Extraordinary stories from everyday life on the edge of the world

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the best thing about us is the people we know.
 

San Diego International Airport || Wednesday, 10.45am

Lindbergh Field, San Diego, California 1935 I remember when this place was a humble exemplar of modular 1970s granola-go-go aesthetic:

I remember big tinted transom windows, their frames extended like a log cabin's rafters in a 45-degree sun salutation.

At least I think I remember it. It's hard to distinguish between memory and imagination, when I look at it now.

Certainly, I remember my high school years, when they were building it. But I haven't flown in or out of this joint in a long, long time. Other airports have I known, of late, but not the on in my hometown.

Driving up here today, it kind of catches me off-guard. I feel like what a bachelor uncle must feel when he sees his niece in her 20s, having last seen her as a middle schooler.

They used to call it Lindbergh Field, but the old mural is gone now. This causes me some pain. But now there are fountains. Reflection rooms. Storefronts by Stone Brewing, Pannikin Coffee, and Warwick's Books. Warm squares of natural light to sit in. Free wifi (God bless 'em).

And, this morning, hardly anybody's around. There are more airport staff in the United terminal than passengers. Entire wings are empty of anything but furniture and sunlight.

This seems to improve everybody's mood:

  • The pat-down lady

Human contact is perhaps the best reason to evade the Rape-iscan. And no, weirdo, I'm not talking about getting felt up by an apologetic pair of rubber gloves. I'm talking about the opportunity to have a conversation with someone whom the social contract normally compels to treat and be treated like a unit of genetic obedience.

Jessica, the woman who administered the pat-down this morning, asked if I had any sore spots or injuries that she should avoid. (This took me off-guard; I've only ever been asked this question by a masseuse.)

I said "No, but last time I flew, the lady at security was humming and she had a really beautiful voice. So if you know how to sing..."

She chuckled, "Any special requests?"

  • The barista at Peet's Coffee

Okay, I have to admit I felt a twinge of regret when, five minutes after filling my thermos at Peet's, I passed the Pannikin kiosk. (Fade out on the jar of coconut ginger green). But then I wouldn't have had the pleasure of the wide smile and conspiratorial wink of the barista, who gave me my second tea bag with a murmur, "A little surprise in there." 

(The surprise was that she gave me three extra teas, instead of just one.)

  • The security dog

"What a good boy!" his stylish-in-spite-of-unflattering-uniform handler kept whispering. But she stopped short when he trotted up to me and nosed under my hand. I was happy he was so happy to see me, and rubbed his face in appreciative greeting; only as they were walking away did I read the words on his harness: "DO NOT PET."

San Diego, California

My dad (who, incidentally, is responsible for making San Diego one of the 10 scariest airports to fly into), remembered the first time he showed up for a flight in a suit and tie--he was on his way to San Francisco, to parlay with some clients about a construction job that had bottlenecked. He was my age, he told me; reconsidering, he thought maybe a little bit older. (At any rate, he had three kids and a mortgage; apply your own metric for oldness.) He remembered looking around at the other people in suits, looking down at the briefcase in his hand, and thinking, "Who is this guy?"

I'm so used to traveling, but not at all to traveling on someone else's dime. I'm accustomed to the seat of my Jeep, where I don't have to wear a bra, and can fold and bend my legs into whatever position is kindest to my sciatic nerve. I can stop whenever and wherever I want to buy food, instead of debating hunger against paying $5.99 for airport guacamole.

Frankly, yes, I prefer my method of independent travel.

At the same time, there's something curiously elevating about being invited into a place for the purpose of sifting its merits. Whether you're a consultant, an accountant, or a travel writer (like I am, these next 5 days), being cast as someone whose knowledge is worth buying a plane ticket for is a heady sensation, equal parts privilege and guilt.

I look down at my leather boots, my compact carry-on, the kitschy but functional flask I now take everywhere, and think,

"Who is this person?"