Port of Air, Seattle

I'm in Seattle, waiting to get to Sitka. I have six hours to people-watch or drink in the airport bar. I'm holding off til at least 5 to get a glass of wine. I've already had the PB&J my mom made, a bag of Vic's popcorn, and a Freshens frozen yogurt--the kind they used to serve at Tulane when we'd order six-piece sushi sets, smoothies, and sit out on the UC quad after art studio. It's a very Seattle day today. Everything's white. The sky, the runways, the planes. It's not gray, like rainy days in Colorado, when the clouds come in angry and stratified, layers of midnight blue and charcoal and ash. Flying into Seattle, like Sitka, the clouds seem like the thin cotton sheath a doctor wraps around a broken bone before covering it with a cast. With all this pale drizzle, it would be a hard day to draw.

Most times when I've been here it's been hot and humid. I think of the weekend Luke and I spent two hours looking for an Asian market. We drove up Seattle's east side hills, from Chinatown up to some brick hospital, parking and shuffling into stores that smelled like fish and old ice. We must have gone in and out of 10 of them, but I can't remember what we were looking for. Some kind of sauce, I think, or maybe a rare vegetable. I can remember the place, not the purpose, which is something I've been thinking about as I talk to people about where we'll spend the rest of our lives--should we choose our places because we like them, physically, or should we choose them as a step towards a more focused purpose? Our decisions feel like the chicken and the egg. Move, then figure out what you'll do. Find out what you'll do then move. Decide to stay or stay to decide.

At work the other day, we had to look up two words: purposely and purposefully. "Purposely" is when you do something "on purpose" or intentionally. "Purposefully" means to do something with a specific purpose in mind. We purposely drove around for hours because we enjoyed seeing the not-so-touristy parts of Seattle. We purposefully chose Asian markets to find whatever it was we never found.

I tried to get on an earlier flight today, but I would have gotten stuck in Ketchikan, and that's happened to me once before, so no thanks. I got caged in Ketchikan for 20 hours one day with a girl I'd met on a boat and her friend from the Coast Guard who drove a red car with a flip flop figurine he'd strung from the rear view mirror. That little metal sandal swung 180-degrees, from east to west, west to east, then in defiant circles shedding sun as we flew down his 16-mile road and into town. I think I wrote about this day before, but it would be interesting to go back and see what escapes me now. Ketchikan, in my mind, looks like this: a prefab building that says "Fish House," four horrible 12-story cruise ships, mountains upon mountains, and a harbor where kids had ice cream in the sun and skipped between skiffs. Dropped coins and waving kelp and needlefish held audience below the surface, and I walked and watched them run and writhe away, and then return.

I chose this seat in the airport because it was near a drinking fountain, but now I wish I hadn't. Every time someone leans over for a drink, a speaker under the spout starts this ridiculous, loud imitation of what an elephant would sound like tromping around a shallow pool. The water fountain glugs and glops, hooves pound through water, and innocent old women straighten back up from the trough, look around, and wonder if it's them--innocently trying to hydrate--and making all that sloppy racket. This is actually pretty funny. Every person who uses the water fountain hasn't used it (I guess you usually only use them once), and it either startles or amuses or angers or all three. A mom leans over and her sons start roaring and when her red face resurfaces, she says, "Isn't that the loudest drinking faucet you've EVER heard?"

The Philipino men who work at SEATAC in the baggage claim department have to take their breaks in the airport. One of them is watching me write and he has a closed-lip smile that looks like it might become a laugh, and two freckles next to his left eye. A friend sits next to him and they say nothing, just smile and look on. I wonder if this is where they come for their break because of the stereophonic watering hole a few feet away. I feel bad for people who have to take breaks from work at their place of work.

I know they're from baggage claim because their hospital blue shirts have a canary yellow circle over their hearts that says "bags." All lower-case. I wonder who decided not to capitalize "bags" on their shirts, and if this was on purpose or just easier to stitch. Easier can be a purpose, I guess, but usually I hope it isn't. Maybe that's why we live in two places--staying in one would seem too easy. It would be easy, in many ways. I wouldn't be sitting here thinking of all the people I should have spent more time with. I wouldn't have to have two sets of hiking boots and two rents. But my places and purposes would also be halved if we bought a house and lost our harbor.

On the other side of me, two twins from India are kicking each other on the airport chairs. The little girl stands in front of the little boy who is swinging his legs so hard, his little body is lifting off the chair. She gets closer and closer until he bangs her in the knees and she falls over, stiff as a board, stunned, then rolls over on the carpet giggling and readjusting her red hat before getting up to get kicked down again. The parents don't notice, it's just me here, watching the kids and listening to the African bathing ritual and waiting to get on my plane.

I still have a few more hours. I am hoping for a late, melty sunset as I crest the mountains that separate Juneau from Sitka. If you know me, you know I don't like to fly, but here's a secret: I love airports. There's a young man playing an electric guitar (unplugged, but resounding) (and the music is actually quite beautiful, water-like and unending) in the middle of the concourse. Here, there are purposes aplenty: to listen to these melancholy fingers finding the strings, to snag words from foreign languages and roll them around in my mouth, to anticipate a new place even though I already know it.