The terminal: an isolated biome of circulated air pumping through the rafters of expansive atriums; where baggage carriers glide across the precisely laid out tarmac; a placeless place devoid of what we typically call nature.
There’s no surf in this place.
Today the baggage handlers are wilting like safety-orange flowers under New Orleans’ hot hot sun. Outside it feels like one-hundred-and-ten degrees Fahrenheit. Inside it doesn’t even feel like a temperature. I am in a place that does its best to simulate a warm environment. But the goal of an airport architect is to design a stream-lined conveyor belt for people to get from zero to thirty-two thousand feet in a matter of minutes with no more than two bags and a couple of kids. So the airport itself fails to simulate a natural environment. Photos of flowers don’t offset the true form and function. No one is fooled.
Louis Armstrong International Airport
I just bought a Red Bull a few moments ago from the airport bar. I stared at the ceiling fans while I drank it. The fans hung down on long steel poles that shined down from the windows above. Every surface was either steel, white or flat grey. The fan blades were shaped like airplane wings. Maybe it had some sort of aerodynamic advantage, but I think that mostly they were meant for people like me to look up and say, “hey, check that out.”
While I checked it out my mind started to wander to other things—to places that weren’t airports. I intended to get my mind as far from this placeless place as possible. And despite all the seemingly busy assemblage of design puke that composes an airport terminal, it was surprisingly easy to let my mind go blank. After all, all I needed to do was wipe clean the whites and greys and the steel beams and then my mind was left with absolutely nothing. All the people surrounding me were strangers. Without any real personal connection to anyone, they all became hats and dresses framing people-like figures. I was alone and selfish, adrift in this airport’s ocean of function and form.
Function and form. I kept watching the fan-blades rotate. They spun round and round until my eyes lost focus and the blades became grey disks with a red ring around the outside edge. Then the fans disappeared entirely and I found myself paddling out against pounding surf in Ventura, a strong swell with waves that hung just overhead beating me back on my 6’ 2” board. I paddled arm over arm ascending over each crest and dipping into each trough. My board’s nose lapped the water like a sick thirsty pup.
I looked at my board, in my daydream, and it seemed more like a shape than an object. It was an abstraction; one that I soon realized was the same shape as an airplane’s fuselage. Flip the surfboard over and you have the near perfect profile of a plane. Air or water, after all, are both functions of fluid mechanics.
At this moment I’m waiting at Gate D-6 of Louis Armstrong International. My thoughts are so submerged in surfing and flying that my actual movement through the airport hardly registers in my consciousness.
Sitting, Waiting, Wishing…
I’m waiting for my plane. Bulbous clouds rise in the heat and bubble out like boiling water. Sitting here looking at the clouds is no different than waiting in the line-up, really. My chair isn’t rising and falling with the ebb and flow of the Pacific Ocean. But whether I’m here or out passed the breaks, I’d still just be sitting and waiting and watching the clouds bubble up in the sky. I’d catch snippets of strangers’ conversations. I’d rub the back of my neck or tap my fingers against my armrest or the giving surface of the sea.The airport’s meticulous system of tickets, lines and gates is the same as a surfers’ unspoken etiquette: If a surfer doesn’t wait his turn in the line-up, he may as well be walking through security without taking off his shoes.
I am in waiting. The most common state for today’s traveller/surfer. But in an hour or so I will board my flight and the aircraft will take off down the runway, just as I might paddle beneath the crest of a glassy wave.
The plane’s lilting bounce as it rolls onto the runway will imitate an ocean’s unsettling surface. My seat, adjusted to the upright and locked position will make me feel like I’m in between sets, the nose of my board aimed up at the sky, waiting for the next ripple to trickle over the horizon. And then it will form.The captain will ask the flight attendants to prepare for take off, and the engines will start to rumble like the wave crashing beside me as I hustle into position. Then as the airplane ascends, my stomach will get that same feeling it gets when I drop in, and the wave takes over, and it feels like flying. Hydroplaning across the water as if it were wind.