“Hello. Hello? Hello! Hello! …. Hello?”
The empty baggage carousel of an international airport is a strange place to hang out and listen to “Welcome to Night Vale” podcasts. And yet, it’s somehow also the most perfect place in the world to do so.
A car pulled up about twenty minutes ago. It’s still sitting there, its lights on. The engine may be running; I can’t hear from inside the wall of glass.
A cleaner overheard a man speaking on the phone in Swahili. (The same man who could not get a clear connection a second ago, and simply repeated hello twenty times.) Both were delighted, and surprised, to find each other here. One was from Kenya, the other Tanzania, but the shared language united them for a moment.
“Hello? Hello? Helloooo. Hello. Baby. Hello.” He’s trying again.
The car has moved on, very slowly, down the passenger pick-up lane.
Maybe the reason the desert is such a place of weirdness is that it inspires late nights and insomnia. The million stars so bright they keep you awake; the warm nights that encourage sitting outside on a porch, not cuddling under a down blanket.
I love the languorousness of late night people. At 2:41 A.M., no one is in a rush. You’re walking down the hallway only to keep awake, not to actually get anywhere.
I’ve switched from “Night Vale” to Tom Waits. Blood Money. Best damn play I’ve seen, maybe ever.
Night people can sit and stare at a vending machine for twenty solid minutes. They might not ever get anything; they might not even intend to. But they can carefully consider their options, staring not-quite-vacantly until another night person wanders slowly over and they have to give up their position.
Because night people also do not overlap. There’s one sitting right behind me, barely four feet away. I could reach out my hand and touch his furry lined cap. But I never would. We’re in different worlds. And in fact, it seems a little weird that we’ve both been sharing this space for so long. An hour has gone by, with each of us studiously ignoring the other.
Well, he’s ignoring me. Obviously, I am pretending to ignore him while listening carefully to all his conversations.
There are reasons for moving slowly late at night. Your actions can become repetitive very easily, and if you are moving fast, quickly making vending choices, popping chocolates into your mouth, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll never stop. This crosses over to other things as well; writing, say. Smoking. Or driving.
Driving late at night, through the desert, your speed gradually increasing, without you even realizing it, until you’re passing the gulch where James Dean died at 100 miles per hour. It happens. It’s the desert.
I don’t really believe in ghosts. Not really. I believe in them less than I believe in God, though I do feel like both of those beliefs are on a kind of spectrum of “well it doesn’t hurt, and it could be a really good choice should the afterlife prove to be long.” I don’t believe in ghosts, yet this trip has turned into a ghost-hunting expedition. From my arrival on Spirit air and my refusal to get a hotel room during my 12-hour layover (maybe the non-overlapping of night people is actually a sign that they are in fact ghosts) to the three haunted hotels that just lined themselves up perfectly with my itinerary, the theme of this trip built itself.
Odd, I don’t think of ghosts when I think of the desert. Ghosts are a plot convention for urban areas, or at least rustic and aged small towns. I can’t picture them wandering among the saguaro cactus.
“Hello. HELLO. Hello?”
A whole slew of people who are not night people just entered. A plane must have gotten in, or it’s closer to dawn than I realized and the next shift is coming on. It’s easy to tell them apart; these folks are out late tonight from necessity, and they’re all on their way somewhere, in a bit of a hurry. They’ll make it to the cabs and their next hotel, or to their cars in the employee staff lot, and they won’t slow down to see the ghosts. They occupy each other’s spaces, overlap with each other, and avoid the eyes of the specters moving slowly on their fringes.