Airport Time

If one can get past the frustration, there’s something magical about airport time. I’m not talking about the rush of getting through security and to your gate before boarding begins, or making a connecting flight or sitting on the airplane itself. I’m talking about the two hour layover or the delayed flight. It is one of the few times left in our society when waiting is the most productive thing to do, where there is no one person to blame (however ill-informed that decision when we are required to wait is anyway). The clerk at the DMV may be slow, but an airplane just is or isn’t there and you just are or aren’t on one. Airport time provides a singularly enforced experience of productivity-stifling and potential-producing patience. You can nap, or read a book, or get lunch, or stare out of the window. You can catch up on emails or make a call or play a mindless game on your phone. But none of these actions escape the atmosphere of the wait or change the dimensions of how long that wait will last. Elsewhere in the world, writing an email takes up the time it takes up, and playing a game wastes the time it wastes.  But when waiting in an airport, because you cannot move the clock on the screen, because you are at the mercy of a network of forces mechanical and professional, how you use that time is the least teleologically ordered to your life’s schedule than it will ever be. Because the time is less yours than usual, it makes you more free in that time than you usually are. It is quite a peculiarity: airport time confers an atmosphere of timelessness precisely because of how rigidly timeful it is.

It is almost sad to think that as technology advances, this wait time will be targeted by the taskmasters who wish to suck the dregs of opportune time: not content to independently order their airport time to life time, they will seek to shrink this hidden space of a moment so that they will never be confronted with the question: When the time which moves your life is momentarily suspended, how do you live in a timeless moment? It seems to me that this is what we really do when we are lost in Art: not when we are rushing through a novel for a class, but when we set aside the current of the must-be-dones and confine the space of our actionable energy to whatever time is rrquiredfor the fifty thousand or so words printed in the portable airport we refer to as books. The dark movie theater shares something of this air too, where one cannot pause the film but must accept the moment of the showing as it is. Perhaps as the practical world leaves us less enforced airport time, we will thirst for it and seek out such time-suspending moments all the more in the written flights of prose and poetry and the cinematic waystations.

One can hope.