Airport abstracts

January 10, 2024  |  Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport

Waiting time hijacked: finding creative inspiration at the airport

Transforming those mundane moments of waiting for your flight.

"The true mystery of the world is the visible, not he invisible." --Oscar Wilde

TSA security spits you out into the terminal, and you find yourself brushing past the ebb and flow of fellow travelers. You’ve put your ID away. You count your carry-ons. Haven’t left anything behind yet.

Now what?

You could stand in another long line for a cup of coffee. Maybe you have a stronger bladder than mine. If I have that cup of java, I know that 20 minutes into the flight, I’ll get the urge to go. The seat belt sign will be illuminated, and the captain pronounces it will be bumpy for a while so stay seated. Can you say squirm?

That’s my worst nightmare. Second-grade memories flood back in my head. I was in a desk seated at the front of the room. I wet my pants. Hard to hid a puddle from an entire class. Especially if a teacher isn’t discrete. I still need therapy over that.

Forget the coffee. Find the gate. You’ll pull out your cell phone when you do. Scroll away the time. Check the news and the socials, and feel distracted. But not in a good way. Then, if you notice that your flight is delayed, you get frustrated and worry about the next connecting flight. Well, it gives you something to do.

I know because I’ve flown a lot lately and been there and done that. But I’m trying to be more present and take notice of my surroundings. And while I’m a work in progress, I’m sharing how I turned the waiting game into creative inspiration on the last few flights.

Spaced out at the airport

At the early hour of 5:24 a.m., I sat at the gate. Plenty of time. Not only bored but yawning and ready to sleep some more. Then I saw this.


From where I sat, the corridor to the jetway looked futuristic at this ungodly hour. I imagined being in a space capsule on a scientific mission in space. I’m weightless, floating around randomly, wondering which compartment I need to open to find the tools for my project. I’m hoping I don’t need to go out and repair something. Can’t the other astronauts do that?

I wonder if I can find the compartment holding the Space Food Sticks. Eating like an astronaut was a big deal as a kid in the 70s. If I have to get tethered out there in the stars, I need some energy. Chewy goodness as only sucrose and corn syrup can deliver in a “nutritionally balanced between-meal snack.” Yes, kids, this is why the ‘70s generation was running around so much.


Shocking mystery at the airport

On a different trip, and at a more reasonable time of day when I most likely wouldn’t be hallucinating, I had an overage of time waiting because my flight was delayed. So much so that I could explore Phoenix Sky Harbor’s Art Museum. I’d wanted to do that for some time. And so I did.

The museum is in a quiet area, not often visited sad to say. After looking through the exhibition, what caught my eye just outside the museum was shocking. An architectural model of the terminal’s renovations from 2019 sat by itself.

This lonely model was roped off as though crowds might surround it at any moment and threaten its integrity. To further protect the model, an acrylic box sealed it. But I noticed an oddity in my examination from a slight distance. Well, I did have to lean into the rope to really see this odd thing. I can only describe it as either a murder or an accident. You decide for yourself.

Which way should we go?


Is that the stance of guilt looking back at the body? Do these two take off running to the concourse at any moment? Or do they make their way to the closest elevator as an escape?

Possible suspects.

But let’s change the perspective and give this crime scene a wider view. Now I see the officials guarding the body and physically limiting access to the evidence. Are they holding the witnesses for the interrogator?

In shock?


One last view gives us more clues. Did the man collapse? Is his companion now in shock, staring at nothingness outside the terminal? Or is this man ignoring his fallen comrade because he always lays down to stretch his back before a long flight? I think I'd find that embarrassing too.

Beyond boredom with 6-word stories.

I further widdled away my delayed flight time by creating 6-word micro-fiction stories for these crime scene photos. What’s your favorite from the bunch?

No one moved towards the body.

They walked away nervously, glancing back.

Only the sunlight witnessed what happened.

They chatted, oblivious to the body.

Victim lays unconscious offering no clues.

He fell and then I flew.

He didn’t fall, I pushed him.

I saw him but kept quiet.

Your words shocked him beyond belief.

You said no one was around!

“Wrong man,” says a nervous voice.

Should we? We’ll miss our flight.

No one notices. I can’t speak.

Slowly. Act normal. It’s almost over.

No evidence, no identification. Perplexing, really.

Black hoodie. Couldn’t see his face.

Ignoring me. They all ignore me!

Am I invisible? I need help.

Someone has to confess right now.

And now tell the truth. Did you count up the words for each line? That’s a little obsessive-compulsive, don’t you think? Said the one who took the time to do so in the first place. Got any 6-word stories brewing in your head now?

Head towards the exit, please.

What a long day! Getting to the airport two hours early. Hopping on a short hour-and-a-half flight followed by a long four-hour layover and finally topped off by a five-hour flight. Finally, we were heading towards baggage claim concerned that one of our bags wasn’t “loaded” per the airline app. We didn’t know if the long day would turn longer with the possibility of lost luggage.

Walking through the terminal, I saw the late afternoon winter sun dipping low on the horizon, diffused by cloud cover. The pattern of soft light and shadows on the architectural lines stopped me. I named this “Converging and Diverging,” fitting for the endless paths of people departing and arriving.


I wish I could just wander around the airport looking for these abstracts. If only we were back in the days of being able to come and go through the terminal without having a flight. Yes, the proverbial “good ole days.”

If you are curious, the luggage was on the carousel waiting for us. And I appreciate your concern. We went home and collapsed on the sofa. A nasty cold virus hit us the next day. Don’t you just love travel?

I challenge you on your next flight: look around for creative inspiration. Listen to clips of conversations as they pass by and use them in a poem. Create stories of who is going where and why. Give them names. Just keep your brain cells firing. It's not only entertaining; it’s flexing your creativity. And by all means, message me if you create something on your next trip!

abstract geometric art
Space capsule