Crossroads Of The Country


This morning finds me at the Hilton hotel at the Chicago O’Hare Airport.  And when I say “at the airport,” I mean at the airport — as in, right on the airport grounds, so that you see the Hilton sign dead ahead when your plane pulls into its gate at Concourse G.

How many thousands of people have been to meetings at the venerable O’Hare Hilton and roamed its sprawling, gently curving, utterly generic hallways?  It’s the perfect spot for business meetings of people from diverse locations, at one of our busiest airports, with great connections, smack dab in the middle of the country.  For that same reason, a visit to the O’Hare Hilton is the ultimate in transitory experiences.

Last night I flew into O’Hare, walked to the Hilton, and had dinner in one of its restaurants.  Today I’ll go to a meeting in one of its conference rooms, eat the conference room breakfast and lunch offerings, and fly out tonight — all without ever setting foot outside the airport grounds.

When I get back to Columbus and someone asks how my trip to Chicago was, I’ll say I didn’t go there– I just went to the O’Hare Hilton.

At The Heart Of The American Generic Zone

Much of modern American society is increasingly standardized — and soulless.  Chain restaurants abound and have pretty much eliminated the unique local establishments.  You see the same stores in every mall, and the malls themselves have similar designs.  Suburban developments offer a choice of only one or two models with negligible distinctions, and the result is acres of tidy, mind-numbing sameness.

IMG_20150921_082243The beating heart of the American generic zone, however, must be the airport hotels — the lodging options found on, or just outside, the grounds of every major metropolitan airport.  By definition and design, these hotels exist to serve the transients — the weary travelers who’ve either missed their connection or are spending the night because they’ve got an early morning flight and don’t want to risk missing it due to traffic jams.

And so I found myself in an airport hotel next to LAX.  The name doesn’t matter, because as I walked past them I saw that they all looked the same.  They all feature a coffee shop and a restaurant of sorts, and the lobby design is as basic, inoffensive, and functional as can possibly be achieved — because nobody chooses an airport hotel for its distinctive architectural flourishes or its beautifully manicured grounds.  The windows look out onto uninspired scenes of constant traffic and squat airport outbuildings, so there’s really no reason to open the curtains — which just accentuates the dreary sameness.  The rooms themselves are spartan, neutrally decorated, and offer unbrand furnishings and coffees.  (The coffee option offered in my room is creatively named “Guest Choice” — honest!)

But I’ve survived my dip into the epicenter of the generic world, and now I’ll head off to LAX and its concourses, mentally prepared to endure the inevitable sightings of Starbucks outlets and the other common outposts of commerce found in every airport in the Land of the Free, and sit in a gate area that looks like any other.  Today, I’m just another generic traveler in a generic land.