Feb 24, 2023

People-Watching At The Airport Is No Fly-By-Night Pastime

A vignette about comings, goings and stayings

By Ed Goldman

Since I don’t get to Paris or Manhattan often enough to spend time sipping coffee as I people-watch, I’ve discovered that awaiting the arrival of a loved one at Sacramento International Airport may be the next best thing.

My preferred spot is right where the little monorail train disgorges passengers before they descend into the chaos of baggage claim on the terminal’s ground floor.

Edgy Cartoon

Over-Friendly Skies

The cast of characters changes every time a plane lands. The people who de-train are either hometown returnees or visitors. The people greeting them are either momentarily ecstatic—which can quickly evaporate if the people returning are family members and they’re in town to wrestle over someone’s estate—or comically businesslike, especially if they’re seeing the arriving party for the first time and silently wondering what HR had in mind when they made this hire.

Regardless of the socio-political situation, one thing almost everyone at the airport has in common is that they speed-walk as if pursued by angry gazelles. 

I’m not sure why this is—or why I, too succumb to the same behavior when I’m the one who just got off the plane. I imagine I assume that if I don’t get down to baggage claim ASAP, someone will pluck my suitcase from the carousel and abscond with it into the traffic. Oddly, this goes through my mind even when all I have is a carry-on bag.

Lost-Luggage habits die hard, I guess. I’ve lost bags in Sacramento and Toronto, which is a pretty good record compared to that of friends I’ve spoken with who manage to have their Samsonite set sabotaged on almost every trip they make. You’d think by now they’d have learned to pack lighter, obviating the need to check their stuff.  But no.

We also scurry through TSA and to our departure gates for no apparent reason. The planes rarely leave without you if you’ve arrived at the airport punctually. If they left without us as often as we fear they will, there wouldn’t be enough passengers, and the airline industry—along with its specialty, overbooking—would cease to exist.

I like driving to my airport to “collect,” as the Brits say, friends returning home from a week in a far-more interesting destination than the places I go. Even though these friends are highly capable of driving themselves to and from the airport, I like dropping them off and retrieving them when our skeds allow. My belief is that this allows them to depart and return somewhat relaxed (no rushing to check in or, upon returning, to try to remember where they left the car) and it makes me feel, however, feebly, that I was a small part of their travel adventure.

It also gives me time to people-watch and wonder what dreams the travelers and greeters are nurturing, what jobs they’re not going to on this day and whether their problems and mine are similar. Over the course of my life I’ve learned there’s a pretty good likelihood of that—whether I’m people-watching on a Paris boulevard, in a Manhattan cafe or at an airport in California’s capital. The key word is people.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).