take-offs and landings

by s.

I love airports with an absurd and unabashed fervor. I enjoy the Milwaukee airport most of all, perhaps, because it is the kind of airport that refuses to take itself too seriously. There’s a Harley store next to the Brooks Brothers. The ping pong table that sits between the two is absolutely free to partake in, and there’s usually a dude playing the piano in the middle of the waiting area. No matter what my flight is about to do, those factors generally calm me as I head into the security check, usually with a bag of cheese curds from the gift shop tucked away into my luggage.

I stare in airports in a way that I never do in real life. I listen in on conversations with ease. Airports are purgatory and not a part of the cities in which they technically reside; when you are someplace that is effectively “between places”, you really get to act however you want. People tend to say what they really think in airports, and this is why you hear the most fights between couples and earnest calls home and an unhealthy stream of complains in every direction. To make up for all of the listening-in, I in turn tend to become charming. Every TSA agent in the United States seems to be enamored with my tattoos, and I use this to catapult myself through security and into the concourse and my newfound world of charm.

Today was an exceptional example of all of this, and as I moved through the security line I made eyes with an attractive lumberjack-type disguised in a blazer. He made eyes back, and though he stood at least ten people in front of me, he was somehow still at the end of the conveyer belt after I went through security. I had the sense he was waiting for me, because airports are also exactly like living in a movie. Still, he said nothing, and I put my boots on and swung my bags over my shoulder and headed to get my favorite Milwaukee coffee and had forgotten about him by the time I sat down at my gate with my honey latte, whereupon an attractive lumberjack-type in a peacoat looked up from his iPad and smiled shyly at me.

I told you I was charming in airports.

One thing that I love even more than I love airports is the way that take-offs and landings feel. Flights themselves are obviously cramped and claustrophobic and full of crying babies and germs; they are easy to be optimistic about but difficult to actually enjoy. Take-offs, however, the actual physical rush you get from leaving something in a pure, simple, “the buildings are getting smaller” form. In this easy sense, leaving always feels good.

Through a well-timed fare sale, I’d landed a first class seat on my flight home today, and as I settled in my cushy chair behind Lumberjack Type In A Peacoat, I thought very hard about money and how, if I had some, first class flights are top on the list of expensive things that may very well be worth it. As the very adorable steward asked if I would like a cocktail, the very attractive man next to me smiled. “I am so sorry, I forgot something in my luggage. Would you mind?”

I smiled back and got up, and we giggled nervously together as we held up the line and the woman behind me pretended to be gracious about it. Then I settled into “The Atlas of Remote Islands” and lost myself in other worlds.

In general, landings tend to provide the same rush as take-offs, with an added bonus of always feeling like a first day of a new year. Every time, I get the sense that when I walk through the gate towards home, I will be a better person because I been given some inexplicable new knowledge in transit. Today, just after the pilot announced our final descent into Laguardia, we hit New York’s weather system quite hard, and the ocean seemed to come awfully close awfully fast as the wind hit the aircraft. For a moment, it felt as though we were all going to twist completely sideways. My seatmate looked at me with his nervous smile as though I could tell him how to act; I heard other people gasp and suck in their breath behind me; the thought of dying in a plane crash occurred to me for the first time in my life. Less than thirty seconds later, we straightened out and hit the runway rolling.

My seatmate giggled and looked back at me again. ” The weather was much better in Milwaukee,” I said. “We should probably just turn around and go back.” Then I walked through the airport feeling quite lucky and still sort of charming, which lasted until I stumbled into the fifty-deep cab line in the middle of a New York winter downpour and life – and I – felt instantly normal once again.

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