke because I was so parched. Without bourbon or rum, I find coke completely intolerable. It is too damn sweet. After getting on the flight, my partner insisted that I chew gum. I haven’t even tasted gum in twenty years. I forgot how sweet it was. The combination of the coke and the gum hit my stomach like a bomb. I was nauseous already. The flight was worse than a carnival ride, with the little plane bobbing and weaving and leaving my stomach always fifty feet behind.

Arriving in Detroit, I immediately began looking for some sort of exit where I might smoke a cigarette and calm myself. It was shocking to find that it was probably a two-mile journey to find any area that allowed smoking. Along the way though, I was distracted by a light-show a football field long. The movie doesn’t do it justice. I’m used to being charged admission for such spectacle. It seems to me that this is what happens when old acid-heads design airports. At least it distracted me from the uproar in my stomach. I tried to drink a cappuccino that was so hot it nearly melted its way through the thin paper cup, racing down the moving walk-way amid the cute flashy-lights and airport music.

The next plane, to East Lansing, was another tiny CRJ. However, the flight attendant was the best of the trip: “For those of you who haven’t been in a moving vehicle since 1975, I will now demonstrate how to use a safety-belt.” The Capitol City Airport is tiny. The deceleration upon landing was intense, but at least this time it seemed like fun. Exiting the plane while it was raining, people were standing about with umbrellas to help you into the terminal. So much for the mythology of luxury flying. These planes were, quite literally, greyhound buses with wings.

The flight from East Lansing to Minneapolis was more comfortable. This time, it was a DC-9. Although the weather was bad, and we had to fly slow to avoid a holding pattern I was feeling much better. After a few days on the ground, my hearing was beginning to return to normal. No gum, no sweets, just plenty of caffeine and I was fine. The take-off from the short runway was like a rocket ride. I liked it. I loved Minneapolis so much once I got there that it seemed like it had mysterious healing properties. Michigan was okay, but it really didn’t seem that much of an improvement over Arkansas.

The airport in Minneapolis was very maze-like. Driving away in the rental car, I was sure that there had to be a piece of cheese in there somewhere. A prankster could cause someone a really big nightmare by just moving a few little dividers around. There was a nice automated tram, but it just didn’t have the entertainment value of the tunnel in Detroit. O well, at least it had a fairly clear sense of “out,” severely lacking in most of these other airports. I hate the trapped feeling I had in Detroit.

The flight home was in two hops. I wish I would have had more time between flights in Memphis. There were several nice bars (one which supposedly allowed smoking) there. You can’t beat southern hospitality. Hearing the blues belting out onto the concourse was somewhat comforting, because I was nearly home. The flight from Minneapolis to Memphis was on an A-319, which was even more comfortable than the DC-9. We took another short hop in an A-319 to get back to Little Rock.

I suppose I’m just noting this sort of stuff for future reference. Chances are I’ll be flying much more in the future. It wasn’t really what I expected. It’s more like tolerating being shot from a cannon for a couple of hours. Nobody seems to mention that part. I don’t have any particular fear or love of flying. All things considered, I’d still rather drive.

2 thoughts on “Airports”

  1. I’m interested that you (of all people) should deploy the “quite literally” trope to identify a metaphor. What’s with that?

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