Airports are funny places. Inside these isolated bubbles of transition, where you can only exist in one of two states – coming or going – human beings tend to act oddly, even irrationally. Perhaps it’s the ‘high’ of travel, the over-excitement of visiting someplace new or returning home after some time away, that is too much for us to handle. Our brains flutter, sending abnormal signals to the rest or our bodies, causing us to do such things as walk at a speed of 42 miles per hour through the terminal while talking on the phone and trying to complete a sudoku puzzle at the same time.
Once you step through the sliding doors of any airport and breathe in that first breath of stale, air-conditioned, duty-free air, you are forced to shift into warp speed. If you don’t, you’re bound to be run over by the first out-of-control lunatic barreling along with an overflowing luggage cart who fails to notice the number of feet he has crushed along the way.
People whiz by, walking at dangerous speeds while riding on the alarmingly rapid people-movers, only to arrive at their gate, glance at their watch and angrily plop down in a chair because boarding time is still three hours away.
Hyperactive parents dart all over the place looking for little Jason while the rest of the family argues loudly over who gets to sit in the window seat. A large group of people wearing bright yellow t-shirts stating “O’Donnell Family Reunion” always seem to be running around like maniacs, trying to hide behind each other because nobody’s brave enough to tell Uncle Carl that his brilliant fashion statement is a complete embarrassment.
Golf carts burn around corners with tires screeching as they travel at speeds greater than the legal speed limit on most major highways. The drivers screaming non-stop “Cart coming through, move aside!” as they beep their horns and sound their alarms as if they were driving through the streets of Mumbai.
And we even eat faster while inside of airports. Rarely are their an abundance of tables to eat at, which makes sense considering that many people just eat while running, stuffing $9.00 half sandwiches and spoonfuls of General Tsao’s chicken into their mouths while constantly dropping their luggage and wondering why life is so frustrating.
Why are we in such a rush? Is every single passenger about to miss their flight?
People talk faster, use the restroom facilities faster, make purchases of trail mix, gossip magazines and “I’ll Screw For Beer” t-shirts faster than we would on the outside world. Inside airports, shoes are shined in three minutes, full heads of hair are styled in two and iPods are purchased from vending machines.
Installing Speed Bumps Inside of Airports
The first thing I noticed upon my return to Mexico two days ago was the innumerable amount of speed bumps in this country. You can hardly drive 200 feet without encountering one. And there is no standard type – they range from a thick rope laid across the street to a collection of car-destroying, rock-like knobs to small concrete hills that offer a decent view from the top. The point is, there’s no going fast, at least not all the time. Everybody is forced to slow down and come to a halt, not once a day, but once every few seconds.
This is a healthy way to live, with both mental and physical benefits. And since time spent in an airport seems to bring out the most erratic, the most irrational, the most unnecessarily rushed behavior in people, why not lay down some speed bumps and slow it down a notch or two? Pulling our luggage along, we would have to stop, concentrate and slowly cross the bumps in order to proceed. At the very least, fewer feet would be run over and fewer shirts would be stained with duck sauce.
“I’m Never Coming to Mexico Again!”
I began thinking about the need for speed bumps as soon as I arrived at the Cancun airport. As soon as I was off the plane, I found myself in an absurd foot race with my fellow passengers. Truthfully, I could have used a restroom stop, but I chose to keep on going, calculating that even a short break at that juncture would quite possibly cost me the race. The race to where? I had not a clue.
With some nifty footwork and a series of well-timed elbows, I managed to arrive first at immigration. However, in the end, all this did was give me a front row ticket to another negative aspect of airports – their ability to cause humans to reach an extreme level of anger faster than normal.
There was a delay at immigration as the computer system had crashed and therefore, visitors could not be processed. Within minutes, the line grew to over 50 people and naturally, the crowd immediately became restless.
After 10 minutes of waiting, the first angry shouts were heard. They came from a middle-aged American woman, with arms crossed so tightly across her chest, that I feared she was about to squeeze herself to death. I turned away as I wasn’t in the mood to watch this woman’s brain explode through the top of her head. I was hungry and witnessing such a scene would not have helped.
Before long, more and more passengers began shouting. “Are you going to make us stand here all day?”, “This is the worst airport I have ever been in!” and “I’m never coming to Mexico again!” are just a few examples. The immigration officers just ignored them, a useful skill most likely taught during Mexican Immigration Officer training – Lesson 9: Ignoring the Gringos.
The situation rapidly deteriorated as people began pacing back and forth, waving their hands in disgust and displaying facial expressions intended to communicate their displeasure but instead making them appear constipated to the point of needing immediate medical attention.
Eventually, after a total delay of 35 minutes, the head of immigration decided to let us all pass without our passport details being entered into the computer system. The officers simply stamped our passports and let us in the country.
An Encounter in the Men’s Restroom
Before collecting my backpack from the luggage carousel, I finally had a chance to visit the men’s room. As I was picking pretzel bits out of my teeth in front of the mirror, another American stormed in and immediately blurted out, “God damn. Can you believe they made us wait for so long?”
I replied, “Well, it was worth it. We’re not officially in the computer system so we can stay in Mexico for as long as we want!”
He looked at me as if I had just spoken to him in Martian. “Why would you want to stay here for more than a week? I’ve already had it with this place. After all, this is Mexico”, he irritably cried out, pronouncing that last word, Mexico, ever so slowly in order to emphasize this country’s no-goodness. He then shook his head at me and stormed back out of the bathroom.
Speed bumps. Had there been speed bumps scattered throughout the airport, this man might not have been so upset. He might not have been on the verge of a heart attack from having to wait an extra half-hour at immigration.
We need to slow down, especially when we find ourselves zooming through life without even noticing our surroundings or noticing how hectic our lives have become. All it takes is one thick rope to step over in order for our minds to calm, even for a brief moment. Yet this brief moment can make all the difference as it forces us to take an extra breath, gather our thoughts and then proceed with a new found awareness. And hopefully it will also stop us from buying “I’ll Screw for Beer” t-shirts.