Perhaps you have been wondering if part 3 of this series would ever arrive. It would have posted a couple of weeks ago, but I went to Costa Rica on business. Yes, while much of the U.S. was enduring its first bitter cold spell of the winter, I was enjoying a few days of beautiful weather, like a reprise of summer. I felt pretty smart that I had decided to park in a covered lot when I returned to the airport and found a couple inches of snow that I didn’t have to clean from my car.
Perhaps you’ve also been wondering about the photo I keep using with this series of posts. You may be able to tell that it is a view of the airport in Vilnius, Lithuania. It was taken a few years ago as we were getting ready to leave Vilnius. Which, by the way, is a great place in summer–lots of outdoor cafés, beautiful architecture in the Old Town , charming parks, many festivals in the parks. I’ve been there twice in summer and never in winter, so I can only vouch for summer.
In this photo, the check-in area is below the viewer and to the left, and the gates are past security, beyond the arrival and departure screens you can see in the middle of the photo.
The thing about airports is that they each have their own personality. If you travel enough, the airports that you frequent begin to feel like well-known extensions of the places you travel. I know where are the best restaurants in Atlanta’s airport for a sit down meal, and where to go if you want the shortest line for coffee (usually). And where they tend to hang all the most interesting artwork. In Paris, in De Gaulle, I can tell you the easiest place to get a snack and also where the most duty free shopping options are to be found. In Kansas City, I know where the tornado shelters are (underground, yes, used them once) and in Dallas-Fort Worth I can tell you the best place to watch storms sweep in over the distant open plains. In Rio de Janeiro, I know where to get little cheese filled rolls and a drink.
Atlanta feels like a city, as does De Gaulle. DFW feels like Texas itself, open and sprawling. Kansas City’s airport feels like a way station, not a destination at all but a place on the way to another place, the modern equivalent of the stagecoach stop. Vilnius feels old-fashioned with a modern layer– like the little airport that could. It has much in common with the many smaller airports in the U.S. — Akron-Canton, OH, New Orleans, LA, Albany, NY . All the necessary facilities, parking an easy walk, none of the crowds. It’s so easy to use these airports. That’s one of the things I liked about the Vilnius airport. It’s just so easy.
Of course, the best part of airport travel is people-watching. Everyone has a story. I’m private (shy?) by nature so usually I imagine the stories of the people I see, but the shared sense of between-ness sometimes moves even me to strike up conversations with strangers. Well, sometimes.
One of the things you still see in these smaller airports, that you no longer see in Atlanta’s busy check in areas or terminals, is parents bringing children to the airport for a visit. I discovered from colleagues on my trip to Costa Rica that not all parents thought — as my parents thought — that the small (and very small) airports were a destination. A place for an afternoon excursion. Someplace to go get a grilled cheese sandwich and hang out while watching the planes land and take off. However, in Vilnius, with the viewing area above check-in, seemingly specifically designed to make it easy to visit without being a traveler, you still see parents bringing kids to show them the planes.
Of course, reading poetry while traveling leads to writing poetry while traveling. So the above is a long way of introducing the following poem:
The boy sits on his father’s shoulders
clutches the man’s forehead
watches the concourse from the departure level
above and outside the security line
He thinks he will fly on a plane like the one hanging
at his eye level but it won’t be a small plane
won’t be red or have propellers or hover over the strangers
he thinks are numerous enough to call a crowd
His father points to jets outside the windows
taller than any windows the boy has ever seen
jets that land and roar toward the windows
The boy points and waves like he waved this morning
at the red-capped farmer on the rusty green tractor
that drives each morning and evening past the chain-link fence
that yesterday kept the boy out of the world
The boy thinks he will enter a plane
and touch controls as the pilots must touch
tomorrow when he leaves his rolling farmlands for Babylon
like another Daniel before him
but this Babylon will be full of motorcycles and race cars and Pizza America
which are two of the polite words he can say in English
The boy doesn’t know anyone who has flown anywhere
except his father and people he has seen on television
but he believes it is possible
and will be like riding a bus except faster
He doesn’t know you can’t park by the runway fence
doesn’t know he won’t return here
because of something called moving and adoption
doesn’t know what it feels like
to be held above the ground by only sky and theory made real
A lady with a tiny dog in a tiny soft cage
hugs a man standing now by the boy and his father
The lady lines up below them
walks through security carrying
the tiny dog like a tiny piece of the man
disappears through a door in the corrugated metal wall
The model plane hangs above the line of people
like a dream of someday
It is a mystery what happens beyond the door
You can’t see anyone after they leave
can’t see if they enter a long metal walkway
and buckle themselves into tomorrow
can’t see the woman and her dog
and the others different but just the same as her
can’t see where they go
can’t even be sure they are gone
To all of those who may be stranded in the north-east U.S. today by the winter weather, trying to go to family or back home from somewhere in time for Thanksgiving, I hope you also have a story or two to take with you from your time in the airports.