It’s 4:55 am in Dulles airport outside DC. After a 40 minute cab to the airport, then the train to the B gates, I try to find a quiet place to sit and wait. But quiet has been chased from the modern American airport as far as I can tell. There are two conflicting sources of music playing at gates 75 and 79, a TV on in between blaring the scrapings of the 24hr news cycle, and an open walkie somewhere broadcasting fuzzy chatter between airport staff out there in the dark moving the planes around.
We’re all choosing what to focus on, trying to tune out Trump on the TV, while the gospel and the country rock battle it out in the air around us. We are maybe 15 people at this end of an airport hallway that could be anywhere. 1 in 5 of us are struggling with our mental health. Some are hearing other voices beneath the useless cacophony of the empty airport. Some are repeating positive affirmations. Some are on the pale gripping edge of panic. Some are sleep deprived and twitching. All are curled in hard angled chairs, despite the flying chairs we’re about to be strapped into for hours, despite what we know about sitting being ‘the new smoking.’
The decades old sit-down-and-consume pattern still pulses through this cavernous empty room though we know better, and as we approach 5am the chain stores rattle open their doors. There is nowhere to stretch out our spines or ease our prodded nerves beneath the neon lights. These public places could be less hard. Endless aching bodies and tired psyches stream through here, and with small changes a little more health could be fostered here, and from here sent pouring out into the world. Airports are places where we could nudge our way towards new patterns, they are small points of entry into millions of lives. I dream of stretching stations, quiet areas, sleeping pods and friending stations, exercise bikes that send free electricity into the system, gardens that I could help tend while I wait… in a dream of green and calm I slip beneath the white noise and dose off waiting to board flight DL3794 back home.
*This daydream was inspired by conversations with friend, dancer, occupational therapist Ashlea Watkin.*