AIRPORTS AND SMOKERS - WHERE DO THEY FIT?
Mark Glass is a journalist trapped in a lawyer's body, balancing his
writing and broadcasting on travel, entertainment and professional sports.
||For most of the last 16 years, I've been a former smoker. Recently, and partially
under the influence of my new girlfriend, I have returned to cigarettes. If you're going
to kiss one, you might as well be one. Im still a moderate smoker. But aren't we
all? "Heavy", of course, describes anyone who averages 5 more per day than you
My, how the social landscape has been altered. I smoked in times of
full acceptance and benign tolerance. Now I am isolated from most of polite society, often
slinking guiltily from dinner tables, or puffing on porches at parties. In some places, my
cigarettes are viewed with a disdain generally reserved for baby-harp-seal battering
clubs. As a frequent traveler, the spectrum of airport accommodations for my ilk has been
It's hard not to smoke at airports. You know you're about to
be deprived of the choice once you board. Current practices require arrival about seven
hours before takeoff, just so you can tell the drone at the counter you packed your own
suitcase, and arent carrying packages for swarthy strangers in
trenchcoats. Who are
they protecting? What miscreant would fold like a cheap card table under that
interrogation? And how many lives do they really save by checking the lousy photos on our
drivers' licenses? I think they do that part for laughs.
But I digress.
In Europe, little has changed from the good old days of
separate-but-equal smoking sections. One can comfortably commune with one's peers in many
conveniently situated open harbors, free of interference, or even glares, from passersby.
Canada has a split personality. In French-influenced Montreal,
smokers are embraced - sometimes kissed on both cheeks. In Toronto, with its Anglophile
sensibilities, one is booted from all indoor premises. This dichotomy is a microcosm of
the periodic pressures for an independent Quebec.
Domestically, the Surgeon General's set of package warnings should
include, "Cigarette Smoking May Force You to Freeze Your Buns Off", since
airports in climates known for harsh winters - like Chicago and Minneapolis - will banish
you to the vicissitudes of nature. On the other hand, gale force winter winds outside
OHare burn your cigarette much faster, allowing fewer puffs per smoke. Pneumonia
now, rather than emphysema later.
Those who argue periodically for California to be divided into
separate north-south states will find airport policy in the major cities support this. In
LA, the kindly authorities have provided charming little smoking gardens close to the
gates. One may indulge outside in the California sun, blissfully removed from traffic,
sitting on benches amid semi-tropical greenery. How idyllic. The planes' engine noises
periodically muffle the hacking coughs. With proper timing, one can still sound almost
San Francisco gives us two choices. One is to stand outside the
terminal, at the risk of being pelted with tofu and arugula by well-meaning health nuts
jogging by in their spandex odes to fitness. Or one can enter a glassed-in chamber, bereft
of ventilation, quickly filling with enough smoke to elect a slate of Tammany candidates.
The glass is opaque, protecting small children and nervous adults from the spectacle of
our purported mass suicide. When one opens the door, enough smoke spews forth to cause
some to think a new pope has been elected. O.J.'s criminal jury was less sequestered.
Atlanta, and my home airport in St. Louis (official motto, "If
you ain't TWA, or dangerously low on fuel, dont even think of landing here"),
have an even more curious approach. Too kindly to subject us to the vagaries of winter's
cold or summer's sweltering humidity, they provide a different glass structure. These are
see-through, with an open passageway, and a strong, steady cleansing breeze. We sit facing
the concourse, relatively unbothered by even each other's exhalations.
The drawback here is the inescapable feeling of kinship with animals
in zoos. We're definitely on display. Parents walking by can point and tell their children
about the endangered species inhaling the acceleration of their demise. Occasionally, one
sees a look of wistful envy on the face of a traveler, recently and reluctantly separated
from our ranks.
On the plus side, there is an instant camaraderie with one's fellow
pariahs as we huddle together in our designated areas. It's much like the rush felt by a
Cardinal fan at Wrigley Field upon spotting a red cap with a bird-on-the-bats logo, amid
the surrounding sea of partisan blue apparel.
In Louisville, nestled on the edge of tobacco-growing country, the
glassed-in enclosures are more discreetly situated. It's either deference to supporters of
local agribusiness, or a display of Southern gentility - not mocking those with "the
affliction" of cigarettes.
I hope more airports will build these humane micro-environments.
Until they do, non- smokers, please treat us kindly. Maybe one of us will teach you the
Mark Glass is a freelance travel writer, living in St. Louis, who,
according to the latest stress test and EKG, is doing just fine. So far.
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Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (Mark Glass)
Mark Glass is a
Mark Glass is a freelance writer and broadcaster, based in St. Louis, covering travel, entertainment and professional sports for his readers
and listeners. Mark was travel editor for "St. Louis Connoisseur", and
now have that role for "Life in the Midwest", based in Indianapolis.
For the last fifteen years, he's written and broadcast features on
travel, entertainment and sports, while maintaining his law practice in the St. Louis
area. (More about this writer.)