We’ll get through this. Or, you know, we won’t.
Since time in memoriam, stand-up comedians and anyone with any one of the five senses have been here to tell you that airports aren’t nice places to be. And I’m here to say, “That is correct.”
Stage One: Confusion
My confusion starts as I leave the customs area (where I was derisively chuckled at for declaring a granola bar but I’m not about to be fined $500 for forgetting to declare an apple because what if that border agent decides the raisins in the bar counts as “fruits or vegetables” and now I’ve been fined hundreds of bucks per withered grape). I’m seeing lots of signage for baggage claims and airport exits but nothing about other terminals. After spinning a couple of times to scan the walls, I decide the only thing left for me to do is to head toward baggage claim thinking that, surely, there will be obvious signage about where to go from here. My leap of faith is rewarded with more signs for exits.
I head for a security line in the distance, since it’s the only option left as I’m not looking to make this city 2,500 miles from home my final destination. The woman working the security line takes my customs receipt, which I take as a sign that I’m going in the right direction. And by the time I bypass the area for Rechecking Bags (which is literally for checking luggage not as like a re-searching of your carry on like I originally thought), I see my first sign for terminal C. Unfortunately, it merely alludes to the existence of a terminal C, not how to locate it. It’s like a piece of abstract art. It’s not about the literal content of terminal C, but how the existence of terminal C makes you feel. The flow of foot traffic is corralled through flimsy, temporary looking hallways. I take a 50-50 shot at which way to go but the people behind me aren’t so lucky as they’re promptly yelled at to turn around in spite of the fact there’s no way to know they’ve taken a wrong turn.
Stage 2: Pain
There’s nothing metaphorical about this. My duffel bag, which had previously felt manageable slung over my shoulder, is suddenly so heavy it seems like it’s only a matter of seconds before my arm is cleaved from my shoulder.
Stage 3: Anger
No one likes navigating an airport. Even at the best of times it’s hardly a party. But between the aforementioned confusion, pain, and the sweat sticking my shirt to my back it seeps in. A white-hot anger. Who designed this airport? Why are there no signs? Would it kill you to have signs, you stupid airport? Why is there a random seeming kiosk for buying transit tickets here? I bet you’re trying to trick me into thinking I need to buy tickets to move between terminals? The confusing, brutalist design of the airport has taken shape in my mind as a slight against me personally.
Stage 4: Depression, Reflection, and Loneliness
The stream of people in search of their own destinations are funneled toward a monorail that connects the terminals. I’m comforted by the memory of Dallas Fort-Worth’s Skylink. Soon I’ll be standing in a shipping-container sized car, zipping breezily to my destination.
The monorail arrives. Somewhere in the distance a record scratches.
As I’m crammed into the miniscule pod I have some time to sink into a proper despair. Few places are more regulated than airports and yet chaos is the true master of this domain. If there are gods in this airport they are not the soberly bearded sort seated atop columns stretching to the heavens. The gods here are tricksters, giddily setting off the door sensors again and again, trapping the monorail in a maddening stasis.
In spite of the uncomfortable proximity between me and everyone else in the pod there’s an unspoken loneliness that fills what little space there is between us. That we all die alone — that terrible truth — permeates the slivers of spaces between our bodies.
A fresh stab of pain in my shoulder. I curse myself for not just buying a roller bag already.
Stage 5: Acceptance
The sign for my gate appears — a beacon of light in the middle of a storm-churned sea. But I’m a shadow of my former self. I forget how many lines and checkpoints I’ve gone through, the way a creature cursed with immortality loses count of the Empires that have risen and fallen under its undying eye. I’m not me anymore. I’ve been recreated in the image of some eyeless, proto-lizard groping its way out of the primordial soup. I’m airport trash now. I’ve become one with the flow of despair. The shame I feel at acquiring a Frappuccino in an effort to cram a stream of mollifying sugar into my system cannot be quantified. The decision came from within, but I find that my very core has been twisted by the nature of the without.