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A Student of Airports Discovers Airport Students

It's ironic that I met my friend Cable, an Ohio insurance agent, on a train across Canada, because his real love is airports. He collects airports the way I accumulated baseball cards as a kid, and has been through more than a hundred.

Often when he returns from a trip he calls long-distance to give me the details, peppering his conversation with the airports' three-letter codes: LAX or PDX, JAX or PHX, ORD or IAD or FSD.

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Cable's centennial airport, No. 100, was Minneapolis (MSP); No. 101 was Albuquerque (ABQ). He checked in with me recently, a few days after returning from No. 102: Singapore's Changi (SIN).

Wanting to go to the Orient, but finding Hong Kong and Bangkok too expensive, he'd flown 28 hours each way to spend five days in Singapore.

Cable especially liked Changi, both the area ("It's a cute little village by the airport; well, as cute as things get in Singapore") and the airport. The airport, he says, now has replaced Amsterdam's Schiphol (AMS) as No. 1 on his life list. "The restaurants are better, for one thing. And it's more spacious."

Changi also provided him with a strange experience as he wandered the viewing mall on a Sunday afternoon. "That mall is huge," he says, "roughly 100 yards long, and I found easily more than 100 young people scattered all around it, just sitting there - studying."

CABLE confessed to me that he has always found airports the perfect place to study. "Not in college; no, I was too far away from a major city. But these days - say, when I have a professional insurance exam coming up - I often go out and sit at the Cleveland airport." That's CLE, he notes.

Once, before tackling (and passing) a difficult section of the 10-part Chartered Property Casually Underwriter certification test, he booked a flight to Orlando (MCO) just to study.

"I don't know if it's a productive way to study," Cable says, "but it's an enjoyable way. I'm not sure what it is, exactly, about studying in an airport, but I like it. There's a constant murmur, for one thing, a kind of white noise that makes it easy for me to concentrate.

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"Of course, it has to be someplace with a window, where you can look out over the field from time to time. That would prevent me from studying at, say, Toronto's Lester B. Pearson International Airport (YYZ) - at least in the old days; I haven't been there in a while.

"Air Canada had a terminal back then where each little gate area had a matching color that looked like, oh, that horrible fruit gum from the 1970s. All those same shades: lemon, grape, raspberry - as well as cherry - and lime.

"It was really bad. Every one of the boarding areas was color-coordinated: the carpet, the walls, the chairs all matched. But the funny thing was, the place had no windows. Which I didn't like, because you couldn't visually inspect your plane before boarding. It would have been impossible for me to study there."

Until Singapore, however, despite passing through dozens and dozens of arrival and departure gates, Cable had never noticed anyone else using an airport as a study hall. Yet here were dozens of Singapore teenagers in Changi, hitting the books.

"Walking around the area," he reports, "I came upon a sign over by what would be the equivalent of their FAA office - I think they call it the CAAS. Right by the steps leading up to the office, there was a little sign that said, 'No studying in this area.' "

He laughs. "That sign was my favorite thing in the whole airport. On the long flight home I kept wondering, 'In what way would those kids studying so hard hinder the efficient operation of the airport?' "

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