I love airports. Seriously. I love everything about them, the hassles, the smell, the anticipation, all of it. I find it simply grand. Of course this is usually because by the time I find myself at the airport, I am heading somewhere – I am not sure how important the destination actually is to me – it is just the going somewhere that I love. And as I mentioned, by the time I am there, it is all that I have to do. Just be there. Everything I needed to do before hand, or should have done, or wanted to do… it is all a distant afterthought, no matter how important it was. When I get to the airport, the only possible direction is forward. Like the ubiquitous sign at the Shanghai Pudong International airport:
“You are now at the point of no [actually it says “cart” but bear with my creative license] return.”
Of course, not all airport stories are about heading off somewhere. Nor are they all replete with mirth and joy. I have had my share of mishaps and disappointments… but I still love to go to the airport.
Once I wandered off a Freddie Laker DC-10, a befuddled 8 year-old coming off a trans-Atlantic flight from Heathrow to LAX as an unattended minor. I remember the plastic wings the stewardesses gave me and being able to run around the plane. My mom remembers a wan looking little kid wandering out of a crowd after a month away. Most other people remember that the DC-10s had a nasty habit of exploding.
Once I waited for my father to pick me up in Oakland. For four hours. After an arduous connection from a long haul trans-Pacific flight. that was a bummer, because though I love my dad, there is always a little bit of a question as to whether his details are synced with mine. He eventually got there.
Once I slept on the floor in the Athens Airport for ten hours because all flights to London and Paris were canceled and I had to be available for any sort of stand-by opportunity. I met a really nice guy named Stephen there.
Once I arrived in plenty of time to catch my flight from Vegas back to Reno, but my companion, Ex #3, was so “indisposed” that we had to sit at the gate area while three subsequent flights left so he could finish filling up several trash cans with vomit. But I stood by my man.
Once, that very same Ex took me to the tiny Tahoe-Truckee airport and we flew to Southern California – for dinner. He had a talent for making amends.
Once I went to the airport in Hong Kong to meet someone who was flying in from the States who I had not met in person and we were about to embark on a wild Southeast Asian adventure. We were both thrilled at all that awaited us. I had a bottle of champagne and his Octopus card. He tried to be sly and sneak up on me but we caught each other at the same moment. I think people around us must have thought we were long lost relatives or something. In many ways we were. Some shared experiences are worth holding onto no matter how bizarrely they play out. That day was epic.
Once, I was waiting for a flight in San Francisco and was wandering around in a bit of a daze and bumped smack into my best friend from high school.
Once I was sitting in a bar [insert joke here] waiting for a connecting flight at SeaTac and desperately wanting the Olympics to be on TV, but the Seahawks were in the middle of losing a pre-season football game and the dudes were not having it. It just so happened to be the night Michael Phelps was swimming for his record EIGHTH gold medal at the Beijing Games. Lamenting our sad televised sport scenario, a veteran United airlines flight attendant and I got to talking about Hong Kong and her time there at which point the server, whose name was the same as mine, joined in. We told her about the TV sports dilemma. She was unsure of what to do. I called my friend in Hong Kong to find out what had happened in the race Phelps had just swum. After sharing the news with the flight attendant and the waitress, said waitress said, at a very impressive volume: “MICHAEL PHELPS JUST WON HIS EIGHTH GOLD MEDAL!” The Seahawks fans looked up and said, “What? How did we miss that?”
Once I was supposed to meet someone off their flight from Bangkok in San Francisco 12 hours after I arrived from Hong Kong. I was so excited. I waited and waited and planned what we would do when he got there. I waited some more. And some more. He never made it. This would be Ex #5 who was “indisposed” in Bangkok and missed his flight, lost his passport, and we might say his girlfriend as well. Though that took a while longer.
Once I decided on a bit of a whim – okay, a TOTAL whim – to fly home to meet someone for a weekend in San Francisco. I was again, thrilled at the thought of it. I arrived at the airport with an appropriate amount of time and was settling into my pre-flight bliss when I got an email telling me that he would not be able to make it because of “work.” A [poor] euphemism if ever there was one. I stayed the course and went home anyhow. San Francisco was as gorgeous as ever and it allowed me the opportunity to reconnect with a very dear old friend. To this I say thank you to the airport gods/powers that be for helping me stay on track, and Fuck You Knoxville, TN.
Once while I was checking in to fly home and verifying that I had a bulkhead seat, the Cathay agent asked how I would feel about an upgrade to Business Class. Not sure I heard him correctly and not wanting to jinx anything, I simply smiled and nodded. And so began my love affair with the privileged class of air travel.
I definitely have mixed airport mojo. I have been halted for extra security (though, oddly that has stopped since I stopped ordering the Halal meals…) I have been serendipitously surprised and devastatingly dissed. Knowing all of this, I willingly chose to meet someone else at the airport last night – the result of a slightly manufactured chance encounter. Going into it with some degree of expectation, but a new found disregard for the outcome, I headed out to HKIA at 11:00 pm. The flight was due in at 11:35 and I had received an email that the “Package” was on board in Shanghai/Pudong. I wandered around the airport marveling at the number of flights that were arriving and their myriad origins. And I looked at all the different types of people in all of their different modes of waiting/trepidation/anticipation/fatigue/concern. I watched people arriving and played my favorite game of trying to determine a) where they were coming in from; and b) who was waiting for them. Would it be the tired looking husband? The antsy hotel driver? The purposefully disheveled hipster? The family of six bearing bags of home cooked food? The business man with the lilies?
And I waited.
And some then I waited some more.
The last train back to the city would depart at 12:48 a.m. I was getting on towards about T-20 minutes. Of course, a cab would always be an option, but I hate to waste a return ticket…
And looking up I saw a familiar face. I swear to god it was the stranger I had waited for with champagne back in 2006. I knew he had been out of Hong Kong for a while and that he was dying to get back. Could it have been him? It looked like him. He looked right at me. I wished my glasses were stronger. Was it really my former friend, Mr. “Not-an-excuse-a-justification”? I almost wanted to follow him to find out. But in another way I liked the idea that it might be him arriving at the same moment I was waiting for someone else, it seemed a very full-circle-of-life kind of thing.
I watched him go away.
And still I waited for the other arrival. How long to wait? Was my airport mojo coming into play again? Then I saw the one I was waiting for. He had no luggage, which was odd. But he was there and it is completely fun to be the tour guide for a friend in a city like Hong Kong.
Here is hoping that his luggage will eventually get off the Bund, and here is to many more airport adventures and even misadventures in the future.