The parting

I sit in a hallway in Terminal D in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, sharing the long wall outside Gate D2 with perhaps 30 soldiers in desert camouflage. A few minutes ago, a woman with a Georgian accent walked by and asked the bald soldier next to me with the white iPod earbuds where they were headed. “Back overseas,” he replied. The woman with her asked, rather foolishly, “Where to?” as her friend said, “Good luck!” “Thank you,” he replied, not answering the other question.

You don’t ever fly straight into Atlanta; you always spiral down into it, circling in patterns known only to migratory birds, surveillance and mapping satellites, and air traffic controllers. So, your right shoulder aching from being pressed to the seat back—or your seatmate—by the force and your stomach sinking a bit as the plane circles, you get the feeling that Atlanta is on a high mountaintop surrounded with fog. In reality, the airport is on miles of blistering hot concrete surrounded by smog, but that’s neither here nor there.

I got off a conference call this morning with industry analysts and drove to Logan, stopping at home to pack a few things. I’m making a quick flight down to Memphis to talk to our customer there. I haven’t been in the city of the blues, Elvis, and MLK’s death for seven years, since we visited the week after we got married in the fall of 1997. It seems like yesterday.

The gray-haired man next to me, with the white mustache that reminds me of my uncle’s—my uncle John spent years in both the Army and the Navy before opting for more conventional pursuits—says that everyone is in for a long wait. Seems that they’s be flying out the same time that I am. I hope I can find the gate in the crowd of camouflage.

There’s no WiFi at this end of Terminal D, just too many gates for too many small airlines. I actually saw a Hooters Air sign on the terminal directory, though I haven’t actually seen a gate for it since I arrived. Maybe the Hooters street team posted the sign on the directory surreptitiously to build demand.

What I have seen is PSPs, two of them so far, the first I’ve seen outside a Sony store. The eleven-year-old next to me from Baltimore to Atlanta had one—he was using it to watch movies, and not Spider-Man, I was amused to notice. The soldier on my left now is playing a first person combat shooter. From where I’m sitting the resolution looks about like the game of Quake I used to play after hours at AMS, though the sound is a good deal tinnier from the PSP speakers. I’d normally, bitter liberal that I am, crack a joke about an offduty soldier playing a first person shooter, but there’s no mileage in it, he’ too young—probably ten years younger than me.

I give up my seat on the wall to another young soldier who is rocked back on his haunches and either being amused or irritated—it’s hard to tell which—by the other civilian sitting on the wall, another ten year old who keeps asking, So how many soldiers are you? A thousand? Four hundred? I find myself thinking, influenced by the WWII movie I saw last night, that he’s going to get in trouble as a spy for asking so many questions.

The Airborne Rangers are queuing up now, last and final boarding call has been made and they are clearing the lounge. A father is hugging his infant kid goodbye, his other children and wife standing by, then kisses his wife and joins the queue. Just another departure, this one on Omni Air, a name intoned darkly by the mustache-bearing soldier in the hallway.

Suddenly, now that the crying kids have subsided or left with their mothers, the lounge seems much quieter. It looks odd with only a few uniforms left, like the color has left it. They’re boarding our flight now; our journey seems tame by comparison.