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Watching the Ships Come In


Watching the Ships Come In

While waiting in one of the dozen or more airports I travelled through last year, I paused a moment to just sit and watch. The gates, the people, the shops, the design and architecture.

But mostly, the planes. Landing, taking off, carrying passengers to impossible distances in less than one day. I disconnected from everything for a few minutes and enjoyed watching the ships come in.

We too often take the present for granted and romanticize the past. We rush, scramble, and tear through the day to get somewhere and reserve our sentiment for leisure time. We tell ourselves it’s because we have busy lives while simultaneously waiting for a flight and watching Murder on the Orient Express on a screen we hold in our hands.

Any mention of flying and airports these days is usually drenched in sarcasm and complaint. Yet our movies are full of love letters to train stations, which now hold an elevated status in our culture. I would imagine if you could spend a week in 1918 instead of 2018, you’d find the same level of complaining about the train stations of old we now celebrate. Maybe you’d even hear some of the old-timers of that day longing for stagecoaches. I can’t really imagine, but I have limited experience with traveling in 1918 or 1818.

Regarding the love letters to train stations, you know the scene I’m talking about:

It’s a train station in late afternoon. The light is soft and you can see a faint glimmer of dust wafting through the solitary shaft of radiance beaming down through an overhead portal, positioned perfectly to frame our hero’s entrance. The art-deco appointed station is just crowded enough that our hero can barely catch a glimpse of the dame as she shoots him a glance over her shoulder immediately before she boards the train with her one-way ticket to Splitsville.

Admittedly, you won’t find anything like that in an airport. But you will find something like this:

A mother emerges from the jetway holding the hand of her three-year-old. It’s the little girl’s first trip and every sight is a revelation to her. Eyes wide, she takes it all in and sees the grandeur that her mother never noticed. As they walk past the other gates and turn the corner, the little girl sees it first: that long hallway between terminals. All the grown-ups are using the moving walkways and the space between them is wide open. It’s also just a little bit downhill. She takes off like a bolt. Her mom, busy updating her Facebook status, looks up in time to see her little girl already 15-yards down the corridor. “JOCELYN,” she screams out. But Jocelyn does not care. In a dead run, her face is a projector screen for the only thought running through her head – PURE JOY.

I don’t have a good guess at what travel will look like in 2118, but I do know that the airports we now speed through while staring at our hands will be romanticized in future works of fiction. And rightfully so. Many of them are truly amazing places. The best of them (San Francisco, Denver, JFK, Miami International, and more) have beautiful architecture, outstanding amenities, and artwork displayed throughout the terminals.

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The terminals are merely the stage; the planes are the real show. The absolute miracle of flight plays out literally in front of your eyes. Over 60 tons of aluminum, steel, fuel, people, luggage, and freight taking off and landing dozens of times every hour. Hundreds and hundreds of individuals from all over America, pouring in doors and scurrying off to their next destination. All of this in a manner so routine that passengers barely notice until the schedule is off by a mere 5 minutes.

Next time you find yourself at an airport, don’t give in to the illusion of routine. Take a moment and enjoy watching the ships come in.


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