A Night In Marine Terminal A
Cleaning up my computer, I stumbled onto a batch of photos from the night I spent in Marine Terminal A not all that long ago. I’d just spent a long and busy week in New York, was exhausted and at the end of my polite patience. All I wanted was to get home and crash, just like the masses of Everybody Else that night at LaGuardia Airport.
By the time I knew I had missed my flight, all of the hotels were booked. A sympathetic booking agent suggested I hop the shuttle to Marine Air Terminal A at the far end of the airport before it locked up for the night. It was quiet there, he told me. Maybe I could catch a few Zs.
So I rode the shuttle with other tired passengers whose flights had been cancelled because of the weather. They were heading off to the overpriced hotels they’d managed to book in the nick of time, or maybe to the homes of friends or family—wherever they could find shelter.
It wasn’t a blizzard that made me miss my flight, though; it was one of those tablets they have around the waiting areas that give you a false sense of security. As you sit there ordering anything you want—a fancy cocktail, a burger and fries—you can continue on with your busyness, catching up on news, and so on, head down, with the heat of hundreds of others in close proximity, also leaning into glowing smart screens, thumbs activated. It’s an embarrassing way to miss a flight—like walking into the men’s room because you were texting as you walked and relying on your feet to read signs.
Marine Air Terminal A is the last stop for the shuttle, the end of the line. I got off and was immediately transported back to 1939 as I walked through its doors. That’s just 11 years after Lindbergh made the first transatlantic flight in 1927; this airport was part of the first generation of passenger travel, originally built to handle seaplanes. For me it was a time machine, an old Victrola with all its parts.
It’s sort of an unexpected place to find yourself alone in the middle of the night, staring up at an Art Deco dome-shaped ceiling covered with Great Depression-era murals, created as part of Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration program, which helped put millions back to work, including musicians, writers, and artists.
But I had all night to explore. For a while, I used the content of my suitcase to make a nest in an enclosed outdoor seating area attached to the dimly lit terminal. I pulled up pre-code Hollywood movies on YouTube to lull me to sleep—and even dozed off until I was awakened by a spray of toxic jet fuel. Then I made another nest behind the old ticket counters, and even later spent time finding new ways to doze off comfortably while seated. Ultimately I only found acceptance of the discomfort.
Around daybreak the coffee shop opened, and the massive throng of Everybody Else began to trickle into the building and quickly form long lines. Many people present looked travel-worn but ready enough to begin again. I did not resist the urge to become mentally irritated with the pre-screen passengers who get to walk right through security (while those of us who have been there all night wait).
When I finally stepped onto the plane to go home, I sighed dejectedly, beholding the sea of passengers who had already boarded in first class, business class, and beyond. Threading my way to the back of the plane, mindful of bumping shoulders, I finally found my middle seat by the loud engine. Then the flight was delayed.
It goes something like this: Sometimes life doesn’t go your way. You miss your flight and it’s entirely your own fault—it could have been so easily prevented, if you had just paid attention. You spend the night in the airport (albeit a very cool one). In the morning, you smell like jet fuel; when you finally get on the plane, you’re squashed, in a middle seat, next to the engine. There’s not enough room to get a laptop out for distraction, but you need the remaining laptop battery to charge your phone, which is at 5 percent.
The Universe is not about to send that flight attendant down the aisle with fresh coffee and a side of cold water to pamper you during the hourlong wait. You’re stuck. You’ve lost control. And there’s nothing you can do—nothing but accept you are where you are, and breathe into the discomfort.