Day 1

Three and a half hours in the Atlanta airport proves I am indeed one sheltered human being. First of all, the only way I can survive the competing sounds, overlapped conversations, and routine announcements over the loudspeakers is by putting a pair of earplugs in. Second, I close my eyes. This provides a glorious underwater effect.

But when I’m not doing that, I’m doing the polar opposite—taking it all in, the rush of sound, the flashes of color, the sheer movement of so many people in such a small space and short period of time. What I love most is the ethnic diversity—something sadly missing in my life.

What disgusts me is always the same: Everyone seems plugged into something.

What frightens me is likewise always the same: In the rapid movements of others I see myself slipping further and further from any notions of “contemporary” existence. In other words, I become suddenly and undeniably aware of how retreated into myself I am from minute to minute. In this I feel as though I’m losing my ability to communicate with other people. It makes me feel like falling off the edge of humanity, and that I wouldn’t mind too much if that actually happened.

What shocks me is this: Apparently, women of all ages are now wearing cut off shorts trimmed so high that with each forward kick of their heels, a plump surprise of ass cheek slips out beneath the fabric, then quickly gets tucked back in. The effect is ripple-like, here a thigh, there an ass, thigh, ass, thigh ass, really all too much when seen in tandem or on repeat during an extended delay at the airport.

Contrary to this minimalist fashion trend, I discovered an equally perplexing phenomena: women in their fifties seem to be wearing neon cotton shirts the size of beach towels that accentuate their chests, bag over their waistlines, and sag to mid-thigh. Presumably, they pay money for these swaths of fabric. The preferred compliment to this is a pair of skintight black spandex. When did this happen?

And my bitchy complaint for the day: I spent five and a half hours at 36,000 feet above sea level next to a woman quite literally three times the size of me. She ate Burger King that had been stowed in her purse for lord knows how long and she stank of cigarette smoke. On average, she coughed two times per minute for five hours (I timed it), and her coughs always came in two’s. She coughed deeply from her lungs and achieved a satisfying, raspy, textured sound with each hack, indicating what I envisioned to be chunks of tar rattling around inside her lungs. Needless to say, we weren’t even out of sight of the Appalachian chain before I wanted to retch my guts out. If, in fact, I had puked, I would have turned around and happily retched on the woman seated behind me, who kept repeating to her sobbing three-year-old daughter, “Big girls don’t cry.” (Since when?!)

Flying has become, in essence, a demoralizing experience. Even boarding a plane has this mediocre Titanic feel to it that ought to be a tip off. First Class customers and Medallion this-and-that’s get on first, and now a new class of ticket holders gets to walk in a special lane marked “Breezeway.” I was reminded more than seven times that First Class customers receive a complimentary meal while the other customers have to purchase their anemic lettuce for exorbitant prices.

But when I stepped off the plane and cruised to the baggage claim, catching of whiff of the only remaining Coffee People Coffee (housed, one can only hope, for all eternity, in the Portland Airport), my body and mind eased. When I first left the Pacific Northwest for The South, it was the trees and the eternal greenness that I missed. Now in my sixth year away from my first homeland, I find it is the air that I miss the most.

Luggage in hand, I walked out to the pick up lanes and was happily and immediately greeted by the lovely AGM, whom I then treated to dinner at my favorite spot, Old Wive’s Tale. Not twenty minutes after stepping off the plane, I saw somebody I know—my old high school guidance counselor was eating dinner at the same restaurant.

And so begins this last and final trip for the Pacific MFA residency and upcoming graduation. Now that I have some food in me and someone isn’t sitting on top of me and the air is clean enough to drink, I can say it was a pretty good start to the trip.

  • Uncle Mark

    As airport stories go, that was a really mild one…. your seat partner could have added farts to the coughs and shared more her internal rumblings with you!.. Now you know why your uncle is such a basket case. I have & still do spend so much time in these airport environments that there should be medals of honor for survival. On the other hand, do not be fooled that this is just a true example of “contemporary” life outside of your mountain woman confines…. it is the real world of tax paying citizens and yes… remember, it will be an exponential factoring of all of those people you just experienced life with that will be electing our next President…now THAT’S the really scary part! xxx Uncle Marky

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