Our friend Melody's flight was delayed, so I had plenty of time to watch people come and go at the airport.
Picking up visitors at the airport is a loathsome task on the best day; there's nothing quite like driving around for 45 minutes trying to find a space in the short-term parking lot to get you in the mood to host friends at your house. Every spot you think is empty is really just a normal-sized car parked in between two giant SUVs. Finally, you'll find a spot on the garage roof that is two escalators and a pedestrian bridge away from the arrival gate. When you make it to the gate, you can enjoy the sight of beaten-down travelers dodging pull-behind luggage as they approach the security line.
Call me shallow, but the most depressing thing for me about air travel is the way people dress. It's as if they call each other before the flight and say, "We're getting on a plane early tomorrow, so don't forget to wear the most inappropriate things you own. Maybe the pajamas you slept in, or whatever's really smelly at the bottom of your gym bag."
The airport is a festival of bare-legged, flip-flopping, cargo shorts-wearing, glued-to-their-phones, drink-swilling, crumb-dropping travelers who started their vacation the minute they left the house. Looking at them, I wonder if the "Survivor" TV show sold the contestants' used clothes to these people right off their backs. Where else could you find such a motley collection of rags?
"Hey, I'm wearing my favorite flip-flops to travel in," I can imagine one saying. "My best ones, I save for weddings and funerals." I've seen people dress more formally at a Jimmy Buffett concert than they do to get on a plane.
Do people understand that hobos don't dress like hobos because they want to? Do they understand that it's not a fashion choice? In England, they call that "living rough." People who can afford plane tickets are not living rough. They have a choice. And I'm not talking about youngsters; these are grown men and women walking around as if they are at a backyard barbecue at Aunt Millie's on a broiling hot summer afternoon.
I am not a snob. I believe in dressing comfortably, but there's a time and a place for the tank top. And that time and place is when you're being busted for selling meth on "Cops," or at midnight on Friday at the giant discount store -- not at an airport, even if you're just there to pick someone up. That was another thing I noticed: how many teenagers were getting off the plane and running into the arms of the waiting parent. They'll have to do it all over again in few weeks, because Mom and Dad hate each other so much that they live 10 states apart.
And here's the other conundrum: The people wearing the flip-flops, the shorts and the holey T-shirts are pulling big carry-ons. What is in them? Their "good" clothes? Wouldn't an airport full of people be the place to wear your good clothes, and your destination the place to wear your casual clothes? Not the other way around?
Then again, since so many flights end up with people spending a night or two in an airport or sitting on the tarmac for hours on end, wearing pajamas may not be such a bad idea. But you do have to wonder how casual it can get.
When I first started flying, men would wear suits to get on a plane. Now, about half of them wear shorts and T-shirts, and the other half wear tracksuits. Which would be OK if they had ever been on a track in their entire lives. What's next? What do you say when a guy wearing only a Speedo and a gold necklace says to you, "Is that middle seat taken?" Do you want to sit next to him for seven hours?
Of course, if he's even better dressed than you are, maybe the answer is yes.