The thing about airport waiting lounges is the glimpses you get of the lives of other people. It’s something of a cliche these days to talk about how you can see the best and worst of life in the way people greet each other, and frankly I’m sick of hearing or thinking about it. It’s only because modern Western societies isolate ourselves communally as a matter of course that the exception of a huge family greeting is exceptional. We divide ourselves into age cohorts and only get close to our relatives at weddings and funerals, then act amazed when we realise that meeting and greeting is such a nice feeling.

Worse is the fact that airports are the most expensive place on earth. There’s plenty of people who get a kick out of ‘pay and display’ lifestyles, and I would refer all of them to a life of lurking in lounges. You’ll be broke in no time. For example, I was interested in a Lonely Planet guide called “South-East Asia on a Shoestring”. The first thing I noticed was that you’d immediately blow any pretense your budget on the $65 tome. Then you’d want to be sure you didn’t buy a single gram of food or drink.

Perhaps that’s why people are so damn happy to see one another, “sweet jesus… I can finally escape this noisy, air-conditioned hell.”

Despite all this whinging, I seem to have spent an extraordinarily long time sitting about in airports. Half the time I was waiting for a friend or relation to come in from New Zealand, or sending one home (consequently I’ve mastered the “any excuse to not actually enter the terminal” approach, which means that I think airport parking fees are actually a good thing), so I’m well-familiar with the arrival/departure anxiety that appears to result in the effervescence of the welcome. And I remain cynical about the authenticity of the emotions on display.

Now, this isn’t to say that I think all greetings or farewell’s are fake. Rather that the atmosphere lends itself a a smidge of dramatisation. Lot’s of waterworks when someone is only going away as far as Australia, when, in reality, they’re a short trip away and can be easily visited. Maybe it’s the realisation that one should have spent a lot more time with the departing person that drives the wailing and gnashing of teeth up that extra octave. Who knows?

Or more importantly, who cares… Once I’ve been lying on one of those uncomfortable lounge chairs trying to catch up on the sleep I’m missing by hauling my backside out of bed to collect a friend at 3am, only to find the flight delayed, or customs is holding people up, or I got the wrong time, then feeling the love of the people around me is the last thing I feel like motivating myself to participate in.

Worse, airports are one of those places where the masses get to blend in all their glory. You get toffs sitting uncomfortably and trying to pretend they aren’t sitting two feet from a lurking bogan family. You get rascists pretending they aren’t a seat away from “the Maoris”, or “the Asians”. And you get the smells, the wailing, the running around, the loud cellphones, the grumpy kids, the happy kids, the hungry kids, the inquisitive kids who don’t know that you’re not related and therefore don’t give a goodamn that they just “did poopy”, the stinky old people, the uncomfortable looking and slightly distressed disabled, the crowd of drinkers, the loner stoner hiding under his hoody, the poorly dressed slappers with their gear out on display, the dazed smokers bringing skinny wrinkled lips in from the cold in a miasma of stale smells and so pale as to almost be translucent skin lacking all circulation, morbidly obese people looking happy at the prospect of being upgraded to first class and therefore enjoying the benefit of slowly drowning in nutrients for the first time in their lives, the new family family proudly touting and displaying a baby like they’re the first people in the world to breed, the exhausted parents herding four children and looking wistfully at the childless couples like pumping out that first sprog was the craziest thing they ever did to make themselves happy, the ordinary people, the beautiful people, the persistently friendly, the compulsively grumpy, and last of all, the heartbroken.

And all of it laid out like a night in front of the telly. God I hate it.

Nice to be back in Wellington by the way.