Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Airport ambiance

I had to go to Rockefeller Center today because I had packages to mail out, and the closest post office to where I work is there. It was no day for a lunchtime trek; by the time I walked four blocks in the sauna-like heat I was soaked in sweat. You could do Bikram yoga out on Fifth Avenue. Nevertheless the tourists were out in full force, though many of them had taken shelter underground in the Rockefeller Center concourse, clotting the passages and lunching on the stairs and generally blocking passage everywhere. After I mailed my packages, I got some pizza slices at Two Boots and wandered around looking for somewhere to eat them. Sitting at an anonymous table with some strangers, a familiar feeling washed over me, and it took me a minute to identify it. Then I realized what it was: I felt like I was in an airport. Rockefeller Center has the same ambiance that you experience in airports once you're past the draconian security barriers. The same wash of tourists, of disoriented travelers looking for stopgap solutions to their quotidian needs, the same bland portable food options, and the lines, and the same gift-shop traps set for tourists geared up to spend, spend, spend. Why would you trouble to fly to New York merely to visit somewhere that resembles the airport you just left, I wondered, but then realized that wasn't really fair. The concourse really was just a waystation, not a destination. But as tourism becomes a more pervasive industry, the primary industry of more and more places (especially as other forms of commerce and business can be handled online, with no travel) the accoutrements of tourism will begin to blanket more and more of the earth. EVerywhere will have airport ambiance, will be loaded with chain restaurants and food-on-the-go and knickknack shops. It will become harder and harder to avoid the places where tourists go, because they fucking go everywhere.

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