Fatigues at the Gate

Charlotte, Memphis, Montgomery, Atlanta, Savannah, San Antonio.  Airports, like malls, tend to look alike, but airports in the South differ from their northern counterparts in one or two important ways.

For one thing, they have rocking chairs.  The kind of wooden-slatted rocking chairs you see on wide porches that sit in the deep shade.  I’ve yet to see one in an airport north of the Mason-Dixon line or the Ohio River.

There’s one other thing you see a lot in southern airports that you rarely see in New York airports, or in New York much at all.  Military personnel, in uniform (fatigues).  They’re traveling, not doing guard duty.  Actually you do see men and women in uniform in New York, but it’s either during festive “On the Town” kinds of events (Fleet Week every year, Op Sail events every few years), or when they’re dispatched, rather alarmingly, to places like the ferry terminal, Grand Central and the NY subway system to deter terrorists (post-9-11 and major UN events).

It’s neither the dashing sailors nor the automatic-weapon wielding soldiers one sees in airports of the South.  It’s men and women in all the services en route to somewhere.  Some of them are very young, maybe off on their first posting after boot camp.  Others are older, career military on what is for them business travel.   You see them partly because there are a lot of military bases in the south.  Montgomery has both Maxwell and Gunter Air Force bases, for example. Plus the Air Force College at Maxwell.

It’s a reminder of a reality that you just don’t get much in New York:  first, that we’re involved actively in two wars; and second, that there are a lot of Americans in the service.  And that they make sacrifices–and are prepared to make more sacrifices–that lots of us don’t have to make, and don’t have to think about very much.

That New Yorkers are shielded from this reality is something we rarely think about, but should.  Although there I’m sure there are lots of New Yorkers in the service, they’re rarely on the streets of the city.  On Broadway, you’re far more likely to walk past hipsters, lawyers, waiters, bankers, web designers and fashionistas than you are to cross paths with a staff sergeant or lt. colonel in full military garb.  In Montgomery, I stop into Louisa’s Cafe for lunch — our closest shot to trendy and hip — and find myself waiting behind a major as I contemplate whether to get the smoked turkey with avocado or the Neapolitan panini.

One part of America hidden to me when I lived in New York, now visible.  And on my mind.

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2 Responses

  1. Thanks for taking time to write your blog, Maureen. Really enjoy reading it.

  2. Great observation.

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