Some people do not like the airport. In their mind, they somehow feel trapped there. To them, it is nothing but a prison. First, you have to get your flight ticket. If you are a light traveler, you can walk straight to a self check-in kiosk and get your boarding pass. The 21st century people have exchanged human interaction for convenience with the devil, and things like self check-in kiosks, iPhones and computers are the best examples of that. But when travelling during holiday seasons, waiting in line made out of animosity, annoyance and frustration is one of the elements that enables you to have the balls to curse at someone you barely know. If you are a type of person who has somehow packed all your possession, such as your clothes, laptop, TV, kitchen table, dog, car, house and even your squeaking kids and nagging wife into a couple of suitcases, forget about what was just mentioned above and go check in your bags and expect the line to be that of DMV’s.
Now, you go through security, and of course, there is another long waiting line of madness and confusion. You now show your boarding pass and ID to the TSA staff, and say “Hi” to him or her sycophantically. There, you are stripped of everything. You take off your shoes, belt and jacket. You empty your pockets. You take your laptop out of the bag and place it in the plastic box that just carried someone else’s worn-out shoes that smell like cheese. You make sure once again that you do not have anything in your pockets. Finally, you walk up to the futuristic-looking machine that scans your entire body in the blink and have your life shortened by giving yourself up to the radiation. There is another TSA staff waiting right after you step out of the horrendous machine, and you do not really know where to look, so you just stare down, hanging onto the slight hope that you will not be molested by this pervert this time. But you always have something on you that you should have left in the plastic box, and therefore, you fall victim to the satisfaction of the molester. What could be even worse than this ludicrous body inspection is when you are carrying something you are not supposed to in your bag or suitcase. You are now seen as a suspect, possibly a terrorist. The TSA employee scrutinizes your bag. He throws some of your stuff out of the bag and does not put them back. It turns out that you are not a terrorist, so he lets you go, but your bag is unpacked and scrambled, which perfectly speak your current state of mind. After giving him a furious look, you organize the mess and then, look at the boarding pass to see what gate your flight is at.
The airport is like a labyrinthe. It is really cumbersome to find your gate on your own. There is always an option to ask for directions, but all of a sudden, you want to act like a frequent flyer so you decide to find your gate by yourself. Probably the best way to explain this strange urge to pretend to be an experienced flyer would be the case in which you go on vacation and don’t want the locals to know that you are a tourist, so you take pictures of the site in a very awkward and sneaky way. The good thing is that you still have a plenty of time until the flight takes off. You look at the map that looks like a mathematical formula and naturally, get a headache. For a change, you decide to wander around. You walk into a newsstand because of their colorful interior filled with magazines that stopped your feet, and then, you wonder who still buys magazines nowadays just to get caught up in the beauty culture, who-married-who, or any other trendy stuff when you have an iPhone. You also start wondering about how on earth those magazine companies are still in business. Suddenly, you feel gloomy, thinking about magazines’ dark and hopeless future that you’ve just concluded with your very unilateral and biased opinion, so you walk out.
There are lots of restaurants in the airport, from McDonald’s to Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Although the airport price bothers you to some extent, since you can’t go on a journey to find the gate on an empty stomach, you decide to grab a bite. Everything is supposed to taste better when you are hungry or high on weed. You get an overpriced, undercooked Mexican meal but try to stay positive and get yourself to think that just being in an airport is definitely a privilege because not everyone can afford to travel. When the check comes to your table, however, you begin to realize that being in an airport is not a privilege but a torture.
After the meal, you realize that you took too long roaming around inside the airport, so you rush to the gate. You still cannot find the gate on the map, so you now have no choice but to ask for the directions. The employee tells you that your gate is situated at Terminal C. You are at Terminal A so you have to take an airport train to get to Terminal C. Your heart races because you have only 15 minutes until the flight leaves, and at the same time, you regret every choice you’ve made up until this moment; you tell yourself you should have gone straight to the gate first. You have no one to blame but yourself. You hear your name being announced, “This is the final boarding call for passengers John Perucci, Markashia Greene and Rachel Black booked on flight 447B to Chicago. Please proceed to Gate 24 immediately. Once again, this is the final…” The announcement makes the situation even worse.
