Lounge Life


Dear Readers,

Good heavens. I’m stuck in an airport again. This time I’m in Manchester. My flight is delayed. I was hoping to sleep soon, on the airplane, but instead I’m sitting in a lounge – ok, not too shabby; it has snacks and a power outlet – with my computer, a glass of water, two books to read, and four hours to kill.

Delayed or not, today is a long travel day: Liverpool to Manchester by car, flight to the States, and a car for another couple of hours. Tomorrow, rehearsal begins at 10. I just finished recording the Higdon violin concerto yesterday, so that’s in my fingers and isn’t leaving, and the Higdon is what I’m playing this week as well, so my biggest concern about tomorrow is simply waking up. After rehearsal, I’ll have an interview and a meeting, and then, once my commitments are over for the day, I’m pretty sure the room will begin to spin and I’ll take a nice long nap. If I’m lucky, today, maybe I’ll get a whole row to myself on the plane.

Airplane lounges are endlessly amusing. The people in them are an odd combination of self-conscious and self-absorbed. They speak on cell phones, in jovial, professional voices, while looking around to see whether anyone is noticing or being disturbed. They read papers and magazines they wouldn’t normally pick up. They peer at the snack bar, at food they wouldn’t normally eat, curious to take advantage of the free goodies but aware that not everyone appreciates the clicking of shoes on the floor or the harsh smashing of plates against utensils. And they watch each other. Not all the time, but sometimes, in small glances, as I do, to see who’s where and what they’re doing through all of this waiting. Most of them are bored but making the most of things.

And then there are the misfits. I am probably one of them, as I always seem to be perceived as a helpless teenager when in transit. A train conductor once spent a full ten minutes interrogating me about bags of Christmas presents for my family, thinking that I had packed all of my possessions and run away from home. More times than I can count, I’ve been directed to the wrong line or the wrong part of an airport or told the most obvious things because people thought that I must be traveling alone for the first time. The only thing I can do about this is to wear my sunglasses. They are magical. No one messes with me when I am wearing my sunglasses.

In fact, there is a man in sunglasses in this lounge as I write. He thinks I can’t see that he’s exhausted out of his mind and staring at me, but because of the direct overhead lighting, I can see behind those lenses. He looks rather young. Oh, hang on now – he’s pulled two chairs together and stretched out to sleep. That’s another group one sees often in lounges: the sleepers. In all different postures, oblivious, heads rolled to contorted positions, mouths hanging open, arms crossed in an effort to keep their jackets closed and passports and boarding passes protected. Every so often, one looks positively angelic, but those are usually not the middle-aged businessmen.

There are the laptop addicts, too. I don’t believe I fall into that category, because I actually enjoy spending entire days away from my computer. I abuse my computer; it’s got all sorts of scratches on the outer shell, and I just noticed that one of the bumper-like pieces is dented. I don’t remember that happening. The power cord is pretty grimy and the screen could use a swipe with a cleaning rag. But that is neither here nor there. We are sitting, three strangers all in a line against the one wall, typing on our rainbow of laptops as if captivated by whimsical toys. None of us looks too committed to the work we may be doing. The two older men’s eyes are blank, but their mouths curl very slightly up into mild smiles as they type.

And then there are the newspaper readers. The people with important-looking watches and khaki pants, soft shined loafers, class rings, and wire-rimmed glasses. The one at the end of this lounge is wearing two watches. I recently saw a publicity photograph of an elderly, stylish musician wearing three watches; that didn’t make much sense either. These newspaper people, though, all sit with a similar leg position: froglike, knees splayed, heels together, toes pointing outwards. They look over their glasses to take stock of headlines or the room, wrinkle their foreheads, claim their space with pointy elbows. This particular one looks like he could drive motorcycles in his spare time.

An old woman just entered with the most adorable wheelchair-bound elderly husband. He looks like an overgrown elf. Everyone on the one side of the room stood up for them, even the sunglasses guy, although he promptly fell asleep again as soon as everyone was settled.

Every so often, there’s the cargo pants type. That used to be me. When I carried my pet mouse Mars on tour with me, I carried him in my pants pocket, so I had to have big pockets. Cargo pants call for their own kinds of outfits. Not all shirts match them. Not all shoes work. You usually need some sort of belt to keep them up. Now that I’m mouse-free, I’ve parted with my travel cargoes. I’m sure that the holdouts have reasons besides pet-carrying for wearing those pants. They are comfortable. And they hold a lot. And when you’re traveling, you have all of these odds and ends that have to go somewhere.

Very, very rarely, I come across a fellow musician in a lounge. Once, it was a little girl with her proportionately sized violin case. Today, it’s a stodgy looking old man with a substantial guitar case. When I saw him checking in, I took one look at the case and assumed that he was going to check the guitar through and that it would not survive the trip. Horrible images of metal bracing puncturing the instrument flashed through my imagination. He also didn’t seem to know its dimensions, as it kept making offended clunking noises every time he banged it into the front of the check-in counter. Now, though, the instrument has a comical importance, with its own seat. Its head towers over everyone else’s. The thing is tall.

Ah, we have a sweatsuit lady. Those aren’t so hard to find. Today’s variation is a head-to-toe pale blue velour with short puffed sleeves.

Now the newspaper reader has left for his flight, and the adorable old man’s wife has brought him tea and a tabloid newspaper, and Susan Boyle’s face is glaring out at me from the enormous cover picture. I’d quite like a hot drink myself. I think I’ll take a break from Susan and go in search of chamomile tea.

Yours from the road,
Hilary