23 October 2016

Layover 2

I'm in O'Hare on a layover and I'm in motion. I'm unrushed, having made my way through passport control with plenty of time to spare. I'm making my way to a flight to Seattle. The day seems bleak, the sky is grey, and the air is cold. I'm overtired. Walking through an airport can be an overstimulating experience: the people rushing around, the din of announcements. I feel disconnected from it all, moving steadily, the rush surrounding me.

I'm changing terminals. Boarding attendants are yelling and pointing down the crowded platform trying to maximize the number of bodies they can get onto the train that connects international arrivals and domestic departures. Standing on the train, I stop for the first time since I handed my paperwork to the border patrol agent.

As the doors are closing, a man runs through. The trains run every four minutes. There's really no need to do this, but that's the way this shit is done. If four minutes is really going to make a difference, the flight has, effectively, already been missed. There's no buffer for a slow person on a moving sidewalk, an unforeseen gate change, or a broken escalator.  It's the sort of thing that I sigh inwardly at, but move on from, because it's a pattern I see again and again. I'm still in my overtired fog, standing, facing the door, feeling little, saying nothing.

Now the doors are really really on the verge of closing. There's a clatter as a woman comes barreling through. The doors close on her arm and spring back open. It's loud, jarring, and unexpected. Words cannot express the momentary shock that I feel. The fog has vanished. With the doors reopened, she gets on the train

"That door closed on me," she says to her companion, the man who just made it through the door earlier. Her voice begins to take on more of an aggrieved tone, "You didn't have to get on this train!". The man brushes it off wordlessly, and fortunately an argument does not erupt.

But I wonder what it's like to be so determined, like the man, or feel so tethered, like the woman. Each of them had an opportunity to not get on that train and if they operated in a world where the most valued elements were order and safety, they wouldn't have. They both did though, and they did it together, though not without strife.

10 October 2016

Layover 1

I'm in Heathrow, sitting at the bar at a place called Huxley's. The place makes a big fuss about being British; celebrating modern British food. When the alternative is half a lobster and champagne for some princely sum, and I'm facing three more hours before a flight to Menorca, that seems just fine. When I approached the one remaining bar stool, the young man sitting adjacent gave a friendly look as he shifted his stool over to make room, but left his headphones in. He was not the only one with headphones in. Even the people without headphones are looking at their phones. I'm not.

I order a beer. A fast-talking guy, a speaker of Lithuanian as can be gleaned from the small badge of the Lithuanian flag on his nametag, assisted by two other guys, a colleague and trainee, both from India, provide efficient service, but are too busy to chat. The bar is L-shaped, and I'm sitting on the small side looking across towards the long end. Halfway down the long end, a young woman is passively rubbing her significant other's back with one hand, while in the other hand she holds her phone up to her face, giving it far more attention. At some point, the Lithuanian unsuccessfully tries to bum a smoke from his coworkers behind the bar. Unsuccessful, he heads to the kitchen and emerges with a cigarette behind his ear and leaves. I order another beer. The stool beside me opens up.

"Which of the beers has the most alcohol?" asks the 40-something American man who's sat down next to me of the trainee. The American, he's delayed, he's been at the airport awhile and will be for some longer, he announces, perhaps to bartender, perhaps to me.  The trainee doesn't know much about the beers and calls over his remaining colleague who runs through the list of lagers and ales on tap: unadventurous selections with a alcohol contents that, no lie, range only from 5.4% to 5.6%. The bartender suggests a slightly stronger Belgian beer in bottles, but the man, while he could imagine drinking said beer in a cafĂ© in Paris, decides he wants the strongest tap beer.

Something about the American makes me uneasy. There's a boisterous affability to his interactions with the staff, but it seems to be a mask over something: an angry volatility, a short fuse. Something feels like it's not going to end well. For awhile we're both silently drinking our beers.

"Is there a room or a dungeon or some place where I can smoke?" he asks the trainee.

"No..." the trainee softly intones, trailing off. I think the specification of a dungeon has thrown him. It's thrown me too. Dungeon? What the fuck? He riffs a little on the idea of a dungeon, talking a little about chains, taking things in a vaguely sexual direction. The trainee is still listening, but seems at a loss of words. The American seems almost apologetic on behalf of the trainee. His voice has conciliatory tone, as though he's fighting something back. "Can't do anything in an airport anymore. Fucking Muslims right?" The trainee gives an anxious grimace in response. Not ending well is starting. My second beer is soon finished, much faster than the first one. I eagerly pay and spend the rest of the layover sitting by the gate.