The naming of airports is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you an airport must have three different names.
That’s what TS Eliot might have written if he had airports instead of cats on his mind.
It’s just as well he was more of a cat person than an airport person. Three different names would confuse a tremendous number of pilots. Just because they wear ironed uniforms with peaked caps and gold braid on their shoulders doesn’t mean they’re demi-gods, you know. They really are just drivers of big flying taxis. We don’t even know how good they are because there’s nothing to crash into up there. Apart from other flying taxis, obviously. And maybe the odd mountain if they’re not paying attention.
South Africa has once again been dragged to the brink of civil war, this time over the renaming of airports. Cape Town, Kimberley and I can’t remember where the others are. It doesn’t matter. It’s only Cape Town anyone cares about.
Quite frankly, I don’t give a damn if it’s renamed Harry The Strandloper International or even Joe Masepus International. If you live in Cape Town and take a taxi to the airport – which you will have to do if you have friends like mine – you’re going to say to the driver, “Please take me to the airport.” You don’t even have to say please. If you like, you can hold a gun to his head and simply say, “Airport.” There’s less chance of him turning in his seat and saying, “Which airport?” than there is of him saying, “Airport? The movie was way better than the book. Man, that suicide bomber getting sucked out of the plane was something else!”
If you live in any of our major cities and say you’re going to the airport, people are going to know which airport you’re talking about without you having to name it. This means that nobody will ever actually speak its name, old or new. I’ve lived in Durban for much of my life and I’ve never used the words King Shaka International because everyone seems to understand what I mean by “airport”.
I have, however, been to parties where, if I had to say I’m going to King Shaka in the morning, there would be at least one white person who would get me on my own and warn me not to make the same mistake Piet Retief made.
The only time you need to use the full name of any airport is when you make your online booking so that when you finally reach the check-in counter, the surly hungover boarding card-dispenser doesn’t put you on a plane to some or other godforsaken hellhole like Mogadishu. Or worse, Port Elizabeth.
The other thing about airports is that they are desperately sad places that people only go to so they can get somewhere else.
This conversation, for instance, has never happened.
Man: Get your things, we’re going to the airport.
Woman: *shriek* You’re taking me on holiday?
Man: Even better, baby. I’m taking you to the Soaring Falcon Spur Steak Ranch!
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there are people who go to airports to eat and shop, watch people waving and weeping and hugging, then drive back home. I don’t know anyone who has done this. It seems like a deeply weird thing to do.
But back to the real issue. Airports shouldn’t be named after awesome people for the same reason Point Road should never have been renamed in honour of Mahatma Gandhi. Point Road should’ve been renamed after one of the city’s indestructible degenerates who has outshone all others in his lifelong quest for drink, drugs and whores. There are many candidates worthier than I.
The overarching emotions in airports are ones of irascibility and sadness, undercut with notes of frustration, bouquets of boredom and a rich aroma of feet. Cape Town airport should therefore be named after the angriest, most miserable person in the city. Competitions could be held. My money would be on one of the tellers at my local Spar. She reacts to greetings as if they were mortal insults and takes my credit card with the antipathy of a mother being handed a court order repossessing her children. And it’s not only me, if you’re wondering.
A few moments ago I googled restaurants at King Shaka and instead of being showered with a mouthwatering buffet of options, I was prevented from continuing and redirected to the electronic equivalent of Guantanamo Bay. “Our systems have detected unusual traffic from your computer network,” it warned. My sphincter snapped shut like a startled sea anemone. I was then instructed to verify that it really was me sending the request, and not a robot.
A big square filled with smaller squares showing pictures of roads appeared. I was ordered to select all images with a bus. Cold sweat dripped onto my keyboard. Is that a truck or a bus? One square had what looked like it could be the bumper of a bus. Another had vehicles in the distance. Was that a bus among the cars? Impossible to tell. It looked like an elephant. Christ, what if it turns out that I am a robot? I’ll never be able to have sex again. I’ll be reduced to making awkward jerking movements for the rest of my life.
And what is this unusual traffic of which I have been accused? Is showing me pictures of real traffic their idea of a sick joke? Who are these people? I retraced my steps. Oh dear. I mentioned suicide bomber and airport in the same sentence. But how would they know? I barely remember writing that myself.
Something is going on. You only have to mention, say, dwarf-tossing on Twitter and the next thing you know your Facebook timeline is full of little people offering to be thrown about in bars. They want money, of course. Who doesn’t these days? I wouldn’t mind getting sewn into a Velcro suit and chucked against a Velcro wall if it meant free drinks and a ride home.
But it goes beyond that. More and more people are discovering connections between their conversations and the ads that pop up on social media minutes if not seconds after those conversations have taken place. It seems apparent that trigger words are setting the whole thing off. And now that I’ve said trigger, bomb and airport in a single column, I can expect my front door to be kicked in at 2pm tomorrow by heavily armed men wearing wetsuits and night vision goggles.
Actually, given the efficiency of crime intelligence in this country, the guy two streets away with the same number as mine will be having his door kicked in. He probably deserves it.
Aviation for the nation
The naming of airports is a difficult matter,