Sunday, July 10, 2005

Maintain control of your carry-on baggage at all times

I just can’t do it. I mean, it sounds easy. Maintain implies that you are already there, in the land of control, briskly sweeping your personal chaos along with ease. But I confess, I just can’t. It’s unruly. I mean it, it plots and conspires against me, a stubborn stubby little nemesis on wheels. Is it resentful that it came from Building 19 and ¾ or 5/18 or whatever, the local buy-it-for-less-for cheap (where I always spend more money than I intend. Hmmm. How cheap is that, really)? Great, my luggage has an inferiority complex (my luggage has baggage, tee hee). Or is it just what it was: cheap? I can’t answer these pressing questions, but I do know it bites my ankles, twists in my hands and insists on having a handle just a leetle eety bit too short for my height. Rolling is its least favorite gait.

I hope you didn’t think this was going to turn into some deep metaphorical story about personal hang-ups, psychological inhibitions and traveling on the airplane of life or relationships or whatever. Nope. This is about airports. I’ve always really liked airports. I like to think about them and muse about how they used to be and what they’re like now. I mean, I grew up before the “all non-ticketed passengers must meet their parties at the baggage claim area” stuff. Non-ticketed passengers? Need I say anything else about that phrase? I remember how exciting it was, the building frustration about that passenger ahead serenely blocking your way up the concourse, because on the other side might be your mom, or your boyfriend, and their eyes would light up, and maybe there’d be balloons or flowers, but at least a big hug. And the huge, sliding disappointment when you got out the door and they were late…Now I know we still have some version of this when you get out of security, but there was something about combining that hideous 15 minutes when you’re half-crouched under the luggage racks because it’s better than remaining in that stinking little seat one moment longer, watching the people ahead of you in the aisle and wondering when that shifting will translate itself into real movement OUT of the plane, with the first brief freedom of walking up the concourse and yet not really being out of confinement and the rising excitement of only a few more steps…

I was once waiting at the gate while the previous flight emptied (here’s another fun one: de-planing. Un-planing? If I get back on am I re-planing?) and watched as each passenger got off carrying a flower and walked over to a confused but flattered young woman. By the end, she had a large bouquet, and the last person off was her boyfriend, who asked her to marry him. I guess I don’t think of the airport as my ideal place for a marriage proposal, but I love the way that young man had it all planned out, and enlisted his fellow passengers in a brief comradeship, just by buying flowers and carrying a photo of his girlfriend.

And what about how we all have the same luggage now? What’s that all about? Did luggage technology just take off (no pun intended) and now we all have to have the wheels and the handles? And every single one is black? I do include myself here, people, don’t worry. We’ve resorted to ribbons and tape to ID our stuff now. And I seem to be traveling with a new electronic object every year, so that I’m really only the sum of my cables. Bionic woman, here I come.

Anyway, I love to watch the sheer numbers of people. Any size, shape, outfit you can imagine. In my daily life I tend to forget the amazing amount of variety that exists in the world. And I think it’s sweetly bemusing how we almost always walk how we drive—on the right. Is it different in other countries? Can you tell the Americans in foreign airports because they collide with others, trying to walk on the right? I’ve been in foreign airports, but for the life of me, I can’t remember.

So here I am, picking at what passes for an egg roll (now there’s another amazing subject, airport food. I didn’t feel this way at first, but I think we may all be better off with just the snacks they serve these days. It’s hard to mess up pre-packaged granola bars. Of course, that means they can charge even more for what seems to be a salty fried egg roll type object, and they do) and reveling in the cheap industrial carpeting (how can that guy sleep on that stuff?), and the too-loud announcements, and listening to my fellow identically luggaged, laptopped, mp3’ed passengers speak in other languages on their cell phones. My bag is quiescent for now, but watch out when my zone is called, I barely have it under control.