I find strangers more interesting when I see them at the airport then when I see them, say, at the doctor’s office or the grocery store. At the grocery store, they’re buying detergent and bread and milk, and I know they’re going to have to make dinner and do their laundry just like I am, or rather, just like I should. But when I see them at the airport, I don’t know where they’re going or what they’ll be doing once they get there. That makes them instantly mysterious, even though presumably, strangers at the airport eventually have to do laundry too. Plus it’s easier to watch people at the airport; so many of them are sleeping. You never see that at the grocery store. As I write this, I’m on my way home from a conference. And from my spot at Boston Logan, I count at least a dozen people dozing, despite the hubbub all around. There are three young people lying flat on the floor, unconscious. I can’t sleep that well on a bed in a dark, quiet room. I’m tempted to wake them up and ask them how they do it. Those who aren’t sleeping are focused on their electronic devices. It makes me wonder how we passed the time in airports before the digital age. There are people typing furiously on laptops and staring at tablets or cellphone screens. Others are huddled up next to power posts, charging their devices. It looks like dialysis at the airport. I’m not judging. I’ve got my laptop too, but mainly I’m hiding behind it, all the better to people watch. When they catch me looking at them, I look down and start typing really fast. It’s hard to concentrate anyway. It’s a conversation soup in here. There’s the buzz of a hundred voices, different languages, a variety of accents, and some terribly interesting cell phone conversations. A woman is telling someone that her expensive bottle of perfume was confiscated at security because it was too large for her carry-on bag. She says, “You know how much I paid for that?” I want to say, “No. How much?” But I keep quiet because a young lady is talking about an ill-advised text message she sent last night in an alcohol-induced state of bad judgment. Not that I’m listening. A young woman, pulling a suitcase and looking anxious sprints by. At least she sprints as well as one can sprint wearing flip flops, which is to say, she may miss her connection. I recall a day when people dressed up to go to the airport. Everyone looked like they’d be attending an important meeting or a funeral shortly after landing. Now days, we all look like we’re on vacation, whether or not we are, though a few of those present are dressed like they’re going to the gym or straight to bed the minute we land. There are also several men dressed in military uniforms as well as at least two representatives of that other famously brave group: mothers traveling alone with young children. I see a family of four looking fresh and happy like they’re just leaving for vacation and I see another family that looks like they’re on their way home from one that went on a little too long. Or maybe they just never like each other. I get up and wander over to sit next to a young man in a baseball cap. He’s attached to his tablet with his ear buds, and I think he’s watching the Bourne Identity—not that I’m looking. Oops. I’ve been discovered. A woman in the seat across from me is watching me watch everyone else. I can’t tell if she thinks I’m snoopy or mysterious. I look down at my keyboard and start typing.
Some observations while people watching