Wednesday, March 04, 2009

FUN at the airport

I can remember when it was FUN to go to the airport.
Yes, FUN.

Spending time in any airport these days is more often a source of irritation and inconvenience rather than pleasure. That stated, 'fun' and 'airport' are a tad incongruous in the same sentence. Just about unimaginable, really, in the prevailing climate of fear and paranoia which defines the once-upon-a-time-friendlier-travel-via-the skies.

In what seems to have been simpler, more innocent days - fun could be had at the airport.

As a kid, with family-of-origin, then later as a young adult with friends - going to San Francisco International Airport to while away an hour or more was a form of - can you believe - entertainment.

Back then, the drive from North Beach/ Chinatown to South SF didn't take long. Airport parking was easy (and free?). Once parked, we 'airport party types' would slip inside to the bright lights and bustle of the terminals. There, the atmosphere was always palpably thick with the heady anticipation of people on the move.

There were no security checkpoints.
No areas restricted to ticketed passengers only.
No recorded admonishments over the public address system to 'stay with your personal belongings - or else'.

Visitors could roam the public areas of the airport at will. One was not made to feel like a criminal in an enormous holding cell.

Free to enjoy the sights and sounds of a huge international airport, the lot of us would first peruse the various eateries for a snack. Through the big picture windows, we could see planes land and pull up to the gates, watch people deplane and others board. We would buy magazines. Lounge around on airport chairs. Read. Do more people watching. Stroll. We'd take time to chat with each other. Use the (relatively) clean, modern toilet facilities. Enjoy the temperature controlled climate of the vast interior spaces. Nap.

Done with all of the above, we'd get back in the car and head for home.

When I was a kid, my family was strapped for cash and had no extra funds to fly off on vacations. Weekend car trips satisfied, for a day, any wanderlust built up in my parents from the grueling work week before. We kids just went along for the ride, wherever Dad ended up driving us. Sometimes, it was to the airport.

Going to the airport rarely meant there were there friends or family 'flying in for a visit' who needed to be picked up. There were few, if any, legit reasons for us to be at the airport - save for the sheer joy of hanging out there.

Back then, did we know what we were missing by not actually doing any airplane travel? You betcha. We watched travelogues on TV! We kids knew there were foreign lands with jungles and deserts, wild animals and small villages on high mountains populated by fascinating people...

An aside: Dad traveled the world for years as a seaman. He saw and experienced wild and crazy things on many continents. Perhaps his wanderlust was not so satisfied during those day trips in the car with the family. It might very well have been his pipe dream to get back on the international travel circuit that so often brought us to the airport...

No matter that we were never actual frequent fliers, for it was exciting enough to be in mental transport mode and pretend we were off on adventures to exotic destinations.

We took numerous flights of fantasy. Anywhere and everywhere.
When one is daydreaming, anything is possible.

As adults, we're now able to fly hither and yon 'for real'.
We've taken flight for both vacation and business. Some of us have traveled beyond the wildest dreams of our youth, and have actually spent waaaaaaay too much time in airports all over the world.

Another aside: At one time, I was gone so much that I got burned out on both domestic and international travel (particularly business trips) and just wanted to stay home. I haven't sworn off airports entirely though. It may soon be time again for me to fly off again to faraway places - 'desire and economy permitting'. Maybe I'll even try a tour - have never done that - always felt myself to be too cool for tour packages. However, now that I'm an older gal and don't feel like planning how to get from point A to B and then C, figuring out where to stay, schlepping or being laid bare to the elements...we shall see...

FUN at the airport is but a sweet memory from my youth and is another of life's simpler pleasures that is sadly, no more.

Sad too, is the reality that airports no longer offer much in the way of a good time. Even with the fancy designer shops, eateries, connections for internet access and thicker padding on the chairs, it just ain't the same.
Things really have changed.

Wanna know something else, though?
Staying home is rather nice too.

Image of PanAm jets circa 1960's from this website.


Liz said...

we also used to go out to the airport and park and watch the planes taking off and landing. not sure if you can still do this since 9-11

baffle said...

ah - so you too enjoyed cheap thrills at the airport!

yeah - 9/11 changed so much the way we live. time does that on its own, but that terrible day leap-frogged us into a whole different mindset.

thanks for your comment, lizzy!

justducky said...

We didn't leave Marin County much. Not that there weren't enough beautiful, wonderful places to go in Marin County (back when Marin was more family oriented!

But for big adventures my mom would take us to the the City.

At City of Paris we'd see Santa. We had to wear black maryjanes with white socks and white gloves, a dress and dress coat and sometimes we'dhave lunch at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel or Blum's.
Once we had a real sitting-on-the-floor Japanese meal and I bought a tiny porcelain dog in Chinatown.

We went to the zoo back when the zoo was more relaxed and fun. One time we took the train to Disneyland and flew home on Pan Am! That was big excitement for us in the 60's.

Thanks for giving me a peek at your fun and family.

Conn said...

When i lived with grandma and grandpa... an often heard phrase was... "Let's go to the airport." We would get in the car and drive the 5 minutes to get there... always ending up in a parking area that was positioned along the runway. It was a specific viewing parking lot to watch planes land and take off. We would stretch out on the hood of the car and watch them come and go. It was a thrill and we always JUMPED at the chance.
Later, in high school, we always hung out at the airport and roamed the terminals. The viewing lot is no longer around in Indiana. Sad.
Here on Maui, when we go to Costco, we always take the back road that leads past the airport... a plane always coming in overhead. And I always think... I should stop here and watch them come and go... but with groceries in the car... I think it's time for a special trip.

baffle said...

It's great to share airport memories from our 'yoot' - indeed - our stories do seem to be of simpler times. But then we were kids - life really was simpler - well before we started to complicate our lives with this n' that.

Still - such great mental imagery of downtown SF in the olde days - and watching planes take off and land with grandma and grandpa in Indiana.

Isn't it lovely how we've all enjoyed our own unique flights of fancy...or lunch at downtown SF's Blum's (which was still there when I was a teen - I used to have dessert there).