« Glass Houses | Main | Geeks and Anti-Geeks »

February 01, 2009

Our Hermetic Future

Last week I went to Chicago for a short meeting, spread over 2 days. My flight landed around 2:30 pm on Thursday, and my return flight left at 7:30 pm on Friday.

The forecast was for pretty cold weather, but I wouldn't know--because the entire time I was in Chicago, I never went outside. If you look at the airport map below:

you can see Concourse L of Terminal 3, where Alaska Airlines has its gate, and the Hilton Hotel (the dark grey arc below Terminal 2), where the meeting was held. You can walk from the gate to the airport entirely indoors; no need for even momentary exposure while boarding a shuttle bus or light rail. I had a room at the Hilton for the night; on Thursday night we were going to take taxis to a restaurant downtown but decided to eat at the hotel restaurant instead. And the other meals were catered to the meeting room. I took a breath of fresh air at 7:15 am on Thursday, just before I entered the doors connecting the parking garage to Skyway 5 at Sea-Tac Airport; and until 10:45 pm on Friday, when I exited those same doors, I did not breathe any air that had not been processed.

I actually could have ducked outside on a couple of occasions--I had two hours free before my flight, for one thing--but of course by that time I wanted to keep my streak alive. I find there to be something infinitely cool about visiting another city and never going outside. It reminds me of the science fiction stock setting of a planet which has been entirely covered by buildings (like Trantor in the Foundation series, or Capitol in Orson Scott Card's neglected Worthing books), with fresh air reserved for the very privileged. Or, short of that, I like (perhaps "like" is the wrong word; substitute "am intrigued by") the fact that it completely genericizes the city, so that I really could have been anywhere, a harbinger of a world where all jarring differences have been removed from the environment you interact with (or possibly a harbinger of people who live in movable shipping containers, but I digress). There were some hints that I was in Chicago--you could buy Illinois lottery tickets, the clocks were on Central time, the food that was being palely imitated at an airport restaurant was deep dish pizza--but it was hard to tell if it was real or fake. Was that the real city I could see out my window, or just a video projection? It was like flying to Paris in France, but getting the experience of Paris Las Vegas.

In fact the meeting was among people who had traveled from various cities to be there, and we all (as far as I know) had similar indoor-only experiences. The group is supposed to meet once a year; it looks like there are other cities, such as Dallas and Detroit (or Miami or Orlando or Vancouver or Boston--seems to be a modern trend), that have hotels inside their airports, so maybe next year I'll have a visit-without-really-visiting of a different city.

Posted by AdamBa at February 1, 2009 09:56 PM


Did you ever read Walter Kirn's "Up in the Air"? It's set in what he calls "Airworld," the world of people whizzing about the country on airplanes and in airports. It was published in early 2001 and therefore was rapidly dated in some ways, but it's got its moments. I'll send it to you if you like (it's in my library donation pile at the moment).

Posted by: Becky at February 8, 2009 01:05 PM

I've had similar experiences in the past. At wizard world Chicago the only time I went outside was to get in to a bus that went too and from the airport. Tis the life of a journalist I suppose.

Posted by: Ed at February 11, 2009 02:41 PM