It’s 3:34pm on Sunday, June 4, and I’m sitting at the train station directly under Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. I have 2 hours before my flight back to Madrid and I’m being detained by armed guards who aren’t letting anyone pass. How did I get here you ask?
Well, anybody who knows me understands my love of travel so it’s no surprise that I’ve just spent a cool 400 euros to hang with a former high school student of mine at Disney Paris for the weekend. And for all the benefits my spontaneous travel whims have afforded me, they have also inculcated in me a deep hatred for arriving early for travel by plane, train, or automobile. “Aris”, they tell me, “you should be two hours early for domestic and three hours early for international flights”. Well after about a year of traveling at the age of 17, I decided those suggestions were a bunch of malarkey. I mean besides that short time after 9/11 where everything was a bit more intense, I have been able to perfectly time my airport arrivals to allow me to check bags, make it through security, one bathroom trip and a comfortable walk directly on to my flight. Now, I know this is one of those first world privileges I get to enjoy because even on international flights, my passport seems to function like a fastpass on a Disneyland ride line. Today all of this has changed. My travel buddy has thrown a wrench in my routine and the result is at once intense and intriguing.
After lunch and walking the river Seine, my student decides she has 19-year-old things to do. She is studying abroad in Paris and the role of teacher/student has been inversed while she directs us through the city. She has not only gained a strong knowledge of French, she seems to know her way around the city as if it is a second home to her. She walks me to the station and as we arrive she points and says my train is arriving in just 2 minutes. My kind of traveling. Not only was the train there but it’s an express! As we approach the airport station a slight irritation sets in. The express train gets me to the airport in abut 20 minutes instead of an hour. I realize I haven’t planned my security, bathroom, walk on plane time correctly and begin to hatch a plan to occupy my time. I still have half a novel to read and I’m sure there are some macaroons I could pick up in one of the airport shops so I should be good.
The train arrives. I walk off the train, head to the escalator that leads you to airport security, and then it happens. A voice on the loudspeaker announces that everyone must evacuate the space. Armed guards begin pushing us back towards the door where I just came from. As I get outside, I pick a seat (on the floor because the limited seats have already been occupied by all those who made it out of the door before me). And here I am. It’s 3:34 on Sunday, June 4th and I’m sitting at a train station directly under Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.
It’s been 30 minutes. No guards have said anything since the initial evacuation. There have been no additional messages over the loudspeakers and the restlessness of my fellow travelers is beginning to set in. Let the people watching commence.
There seems to be four types of people. First, there are those who (like me on any other occasion) arrive just before their flight, have a plan and must stick to it so they can walk onto their flight. These people are pacing like rats in a maze. They keep trying to ask the guards questions as if their questions will automatically terminate the bomb threat the guards are responding to. Then there are the parents, who have children who are all sugar hungover from the family trip to Disneyland. These people are too busy chasing around their kids to even process that there may be a bomb directly above us. Next, there are those people who listened to TSA, arrived 3 hours early and have no worries in the world. They are sitting on benches, reading novels, and grabbing snacks from the vending machine to pass the time. Lastly, and these are the ones I seem to notice most, are those who seem to be wholeheartedly aggravated by the idea that someone might have actually placed a bomb in the damn Charles De Gaulle airport. They are the ones wearing suits and talking on their cell phones. They are not late and from my eavesdropping I haven’t heard any of them expressing any fear of missing their flights. They are just rather inconvenienced by being told they have to stay in one spot. They are pacing back and forth, but not like rats in a maze; their pace is slower. They are glaring at the hyper-active child next to them and have walked up to an armed guard at least five times in the last 30 minutes asking for an update. Just as I begin my pseudo-psychological analysis of this last character, a French guard walks by blowing a whistle and signaling that all is safe. People crowd the escalators. Some are pushing by trying to make up for the lost time. There are looks of relief but I mostly notice irritation. There is no bomb and though this 30-minute delay could have potentially saved our lives, no one seems in the least bit concerned.
As I sit at my terminal, finally enjoying my coffee and croissant, still a full hour early for my flight to Madrid, I can’t help but to think of my blessings. Arriving to the airport early for once in my life has ended up adding to my collection of life lessons. I mean, what glory there is in being able to travel the world and what a privilege it is to be able to do so without fear. To be honest though, I am not sure if the fact that a bomb threat was met with irritation over fear is a sign of overwhelming entitlement and privilege manifested in Western supremacy or rather a desensitization toward potential violence brought on my constant media reminders of the political climate we now occupy.