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Osama bin Laden stole my romantic airport farewell

By BEN MONTGOMERY
Published September 12, 2006


After Sept. 11, 2001, things changed. One of those things was the airport. Machines were wheeled into place, lines were formed before them and those without tickets were excluded from the heart of the terminal, from the action.

In the blink of a few weeks, we, as in those not traveling, were banished to the common, less romantic areas of the airport, to the food courts and ticket counters and baggage claims. With us came the important moments we took for granted until it was too late: our hellos and goodbyes.

Maybe our greatest post-9/11 losses were innocence and civil liberty and privacy and sense of security. But what about our airport moments?

They have gone the way of the Eastman Kodak slide projector, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,
car phones.

These days we drop our lovers at the curb (no reason to go inside, right?) and exchange quick kisses, no tongues, trunks open, between the bumpers of taxi cabs and the whistles of the move-it men in  Day-Glo vests.

No time for passion here, sir. Let’s wrap it up. Could be a bomb in your Chrysler.

We say goodbye, but we’re not fooled. What comes next for the traveler is anticlimactic: the lines, the removal of shoes and coats, the Starbucks muffin, the lonesome wait.

We know all this, see, and it stings. It’s as if our beloved is hidden, not gone.

Before, when we said goodbye, we meant it. The traveler, newspaper under his arm and bag over his shoulder, disappeared into the gray of the tunnel and, barring delay, was off.

Maybe the kids even caught a glimpse through the oval window as the plane backed away. Maybe they waited, noses pressed to the glass, until the airplane roared by and lifted toward the quiet distance, and they cheered at the sight.

There was closure. That’s what the seeing offered.

Sacrificed, too, was the excitement of watching the plane land — remember the muffled crrrch of the wheels hitting the runway? — then staring down the   jetway for that first glimpse of her after all those weeks apart. You’re safe.

You’re here. I’ll never let you leave again.

The setting for those greetings now?

Baggage claim. The ambience of a KFC.

Again we meet! Kiss me! Is that my roller suitcase?

History professors will likely teach students about the planes and the World Trade Center and political shifts of 9/11. But will their textbooks or hologram-books or whatever hold a footnote about what happened to the airport greeting? Will the generations of Americans born post security checkpoints ever experience true reunions?

What about our culture? We had conversations: Remember that scene in the airport from that movie . . .  what is it? . . . when she comes off the plane, they see each other and they. . .

That’s because the magic always happened in an airport.

Consider Casablanca.

Where I’m going you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of. Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that. Not now. Here’s looking at you, kid.

Then Bogart turns and removes his hat, trench coat and shoes.

You’re going to have to get rid of the matches, sir. And are these fingernail clippers in your carry-on?

Search me. Search my shampoo bottle. Search my underpants with an ice-cold metal detector. But give me back my airport romance.

Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.