My son Spenser flew into Portland International Airport before noon today. The airport was Wednesday noontime crowded. Spenser has Down Syndrome and does not fly alone. His mom flew with him from their home in Florida, and she will wait amidst the airport comings and goings before changing airlines and traveling on to Fairbanks, Alaska, for a month-long stay with my other son Cameron, his wife Alison, and their children Logan and Savannah.
The United Airlines flight out of Houston was 15 minutes late arriving, and I arrived at the airport 20 minutes early. I parked in short-term parking, took the elevated walkway across to the terminal, checked the big arrival and departure board – the kind you see in every airport – discovered their flight’s tardiness, and spent half an hour walking around.
You can see a lot in half an hour, if your intention is to pay attention. I have been in the Portland airport at least 20 times, but I do not believe I ever noticed and registered the green carpeting covering all the floors. With red and blue and violet stripes. I can’t say either that I noted all the eating establishments on one side of the terminal, all the shops and businesses on the other. That is how it is. Lots of people seem to eat lots of food in airports.Maybe it’s the waiting, maybe boredom. Lots of Chinese food for 11:30 a.m. And coffee. People at coffee shops and bakeries, people walking with coffee, people in waiting area chairs with coffee. It is amazing to think just how much coffee must be grown and harvested in the countries where it is grown and harvested. This is one place outside of one city and people wait and sip and gulp hot coffee.
Then there are the clothing stores. Many high-end. Colorful blouses drawing the eyes through the display windows. Jackets. The ever-present locale t-shirt, and sports teams everywhere, in our case The Ducks and The Beavers. Never mind The Blazers. Shoes, slacks, dresses and skirts. Who goes to the airport to buy their clothes? Or buys clothes other than the touristy identifiers walking through and waiting in airports? I don’t know the answer.
People passing, at various rates of speed, maybe dependent on their anxiety level. Pulling carry-on bags on rollers, hauling backpacks on backs, often with both. Handbags, waste pouches, shopping bags with store labels. Overheard conversations, snippets of information from the passing travelers: “We’ve got to go to Gate E sweetie”; “Come on Buddy”; “How did I fuck it up?”. A man in a dark, brown suit, asking every third or fourth passerby if they would like a free copy of “Awake”. In 30 minutes I see no one accept the offer.
I notice a large man leaning against a wall wearing a Florida Gators basketball t-shirt a minute or so before I see my son and his mother walking out past security, looking back and forth for me, the end of the seven-hour flight from Orlando. Our eyes meet and a moment later my son and I hug. I am sure someone watches this ritual, some other traveler or waiter for a traveler. An airport ritual. Hugging.
We walk back through the airport, and then Spenser’s mom heads off to arrange for her next flight on a new airline. We take the escalator up to the doors that swing for as long as electricity flows, then back across the walkway – I point out the mountains in Washington to our north – and to my car.