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July 15, 2008

Airport Fun & Games

Airport stories are funny. There's something about the whole airport experience that brings out the "enhanced" personalities in some folks. Being in the airport this past weekend reminded me of the five thousand funny things I saw while touring the airports of the United States last fall. It was allegedly a book tour, but I saw more airports than book stores. I spent more time waiting in airports in the fall of 2007 than I did on any other activity -- hey, you try getting from Peoria to Minneapolis via Phoenix!

I learned many things from that period of high-stress travel, and one of the most valuable lessons was discovering how to amuse myself while waiting around in the airport. It was surprisingly easy once I understood that people who use their cell phones in the airport magically forget that they have an "indoor voice." I was able to develop a Theory on it, too. I have a theory for just about everything.

Why People Talk So Loud on Cellphones in The Airport Theory

The transient nature of the airport and the impersonal feeling of air travel combined with the sensory overload of the experience + the airport announcements overhead + the general spaceyness of people on cellphones = LOUD TALKING ON CELLPHONES IN AIRPORTS.

Interesting side finding: Often, conversations in airports tend to be emotionally charged (possibly from stress of travel?) and contain volatile private information conveyed in the aforementioned LOUD TALKING.

Uh, yeah. That's pretty much the whole theory.

I discovered my airport amusement sometime in mid-October. I was sitting in O'Hare International Airport in Chicago on my way to Who Knows Where. I'd heard my flight mentioned, so I walked to the gate to see if we'd been delayed again (yes) and to see if there were any opportunities to upgrade (no.) It was while looking for an empty chair to rest my tired self that I noticed the five billionth Loud Cellphone Talker. She was at the gate and she was sitting near the only remaining open seats.

It was pretty clear why no one had chosen to sit in the four empty seats right behind her -- the Loud Talker wasn't just Loud, she was also gesturing wildly and making faces. I, however, chose to sit there and I will tell you why.

At this point in my traveling, I had reached the Zen Place, that space you eventually come to after being in Spanx and three-inch heels for 19 hours for seven days in a row, a space where you have ceased resisting all the many things that snafu and get delayed and go wrong and make you sweaty during frenzied travel. You just no longer get upset about things like Loud Talkers, and Missed Connections, and Mystery Itchy Bites on your Left Ankle.

You have perhaps had two glasses of wine at the airport Chili's and a plate of fried cheese that you decided you had earned from the 20-minute contortionist act you just performed in the airport ladies room whereby you managed to surreptitiously remove your spanx and not touch a single germy surface of the cramped stall. You are tired, and now smell like fried cheese. You feel mildly happy to be breathing without lycra again, mildly happy that airports sell wine, and mildly happy that you have earphones. Everything is at a Zen mild state.


Except, when you sit down at one of the lone, empty seats directly behind the Loud Talker and begin looking for your earphones in your carry-on bag, you hear the Loud Talker say, loudly:

"Well I should have KNOWN he was cheating on me just from that time I told you about when he came home smelling like a ***damn whorehouse!"

And suddenly this conversation is MUCH more exciting than chapter 4 of your current audiobook "The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success" by Deepak Chopra. In fact, isn't one of the laws of spiritual success something like "Go with the flow-ism" in which we're supposed to accept life as it comes? Like, for example, when life hands you a real-live soap opera podcast, only it's not on an ipod, it's in person...?

Really? There's no chapter on that? Moving on.

"Oh yes he did, didn't I tell you about that time? When I went to Karen's birthday party? Yeah and so then he came home and I told him I was having NO MORE OF IT. NO MORE you hear me? But did that (expletive) (expletive) listen? Hell no! And then I said ...."

... and Loud Talker continued on in this manner for at least fifteen more minutes. Before long, a woman who was watching my expressions came and sat near me, and she started listening to Loud Talker's story, too. The guy across from us put down his newspaper so he could better concentrate. Loud Talker could be heard clearly across three rows of chairs at the airport gate and in the next twenty minutes, there must have been seven or eight or fifteen of us all connected by one Loud Talker.

For a moment I felt kind of bad. Were we intruding on a private moment? Were we eavesdropping? Should we all get up and walk away and try to avoid hearing Loud Talker?

We'd have to walk pretty far away, though. I'm just pointing that out is all.

"You KNOW he called her as soon as I left the house. I cannot believe I let him sign his name to be godfather of Justin. You KNOW he doesn't have the sense God gave a jackass! And do you remember that time I bought that black dress with the belt you said you liked? And it had the matching pocketbook? Well I wore it that night and you will not believe what he did ..."

And at that we all leaned in closer, what had he done? What happened to the pocketbook that matched the black dress with the belt?

"He had too much to drink that night and I swear to you, and I wasn't going to tell this to anyone because we were in my brother's car and you know how he is about that car and he was wasted and he leaned over and he threw up in my pocketbook! In my pocketbook, the one that matched that belt!"

And all of us listening at the gate made a collective "eeew!" noise. I gasped. That is pocketbook abuse if ever I heard it! And in gasping and eeew-ing, we were kind of loud. And Loud Talker turned and paused in her conversation and looked behind her ...

... and then she continued:

"Huh? Oh sorry, no I just thought I heard them calling the plane. Anyway that jackass never even offered to buy me a new pocketbook! Can you believe that (expletive)er?"

And on and on until the plane was finally called. It was possibly the most entertaining wait I'd had in an airport (well aside from being frisked during the Mascara of Mass Destruction event), and from that day onward I made a beeline for the Loud Talker in every airport gate waiting area and every airport restaurant. It's not hard to find them, because they are everywhere. It's much harder to find a space without them. Just look for the person talking loudly and with great animation on their cellphone (the ones with the Borg-like earpieces are masters of this!) and you will find a whole new source of entertainment while you eat your soggy, overpriced cheese sticks and drink your tepid chardonnay.

That's my theory, anyway, and I am sticking to it. Go-with-the-flowism!

Posted by laurie at July 15, 2008 8:33 AM