GateHouse — I generally try to avoid writing about things like the repeated body blows of awfulness that befall you during an average visit to the airport, but having been absorbing CNN at My Bloody Valentine-level volumes for an hour, and also having just been hit in the leg with a skateboard, I’m giving myself a pass here. (I am not kidding when I say that my iPod is powerless to drown out the sheer force of Wolf Blitzer right now. I have also just learned that even when it’s just to ask you to change your seat assignment to accommodate a family, having your name called over the loudspeaker immediately makes one think, “OH, GOD, I’M BEING DETAINED” and hope that President Clinton has some free time in the next few weeks).
But this is actually not just an airport. This is Newark International Airport, which, in addition to being a really crowded airport, carries the added bonus of being in New Jersey.
I know I am in New Jersey because on the way here I sat next to the Most New Jersey Family Ever, a family so New Jersey I thought someone was shooting a movie around me, a family so New Jersey I’m pretty sure they were some of those fancy new actor robots from Japan. The dad was a small mountain of leathery tan and cool hair and questionable man-jewelry; upon arrival onto the plane he attempted to jam basically a suitcase the size of my first apartment into the overhead compartment, and then grew predictably furious when the overhead compartment failed to reorient its molecular structure to stretch open enough to accept the massive bag, and then gave up and started removing items from the bag with the sort of exasperating sigh/grunt that you might expect if someone told him he had to carry the plane on his back to Florida but seemed a little excessive when applied to luggage. He spent the rest of the flight cursing loudly and hugging his kids in these weird, genuine displays of affection, and then would curse at the SkyMall. I tell you, these people were not real.
But that’s how it goes. American airports are places where people absorb the tension of strict schedules, forced human interaction and terrible food courts and deal with the subsequent aggregate stress by turning, to some degree, into cows. Well, that’s not entirely true. When a cow hears the phrase, “Now boarding Section 1 only” and full well knew that he is a citizen of Section 2, the cow likely does not jump up and skitter over to the line in apparent belief that the plane will be airborne in the next 15 seconds. I cannot for the life of me figure out this behavior pattern. We have all been to airports enough to realize that in the time between boarding call and actual takeoff you could probably get in a regulation NBA game, and yet people — mostly in oversized floral print things — sweat and panic and waddle to the gate as though it leads to the last spaceship leaving the planet before it’s incinerated by the Death Star.
But that’s once on the plane. Before the plane is the gate experience, which is where I am, enjoying a coffee and a muffin, which cost $37.50, and listening to both Wolf and the light and lilting tones of a harsh-looking woman barking reports into her phone about the back-pain situation of one of her acquaintances. Is there a reason no one ever shouts anything good into a cell phone at an airport? Something like “My donation to the museum cleared today!” or “I’m going to be singing at the orphanage at 2 p.m.!” Why must it generally be about someone’s medical problems, or the unprecedented lateness of the airport in which you’re sitting?
But wait, hold on – the people on the loudspeaker just issued a call for someone named Fantastico. I listened twice to make sure it’s real. Fantastico. Which actually has made this all worthwhile, as long as he’s not getting detained. I am looking all over this place for Fantastico right now. Where is this magical man? Fantastico can fly wherever Fantastico wants! Fantastico flies on an airplane made of unicorn wings and dark wood paneling! Wow. I really hope I’m on Fantastico’s flight.
Airports are weird, they’re little enclosed traps where people sit for hours and scribble things into notebooks but also have come to expect not just utter comfort and pampering, but an absence of even the most minor of life’s little inconveniences, such as 10-minute takeoff delays having to wait a few minutes to board. It is why I’m glad I have my iPod and can hide in my little notebook here and try to sneak away from the stress, and the people, except Fantastico, who, I imagine, isn’t bothered in the least.