Running through the crowds and covered with sweat, you get to the train station, catch the train and arrive at Terminal C. You somehow manage to get to Gate 24 in time. Your seat is at 27A, a window seat in the back. You are now approaching the row 27 and see a fat old man comfortably seated and sipping on his whiskey. In a very apologetic tone, you tell him that you are supposed to be sitting right next to him. The old man sighs and reluctantly gets up so you can be seated. But you secretly feel relieved and delightful because you’ve now successfully escaped from the dreadful place called “airport”.
For Wes Burrell, 31 year-old and single, the airport is not a dreadful place at all. As a matter of fact, he feels quite at home there. He is now at Gate 21, waiting to board. His destination is Omaha, Nebraska. He neither has a place to stay nor knows anyone there. This is not a vacation. No one goes to Nebraska on vacation. Only serial killers dream of living there. But Wes is very excited about this trip, and he does not even know why. He’d never even thought about going to Nebraska. It was really a spontaneous decision. He does not care about where the plane is flying. He just wants to go to a place he has never been before.
He took a cab to the airport in the morning. He had packed all his possession into just one North Face backpack the night before. He had put some clothes, money, his passport and a novel that he had just started into the backpack. He’d looked around his one-bedroom apartment when he was done packing. Although he’d had the lights on, the room was somehow dark and bleak, and he thought the room was perfectly mirroring his state of mind. Without thinking much, though there was a lot to think about, he had gone to sleep at 9:30 P.M.
At 6 o’clock in the morning, the taxi arrived at his place. Looking out the window from the living room, he noticed the taxi parked in front of his apartment complex, picked up his backpack and walked out the door. Right when he was about to close the door, on a whim, he thought he would take another look of his apartment. The unit was empty and hollow. Nothing new. He had no regrets. He had already made up his mind. He hopped into the taxi and asked the driver to drive to the airport.
“I don’t know yet. You can drop me off at the first terminal or the airline you see. At least, the airport is open, right?” Wes replied to him in a calm tone.
“You don’t know yet? Well, you know you have to book your flight in advance, my friend?” Wes’ answer was good enough to wake him up.
“Well, you don’t have to. You can book a flight at the airport.”
“Oh okay, my friend, if that’s what you want. But you have to tell me, at least, if you want me to drop you off at the international terminal or the domestic terminal.”
“Umm, you can drop me off at the first terminal you see.” Wes said to him with a grin on his face.
“My friend, I tell you; this is crazy. I’ve brought many many customers in my life to the airport, but this is my first time meeting a customer who does not know where he is going. But if that’s what you want, my friend.”
“Now you are more experienced then.”
“Hahahaha, never mind.”
The taxi arrived at the airport. The taxi driver dropped Wes off at the first terminal he saw as requested by his customer.
“Well, whatever it is that you are doing, good luck, my friend.” The taxi driver went back into his car, still shaking his head. He, once again, looked back at Wes, who was still at the curb, and then, drove back into the crazy morning traffic.
Wes was now at Terminal A, where most major domestic airlines are congregated. It was around 6:30 A.M. when he walked into the airport, and he was surprised by how many people were already there early in the morning. He waited in line for the United Airline service counter. He did not mind waiting; he actually enjoyed it. There was a Chinese family in front of him in the same waiting line. Back when he was in college, he took Chinese as a foreign language requirement, so when he heard them talk, he figured that they were Chinese. He understood some of what the Chinese family was saying but was not bold enough to test his rusty Chinese with them. He did regret not testing his Chinese, knowing that he had nothing to lose.
At the service counter was this mid-aged lady with a beautiful bright smile on her face.
“Good morning sweetie, oh, I love your t-shirt. I grew up listening to the Beatles. I still have a crush on George. His guitar playing was amazing. His guitar solo on the song, Something, is just… Oops, I almost forget that I’m at work. How can I help you?”, said the lady in the United Airline uniform. Wes was actually wearing a t-shirt that has a picture of the Monkees on it but did not have the heart to tell her that it was not the Beatles. And he did not expect her to be this friendly early in the morning, so he was, for a moment, lost for words but able to bring himself together and managed to ask her if there was any flight left he could book on the spot.
“You said you want to book a flight?” Unprepared for Wes’ ‘curveball’ he just threw at her, she repeated his words.
“Yes ma’am, I’d like to book a flight somewhere. Preferably the one that leaves tonight. I don’t want to be in a rush.”
“Well… Umm… Yea, give me a second. Let me look up today’s flight schedule for you.” She said to him while she was telling herself that this young man himself is very old-fashioned, not just his t-shirt.
