Let me preface this by saying that I’m not one of those people who thinks everyone being on their smartphones is a bad thing. As someone who leans towards introversion, having a phone to play with in public is often a life saver. My son and I use them to hunt out funny memes and interesting things to share, creating opportunities for us to laugh together, and often leading to deeper and more personal discussions. So I’m all for smartphones. Now that we’ve cleared that up, read on.
I recently chased my favourite band across two cities (Franz Ferdinand, if you’re wondering) and had an excellent time catching up with other fans (yes, we do this every time they come to Australia; me, since 2006), dancing till I couldn’t feel my feet anymore and hanging around stage doors for photos and chats about how amazing the show was.
This, of course, involved a fair bit of sitting around airports while waiting to board planes. Hence my love of my smartphone. Cue podcasts, social media posts, note taking, reading, listening to music… The usual. But by the end of the trip, sitting in Sydney airport, I’d had enough of looking at screens or shoving headphones in my ears. So I – shock horror – left my phone in my handbag.
At first, I felt awkward and was too aware of the other people sitting nearby, staring at their phones or quietly sighing with impatience. Then I heard a male voice: “Shut. The. Fucking. Gate!” A 20-something guy in crumpled shorts strode past me and dropped his bag in front of a young guy who was kicking back in the massage chair.
“No way!” he said when he saw the guy standing in front of him. He leapt out of his seat and they gave each other a huge and prolonged hug. When they finally sat down, they spoke with voices high and excited, catching up on what had brought them to the same gate in Sydney airport. Old mates? I wondered. Ex-lovers? Long lost brothers?
My attention turned back to the walkway, where a bulky man wearing a baseball cap, hoodie and gold-jewellery was walking slower than the rest. Holding up his iPhone, he appeared to be FaceTiming. His headphones were in but then I noticed the screen showed his face, no one elses. Then I noticed the exaggerated hip-hop movements of his free arm. Was he rapping. A YouTuber? I wondered. There was a guy about two metres behind him, dressed in a similar style, slightly built, checking everyone out. His manager? Entourage? Drug dealer? Maybe the other guy was a famous rapper, out from the States for some underground gig that only his fans knew about. He was filming a live Instagram story telling his fans where the next one would be – but they had to decipher the clues via the rap he was sharing.
Across the aisle, an elderly lady cradled a walking stick and continued to talk loudly on her phone. It started out as an update on her trip and the weather, progressed to her hip and was now a story about how she’s the life of the retirement village because everyone laughs at her.
I looked for the rapper but there’s no sign of him. Instead, a cosmopolitan couple paused to check out the café menu next to the gate, debating for a good minute before walking on with no purchases. By the time they moved on, the famous rapper had reappeared, walking back the way he came, still rapping into his phone.
Gladys – that’s the name I’d given the elderly lady – nodded into her phone. She’d been talking about a caravan and some posts on Facebook. “We were going to put the post up of Bob with the prostitute. It would have been hilarious but it might have been awkward.”
I don’t know what retirement village she was in but it was giving me hope that they’re not all mushy peas and piano-based singalongs. I imagined the home was just a cover for her geriatric brothel, using her ladies who were once of the night but are now of the late afternoon to pleasure the widowers and get dirt on them. In her younger days, she was known as Mz M and plundered powerful men for the secret service. She prides herself on the politicians she was responsible for bringing down, though she never speaks of it. If only her hip didn’t ache so much, she could show those young things a trick or two.
Gladys is out of her chair, shuffling to the desk. They were calling for passengers who needed assistance to make themselves known. “Like you need it, Gladys. We all know your game,” I thought as I watched her walk without her walking stick.
As she was led to the corridor, I picked up my bag and joined the queue. No one made eye contact. They were either looking at their phones or staring pointedly at nothing. I wondered if anyone had created a story for me. I hope so and I hope they made it a good one. Something juicy.
As the boarding call jumbled its way out of the speakers, I took out my phone and turned it off. It was more fun without it, anyway.
Do you make up stories when you’re travelling or people watching?