Travellers recount tales of woe and wonder to writer chronicling life at airport

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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HALIFAX - Jon Tattrie sits amidst the hum of a busy airport, appearing impervious to the steady movement around him.

He taps on the keys of his laptop, feeding it with stories of travellers who eagerly recount the highs and lows of their most memorable journeys over the years.
Tattrie, a freelance writer, collected the tales of woe and wonder over two days at the Halifax airport where he immediately started weaving them into a story, which people could read on a large video monitor as they passed by.
Sitting at a small table underneath a departures sign, the Halifax-based writer quietly waited for people to sidle up to him to share their experiences.
"I expected to have to do a lot of hunting for stories and tracking people down," he said Saturday, looking slightly dishevelled after 32 hours in the same clothes.
"But I just sit here and stories come up to me. There's just a huge range.... People are really into it."
There have been tales of divorce, reconciliation, frustration over the rigours of modern-day travel and excitement at the prospect of seeing far-flung relatives.
One visitor described his first plane trip when he was a four-year-old boy in 1972 and travelling with his mother at Christmastime. He said he was settling into his plane seat when he noticed a man walk on with a shotgun.
"The boy's mother said: 'What's he going to do with that? That's just going to be in somebody's way,' " Tattrie said.
"It was like the first hijacking in Canada," he added with a laugh. "Now he says he doesn't mind airport security."
Tattrie is blending the real accounts with a fictional character named Dave who has spent the last 10 years trying to make his way home, but never working up the nerve to step on board his plane.
Dave returns to the airport every Christmas, gathering up the stories of strangers in transit.
Tattrie said he came up with the idea after hearing that London's Heathrow Airport hired author Alain de Botton as a writer-in-residence. The author of The Art of Travel and How Proust Can Change Your Life spent a week at Heathrow for a book on the airport's inner workings.
Tattrie, author of Black Snow, said he was intrigued by the idea of making people stop briefly at a place known more often for its frenzy, frustration and confusion.
"It's just like pressing pause and taking a spiritual X-ray of people and seeing who's here and where they're going and what they're up to," he says as families wheel past, pushing carts loaded with luggage.
"It's been amazing."
Heather Graham, a mother of two young children, stepped up to Tattrie's table moments after she forked over $3,500 to switch airlines to get to Orlando, Fla., after her flight to Tampa, Fla., was cancelled Saturday.
She said she loved the idea of sharing her tale with Tattrie, whose final story will be on the airport's website on Dec. 23.
"I think it's so neat," she said after eating a fast-food lunch nearby. "It's a great idea because everybody's got such different stories and at this time of year you never know what's going to happen with your flight."
Tattrie thought he would write about 1,500 words but was up over 5,000 by midday Saturday, a couple of hours before he wrapped things up.
The 32-year-old writer spent most of his 20s living in Europe and found himself regularly in airports for domestic flights and long trips home. The experience left him curious about what it would be like to slow things down and watch the action from the sidelines.
"I wondered what it would be like just to sit down, to be the still part of the perpetual motion machine and to just see what it looked like from a stationary position," he said.
"Since I'm a writer I thought I might as well write about it."

Organizations: Heathrow Airport

Geographic location: Halifax, Canada, London Heathrow Orlando, Fla. Tampa, Fla. Europe

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