November 16, 2001
Eye Contact

You're not allowed to park in spot B-3 at Oakland International anymore. That was the first change we noticed last night.

Our favorite parking spot -- and the ten or fifteen rows of airport parking lot surrounding Row B -- have been permanently blocked off from the public. Even without my glasses, I could make out the newly-erected barricades through the darkness.look! we're writing FOOTNOTES together!

"Well," David said, matter-of-factly. "That's different, isn't it?" And he navigated the Subaru into one of the few available spots we could find, somewhere out in the nether regions of Row X or Y or ZZZ. Once we'd parked and locked the car, David took my hand and led me carefully through the maze of pedestrian crosswalks leading to the terminal. Without my glasses, everything much beyond two or three feet was a complete blur.

("They've got Chrismas lights up already?" I scowled, squinting into the darkness. "Those are traffic lights, honey," David patiently replied.)

This was the first time we'd been to the airport since the world exploded in September. We knew there had been changes made -- we were expecting changes -- but it's still a little jarring to actually SEE the changes for yourself. Airport parking was one. So was the National Guardsman, strolling around the perimeter of the terminal. (He looked so young! Even in camouflage gear with a gun slung across his chest, he still looked like he would be right at home standing on my doorstep, holding a Double Deluxe Pepperoni.) The airport wasn't nearly as crowded as I was expecting it to be, though. I thought there would be miles and miles of stranded irritable travelers everywhere, waiting in long lines for their luggage to be meticulously hand-searched. But the place was only moderately busy for a Thursday night, even one week before the Thanksgiving holidays.

As soon as we walked through the doors we checked the monitors: Jaymi's flight had just arrived, three minutes earlier than scheduled. Now all we had to do was wait for her.

Another change: we are no longer permitted to wait for incoming passengers at the gate. No one is allowed through the electronic sensors, in fact, except for ticketed travelers and authorized airport personnel. So we camped out in front of the baggage claim area, downstairs near the front of the terminal, and waited for the newly-arriving passengers from TicTac to begin making their way down from the upper level gates.

"I'll let you know when I see her," David said reassuringly. I stood there, Mr. Magoo-like, squinting into the face of every passing stranger. (Is that you, Puss?) And that's when I noticed yet another, slightly subtler change: the fact that all of those passing strangers were peering right back at me. Total strangers, all over the terminal, were looking at each other with more care and more caution than I can ever remember. The rental car reservations clerk, watching a young mother hoist a sticky toddler into a collapsing stroller. The security guard at the front door, keeping an unblinking eye on the elderly Asian-American couple pulling luggage off the carousel. The uniformed National Guardsmen, looking directly into the eyes (and the hearts, and the minds) of everybody they passed. Instead of walking around the way we usually do, with our eyes on the floor and our minds a bazillion miles away, we were all actually making eye contact with one another.

It was as though we were all saying the same thing. Hello. I'm harmless. Are you?

I was just about to say something to David about it -- Isn't it strange, how everybody seems to be NOTICING each other so much more than usual? -- when suddenly Jaymi was walking down the walkway from the gates, smiling cheefully, one modest carry-on bag slung over her shoulder. (Of course I had to wait until she was four inches from my nose before I was certain it was her. Where the hell are my GLASSES, anyway??) We were immediately swept up in hugs and 'hellos' and 'How was your flights?,' and I forgot all about the peculiar phenomenon of strangers actually looking at each other in an airport.

All I care about right now is the fact that Jaymi is here, safe and sound ... that she survived the flight (and so did I) ... and that I have my beautiful daughter in my maternal clutches for the next three days. I plan to spend the entire weekend looking at her.

With or without my stoopid glasses.

Have a great weekend, everybody!

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