Airports are fairly fascinating places. That is, they can be fascinating and interesting if we can put aside our dread about the inevitable hassles, frustrations, delays, expense and aggravations. Remember when flying was exciting and fun? There used to be an aura of exhilaration and sophistication around air travel. Now, unfortunately for most, it is a time-consuming, draining and often nerve-wracking experience.
And yet… for those of us who enjoy the art of people-watching and observing, the time spent in an airport can actually be entertaining. Today I had the chance to experience this microcosm of fellow travelers.
I find it intriguing to see such a variety of people all forced to follow the same rules, regulations and processes. We all have to do our check-ins, handle our luggage issues (check or carry on?), and go through the lines at security. What an odd sight that is – uniformed personnel reviewing boarding tickets and licenses, then each of us stripping ourselves of our possessions, including shoes and belts (I was concerned one young man in front of me would lose his pants) and one-by-one going through the “magic imaging portal”. When we emerge on the other side, there is the scramble to reclaim our belongings and redress ourselves while perching on benches and tables.
Then…. the waiting game. Unless, of course, you have cut your time too short and it becomes the rush-to-your-gate game. Generally, however, we are presented with something none of us seem to have anymore: spare time. Time to grab a snack, or browse shops, read a magazine…or just sit and observe.
At the risk of sounding creepy, I often speculate about the stories surrounding the people I see – where are they going, where are they coming from, why are they here? In particular of course, I hone in on all of the other Real Women I see and imagine what brought them there, and how much are they managing or balancing in order to be going wherever they are going?
I see young women, in their comfy collegiate wear and trendy Ugg Boots, and I assume they are traveling between home and college. What are they carrying with them? Worries about exams and projects? Excitement or maybe concern about going back home? Anxiety about boyfriends? Whew. As much as I yearn for my lost youth, I’m glad I’m no longer them.
Then there are the slightly harried moms traveling with children – I envision they are venturing out to visit family or go on vacation. And I want to salute them. So many of us have been there, done that, and it is not easy. As I see them pass by, I remember the first flight my husband and I took with my son when he was a baby. And typical of babies, he cried during take-off, was fussy for four hours, then cried and puked on us during the landing. I wish those moms well.
There are the older women, I presume retired, who I am happy to see being active and able to travel. Perhaps they are off to visit family and grandchildren, or even better, finally having the time and opportunity to just travel for fun and experience the rest of the world. I hope that to be me some day.
And then, most curious to me because I can most closely relate, are the more professionally-clad women. They are striding down the hallway with a purpose, often towing a small overnight-sized bag. I wonder if they are the frequent-traveler type, who always have a bag packed and ready, who have mastered the art of regular travel and treat it simply as a form of commuting… or are they the less frequent traveler who has to leave home for the occasional work conference or event? And how much did that woman have to juggle at home or in the office in order to be traveling today?
Yes, there are a wide variety of RW’s, all heading somewhere –different places for different reasons. I can’t help but consider that underneath the “why”, aren’t we all very similar? Like me, did they too re-pack 3 times, and end up over-packing? Are they planning their last minute run to the ladies’ room in the hopes of making it through a full flight without having to use the one on the airplane? Did they spend the past few days putting in extra hours at work or school in preparation to be away? Did they leave reminder notes at home for their husband and kids? Are they wondering what they forgot to do or pack before departure? Are they making sure they have gum to chew during take-off, and Motrin for the inevitable travel headache?
During my last ladies room visit before boarding, I was doing that awkward washing-hands-while-holding-my-bags-and-looking-around-for-the-hand-towels move when another R.W. entered. She glanced at me, then as she walked by, she pushed the dispenser lever to make it easier for me to reach over and rip off the towels and dry my hands. Why? Because we’ve all been there. We understand each other. And because inside we are all very much alike, and with simple gestures we can help each other out and make our trips through life a bit easier.