Lost in a Stereotypical World
It is unusual for me to head off to the airport and get on a non-stop flight to major cities. Most of the traveling I do by air takes me to smaller towns not reached with a direct flight from my home base in Iowa. So, unless I am heading off to Chicago, Detroit, Denver, or a few other cities, I spend a lot of time at these Hub airports. I sit there waiting to make connections for flights to my final destinations.
Airports have become mini-cities. They have shopping malls, movie theaters, food courts and what have you. Yet, with all they have to offer, I do not find much to entertain me and to keep me occupied. I am impatient, and I only want to get on my connecting flight. I need to keep moving.
Time is always against me. I always have things to do and assignments to work on and complete. Yet, I find it hard to curl up in a corner and do any work.
A passenger may have left a magazine or newspaper in the waiting area, and sometimes I pick them up to read. And, as much as I love to read papers from places from around the country, I do not buy one too often. Though, I will wander through newsstands looking at the headlines and picking some up to read below the fold.
Sometimes I sit there gnawing on the end of my pen and review my notes for my latest story. As I do, random new thoughts pass through my head. They get cleared for take-off on their own connecting flights to oblivion. As they do, I scribble some quick notes hoping the disjointed and haphazard nature of them may lead to a story.
Now and then I will find a little corner with an electric plug and have some computer time. Yes, for longer delays I do head off to Airline Clubs. I am a member of them, and I appreciate the amenities they offer.
My usual habit, though, is to find a place for drinking and eating next to the walkways. It is there I can amuse myself by playing games with the faces I see. On a recent extended stopover in Baltimore, that's all I ended up doing.
A very tall man walked by. He closed in on seven feet. He wore a purple suit, carried a small sports duffel bag, and he was black. The only thing I could think of was he was a basketball player or a pimp. No, on second glance he wasn't wearing one of those hats with the feather - he couldn't have been a pimp. But, he definitely was not in training as a jockey for the Preakness Stakes.
It's funny the thoughts that go through your mind when you see people. So many stereotypes have gotten stuck in our overhead compartments, or confined to our baggage compartments over the years. I'm not sure why because a person is tall, we assume he must be a basketball player. If the person is black, it reinforces the image.
Another man passed by heading the opposite way. He was of average height and about 45 years old. He wore a gray pinstriped suit, carried a briefcase and had an ear-to-ear smile on his face. It would have looked right at home on the executive photo page of a Fortune 500™ company’s annual report.
I immediately cast him in the role of a business executive, a salesman no less. He closed a BIG business deal today which called for a celebration, and the uniform of the day included that smile.
I bet the tall black man trained racehorses in Tennessee. The man in the gray pinstriped suit? No doubt a baker from Boise, Idaho, who had come to Baltimore for a dough convention. But, it didn't matter what the real truth may be about these two gentlemen. I created my own stereotype role for them to play for the short time they were a part of my life.
I got up to stretch and walk around a bit. I saw a boy, 10 years old or so, walk up the jetway. He was the last passenger to come off a plane, and he walked with confidence and an assured gait. That is until an airline employee walked up to meet him. The woman did not look
anything like his mother, who he'd had hoped to be there.
In spite of the woman's warm smile and friendly voice, he became more than a little apprehensive. He went into his own holding pattern as she approached him.
The confident look on his face crash landed, and his steady gait fell apart fast. He asked the woman about his mother with a quivering voice and knocking knees. He was so proud that he was able to travel alone and yet scared to death to be doing so.
When he finally saw his mother, the apprehension turned to relief and then to total embarrassment. His mother made her final approach, running up to him to give him a big hug and kiss. (Right in front of all these strangers!)
There are a lot of moments like that at airports and a lot of emotional changes in the people you see. It makes this game I play with the faces fun and frustrating. When I think I have someone pegged, their emotions (and mine) get jostled by turbulence, or the flight gets canceled. All at once, I am not too sure about them.
I wonder how other people who also play this game with the faces they see peg me.
I want to be seen as an International Jewel Thief wearing a blue pinstripe suit,. Tucked under my arm is a trench coat that hides the black leather briefcase handcuffed to my wrist. The breeze slightly must-up my hair, kind of macho-like. Yes, of course, sunglasses hang around my neck.
Lurking off in the corner of the newsstand, eyeing me through mirror sunglasses is Interpol, just waiting for me to make my move.
With my Chicago Cub shirt, camera bag hanging from my shoulder and carrying my well-traveled been-stuffed-once-too-many-in-the-over-head-bins weekend bag, I know I seem more like a bewildered and lost Tribune reporter. I do not come close to the writer type I am.
You know, sometimes there aren't any thoughts that cross your mind that make sense enough to write a column, or to create a cute and solicitous story fit for telling on NPR. On those days you search, stretch, and pull for anything you can, including disjointed thoughts from Baltimore. Today is one of those days.