Airports are the pinnacle of human observation, a place of absolute Nirvana for people-watchers; they have a unique set of key features that make this the case. They’re specifically designed with an absence of areas where duffel-bag sized objects can be hidden from view, which keeps even the meekest, wall-hugging introverts in plain sight at all times. They’re the most colourful mishmash of cultures packed into one building outside of the Olympics opening ceremonies, with the added benefit of being viewer accessible more frequently than once every four years. As far as traffic goes, they’ll always have it. They’ll contain swarms of people in the most painful hours of the morning, when gas stations close, and the bar streets in raunchy tourist towns lie vacant. A person is sharp within an airport, as they require just enough brainwork to keep people on their toes. Drifting, or vegetating, like some are prone to in other public places can lead to lost luggage, and any number of other costly errors. This means that not only can you see any type of person, at any time of day, but you see them in a good light. In my abysmal chunk of worldly experience, I have been unable to find a better place for a yearning outsider to witness the human carnivore in action. It’s one of the main reasons that I adore them so much. Far from the only reason though.
Airports have all of the aesthetic and functional allure of most shopping malls, without the apparent need for those inside to prove themselves to strangers. All the food courts, stores, and consummate architecture the heart could desire without the calculated outfits, and hard-faced, paranoid expressions. Most won’t dress up at all to go to an airport, they’ll be generally unkempt and more concerned with comfort than glamour. It’s in and of itself a weird departure from most places in the world, but sensible given that most brand names and modern fashion trends are absolute hell to try to wear on a flight that’s in the air for more than an hour. I’ve always preferred people who occupy the headspace necessary to actively choose to wear comfort clothing on a day-to-day, so long as they aren’t doing it out of abandon. They tend to have a more wholesome air about them, and delightful sense of self confidence that isn’t bogged down by public opinions. In any normal place, these people are about two grand a dozen, and diamonds in the rough. At an airport, they’re a dime a dozen in the best way possible – everyone seems to let their guard down.
Clothing is only the tip of the iceberg in the reverse social world that’s often cultivated by an airport. The more I find myself inside of them, the more I realize that they’re absent of many of sycophantic qualities that can turn other hubs into a nuisance. People inside don’t seem as self-conscious as they’d usually be, they’re more gutty, more authentic. They’ll strike up a conversation with a new face without hesitation, and speak excitably about where they’ve come from, and where they’re headed without the usual fear of how it might come across. There could be any number of reasons that this is the case, but my ripest instincts point me towards it having something to do with an airport being the best nexus of travel we know as humans. Travelling on any scale that requires an airplane grants a tremendous sense of individual purpose to those fortunate enough to be the travelers. It brings a person into their element in a way that only being thrust into a new environment can, like a concentrated dose of the emotions we feel when starting a new job, or going off to college for the first time. Whether it’s arrivals, or departures, the beginning or end or end of a journey pulls the mind away from the phantom audiences we all imagine looming just outside of an earshot, judging our every step. It makes you gallant enough to do something you normally wouldn’t, like lying down on the carpet beside a moving walkway at six in the afternoon, chugging back an ice coffee and eating a sheath of crackers with a travel pillow wrapped around your neck.
Of course, it could be something wildly different from everything I’ve just suggested. Airports belong to a tiny sect of man-made places on this planet that have a distinctly mystic quality to them. For me to suggest that I can correctly tell you why any of those places are the way they are would make me every bit as misguided as a blind man walking a seeing-eye lobster. However, if you asked me to chalk up the phenomenality of an airport up to just one concept, I would say the following with relative confidence: There are times in life when even the most timid person will feel apathy towards the would-be judgments of those around them while the phrase, “I’ll never see these people again,” echoes through the back of their mind. It’s a scarce phenomenon that I’ve ingeniously coined the “I’ll never see them again effect.” It drives folks wild in foreign cities, and makes them go stark-raving at out of town parties. But, there is nowhere on this planet the “I’ll never see them again effect” is more widely contagious than the environment where everyone within will be more than a thousand miles away in a few hours’ time. At the end of the day, I think that’s the taproot to an airport’s strange, and vivacious charm more than anything else. They’re one of the only places people seem to realize that they don’t have to care.