A Monday at Hartfield-Jackson

Nobody should spend a four-hour layover alone, so when we heard that some friends would be parked at Hartsfield-Jackson for most of Monday afternoon, it was only natural that we join them. When you go to the airport for purposes other than actually getting on a plane, you notice more than you might.

First observation: The hub is not designed for shopping. The selection of shops and distractions are few and repetitive. The vendors worth visiting are somewhere beyond the security gates, leaving behind a mish-mash of snack-shops that are magazine-stands that are book-stores of the most limited variety. And the book selection is odd. Every shop out here has the same stock. Want the occupants of a bestseller’s list? You might get lucky. But under the top three or so, you’ll start seeing the sub-literary quick-sells, the epitomes of the much-derided airport novel. Here are your Kellermans, your Ludlums (and proto-Ludlums) and a very substantial number of works by Zane. Somewhere there is a list of just what sells best to people on-the-go and that list drives this inventory of books not to be read, but rather consumed.

Second observation: The hub is not designed for lingering. For all of the waiting and queueing going on, you never get the impression that you’re actually welcome. If you’re not buying a ticket or picking-up luggage or selecting a rental car, you’re just another body in a sea of same. Even folks in the x-ray line can cling to the promise of movement. The rest of us are like patients in a giant Sartrean waiting room. The atrium is where this is most evident. The roundish hall echoes under the domed center and is surrounded by chairs and built-in couches of shiny stain-resistant naugahyde. I seem to remember far more places to sit, but that memory must be pre-9/11. The new thinking must be something along the lines of: “If you’re comfortable, the terrorists have won.”

Third observation: The hub is a last glimpse of home. Or a welcome first. Not a minute went by that I didn’t catch sight of yet another young man in desert camoflage. There were young women so attired as well, though their number was far fewer. Just above the Atrium floor is the airport USO. And so they come and go, these men-of-arms, their sandy attire making them incredibly obvious among the rest of us. The holiday is over for them. Some could be seen in the restaurants, being treated to a friendly meal by grateful strangers. But far more were just walking or waiting, most of them solitary, getting ready to go somewhere far away. And they’re so much younger than me. They have looks on their faces that I’ve not seen since college, the look of a freshman in unfamiliar territory. And they put my other two observations in sharp perspective. For all of the discomfort and inconvenience, the hub is still better than where many have been or where many are going.

2 Comments so far

  1. Jessica (unregistered) on November 30th, 2004 @ 12:45 pm

    In terms of traffic flow, HJ isn’t bad — at least there are opportunities to move around a bit once you’re past the security gate, as opposed to being stuck in one tiny section. (See: Newark.) In terms of shopping opportunities, it’s admittedly terrible. When I saw the new JFK Terminal 4, and all the lovely things you could do BEFORE security, I nearly cried.

    To be fair, Heathrow (depending on the terminal) has very little before security. You can eat, but that’s about it.

    Could the paucity of decent shops be a reflection of the contracts being concentrated in certain hands (such as those of David Franklin, the mayor’s ex-husband) for so long?

  2. Greg (unregistered) on December 1st, 2004 @ 1:27 am

    Yes, HJ is the one place you’d rather not wait for a delayed flight… or people being delayed beyond those escalators. We were stuck there for 6 hours, waiting around, and the only drink you can buy outside of Wendy’s and Houlihans is Dasani bottled water

    At least Houlihans has the best cheese fries you can et anywhere

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