What does it say about me that the first thing I think about upon entering the receiving or "arrivals" area of an airport is the statistical likelihood of a terror strike? Everything is so benign in these scenes: travelers and recipients casually flooding in and out, no overt security presence, attention focused on the schedule or the parcels carousel, pretty much the polar opposite of what one goes through to board a plane. Everybody loitering in an airport's receiving area is probably way more concerned about how much cash they'll have to lay out for parking than whether or not a dirty bomb will scotch a reunion with loved ones.
Airports make other peoples' lives seem so much more special and important; their expressions of relief and joy at seeing one another again feel so unforced, so pure. You end up feeling like an imposter of sorts, wholly insincere in your fealty to airport edict in that you are more cool-blooded observer than warm-hearted participant. Maybe the issue is that most of our lives are air-tragedy free, and we take it for granted that whomever we're picking up will arrive unharmed and essentially unchanged from when last we spent time with them. So flight is a reliable miracle, the past's horrors fleeting and not quite real.
Whenever I find myself retrieving someone, as happened recently, I’m stymied and transfixed by the nature of "air-travel casual." It's similar to "Wal-Mart chic," only somehow lazier and less concerned with fashion. It's a white fiftysomething Steve Jobs look-alike in a SWAG SWAG SWAG long sleeve t-shirt; it's owlish dudes in outdated suits; it's gnomic sisterhoods of the traveling doo rags. Given the fact that business air travel may soon be part of my working life, this shit freaks me out more and more.