“Most flights that leave tonight are all full. You know, it’s the Christmas season, but it seems that there is one flight available. The flight 211A to Omaha at 7:50 P.M. Would you like to book this one, sweetie?”
“Yes ma’am, that would be great.”
He was now at the security. He saw some people getting nervous and frustrated about going through the full body scanner or what’s in their bags that could grab TSA staff’s attention. He also saw a family in chaos. Kids were running around, thinking it would be fun to ignore their parents because they knew that their parents would not yell at them in public. Their dad was trying to bring them back where they were supposed to be while their mom was apologizing to the people behind them. Wes deleted ‘Being a Good Dad’ from his wish-list.
After passing through the security, he decided to stop by at the Starbucks and get a cup of coffee. There, he saw a couple arguing at a table. They were both probably in their late 20s or early 30s. Wes purposefully sat next to their table so that he could hear what they were arguing about.
“Why now, Tom? Why didn’t you tell me before?” It sounded that the girl desperately needed a satisfying answer that she thought Tom could provide her with.
“I don’t know, Laura. I just… I mean… You can just go. I… I just can’t do this… Guess I’m not ready for this yet.” Tom vaguely answered. Wes still had no clue as to what they were talking about.
“We’ve been together for three years. Three years, Tom. And I asked you if you were ready for this and you said ‘yes’, and that’s why we are here now. Why cold feet now? What do I tell my parents?” Laura was being very expressive not only with her words but also with her body language. Wes still couldn’t quite wrap his head around what they were arguing about, but he guessed that the couple was on their way somewhere to see Laura’s parents for Christmas.
“I don’t know how else to tell you this, but I’m just not ready for this… I’ll head back home now, okay? I… I’ll see you when you get back.” Tom left.
“Seriously? Are you going to leave me here alone? Just like that?” She could not believe that Tom left her and went back home, and neither could Wes. Suddenly, she stood up and yelled at Tom, who was almost disappearing from the vision, “You know what, Tom? Keep walking because we are done! We are fucking done!” Everyone turned to look but him. She did not care. She grabbed her coffee with her shaking hand and headed into the other direction.
Wes is now at Gate 21, waiting to board. He is way too early for the flight. Although it is the Christmas season and therefore, the airport is packed, Gate 21 is relatively empty and quiet for some reason. But it’s not the same emptiness of his apartment; it’s more of a blank canvas that is full of possibilities. Sitting in a chair with his eyes closed, Wes looks back on his life in that tranquil atmosphere, from his childhood through this very moment. It’s not that he had a miserable life. He grew up just like how his parents had wished him to. He graduated college with a high GPA. He had a well-paid job at an insurance company. He learned how to love someone. He also learned the pain of a broken-heart. Life was good.
Out of nowhere, a familiar figure shows up and sits near him. He hears her sobbing. It’s the same girl from the Starbucks, Laura. He is trying to come up with a nice and friendly way to initiate a conversation with her. He has so many selections of words that he is now composing a sentence word by word in his head.
“Flying to Omaha?” She asks him out of the blue.
“Yes, I am. And you?”
“I just broke up with my boyfriend. We were going to go see my parents together in Kansas City, you know, for Christmas, but he chickened out at the last minute. Can you believe it? We were already here inside the airport, but he actually went home. I figured he would never be ready for the next step, so to speak, so I broke up with him.” Laura is playing flashback for him. Wes pretends that he’s never seen her or the event.
“Oh… I’m sorry to hear that.”
“But you know what, though? I’m glad that we broke up in the airport. The airport has been always my favorite place. An airport is a place full of possibilities, you know, just like a blank canvas. If you want to change something in your life or start all over, this is the place to be, right? You know… the first step.” She is not crying anymore. Her facial expression rather appears to be hopeful and buoyant. Wes cannot believe what he just heard; a blank canvas. That is his theory that he thought no one would agree with him on.
“Yea, I think you are right, but you know that this is Gate 21? To Omaha, not to Kansas City.” Wes asks her.
“Yea I know. I’m not so sure if I want to go see my parents now, so I was just looking for a less crowded place, and here I am. What about you? What are you doing here? The flight to Omaha won’t leave for the next, what, 4 to 5 hours?”
This was a very good question to contemplate. He has never really thought about what he is actually doing. The clock is ticking. Awkwardness is developing as he struggles to come up with an appropriate answer to that question. She clears her throat as she couldn’t stand the silence, but he finally opens up his mouth and says, “I’m just uh… I’m taking giant steps.”