Airport Encounters

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin

While traveling home recently, for a long overdue visit to family and friends, I encountered several interesting situations – and people – that seemed to be a microcosm of the culture in which we live today.
First, there was the young dude in a dark blue t-shirt that read, “Trust God, not Government.” While I’m certainly in favor of trusting God above any human institution, it occurred to me that his walking billboard was rather provocative, an unmistakable expression of the intense divisions we find in society today. But he was a pretty formidable, well-muscled guy. You’d want to think twice before confronting him.
It was during my trip home, while sitting in the airport of the connecting city, that I saw the breaking news that a federal judge had just overturned the mask mandate for traveling. I waited to see if there’d be any immediate reaction around me, but there wasn’t. The effects were felt the next day, and when returning to Providence two days later, there was a marked difference, a more relaxed and pleasant atmosphere in the airport and plane, among passengers and staff. About 25% of folks were still wearing masks though, a personal choice that needs to be completely respected.
And then there was cell phone abuse. While waiting to board the plane, at least three individuals were walking around the gate area, talking loudly on their phones, with no concern for their privacy or the comfort of others around them. One older gentleman was speaking loudly in fluent Italian; another guy was gesturing aggressively, apparently involved in an intense business transaction; and one senior lady managed to share with the rest of us the dialysis status of one of her best friends.
I think someone should invent a small room, like a booth, where people could go to talk on their phones without annoying others. They could call it a “phone booth.” Oh, wait . . .
There were some pleasant encounters too, conversations that revealed the extent of New England culture. The guy checking-out my rented car, seeing my Rhode Island driver’s license, said, wistfully, “Ah, New England. I’ve got to get back there for some good seafood.” And the TSA agent who, noting my address, said, “I just moved here from North Scituate and I really miss New England. No one here in Pittsburgh knows what a bubbler is.” “It’s okay,” I said. “No one in New England knows what gumbands are either.” “What’s that?” she asked.
Something to think about: Traveling is both rewarding and exasperating. When you travel, you need to be patient, kind and thoughtful.