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AIRPORTS AND SMOKERS - WHERE DO THEY FIT?

By Mark Glass

Mark Glass is a journalist trapped in a lawyer's body, balancing his practice with
writing and broadcasting on travel, entertainment and professional sports.  

Mark Glass - Click to Enlarge 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. I’m still a moderate smoker. But aren't we all? "Heavy", of course, describes anyone who averages 5 more per day than you do.

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 particularly illuminating.

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 aren’t 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 O’Hare 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 healthy.

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, don’t 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 secret handshake.

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:  lotekguy@swbell.net (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.)

 

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