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Airport Atmosphere

Published by marco on

These are notes that I took in June of 2016 as I was sitting around the airports of New York City, trying to get to Baltimore on the same day that a giant thunderstorm was visiting that area. I started taking notes after savoring the dining experience in the LaGuardia airport.

If you thought airports of old were inhospitable, you’re in for a treat. The old food courts have been replaced by faux-upscale eateries. Before each diner stands a tablet with a menu and gambling games. Generic pop music blares overhead. Your dining companion is too far away to hear you, dozens of TVs surround you, spinning fairy tales of propaganda about Isis.

A sad grandma eats a sandwich she couldn’t figure out how to order and which she informs me was misordered for her by a waiter. A dead-eyed gamine sits across from her, nose nearly touching her tablet screen. She ignores food.

A young lady on the other side had taken only one bit of a sandwich and chips before leaving.

The blare of music is mixed with the clinking and jangling of casino games enticing people to play while eating. One hand at each place shovels food while the other works a phone screen. All of the screens spray whitish-blue light everywhere. The same security announcement cuts the noise with imperious exhortations to be afraid. It’s utterly dystopian. And these people all feel that they’re winning. It was awful. The food was quite good. We fled as quickly as possible.

Elsewhere the slack-jawed and glassy-eyed stare into their phones, gabbling into them, either pressed to a cheek or held out in front like an hors d’oeuvre. Myriad tables glitter and glow with phones and charging cables and headphones twined around partially eaten or wholly ignored food and drink while calls are made and screens are swiped.

Consume food, content, drink, propaganda. Giant cupcakes beckon with huge calories and trans-fats. The trash cans open their maws automatically but the bathrooms are shrilly lit nightmares of discomfiting design. The water fountain works but the pressure is sporadic. The sensor on the auto-refiller for bottled water is broken.

The end of the terminal, where three gates converge, is a writhing mass of humanity, most eating upscale food and paying scandalous prices for drinks in the most psychically enervating conditions, standing in various mysterious, snaking and intertwining lines, roller bags filling every available gap not occupied by a tablet screen or a hand holding a phone. Blue-white light washes over everything, the sound of interleaved security and endlessly redundant announcements blare in and out of every aural crevice not already suffused by the chatter of hundreds of screens and dozens of personal telephone conversations. At least CNN and FOX seem to have been relegated to the dustbin of history.

The busses run on no apparent schedule. One appears and the driver says to try our luck with another because he’s having trouble controlling this one. It will have to go to a garage, if he can get it there. You have to wait fifteen minutes to drive ten minutes in the wrong direction around a circle to a destination that was a few hundred meters away but which is inaccessible by walking.

An airport hotel in New York

Fast forward to later that evening, when we had to overnight because all flights were canceled.

It turns out that it’s not that far. People are just terrified of walking here. The hotel is less than a five-minute walk on a broad sidewalk across an overpass.

We were lucky to get a room. The staff was great and very helpful.

It was a typical American hotel room: the bathroom door didn’t fit, leaking all light through a 3-cm gap at the bottom. The toilet was good, flushed well. The mirror across from the bathroom door was positioned so that it refocused all the bathroom light directly into the face of a sleeper in the bed. The ceiling above said bed looked like it had suffered a construction mishap that had been papered over. The wainscoting and wallpaper didn’t quite fit, in what seemed like easily avoidable ways. The bed was exquisite.

Still, better than sleeping in the foodcourt, as suggested by the customer-care guy at the airport.

Back very early at Laguardia airport…

For breakfast, we avoided the soul-killing noise palace and got bagels from an actual human being. It was difficult to communicate because of the sheer, uninterrupted noise of some machines that had already been roaring the day before. The noise here doesn’t stop. Various Muzak plays over everything, malfunctioning machines fill in the mid-range. No wonder people wear headphones all the time, muttering to the other end of a call while their noise-canceling mic makes what must be an absolutely heroic effort to block out the shrieks of passing vehicles.

This is Brazil. This is Idiocracy. This is Hell.

The bagel guy gave us a receipt that we had to swipe to self-checkout. The first machine greeted us jarringly and chirpily at 05:30 in the morning, but couldn’t tell us directly that the scanner was broken. At the next machine, we were treated to a (still) PIN-less transaction and a loud voice guiding us through the transaction. Soul. Crushing.

Hieronymous Bosch should have painted this. Perhaps he did.

A business-park hotel in Baltimore

Now we’re at the business hotel on the outskirts of Baltimore.

Our room at the hotel has a roaring AC. The control knobs have been removed. The wall-mounted digital thermostat on the opposite wall shows 64°F. We turn it off. Several hours later, it’s still almost too cool.

The shower is like that at the previous hotel: you can control temperature, not rate. Rate is set at a staggering number of gallons per minute. Don’t need that much water and worry about wasting it? Too bad. The form factor for the tub and soap dishes hasn’t changed since the fifties. The hotel shampoos are nice, but the little bottles fly everywhere because they don’t stay in the curved shelves made for soap bars that nobody uses anymore.

Visiting Baltimore

A really nice driver takes us back to BWI to catch the light rail. We walked to lunch, but the quasi-industrial park where the hotel is located is somewhat green, but not great for walking. Just good enough to get to a much-needed lunch.

Anyway, the late afternoon is warm and unseasonably dry. The train stands waiting, with all doors open. How nice, I think, they’re airing it out naturally. The AC is on full-blast.

I mercifully stopped taking notes at this point. After that, we starting cruisin’ and drinkin’. That certainly helped.