Arrive And Depart - 01.18.99

After quite some time and observation, I've come to the conclusion that there are six different kinds of people that inhabit an airport: Those That Are To Depart, Those Who Have Arrived, Those Who Are With Someone Who Is Departing, Those Who Are Waiting For Someone To Arrive, and People Who Just Work There.

The sixth type of person at the airport is a group that I will simply label Observer. This group includes street-type musicians playing for people too busy to hear them, homeless looking for some change, and myself. We're all Observers in the sense that we don't really have any destination point within, but are fortunately just innocent bystanders. Everyone glides by in their trances, intent on one door or spinning conveyer belt, while we're glad we're there without any purpose.

Really, the airport is one of the single-best places to observe people in the world. For one, everything takes place inside a somewhat closed environment. Everyone is going about their own business, winding through the passages of moving sidewalks and arrows pointing out the direction to every possibility. It all reminds me of the antfarm that I had when I was a wee child. It was only fun for about two weeks, but then I neglected the ants and they all died for some reason.

I can't really neglect an airport in the same way. It wouldn't really matter if I did, though, because everything would go on functioning without me. Perhaps that's the point, though.

Besides the obvious point of needing the people that work there, nobody really needs anyone else in the airport. Everyone has a single point of reference that they find within a grid of other numbers and set themselves on direct path to.

The most interesting thing about watching people at the airport is that they give themselves away so easily as to which one of the groups they belong to.

It's very easy to spot on of Those Who Are Waiting To Depart. They're the ones who are the most urgent of the 6 groups, usually walking as if they are on a mission to complete some important task. They move about their way quickly (so they get to the gate early enough), and somewhat woodenly, as if they can somehow prepare their body for the journey by doing so. Once they reach the gate, their quickness fades quickly, and they usually act as if they couldn't care if their plane ever arrived (usually by half-heartedly reading a USA Today or magazine).

Those Who Have Arrived are usually on the opposite end of the spectrum (especially after long flights). They come out of the gate looking partially defeated (unless they are glancing around for Those Who Are Waiting For Someone To Arrive), and they walk with a little more effort than normal (unless they're a "go-get-em!" business type). One very interesting thing to observe on the face of Those Who Have Arrived is the few moments between the time when they exit the gate and when they finally see Those Who Are Waiting For Someone To Arrive. It's usually a fine mix of doubt, happiness, weariness, and wonder until they spot the person they're looking for. At this point, happiness (or at least the outward expression of it) usually takes over.

In the case of Those Who Are Waiting For Someone To Arrive, the above can also be said of the moments while they are watching Those Who Have Arrived exit the gate. Some other signs of this group is an intense interest (especially if it is an old person or young child) in the plane that pulls up to the gate and contains the person they're waiting for. If there are windows available, many times Those Who Are Waiting For Someone will look out them at the plane, even though they know that they won't be able to see Those Who Have Arrived until they step out of that gate door.

Usually the easiest way to tell Those Who Are With Someone Who Is Departing from Those Who Are Departing is simply by looking at how much luggage there is between an observed group (of 2 or more) and who is carrying it. Usually Those Who Are Departing (unless a boyfriend is being particularly chivalrous) will be carrying the luggage (partially due to airport security reasons) while Those Who Are With Someone Who Is Departing will simply be tagging along. Of course, the defining moment comes when boarding is called and you can see who is left behind to watch Those Who Are Departing get onto the plane.

Those Who Just Work There will usually be wearing a uniform of some type. That's the easiest way to spot them.

Never will you find a place with so many different and strong emotions all presiding in such a close proximity. In only a ten minute span, you can see the entire spectrum of feelings. A man grinds his teeth and yells because his flight is running behind schedule, a child cries because its hungry, and a young couple kisses and exchanges glances before one of them departs. The really interesting thing is that the environment of the airport seems to intensify each of them.

Still, one of the best things about simply being an Observer in an airport is that it's very relaxing. There you are, in a structure and system where everything revolves around deadlines, and you have nothing to do but watch.

If you do decide to do such a thing and go to the airport to be nothing more than an observer, I have one suggestion; Don't stay for too long. While it's nice to sit around watching plane after plane of people arrive and meet people that have been waiting for them, the most interesting thing you can do is just walk around and absorb everything that you possibly can. Watch people until the point that it becomes staring, listen to fragments of conversations until you feel like you're eavesdropping, and feel the drone of endless streams of humanity on their way to someplace new.

Also, you might want to arrange to have someone drop you off and pick you up from the airport, because long and short-term parking is damn expensive.