Between Places

The chocolate raisins at Grove’s Natural Snacks are excellent. That much I have concluded from repeatedly spending time between flights here at Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport. The hard part is not buying too much of it. When I pass through the airport, I limit myself to two scoops. I never have a problem finding this particular concessionaire, since I have been here often. It is in Concourse C, at the top of the escalator, just to the left. Perhaps one of these days I will try the chocolate pretzels, but right now, I stick with what I know.

I know little airport secrets. If you want a decent meal at this airport, your best bet is to take the underground subway to Concourse E, the International Terminal. In Concourse E at certain times of day, you can watch a pianist in a tuxedo playing at a Grand Piano. The piano is parked at a bar in front of the food court. Here, among the tangle of international travelers and soldiers looking bound for Iraq, you can chow down with fast food from Panda Express and hear a pianist play, probably for the thousandth time, As Time Goes By. If a pianist is not present, the piano also works as a player piano.

Time does indeed go by here at Hartsfield International but after many passages through the airport, it starts to feel like something of a second home. This is my third pass through Atlanta Hartsfield so far this year. I will connect through here again later this week on my way home. This trip has me bound for Tallahassee, another city where my agency has an office and which I would likely not otherwise visit. A few weeks ago, I was sent to Madison, Wisconsin. Since there are no direct flights to Madison from Washington Dulles International Airport, my trip required a connection through Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Here was one of those major airports I had not really become acquainted with before. I expected it to look shopworn, but the airport authority has done a nice job maintaining the property. The dancing neon lights above the movable walkways between concourses that are synchronized to New Age music were a nice touch.

Invariably when visiting a hub airport, instead of rushing to my next flight, I have two and a half hours to kill. I think this is because relatively small and prosaic destinations like Madison or Tallahassee have fewer flights. So here, I wait. Having little else to do to kill time, I ride the trams between concourses. I look around. I take in the atmosphere, for a large airport is really a city in itself. I like the little viewing area of the taxiway at Concourse A. I like looking at the fancy international gates in Concourse E. Delta Airlines is the 800-pound gorilla at this airport, of course, and they keep expanding their international destinations. You can fly directly to Africa from Atlanta. If you need a nonstop flight to Moscow or Prague, you can find them at this airport too.

I keep hoping that someday one of these airports I frequent will offer free wireless internet. I might as well wait for a pony. Airports are expensive endeavors. Even with the landing fees, ticket taxes and hundreds of eateries and concessionaries pumping in revenue into the airport authority’s coffers, more revenue is always needed. The good news for us data consumers is that this market is consolidating. Soon you will be able to purchase one wireless airport service and use it everywhere. Some airports though have yet to catch up with the times. Washington Dulles, for example, has no wireless service at all, but is touting its availability next year. I realize there is a lot of renovation going on at my airport, but wireless networks are commodities. It should not be that big a deal to add a wireless internet service. Moreover, since the Washington area is one of the most wired places in the world (and in fact, the Internet’s hub rests a few miles away in Herndon) it seems odd that this airport remains relatively in the digital dark ages.

The hottest seats at Atlanta Hartsfield are often on the floor. You will see travelers with their laptops plugged into any outlet they can find, and they are not always next to chairs. So they end up on the carpet or on the tile floor, transfixed in their computer screens and oblivious to the noise and chaos around them. Hartsfield is becoming more computer friendly however. More eateries are providing countertops with electrical plugs in them.

The repeated airport announcements warn us that the security level is Code Orange, but no one cares. We are inured to recorded announcements. For many of us airports are way stations. Yet there are most of the comforts of home here, all available for a price, of course. In most airports now, you can get a neck massage if you need one to ease your flying anxiety. Near Concourse E here in Atlanta, if so inclined, you can pray in an interfaith worship room. The Starbucks are ubiquitous, of course. Most of us are docile, but you will see the occasionally intent businessperson or flight attendant scurrying with unusual haste down a concourse. Other passengers looked ticked when people block the escalators with their luggage. Get a clue people: walking passengers may be in a hurry to make a connection. They need space to pass on the left. As for the restrooms, Larry Craig would have plenty of opportunities to try out his widened stance. While I have no idea whether some are hotspots for kinky homosexuals, there is plenty of room to do a toe dance with your bathroom neighbor if so inclined.

Some part of our obesity epidemic must be related to so many of us traveling through airports. There are simply too many temptations to resist. Here in Atlanta, chocolate raisins are my weakness. At Washington Dulles, I often succumb and buy a Frosty at the Wendy’s in the Concourse D. At Denver International, I invariably find myself in Concourse C, so it is up a level to Wolfgang Puck’s to find something tastier than fast food.

At some point, like now, I find myself parked at my gate more than an hour before my flight, too cheap to pay for Internet access, but lugging my ultra heavy IBM Thinkpad, which my employer says I need to drag around. I often feel like Sisyphus toting that thing. So here I sit on my ass and pass time blogging. Usually I am determined to blog on some weightier topic. Tonight, I just feel like chronicling one of my many passages through these air portals. Increasingly airports, like them or not, are becoming a part of my life. I might as well write about them.

For the record, this is my seventh airport voyage of 2007. It should also be my last. I will be glad to be done with the travel for the year. At least this trip offers the benefit that I get to stay in my time zone. Tonight I will arrive at the Courtyard Inn in Tallahassee and post these ramblings for your amusement. I will be kept busy all week, so this may suffice for my blogging until the weekend.

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