Thursday, July 25, 2019

Airport Incubator

I’m sitting in the airport at Charlotte, North Carolina, on a Thursday afternoon. I am on my way home after a business trip. To my left is a grand piano where a pianist is offering a very energetic rendition of the Friends theme song. Also to my left, is a blue haired young man in his 20s with a nicely contrasting lilac bandana across his forehead.

He is sitting on the ground, back against the staircase, enthusiastically singing along with the piano player, throwing in special requests (Do you know any Beatles?) and then, without luck, asks if he could jam on the piano for a bit. To my slight right sit two suit-coated men. The older man has white hair, a mustache, and glasses. He’s slowly drinking a beer. His lunch companion (it’s almost 4 pm, so maybe not lunch in airport world?) is a tall young man that looks like a mix of Anglo and Asian. He’s sporting a pin striped linen sport coat that is slightly wrinkled. All of a sudden they jump up and gather their suitcases, leaving behind 1/3 of a beer and 4 pieces of sushi.

It is such a microcosm of humanity, airports, and a rather safe one since we’ve all been screened – shoes off, everything in a plastic bin. Put your feet apart. Keep your hands over your head – don’t overlap them – just touch them together.

Relieved after such intense scrutiny, we wander through the airport world towing wheeled luggage and babies and staring at our cell phones. Some people are running – dashing for a missed flight. Others are strolling, sipping giant cups of soda that will no doubt send them dashing down the aisle to pee in the tiny airplane bathroom in just an hour or so. Every so often you see children running, escaping their mom’s hand, tripping adult passengers.

Glancing up, I see a giant American flag hanging from the glass atrium, and more pieces of Americana flags on the airline tails I can see behind the glass.

The piano man and the blue hair boy are making friends now. They are opposites – the piano guy is prematurely balding with a blue striped polo shirt, grey Dockers and dorky black gym shoes – the kind that look completely vinyl and a bit elderly orthopedic. Now they’re making a video – the blue hair boy just did the rock star hand thing with his two outside fingers up. He’s interviewing the piano player and giving him a shout out on Insta. I think they’re exchanging phone numbers.

And now they’re singing – and a woman jumps up from her seat and dances to their impromptu duet, right in front of the grand piano. And when they quit, people all across the atrium area burst into applause.

It is a sweet place, airports. Filled with frustration but also anticipation. They are a place of odd community – people brought together by a desire to go someplace else. We are together for a brief moment – just this one spot in the grand scheme of life. Most of us passing by one another, hurriedly, on our way to the next gate, the next place.

But a few of us stop, smile, snap a photo, request a song, make a friend.

Our world can be a crazy, mixed up angry place sometimes. But today the little instant friendship that formed in this airport brought a tear to my eye.

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