Sitting in the airport, I wonder what it means to have been someplace.

Truly been there.

Have I been to St. Louis if I’ve only sat in this airport terminal for an hour before going to my final destination?

I want to say no.

But that seems clearer for airports, which are eerily similar no matter where you go, likely for my own comfort as a traveler, making it easier to make a connecting flight such as this in the first place. But being in this airport tells me nothing about St. Louis or Missouri. Even the Boston airport, with its murals of fishes in the floor tile doesn’t tell me much about Massachusetts — I already knew they had fish.

Have I been to Boston because I took the subway from the airport, even though I’ve only really seen my hotel and the adjacent mall? Malls and hotels aren’t that different, either, no matter where you go — though it still strikes me as odd that malls in Texas are only one floor high.

Is this why people buy souvenirs on trips? To have some kind of proof of where they’ve been?

I’ve been to Boston, but I haven’t experienced it, and I certainly haven’t experienced St. Louis. There’s a part of me that only wants to claim I’ve been to places where I’ve spent enough time to get to know them and understand how they are different and unique from where I’ve been before. Only when I’ve gotten a sense of their history and culture — and not just what I could learn from a brochure in the Welcome Center driving through on a long car ride.

Maybe that’s why I like the window seat on airplanes. Taking off and landing, I can get a sense of the geography of a place, even if I won’t get to meet the people or see the sights. Leaving West Virginia I get one long last look at the mountains I called home for so long. In Texas I marvel how square and even and geometrical everything is, whereas in Boston the cities hugged the curves made by rivers and water. This tells me something about the people living their lives thousands of miles below me, but not enough.

I can’t imagine being a flight attendant or pilot — going everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

I’d like to actually visit St. Louis sometime, and not just eat a pizza in the airport before my connecting flight.

Leave a Reply