So I just returned from a trip to Charleston, S.C. last night. Like many writers, or many folk interested in their fellow (wo)man, I found myself people-watching while waiting for my flight. We had misjudged the time it would take to drive to the airport, turn our rental car in, and get through security (I have to admit, things were astonishingly efficient), and so I had plenty of time to surreptitiously observe other travelers.
One thing I noticed was that few people noticed me noticing them. I take that back: No people noticed me noticing them. Why is that? Do writers really have markedly more curiosity about the people around them than a "regular" person does? I wouldn't have thought that until this trip, but now I'm not so sure. A couple of observations:
* Men like women in jeans and high-heeled black boots. It's true. There were several women (including me) in jeans and high-heeled black boots. They invariably garnered more looks than any other woman, no matter how provocatively they were dressed or how attractive they were.
* Children increase their volume in direct relation to the volume of their parents. It seemed that the parents who were most anxious about their child's escalating freak-out took the longest in quashing it.
* The people who are most obnoxious in their volume and choice of conversational topic will be seated directly behind you on the plane. Don't even bother with hope. It's going to happen.
* There is a real fear that the guy in the bar who orders double Bacardi on the rocks time after time (after time), is actually your pilot. And that fear does not dissipate until you witness him collapsed into his first class seat.
But these are just a few things I noticed, little, inconsequential things that took up space in my head as I waited for take-off. It was the thing that I noticed there was an absence of that made me sad, made me realize what we're all missing in this more security-conscious world of ours. I wasn't just watching the people ready to board planes, ready to leave the Charleston airport, whether they were happy to leave or sad to leave, they were still leaving, and therefore had a certain grim determination on their faces, a certainty that they were going somewhere and needed to concentrate in order to get there.
What saddened me was the arrivals.
I've always people-watched. And I've traveled by air since I was a child. I can recall getting my gold plastic Delta wings when I was six years old. We used to dress up to fly. I remember that. I remember watching people stride out of the tunnel, weary from their flight, but filled with anticipation. I remember watching the crowds of people waiting, talking excitedly among themselves, craning their heads to catch the first glimpse of their loved one, the one they'd missed, the one who was coming back to them. I remember the joy on the traveler's face when they caught sight of their friends or family, the children throwing themselves into their arms, the rapid-fire questions about the flight, about the state of their health, the need for luggage pick-up and how hungry were they, because there's food at home but they could always stop if they're starving.
I remember returning to Florida from Chicago, a place I was deeply unhappy in, to visit my grandparents when I was twelve. I saw them waiting for me before I even got out of the tunnel, and tears sprang to my eyes. I'd never cried in happiness and relief before. I'd never even known that was possible. They gathered me in their arms as other families reunited around us.
I miss that.
I miss watching the reunions, the looks of joy, of simple relief at being back home. What I watched instead was weary travelers coming out of the tunnel with vaguely hopeful expressions on their faces, only to see them fade back to weariness when there were no loved ones waiting for them. Maybe they were waiting for them outside the security checkpoints, but more likely they were waiting in the cell phone parking lot, and maybe the driver, the man, would get out of the car to greet them and shove their luggage into the trunk as quickly as possible before they jumped back into the car and took off before a security guard came along and told them to move.
I get the security measures. I understand the need, and I even find myself, at times, vocally supporting them.
But I miss the human parade. I miss the naked emotion. I miss remembering my own desperate need to connect as quickly as possible. I mourn for the young writers out there, watching us, looking for the stories that have become more and more difficult to discern from the look, the embrace that is no longer public. And how long will it take from public distance to private distance? Will the hugs continue at home? Will the looks of relief and joy be noticed in the confines of a car on the long drive home from the airport?
I imagine that the writers who are children now will nourish their emotional banks of knowledge in other ways. They'll evolve. As I differ from the writers of the forties, so will future writers differ from me. And I suppose that is warranted and right and the inevitable way of things.
But still, I mourn.