I hastily grabbed my two bags, slipped my shoes back on, and stepped out into the sea of people. Whereas the TSA security checkpoint felt quiet and cold like a hospital, the flood of movement lying just past it felt urgent and alive. I heard voices, ranging from quiet conversation to loud calling to laughter; I heard the scuffle and squeak of suit case wheels frantically trying to keep pace with their owners; I heard a loud, clear voice making announcements that no one listened to. In the rush of life and movement, I stopped to breathe it all in, forgetting myself temporarily. But I had places to go, so with a quick glance at the myriad of overhanging signs directing me to Terminal C, off I went.
I was tired, so tired, after a long evening of travel and a weekend full of late nights and laughter, but I wanted to blend in. Mom said I’d be safer that way. I tried to do what everyone else did: walk confidently, listen to music through one earbud, and avoid eye contact. It’s funny how people do that. When a fellow human walks by, they must pause from taking in the surrounding scenery. They feel they must lower their gaze to the ground in front of them, or look at their phone, or avert their eyes to something else, all to avoid the dreaded evils, Awkwardness and Interaction. Since I wanted to blend in, I refrained from both of these. I ignored the clean, vaulted ceilings that soared over the terminal and allowed white sunlight to flood in. I resisted studying the thousands of bodies rushing past me, even those adorned in unique style and bright colors. Until, that is, I reached gate C14, at which point I got a candy bar after a brief scuffle with a vending machine, plopped down into a thinly-cushioned seat, and breathed. The fact that I hadn’t looked at my ticket to confirm I was in the right place flitted through my head, but it was soon gone. I took a deep breath. It was nice to breathe. I wanted to focus on that for now. Keeping up with the crowd was as exhausting as it was exciting. I finally allowed myself to watch this never-ending crowd. As face after face rushed by, I was struck by the overwhelming revelation that I was not just looking into a sea of colorful, lively movement, but rather into lives—thousands of lives—that all happened to intersect in this moment.
I knew what this meant. My brain only had such existential thoughts when it was near exhaustion. Leaning back in the seat, I propped my feet up on my backpack and tore into the crinkling candy bar wrapper. A short man with a cowboy hat and a grey, gravity-defying mustache strolled by, toting a blue suitcase behind him. I wondered what his story was as I bit into the king-size Snickers bar. Instantly I could feel the sugar coating my teeth. At least it would keep me awake until I was on the plane, I thought as I opened the Netflix app on my phone.
Blending in meant resisting the urge to continue staring at the steady stream of people walking by, which meant doing something else to distract me from them all, which meant watching Marvel shows on Netflix. I popped my earbuds in. With that one simple action, all the sounds of the airport faded. No more chatter, sound steps, announcements over the speaker. Nothing except my show’s theme song.
I watched for thirty minutes, completely oblivious to my surroundings. Until, that is, my tired, ever-self-doubting brain started questioning its choice to sit here. I noticed that only one other person was sitting at my gate. Hmm, that seemed strange. The flight was supposed to be leaving pretty soon, I thought. But in my dazed exhaustion, I ignored these thoughts and continued watching the show.
The show ended and still no one was at the gate. Not even a flight attendant. Finally, I decide to check my ticket. That can’t be right, I thought, checking the current time and seeing that the ticket said boarding started half an hour ago. According to the ticket…my flight is scheduled to leave in nine minutes. I sat there, in my slow stupidity, staring at the ticket. I spent several valuable seconds going back and forth from the current time on my phone to the flight time on my ticket. My phone switched from 8:44 to 8:45, and it finally clicked. The gate on the ticket was C24.
I was at the wrong gate.
Never in my life has adrenaline pumped into my body so quickly. I jumped out of the chair, banging my knee on the metal arm rest in the process. In one motion, my backpack was on and I was speed walking further into the terminal. Eight minutes. No time to speed walk.
I started running, realizing that I had finally become an airport runner. In the past, I’d always wondered about airport runners. What sort of person found themselves running through the middle of a crowded airport? Was the running really going to help them make their flight? Why did they have to run? What made them late? Now I knew.
I found myself trapped between suitcases and slow-moving tourists, and in the brief moment when I slowed down to maneuver my way out, I noticed my hand was shaking. Thoughts of missing my flight, being in the airport alone all night, and having to confess my stupidity all rushed through my head as I ran past gates.
I saw C24 ahead, and it was empty except for one flight attendant. Maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t too late. Flustered and out of breath, I jogged up to the lady, who was looking at me expectantly. She held out her hand as I fumbled through my pockets for my ticket. She scanned it, handed it back to me, and I walked in. Seven minutes.
As I walked away, I heard her voice. “Closing the gate now.”
I wanted to cry, shout, and laugh all at once. I’d made it. How was that possible? As I shoved my backpack under the seat in front of me, uncontrollable grin covering my face, I vowed to never watch Netflix in an airport again.