From the 15th floor of our towering office building in the super-evolving Foreshore of Cape Town I hail my ride to the airport with one quick motion of my right thumb over the screen of my smartphone with as much ease and comfort as I would ring a doorbell.
As I get in the elevator, a notification pops up in the centre of my locked phone screen. “I’ve arrived,” my driver lets me know.
I walk straight out of the revolving glass door of the modern office building into an air-conditioned car waiting outside.
As I exchange friendly chit-chats with my driver over the weather, the electricity black-outs, and the state of the Mother City’s traffic these days, I effortlessly check in for my flight via the airline’s online portal. A few clicks and I’m done. Luckily there was still an aisle seat open.
Seconds later an electronic boarding pass lands in my phone’s digital wallet and, as I only have a carry-on bag for my one-night work trip to Johannesburg, I move swiftly past all the long queues straight through security to my boarding gate without any inconvenience caused.
This is my favourite part of traveling. The weird space in time between arriving at the airport and getting onto your flight. Those strange few hours where everything blissfully hangs in limbo for a while.
As is my routine I slip on my Bluetooth earphones and select the Spotify playlist from my last trip to Rome as I grab a coffee, pay with a tap of my phone, and wander around the departure area. I could be anyone going anywhere. A foreigner exploring a new continent, perhaps an architect on his way to an important client somewhere, a husband, a dad, a famous actor trying to stay incognito - these are all scenarios I’ve dreamed up whilst browsing airport bookstores.
These days I hardly ever buy print copies anymore (I’ve got everything available online with a quick connection to the airport’s free WiFi), but I still like to browse anyway.
This time something catches my eye.
In the right-hand corner of a giant shelve cluttered with magazines, both local and international, the cover of Esquire’s September/October UK edition grabs my attention.
It’s a striking image of American TV and film star LaKeith Stanfield wearing a multi-coloured printed muslin oversized bowling shirt whilst standing in front of a blossoming pink bougainvillea, a thick gold chain around his neck underneath his bushy beard. The photo taken by Micaiah Carter paints a picture that effortlessly balances between masculinity and femininity, the modern and the nostalgic.
I grab it from the shelf. It’s thick. The glossy cover silky under my fingers. It’s imported, converted from pounds, and thus unnecessarily expensive. But I buy it anyway so I can read it on the plane in the two-hour gap when flight-mode forces me to exist offline.
It’s big and clunky and I keep switching it between hands as I try to sip my coffee, have my ID book handy, and unlock my phone screen so the stewardess can check me in at the boarding gate.
When I finally find my seat, put my bag away, and get comfortable enough to read, I open the magazine. Its pages are stiff at first and I fumble uncomfortably with it until I turn my food tray into a reading table. I start from the very first page and read every line I possibly can.
Stories about Gorgio Armani in Japan, one writer’s trip on a river boat in Egypt, and another’s safari in Zimbabwe. There are stories about loafers, house plants, and the first watch that was ever used on the moon. For almost two hours I disappear into the printed pages and travel across the globe - although my flight will only be landing at OR Tambo.
I guess as a digital native I have no time or space for print in my life anymore, until I lose my WiFi connection somewhere in the air above the South African landscape.
I feel like I’ve discovered a secret treasure chest in a different world suspended in time. Neither here nor there - somewhere in the sky among the clouds and the Cloud I found that there’s still a place for print.
The strangest part of it all? I wrote this article on my phone on the flight back to Cape Town. Life can sometimes be so silly.
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