An airport is a funny thing, one that gives you access to other places but is not much of a place itself. But its underlying character has changed dramatically in the last few decades. If the glamour and hope of flying off for a visit or a new life still cling to the terminals, the airport has become a hub for the workaday circulation of goods at a global level.
This has been peculiarly true since the global downturn of manufacturing in the seventies. In April 1973, Federal Express delivered its first package; four decades later, FedEx has the fourth-largest fleet in existence. By freight it is the biggest airline in the world. At Oakland International, my local airport, the FedEx hangar and logistics hub crouches independent of the two modest passenger terminals, a behemoth with the gravity of a planet. It’s their world; we’re just living in it.
This transformation has happened behind the back of consciousness, and largely beyond our descriptions of the political situation. It would be hard to say it played a role in the protests of Saturday night. The narrative drama of airports — from Tom Hanks vehicle The Terminal to the flight of Edward Snowden — is about those who can’t leave or can’t arrive, and so end up trapped in this metaplace, separated out from life. It is funny or strange or exciting. Except of course behind all of these it is surely terrifying being seized by uniformed thugs, thrown in a room, at the mercy not of fate but arbitrary laws and state power.