Paula’s Post #66 – I’m ‘in transit’ again today – spending the day in airport departure lounges and planes, trains and automobiles. This week’s post will be short, but if you missed watching the Academy Awards telecast, I thought I’d share with you Robert De Niro’s clever if depressing introduction of the nominees for the award for best screenplay.

  • Robert De Niro: “The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.”

If you’ve read some of our recent posts, you’ll realize Mr. De Niro’s words are not far off the mark. 

Sigh. And after Silk’s post of Monday, I’d just about decided my time might be better sent crafting screenplays rather than novels.

Back to the drawing board.

On the bright side, I always find airports get a writer’s blood flowing again. The legendary Canadian author Arthur Hailey was on to something when he crafted his popular novel Airport.

Just traverse the short distance from flight check-in to Customs and Immigration and on to departure lounge to see what I mean. First, the people: all manner of human being from every ethnic background, age and gender. A living workshop for character study. But the fun doesn’t end with character. A little eavesdropping and you’ll discover regional accents, dialect and accented English.

Listen and Learn.

Listen to the voices raised in frustration. In anger. Listen to the tension-laced bickering as spouses dash for their flight. Is it lighthearted or acrimonious? No, not us! We arrived in plenty of time to sit in the departure lounge and eavesdrop on our fellow Vancouverites,  gossiping about people we know, unaware that we could overhear almost every word spoken. Or perhaps just oblivious to the novel idea we may know the same people they know.

Small world.

And all at once, plot ideas spring to mind.  A casual conversation overheard in an airport or train station, the devastating impact the words might have on the eavesdropping listener. Hmm. I can imagine a great opening scene… now I just have to come up with the rest of the story.

Scratch the surface and you’ll discover little dramas playing out all around you. Watch the faces of passengers directed to undergo, ‘secondary inspection’ as they pass through customs and immigration.

Do they have something to hide? What are they? Use your imagination. Or maybe some stories you’ve heard over the years, like a friend’s ‘old world’ mother who returned from Hungary with pounds of Hungarian sausage stuffed in her clothes.

Something to hide.

I even like to watch what what people wear, especially when heading from Canada to sunny climes. Some of the getups, hilarious.

Seasoned travellers have it nailed. Slip on shoes… lose fitting garments… empty pockets. In contrast, pity the novices… the clueless… the thoughtless… watch as they struggle with a complex web of shoes with tied laces, belts, hats scarves, sweaters coats jewellery and enough electronic gizmos to launch their own tech start up. Listen to them explain why they thought they could get that 32 fluid ounce econo-size bottle of cheapo sunscreen through screening. Better yet, check out the emotions on the faces of the burgeoning line of annoyed fellow travellers, queued up behind.


Why are they so angry? Do they have secrets of their own?

A few moments later, note the demeanour of the agents at US Customs and Immigration as they ask for your passport. Some appear positively jovial, some stern, some aloof. Better yet, note the reactions of the people they deal with.

Assuming these personas, adopted or genuine, are all calculated to ferret out secrets, which tactic do you think is the most effective? Scare them to death, or create a false sense of ease? You decide, it’s your story. Or maybe mine.

Sometimes, I wish I could scribble away in my notebook to catch every detail. Every reaction. But soon it is my turn and we’re through Immigration and into the departure lounge, joining our fellow passengers streaming towards the Westjet gate. All of a sudden the passengers divide into two distinct tribes: those loyal to Starbucks, those loyal to Tim Hortons and head their separate way.


I remember Mr. De Niro’s description of writers: neurotic and caffeine addled. Better fuel up.

8 thoughts on “Airport

  1. Paula, you are undoubtedly the Queen of Travel my dear! Very entertaining pastiche, and timely since I’m stepping on a plane for California tomorrow morning. I’ll keep my eyes peeled and my ears open!

  2. Fertile ground for writers, indeed! I also love watching the mix of people in a cosmopolitan city like Washington, DC. Catching their accents or native languages, their dress, their reactions to the sights…. Inspiration abounds!

    • Ah, and I was going to add how foreign airports (and train stations) are even more inspiring! I mean, just look at all those great Agatha Christie story ideas: (Murder on the Orient Express; The Mystery of the Blue Train; Death on the Nile).

  3. See, no time is ever wasted, not even at airports! I know your antennas are out full force whenever you are surrounded by people. Looking forward to find out what characters you come up with in your next story.

  4. Thanks Andrea, I think the first time I really realized the value of character observation while travelling was a delicious rainy afternoon in Victoria, B.C. in the venerable and iconic Bengal Bar at the Fairmont Empress Hotel, where all the patrons looked like characters from the board game ‘Clue’ – Col. Mustard, Professor Peacock… well, you get the idea. Thanks for following our blog, we appreciate the support and in particular the comments.

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