Thursday, November 17, 2005

airport insanity without end

There are certain expressions which bear frequent repetition - "bless you"; "shalom"; "I love you"; "forgive me." Others badly need to be put to rest. Among the latter category is this one, familiar to anyone who has visited Chicago's Midway Airport:

Caution. The moving walkway is ending.

I do not want to dispute that constant vigilance is necessary while riding the moving walkway, having tripped on several myself. However, this warning is repeated approximately every 15 seconds throughout Midway's terminals, in the same recorded voice, whether or not you happen to be standing anywhere near a moving walkway. After a two-hour layover there, I feared more for my sanity than for any mishaps on the moving walkway.

As the phrase continued to reverberate through my head in the hours and days after I left Midway, I tried to decide what was so maddening about it. I don't think it was the quality of the voice itself, a crisply enunciated but otherwise normal woman's voice. However, the cadence does sound a little bizarre - there are those odd little pauses before and after 'is' - and after 3 or 4 dozen repetitions this slight mannerism began to do funny things to my brain. It is like a small quirk in a musical phrasing - an extra accent, a swell or a hitch - which not only transforms the sense, but becomes increasingly annoying with each repetition.

Of course, most annoying was the lack of variation through all those repetitions. Anyone who actually wanted to prevent me from tripping and falling on my face would say the line with more urgency as I got closer to the end - "Caution, the moving walkway is ENDING right NOW!" By remaining absolutely the same, the phrase loses its meaning, or even conveys a lack of concern for my well-being as I step off. I'm not sure I really want to be in a state of constant dread over that last crucial step - can't I just enjoy the moving walkway, live in the moving walkway moment, without always worrying and planning ahead? - but the effect of that unvarying voice, like so many things in air travel, felt like a soul-deadening, dehumanizing despair that just wouldn't end.

1 comment:

Lydia Si-Ngaw Lui said...

Heheheh. I understand your mental fixation precisely. It's irksome to know each quirk of the voice and exactly how it's going to sound every time. Somehow in music we've been trained to realize just how different it can be every time we play, and have grown sensitive to those variations... Maybe it also tickles the same part in my brain that finds it so frustrating when people repeat things more than once in conversations(my dad is famous for doing this).

As for the actual content, I don't want to think about how many times I've heard that warning. I have to say that in my experience, the Frankfurt airport is one of the ultimately most damaging airports to my neural circuitry. Not only is that message repeated in 5(!) languages in the exact same fashion, but there is also a horrible 1960-70s science fiction/science class educational film soundtrack (imagine: British male voice in a drone: "the two hydrogen atoms come together with one oxygen atom to form...") involving "super sonic" sound effects accompanied by flashing lights which change from blue, purple, pink, yellow, green, white and black for THE ENTIRE LENGTH of 6 block long moving walkway (ok maybe it wasn't 6 blocks, but it sure felt like an eternity.) And this sound conglomeration is repeated over, and over, and over... Honestly, I still get sick whenever I think of it.