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Frame: An Alternate Universe

October 25, 2010
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I’ve always been slightly fascinated by airports. They are an alternate universe, a place where anything goes. Business suits sit next to pajamas, the people sleeping on the floor are not necessarily homeless, CNN streams over and over, the only television channel that exists. You are, for the duration of your stay, a nomad, carrying all of your earthly possessions with you, heavily warned not to entrust them to anyone else.  Be wary of anyone and anything, this universe tells you, yet you are forced to basically undress before you are granted admittance.  The airport is the only place that I will ever buy a Glamour magazine- I normally can’t stand the syrupy writing and the “Top Ten Ways to Lose That Belly Fat!” articles. But there is something about an airport that makes me think, “you know, I really should figure out what haircut is best for my face-shape.”

And then, there is airport food. Should you be hungry enough to need sustenance during your trip to the alternate universe, you have just three choices: the convenience store, the food court, or the bar.

First, the convenience store. Magazines, Airborne tablets, and more gum, tic-tacs, and off- brand gummy worms than you could ever ask for. These places also seem to specialize in delights such as “Combos,” those round pretzel filled snacks that are stuffed with peanut butter or “pizza” flavoring and can’t really be found outside of the airport anymore.  Other treats available here? Pork rinds, Cheetos, Doritos- anything that leaves an orange or grease residue and requires a napkin, which of course you won’t have once you polish off your bag while mindlessly watching CNN. But, if you are shopping at the convenience store your flight is clearly on time and you just need something to tide you over before your in-flight snack arrives. Lucky you!

If you have a little more time or hunger on your hands, you’ll probably head to option number 2, the food court. Maybe your plane is delayed, or you actually listened to those FAA instructions and arrived at the airport 3 hours in advance (really, who still does that?), so you have the option to spend a few minutes grabbing a slice of pizza or some chinese food* before you head to your gate. This is all well and good, but here’s the bad news:

1. There will be pizza, and it will look really, really good.  But it will taste really, really bad.
2. The line at Starbucks will be far too long for you to even consider getting a latte.
3. What you really want- that burrito from the place in the corner- is just screaming “eat me and I’ll make SURE you have to use the airplane bathroom.”

McDonald’s it is!

And finally, should you be unlucky enough to be stuck in the alternate universe for the long haul- missed flight, weather delay, catastrophic business trip- you’ll be visiting the airport bar. Really, it’s the only option if you need something to make you feel better about your impending night on the floor of the terminal, or crunched into one of the fake leather seats.  Belly up and make friends, everyone is there for the same reason. And at least you can watch sports in the bar, giving yourself a break from that same CNN human interest piece that has been droning on and on in a loop for two hours. The bar probably has fries, wings, or some kind of comfort food that will soak up the vodka.

I’ve spent at least my fair share of time in airports, both domestic and international, and there is something comforting in knowing that the food is basically the same wherever you go, from Boston to Bologna. It may be an alternate universe, but at least you know you can get gum, pizza, or beer no matter what part of that universe you’re in.

*That Chinese food will come in a styrofoam container. The airport is the last bastion of styrofoam- the environment be damned, this universe doesn’t care!

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