Waiting at the airport

by Eric Ginsburg

Waiting at the airport

This kid is actually a pretty good percussionist. He’s straddling his dad’s back and pounding out a rhythm on the back and top of his father’s shaved head, and it seems like a mistake that nobody has put this nuisance to work behind a set of bucket drums or, Hell, as a syncopated drummer in an outdated rock band.

He’s nestled in the back of his dad’s oversized, orange University of Miami hooded sweatshirt, and even though he’s drumming like a young Neil Peart with the palms of his probably 4-year-old hands, his dad can hardly be bothered to look up from his iPad. Instead, between keystrokes and an argument with his wife, he repeatedly demands an end to the incessant drum rolls, which instead only cease momentarily before this kid bangs out another fill.

Waiting at the airport isn’t exactly my favorite place to be, and I usually try and limit my time here by showing up at the last acceptable minute. After several close calls I opted to leave a little extra time today, but it’s a weeknight in Raleigh, and thanks to an unexplainable absence of rush-hour traffic and a line at security almost as short as the ones at PTI, somehow I’m very, very early. Unacceptably early, especially when I don’t have a smartphone and there’s no way I’d be suckered into paying for wifi. So instead I’m sitting here, an overpriced blue Gatorade at my side, watching baby John Bonham go at it.

I’m not close enough to tell if the brown shapes on his green pajama pants are dogs, matching the one on his grey shirt, and I’m trying not to stare too much because his mom keeps catching my eye, her face framed by dark brown ringlets and adorned with an expression that can’t be read as anything but frustration.

Everyone at an airport seems tired and mildly irritated, but she is more so. Harrison — I learned his name when she realized he was behind Gate C-8’s desk — is deriving joy in pushing a rolling suitcase in circles, much to her annoyance.

An hour before boarding begins, the family of four picks up and heads out, with Harrison proudly pushing the family stroller. In their place, three strangers take up the corner, phones in hand and absent looks on their faces.

The percussionist and company provided a temporary reprieve from boredom, but the worndown look on the mom’s face and the checked-out dad make me thankful I don’t have kids. More than wanting a kid, I want to be one. I’m envious of two sisters running around with red-flashing shoes and eating gummy worms. I always wanted a pair of those flashing shoes.

Then again, I might rather be this sharp, whitehaired man with a killer moustache and a crisp hat who just walked up; somehow he’s pulling off a fanny pack. I hate sandals, but he’s making those look good too.

Airports are the best place to people watch, and I’ll imagine people’s lives, or the degrees of separation we might uncover if we started talking. Who do I know that’s sat in this very seat before?

As I’m mulling over these expansive questions, a plane deboards at our gate, and two arriving passengers separately recognize people they know sitting around me. The only person I’ve recognized is NC Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, who seemed to flash by while I was mid-sandwich, and I couldn’t shift my brain into a higher gear fast enough to chase him with a question.

The best way to be open to a serendipitous connection, I figure, is by being open to it. I make small talk with a young filmmaker as the flight attendant conducts an impromptu quiz about safety procedures, granting the first person pressing their attendant call button a prize (I never did learn what it was). Jesse — my fast friend —and I laugh, and then go on talking for our entire two-hour flight. By our arrival, we’ve agreed to get drinks in Durham in a few weeks.

A few hours before my return flight, David Sedaris ruins everything. A leisurely read, baking in the Cape Cod sun and digesting brunch, turns into foreshadowing as I hit a chapter in the Raleigh native’s newest book about airport delays.

I still arrive early, despite my experience a few days prior, and when a voice comes on the PA at Logan airport announcing a delay, I think, This is your fault, Sedaris. His book, half finished, stays in my bag though it could relieve my boredom. Thanks a lot, David.

I could be trying to even out my sunburn right now. If I knew my flight was going to be this late, we could have stopped and gone antiquing, I text my friend who dropped me off here. “Or I could’ve beaten you at a few videogames,” he responds.

The airport music makes me impatient, and I find myself hoping Harrison will appear. Two passing couples locked in verbal battles briefly satiate my wandering eyes, and when a child rocking a ladybug backpack shows up, my eyes actually widen. The intro to an Asher Roth anthem runs through my head:

“Do something crazy! Do something crazy!” I want to ask Mr. Casual Friday about what he’s highlighting, or a black man about his T-shirt for a Jewish organization. Who here has the most interesting story? The woman with a therapy dog? The guy with a Winston-Salem Dash shirt who is built to play on the team? The woman behind me waiting to board the plane who remarks on a sticker on my suitcase?

As I settle into my seat, the answer — at least this time — is not the person next to me. I was already beside him at the gate and am not excited for round two of his heavy breathing. “Just get us home already,” he says, half to the crew and half in response to my half-hearted “How’s it going?” Instead of talking, we cue up the Red Sox game on the seatback TVs together. I power off my phone — my note-taking device for the evening — and we don’t acknowledge each other again until the monitors cut off before a pivotal pitch. We just look at each other and shake our heads. Our silence resumes.