I passed through the north entrance of the DFW airport. For Dallas at the last part of December, it was relatively warm - about 60 degrees and I was only in a long sleeve shirt. I was to pick up a friend coming in from skiing and I was early. It made sense to drop the windows down.
I like airports and malls and hospitals and big hotels because they are their own, self-sustaining city. For a while, a friend and I talked about having a blog or developing an app dedicated solely to the navigation of terminals and the discovery of great layover cuisine and spirits. Having lived in South Dakota for a few years, we knew the length of unexpected winter layovers and wanted to somehow capture the thrill available to one as they become a citizen, briefly, of an airport.
As I circled underneath the lights of the small city, following arrows to the arrival gates, I would be sandwiched between buses and shuttles. Then, I’d pass through the gates and circle back, taking me by the wingtips of warming planes. Slowly, like waking, I was met with the smell of fuel - the burn in my nostrils. The hazy apparition blurring from the exhaust pipes and turbines that smudges the edges of your vision and the world you see it through. The seepage of form and structure from your eyesight when only the softer lines are left - and the burn of that smell.
I smell it at the airport when I have a high collar around my neck and I’m looking off to the corner of the sky knowing I’m about to string along toward it. Knowing before too long, I’m going to be a part of a community that sits among the clouds and dreams about a place so far away - but won't need to imagine much longer because soon, it will be real and we will be there like morning.
That smell is the smell of travel, the smell of adventure.
That smell - is the smell of direction - of wander.
I thought of pictures from Tomorrowland that predicted we’d be in flying cars by now. I thought about how people still draw up plans for airports and make them look space age - they use words like sky-dock, or air-hub and have moving walkways. There’s still some fantasy about it. I think it’s easy to forget that we’ve barely been flying for 100 years. I think it’s easy to forget how amazing it is.
When you arrive someplace new and it’s at night, you smell those smells of combustion and you’re tired and you’re not sure if it was worth it, this Risk, this Leaving you’ve done. But registered in your olfactory is the memory of what happens next - the new morning.
The new morning and the way the new place you’re in pigments itself against the night and accommodates the waking of strangers. And you wake in a new bed and you forget where you are for a second - you’ve been transported, you’ve time traveled. There are new sounds along the windows and a different firmness to the ground. The visual lines here are different and the shadows are as well - and then you remember - you remember that, though your insides are the same, your outsides are not. There is a new thumbprint now against the ridges of your memory.
Transit pulls out the best and worst in people – it seems when first arriving, there this a pause in manners as one attempts to make sense of who they’re to be, of what role they will now fill as they move among these new people and different norms. After a while, if you do it right, you forget the need for recognition, so you traverse the new world and its morning as a faceless and nameless visitor and you slow down again. You no longer have the propulsion about you that got you here, no longer this awareness of time. Now you are here and you slow down and you do your best to walk with your hands behind your back, taking the whole world to your chest, making eye contact with perfect strangers.
You let your days, normally a succinct and scheduled order of events, become a completely sensory experience and you allow yourself to be tugged, for the first time in a while, by the true reflexes of your body as it moves against the wind in a land it hasn’t known until this very instant.
This is travel – the conduit for creative thought.