Airports are flowing rivers of human bodies. Thousands of humans snake forward around turns and down impossibly long hallways. Different currents move at different speeds.
The slow and weak, the people who fly rarely if ever, get snagged on the rocks and branches. They are slowed by departure screens, credit card offers, massage chairs, shoeshine men, and strategically placed local art. Others, not burdened by straggling toddlers or bulky carry-ons, dart through the congestion like motorcycles in Bangkok traffic.
I am one of the latter. Always ten or fifteen feet ahead in my mind, I look for openings. I move definitively through these concourses like they are my own. With my sunglasses on and hoodie up, my pace is swift and deliberate.
No, you can’t see my eyes. They might betray my intended direction.
I walk like a building is exploding behind me in a movie, my steps driven by the music that thumps in my earbuds. In eighteen years of touring, I don’t know that I’ve ever negotiated an airport without a soundtrack. Without it I think that I, too, might fall prey to those distractions along that living river’s edge.
But I do not, and over the years a handful of songs have become my go-to’s when it comes time to choose my marching music. The ritual begins as soon as I pass through security. Shove everything back in the backpack, unwrap the cord, plug in, and press play.
1 – “Careful with that Mic”, Clutch
This has nothing to do with the lyrics at all. You can keep them if you want to; it’s a ridiculously clever diss on turn of the century nu metal (and probably Fred Durst specifically), and the words have all the swagger needed to burst through walls of people like water around a little Dutch boy’s finger, but it’s the rhythm that works.
I mean, that’s what you need to generate a strong forward pace. As the rest of the mob wanders aimlessly to what I can only imagine is a soundscape full of Counting Crows piano songs, dig into this. From Neil Fallon’s initial, “Aha ha ha ha. Mmhmm mmhmm” right into an opening riff fatter than the last kid picked in dodge ball, just try to shuffle along with the lemmings on the way to your gate.
I dare you. You can’t.
2 – “Virtual Insanity”, Jamiroquai
Ninety percent of why this song works is because just about every non-Third World airport has a moving sidewalk. Usually I bypass them because 1) I enjoy the exercise, and 2) there’s usually someone standing side-by-side with their luggage, content to float down the lazy stream like a fallen autumn leaf.
But in those instances when I find myself in a more deserted airport, this song is dangerous. See, I don’t dance. I was unquestionably the kid that stood against the bleachers at prom. I have the rhythm of a broken metronome.
That said, I can guarantee that more than a few security cameras have footage of me sliding forward and backward on an empty people-mover to Jay Kay’s falsetto. If any of those kiosks sold funky hats, this song would make me stop and buy one.
3 – “Bittersweet Symphony”, The Verve
The ultimate airport song. In fact, for a while this was my only airport song. Some stupid girl and I used to laugh about it, and for the longest time I couldn’t even entertain the thought of heading to my gate without those strings playing in my head.
I don’t care if the Rolling Stones composed it and Andrew Oldham added the orchestra, “The Last Time” (the song that gave birth to this one) simply doesn’t work the same. It has to be this song.
I’ve been told that I have a cocky gait, but in the video for this song Richard Ashcroft walks with more aplomb than I’ve ever dared. A busy city sidewalk and four and a half minutes of him shouldering passers-by like an offensive tackle as he heads, well, somewhere.
Who cares where?
That is how you walk with a purpose. I’m not condoning being so casual with the strangers you pass, but I have to admit that I have frequently envisioned myself covering every inch of terminal floor this way. People banging into me, me throwing my upper arm back into them sending them careening off into that sluggish slough of humanity as I forge forward, my backpack bouncing behind me as another traveler spins off. I want to walk like I’m wearing a bear suit.
Sadly, none of the music works if your flight is delayed or they lose your luggage, but when those mischievous travel gods do smile and everything runs smoothly, it’s nice to have a few tracks to get you to the gate.