The airport floor is so patched and greasy it looks like a shot of black coffee, an eighteen-hour-built-state-of-loopy-exhaustion, and a shoulder devil named Boredom drove person after person to survive their grueling layovers by dropping their McDonalds to splat on the floor for entertainment purposes. And then proceeded to convince them that rubbing it into the soggy blue carpet with their heels to make murky brown paint so that they then can shape blobby continents and oceans with the oozing paste is a good idea, while mechanically digest a Dunkin Donut donut hole and mumble their gate number to try to keep their eyes open.
But the shops are open and there are people, despite their masks, talking and laughing and eating and standing and running and moving within six feet of each other. Many jog from gate to gate, boarding tickets flapping in their clenched hands and their suitcase bouncing and tossing, performing landings and sharp turns despite humanity’s turbulence.
Like a massive mask fashion show, you watch them pass and categorize the different kinds. Tie-dye, animal print, jet black… hand-made, neck gaiter, probably purchased on Esty. There’s also the classic monster design, tongue-hanging-out-deal that dangles at passer-byers like a demon-possessed puppet, and the occasional cheap-skate or absent minded soul who forget their mask and pinches their shirt over their nose and runs by hunched up and puffing.
Who knew bandanas would come into style after growing up playing pirate and peasant and king and tying them as everything: belt, hat, sandal, or shoe?
But beyond the masks are the people that wear them.
There’s the on-business type. Wearing a suit, pulling a tight black bag, and carrying a briefcase.
There’s the group of teenagers off to-who-knows-where, there’s the couple hundred couple pairs starting on a grand adventure, there’s the type that are going through their contacts calling old friends to pass the time, and there’s the young woman with the dark hair carrying the tiny bulldog pup who pulls off her mask as she sinks into a chair out of sight of the world so that the bundle can lick her face for the next hour.
Then, a personal favorite: There’s the young care-free adventurous families. The mother has a baby strapped to her chest and is wearing stretchy black exercise pants and flip-flops while the father is pulling a portable family-run, family-size leaning tower of Pisa built ground up out of luggage, polka-dotted duffel bags, diaper bags, and marvel backpacks, corralling five or so blond haired kids with huge lightening fast blue and hazel eyes to try to catch their next flight on time.
In theory, it sounds stressful but somehow despite the odds they are having so much fun, oblivious to the local swarm of depressed society they are descending into. The father yells out a gate number and suddenly it’s hide-and-seek mixed with eye-spy, window shopping, and snack time.
Overall it feels almost like a mall – a mall of all things after malls became ghost towns and they filtered into the category of remember-that-thing-when-we-used-to-be-able-to-hug-and-watch-sports?
From a little corner in the back of a terminal where they call for “Brooks” to check-in at the desk every half hour while you wear your mask on your wrist, eat half a blueberry scone you hope will stay down on the next flight, and drink coffee with your two siblings on the floor – the dirty floor (for reference see paragraph one) – but who cares?
You haven’t had a shower in over 24 hours anyways and you have five hours of a layover, a broken outlet you’ll plug into anyways, and a show to watch with one pair of earbuds, with time to talk besides.
Oh, and the view you saw to get there? The view of a sunrise from a tiny plane as it warms southeastern Texas and completes the painting that the sprawling factories started with their gold pixie dust lights far below?
It is incomparable.
Yet you try to take pictures and as expected your dinky little track phone produces something like a small fingernail file, almost like a painting you have to step back to try to admire, in order to try to find a tiny snapshot suggestion of what it roughly looked like.
And when you’re high enough that you see endless clouds for hundreds of miles, you can almost imagine it’s an ocean. Clear, glistening, buttery white with small still waves that curl up and drift down.
But from white horizons to dark blue nothingness inches above us it goes, like a color spectrum mapped permanently in the atmosphere in case we ever get lost and forget where we stand.
We stand on tiny nothingness.
Can you take a moment to appreciate how we can see seemingly impossible things? We can fly thousands of feet above our dwelling places? We can see small specs of cars and make out clear lines of highways cutting straight and true into far faded fields, cutting patterns across our little worlds I forget are there? And yet be so close to being lost in infinity.
Sixty years is all it took to go from the two crazy brothers running a bicycle repair shop but tinkering with small rackety flying inventions despite the odds, to Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. Yes, just over a mere sixty years. From a 12 second flight covering 120 feet of a wind-swept beach in North Carolina in 1903 to July 20, 1969 where Neil Armstrong’s voice was heard crackling over the radio, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Can you stop and appreciate the fact you are careening through space on a giant orb spinning at 1700 kilometers per hour, and not falling off? Not to mention the fact that at the same time it’s hurling around a giant burning orb at about 30 km a second. How about that the earth is at the exact distance from the sun not to toast us alive or freeze us to death? And then there’s so many other movements earth is being subject to and the theories surrounding them. And we still know close to nothing.
One final appreciation: When you land, you might stay in an airport and watch humanity rush by for five hours, might have a slipping grasp for once on the fact that there are so many people in this world, but in the end, waiting for you one final flight away, is home. Is family.
Please, for once, can you stop and be astounded at everything?
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the task, maybe take advice from a man born in the fifteenth century and just start with your thumb.
“In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.” – Isaac Newton