I recently had the imponderable joy of languishing for five hours in the Phoenix airport. Let me tell you: Five hours is the perfect amount time to conduct sociological research into the habits of over-anxious, sweaty humans and their offspring during sustained moments of suspended reality. It is not, however, a good time to explore local dining.
Curious, isn’t it, that as soon as we enter into an airport, norms of human society vanish. On any odd Monday, it’s expected we hold off drinking alcohol until the clock tolls five, or on feisty Fridays, closer to three. But airports don’t sport the same limits or expectations, and therefore, five-year-olds happily nurse gin-and-tonics while parents cozy up to bottles of wine at 9am. Nobody turns up their eyebrows—because, in fact, seeing someone else with a cocktail before noon is just enough reason for us to indulge ourselves. Cheers to you, kiddo.
Case in point: In my first hour at the airport (roughly 10am), I had two beers and a meat-saturated pizza. Was it breakfast? Lunch? Does it matter? I think the cincher was that glorious moment when Frank What’s-His-Name at Acme Bar and Grill came to my table and, without hesitation or pause, asked if I wanted a beer at 10 o’clock. Then, he suggested I might be happier with a Big Gulp size because, frankly, we were in an airport and travel is better when you’re drunk.
It’s actually a wonder more alcoholics don’t hang out at airports. I can see it now: They meander in at 7am, glossy-eyed and drowsy, and demand a vodka neat, no ice, double tall, with an olive. “It’s been a rough day of travel,” they’d say, referring to flight 13453, which they saw on the arrival board. “They lost my luggage in Cancun, then they put me on a bus to Nepal, and finally, I landed in Prague. But United wouldn’t take my expired vouchers and nobody liked me smoking in the bathroom, so I had to fly economy. Sucks, am I right? Another vodka, please.”
But the rule-bending goes farther than booze. Have you ever hovered in a gift shop waiting for a boarding call and decided you absolutely needed a fake diamond-studded pink purse with “Route 66” tattooed on the back? Well, I have. It was a mistake, though—as I realized when the luggage dumped out of the carousel in Denver and I reached to pick up my bright pink clutch. Or perhaps you’ve been seduced by SkyMall and rationalized the purchase of a 10-foot fountain for your bedroom that lights up in three different neon colors because, as your wife once said (you think, possibly, well, you’re not really sure), “the bedroom needs a little color.”
To wit: After-flight realizations are the worst. I call them airplane hangovers.
Oh, then there’s the clothing. On the one hand, you have business men who wear suits no matter what the weather—and in Phoenix, a three-piece doesn’t mesh well with 112-degrees. We can all see that sweat-soaked butt imprint on your Armani grey. But then there are those who seem to think themselves traveling in a private jet. “Comfortable clothing” for air travel does not mean less clothing, nor does it mean that you can refrain from showering the morning before your flight. These are the people who should get sprayed with Lysol as they walk through security. Just a mist, really. They wouldn’t even notice.
But of all the improbabilities and Louis Carroll-esque farces I see in airports, I have yet to witness what Craigslist suggests is almost omnipresent: clandestine rendez-vous for quickies between shuttles to LaGuardia and Southwest legs to see grandma. I half expect to hear something suspicious when I walk into a bathroom, or stumble across mid-coitus faux pas in forgotten alcoves where ticket agents go to die. But nothing. Not once. Instead, I trip over eight-year-olds guiltily scarfing Reese’s Pieces with their half-digested McDonald’s burger, or grandma, who thinks she’s still at home waiting for Days of Our Lives to pop on TV. Where do these hookups happen? The international concourse?
I’ll confess: I sort of look forward to flying. Not because of the three-to-a-seat flights jostling at 39,000 feet. Not because I get free coffee and a magazine with a crossword puzzle. Not because being in the air means I can’t check my work e-mail. But because lingering in an airport is a study of human ridiculousness. Our lives, our rules, or tendencies are suspended for hours on end only because we’re mired in the culture of air travel. And what entertainment it is! If only I could videotape it.
Eh, that’s too much work. It’s 10am; let’s just go get a drink.