I’m sitting in the Atlanta airport as I write this.  To be more accurate, I’m sitting on the floor of the Atlanta airport, waiting for my flight to San Antonio, during a four hour layover.  I’m heading to see my friend Mike get married, which will occur on St. Patrick’s Day.   But at the moment what is on m mind is the airport.

Airports, so far as I can tell, do not rate highly on the list of places people want to go, and they are the butt of many a joke.  For example, my dad is fond of telling this one:  A man is trying to make up with his girlfriend, and after several rounds of pleadings, she acquiesces to go out to dinner with him, so long as he takes her to the most expensive restaurant he knows. So, he takes to eat at the airport.

Not the best joke ever, but considering I just paid $20 for what looked like a microwavable sandwich and beer, it is not too far from the truth either.  But that is only a small part of it.  For if you stop to consider what an airport it, you come quickly come to realize that they are nothing more than a modern-day way station: a temporary shelter for the voluntarily displaced.

A not so modern way station.

Now, over the years I’ve been in lots of airports from tiny towns in America to Frankfurt, to the International Airport in Bangkok.  And without exception there are a few constants.  First, no matter where you go, you are always guaranteed to find someone sleeping across a row of seats.  This weary travel is usually the one that the airlines are screwing over or they simply have an inordinately long layover. This latter situation usually having been forced upon them when required to take an early flight out of their departure city, only to doze in a terminal, while waiting for the one flight they need, which always seems to leave at six at night.

The second thing you notice is that most people don’t smile as they walk around.  They are focused on getting from point A to point B, and it has also been my experience that, generally speaking, the faster the mode the transport, the more frowns you see.  In recent years this has been exaggerated by the proliferation of electronic communications.  People are fixated on where they are going and what they are missing, and it has becoming increasingly difficult for people to simply enjoy the journey.

This is a shame, and here is why.  Right now there is an absolutely adorable little girl just playing with her mother (well to be fair she’s using her mom like a climbing wall, and doing assisted wall-flips off of her).  She has straw-coloured hair, blue chalk on her face, a flower dress, pink shoes, and a devil-may-care smile.  Occasionally she runs up next to the window that I’m sitting at to investigate the planes, and in general she provides more entertainment than any phone or TV.  Yet for all her energy and antics, she is largely ignored.

Then look, just as I’m typing this out, she is gone.  Poof! Boarded a plane at the last minute.  Who knows who will sit next to her, but they should be grateful that her mother let her vent so much of the youthful energy by using her body as jungle gym.  There are hundreds of these moments in your average airport everyday,  of that I’m positive. Yet they are largely ignored.  Of course people have places to go and people to see, but if everyone is wearing frowns or that detached, board look that clearly says “don’t-bother-me-as-im-functioning-on-autopilot-and-you-are-invading-my-space-by-trying-to-be-social,” and they can’t smile at such a simple display of exuberance for life, what does that say about the average adult human?

The whole of humanity is on display at the airport.  There are men with Churchill shoes and thousand dollar suits who seem to be vaguely uneasy about being forced to travel with the rabble.  College logos are on display from all over the country, as chartering mobs of late teen, early twenty-somethings swarm though the corridors.  There was a very sweet couple sitting quietly watching the plane that had been delayed for over an hour, as they mused that their two boys (ages 14 and 10) who were on board wouldn’t taking kindly to sitting idly on the tarmac.  There are other couples snuggled up to one another as they try and get comfortable, and, finally, there are folks like me…solitary individuals who are working on their laptops. So I guess that even I’m not immune.  And maybe that is the answer.  Airports are the place that people hone the skills they need to successfully kill time, and maybe the reason so many people look board is they don’t know how to just sit and enjoy the world going by…they have to “fill time.”

Well…it’s a thought.