Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Broken Airport


Two nights ago we had to meet someone at the Seattle-Tacoma airport, nicknamed Sea-Tac. Luckily, the plane she was on made it through, but we nonetheless found ourselves at a broken airport. That day Alaska Airlines had canceled about 450 flights connected, in one way or another, to Sea-Tac and/or Portland's airport, and if you use even a modest multiplier, you end up with a lot of people who were supposed to be in the air now standing around. At Sea-Tac, there were (according to reports later) about 4,000 stranded people, and those getting in line just to sort out things with Alaska Airlines were told they would be waiting 7 or 8 hours.

Once an airport breaks like this, things deteriorate rapidly. Luggage piles up, disconnected from its owners. Stranded people turn the airport into a village, but the village runs out of provisions. Those working for airlines get so battered by questions and expressed outrage that they quickly get exhausted, even punchy. I asked one worker whether another flight we were expecting the following day (from San Diego) was likely to make it, and she said, "I'm not sure because I know they've had a lot of snow in San Diego, too." There was no point in quibbling with or correcting her. She probably wasn't hearing words anymore, and what I said may have sounded like "San Diego pink rabbit airplane snow hello complain goodbye," so she said something simply to get rid of her. I can't blame her, as the workers at the counter represent the epidermis of the corporation. The hearts of corporations are impervious, unseen.


The Broken Airport

The broken airport has become a temple
to which we sacrifice mobility. The terminal
has become its own disintegrating destination.
Haggard people and swollen luggage accumulate
like the snow outside. The enraged become
resigned; the patient, stupefied. Jabbed
and punched by questions, employees
in company colors resemble boxers
in late rounds. Everyone begins to resemble
everyone else. Distinctive personalities
melt into an impressionist canvas of weariness.
People become their uncomfortable bodies.
Quickly clothes and hair become soiled.

Original reasons for travel evaporate.
Now everyone will go anywhere just
to get out, to move. Once again, flight
has become a strictly theoretical concept.
Parked airplanes look like cigar-tubes.
A disembodied voice asks, "May I have
your attention in the airport?" No one
pays attention. The terminal's become
funereal. Mobility rots. People lie down
like herd animals in a pasture.

Hans Ostrom Copyright 2008
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