Time, Money and Sunglasses in Airports

I like airports, but I don’t like malls. At first it seems pretty illogical, right? I mean, the two have so much in common.

-Both are enclosed, self-sustaining environments.
-Both tend to be pretty large.
-Both conduct commerce around the the idea that money (hopefully) doesn’t matter
-Both are voluntarily patronized by lots of people
-Both have motorized vehicles running around the halls
-Both have security personnel
-Both have lots of metal detectors
-Both have Muzak playing all the time
-Both use annoyingly cheerful words that encompass the whole of their patronage (shoppers vs. travelers)
-Both give you a sense of anticipation of the New, whether it be scenery or products

So at first glance, they seem remarkably similar. Yet I don’t like malls. Part of it has to do with aforementioned reason number three, that both conduct commerce around the idea that money doesn’t matter.

I like that about airports.

I like that one currency can be converted into any other, and that in that myriad of currencies, paying $4 for a small cappuccino seems reasonable. After all, where else can you go to get one? The restriction of choice makes money irrelevant. Money is still convenient to have, but it becomes nothing over which to obsess.

Malls are based on the opposite idea. Money is supposed to flow freely, you’re supposed to forget that it matters, because money is all that matters in a mall. forget that that $150 can be spent on food for a month, that basketball jersey is wicked cool. “I came to the mall to spend money, so I might as well spend it.” How much money you have is a direct status symbol of what you can do in a mall. Possessing becomes doing. How many bags you have on your arm shows the world how good you are at playing the mall game. I don’t like playing this game.

The second reason I enjoy airports in direct contrast to malls is the issue of time. Do me a solid. During the next trip you take to the mall, time yourself to see how long it takes you to find a clock. Or count how many clocks you see throughout the trip. It won’t be a large number. Malls want you to forget about time. Time doesn’t matter when you have money to spend. You’re in their enclosed, controlled, environment and they want you to be focused on one thing: winning the mall game.

In an airport, on the other hand, you can’t adjust your sunglasses without your elbow hitting a clock. This is actually not a big deal, because even if you move the hands, people will just assume that that clock is presenting the local time in Faroffistan. You’re safe to rock the shades indoors. After all, you just got off a plane on which it was sunny.

My point is that time is extremely relevant in an airport, and for good reason - people have flights to catch and sleepy relatives they will call in an hour to request pick up. Clocks are everywhere, and I like that. I think that time matters, and am reassured by the envIronment in the airport that reinforces that. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a $5 copy of Monday’s NYTimes to read.


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