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Survival of the fittest

Published: 
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Reflections off the Water

As soon as the plane stopped moving forward, there was absolute chaos. The race was on! Bored, then fascinated, I watched this spectacle of nature unfold in front of me from my window seat near the back of the plane.

The hundreds of passengers all around me became frantic, the ones nearer the aisles clambered over each other, forcing their way out, rushing forward until there was physically no more room in the aisle, and still they pushed. Middle-aged men reached up, and with affectations of great strength lifted heavy baggage, while looking to see who was watching the show. 

Others, like elderly women simply tugged at theirs until it came crashing down dangerously on to them. 

To my disbelief; more pushing and shoving to find non-existent floor space for the bags. The feigning of passive- aggressive politeness in the process. 

It even amazed me that passengers in other window seats insisted on standing, craning their necks down and hunching forward uncomfortably in the limited standing room beneath the overhead lockers. 

I took a moment to appreciate the fact that it had been a safe flight and landing, aware of how ugly things could get if there was any hint of real panic.

The crowd anti-climactically waited in this state of readiness, like horses in the starting box. Their frustration was now becoming evident. Hundreds of eyes glared ahead, fixed on every move of the apathetic, tired flight attendants. 

Finally there was movement. An avalanche of humanity and baggage rolled down the aisles and out the exits, picking up momentum as it went. 

Now, over in the aisle seat, I waited patiently, like one trying to merge into traffic, looking up, hoping to make eye contact with a lethargic passenger, and thus ensuring a spot to stand up in. 

Two, three, four people, then a family raced by, their eyes locked on the exit, before I finally got my chance. Up and out, let’s go...My legs felt great to be walking again.

Like ungulates on the African savanna, the herd now charged up the jetway and out into the hallways, perhaps racing towards greener pastures in this human migration, and like any herd it moved at the fastest speed of its slowest members, who inevitably and sometimes deliberately blocked the aisles and moving walkways with their wheeled bags. 

Now, in the wide open home stretch, the herd fanned out as everyone around me seemed determined to accelerate into the finish.

It’s true, an airport is the first impression that any traveller gets of a country, and every time I land in a first world airport, I am again reminded of just what an embarrassment our airport is to the people of T&T. It’s probably best that visitors to our country don’t learn how much we paid for it. I am digressing.

Stretching my gait out in the home stretch, I had now caught up to more competitors that had dropped off the pace and had begun falling back. Mothers clutched fancy handbags in one hand and literally dragged confused and frightened young children whose little legs struggled to keep up, in the other. 

Seventy metres ahead, the champions rounded the corner into immigration. 

Perhaps a few passengers had to race to catch connecting flights, but surely the odds were against a whole flight of tight connections. The suffering was becoming evident around me. Beautiful high-heeled shoes now began to tread painfully and softly, instead of tapping the ground loudly. 

The herd tightened and jostled for position now as passengers and roller bags utilised strategy like race car drivers to gain the inside around the corner and into the long zig-zag lanes of immigration that split us up based on nationality. 

It occurred to me that we can learn much about our country and our reputation abroad as Trinidadians by the frequency with which we are required to obtain visas. 

The slow, calm immigration line now provided such a stark juxtaposition. 

Why all that previous hysteria and frantic rush? How can we get over it? I wondered. Perhaps it was the natural reaction to having been kept so still for the duration of the flight? 

I realised that we are genetically hardwired to be competitive. 

We all come from a long line of winners in this game of survival of the fittest. 

Competition is everywhere; in business, sport, politics, even to pass on in our genes. 

Maybe, in modern society today, we need an outlet like sport to replace our ancient, hostile environment, forcing us to regularly check our egos and giving us the opportunity to vent and channel this ancient, primal drive. 

Without such an outlet, instead of us controlling our primal competitive nature, like we do in sport to bring out our best, this natural drive controls and brings out the animal in us. 

Through immigration, I made my way down to the baggage claims, only to find all the champions of the race still there, now waiting for their bags just like me, surrendering to the luck of the draw in the baggage carousel. The futility of it all!! 

 Follow George on Twitter: @georgebovell