This month, Rutgers student Haisong Jiang graduates with a Ph.D. in molecular biosciences. I don’t know what his plans are, but my guess is they will include a trip–maybe home to China or out west to see his girlfriend.
This next visit to an airport will likely be less dramatic than one made earlier this year when he broke security at Newark Liberty International Airport to give his girlfriend one more kiss—a breach that ended up emptying Terminal C. I was riveted to the story; I wanted to facebook him. And I wasn’t surprised to see that the media had made the connection between Jiang’s leap of love to the final scene in “Casablanca.”
I was weaned on a television picture tube, logging countless hours of old movies, wiping away tears as lovers parted at train stations or docks. But an airport good-bye was different. Something about the sky. And when Rick put Ilsa on the last plane to Lisbon, the bar was set. So I happily drove boyfriends to the airport; and I always asked for that service myself. While metal detectors and baggage checks sort of interrupted the sentimental stroll down the concourse, at least we could stay together up to the gate, the nose of the plane poking at the terminal window. I’d imagine a foggy night, a 1920s Travel Air Light Transport waiting…. Even though Rick and Ilsa’s would be an immeasurable separation, only one day apart could feel like forever, right?
But I never felt the fervor of a “Casablanca” farewell. Right airports, wrong guys, I guess. The closest I got was with the boy I met over college spring break. He drove me to the airport (check), walked me to the gate (check). They were announcing last call to board. Time was fleeting! I pictured the propellers spinning as Major Strasser sped along Casablanca’s streets to arrest Victor Laszlo. Perfect. But then, in a nanosecond he’d kissed me (I think) and disappeared into a sea of Tappa Tappa Kegga t-shirts. I took my window seat in dejection until–as the plane began its escalating roar down the runway–I saw him standing on the roof of his van parked along the fence, waving as we lifted off.
While that airport adieu was more romantic comedy than melodrama, it is a memory I cherish. I am sad for today’s lovers. What Mr. Spring Break did could not be replicated in these times, when Port Authority Police give you about 10 seconds at the curb. Don’t even think about shutting off the motor or getting out except for a “Beat the Clock”-style luggage toss. I thought it was mostly our innocence that had been lost in these post-9/11 days. But I’m thinking we lost a good bit of romance too. Here’s looking at you, Jiang.