April 26, 2022

LORENZEN | I Hate Always Knowing Where to Run

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The line was at least 50 cars long. It moved forward at five miles an hour, at most, as one bumper followed another forward towards the terminal. There was no honking, no drivers rolling down their windows and yelling at other cars. Normally, you’d expect people to have less patience. But, as we slowly approached Boston Logan Airport, there was a sense that everyone had realized that this was something beyond normal traffic. Something was wrong.

There was a swarm of Massachusetts State Police along the curb of Terminal A. Dozens of cars and officers blocked off large portions of the street. As I wheeled my suitcase inside, I saw why — the entire terminal was flooded with travelers. I wasn’t even sure how to fully step inside. There was no room. I ended up squeezing by a couple of potted plants, nearly knocking one over, and squirming my way to the back of the TSA line. I couldn’t see the TSA checkpoint. I didn’t even know if I was in a line. Everyone was just sort of crammed together and vaguely trying to move forward.

Apparently, they’d cleared the area minutes before I arrived. The bomb squad had been called in to examine a suspicious item. They’d evacuated the entire terminal. And now that they’d established that the package held no threat, everyone had to tumble back through security and onto their planes. But just from seeing the sheer extent of people, you held no illusions — odds were that you weren’t making your flight.

There were varied reactions to the situation. Some hustled past one another, discreetly attempting to skip ahead of people in line to have a better chance to make their flight. Others bickered with airline workers, somehow under the impression that they had any control over this. A few just milled around, unbothered, vibing to the music on their airpods. Yet many were on edge — their eyes continuously glancing around them to find the nearest exit, wary of the massive crowd of people and the potential for some other suspicious item or threat to emerge. 

They’d been trained by years of tragic mass shootings and violence splashed across CNN. They knew that it was imperative to always know exactly where to run. An act of horror could seemingly happen anywhere. There was no rhyme or reason to it. As you look for an exit, perhaps while sitting down in the movie theater or waiting in line at an overrun airport, you never fully know if you have paranoia or a premonition. You have to assume the worst because you keep seeing the worst on the news. So, even when the airport is all-clear, everything is perfectly alright, you have to keep an eye on the nearest exit as you snake through the line.  You have to be vigilant.

I didn’t have anything to do while I waited. Normally, I’d listen to music, but I didn’t want to miss any important announcements about my flight over the terminal loudspeaker. It gave me time to think. And that led me to remember another fraught return to Cornell six months prior.

That day, those many months ago, I’d just landed in Charlotte, where I was supposed to catch my connecting flight to Ithaca. And it was as I exited the plane that I saw the news of the bomb threat and campus evacuation at Cornell. I fell into a seat in the terminal and anxiously texted friends. I felt that same feeling — a mix of terror and uncertainty over whether my terror was well-founded. I refreshed news websites, Reddit threads and Twitter every ten seconds, desperate to get more information.

Rumors abounded. Everybody had heard something and then told that something to someone else. Nobody knew what was going on. There was just the fear that one of those terrible events that you’ve spent your childhood seeing on television could happen here. It could happen to you. This brand of fear affects all people, but there is something fundamentally different to being raised with it as a normalized part of your life. There’s something different to being the first generation to do mass shooter drills in elementary school. It stays with you.

Even when things return to normality — when bomb squads clear areas and people return to go about their lives — there’s always that lingering anxiety. You’re always looking over your shoulder because you’ve been, tragically and rightfully, trained to do just that. As you return to campus, you still feel that uneasiness for months to follow. As you make your way through the airport, you still look for the exits.

I hate that. I hate that I’m always looking for where to run if something happens. I hate that I’m not alone in that experience, that my anxiety is never entirely unfounded. I don’t have a solution for you. There’s no call to action here. I just think it’s a bad way to live. And I feel somehow as though we’ve been wronged as a generation for having had to live like that for so long.

I eventually made it through TSA. I missed my flight, as expected. After booking a flight for the next morning, I walked back through the terminal, exhaustedly wheeling my suitcase behind me. The TSA checkpoint now actually looked like a regular line, just a long one. Only a few state troopers remained. As I settled into a seat, waiting for my ride, I checked my phone and saw that the suspicious package that had led to the evacuation of the airport had been a Sony Playstation in disrepair. Nothing had been wrong.

Andrew V. Lorenzen (he/him) is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected] When We’re Sixty Four runs every other Wednesday this semester.