DUBAI AIRPORT, 4 AM

The world is one big transfer desk. Everyone is trying to make a connection, get somewhere else before this somewhere sinks in. Call this the terminal the ultimate globalized non-place, a destination as instantly expendable as a crumpled boarding pass. Five a.m. in the midst of the desert could be a scene of mysterious beauty, but no one here needs to know that or even give up their state of denial as to which dictatorial state they have set down in. If necessary for those craving old-timey touristic experiences, the world’s tallest building and other spoils of oil wealth can be glimpsed for a split second through the unpleasant haze of an unexpected dawn while entering or exiting jetways. Groggily, whole tribes and nationalities and package tours and sects in starched white turbans stumble through metal detectors, McDonald’s, duty-free hypermarts, cafes savagely overpriced in strange Arabic coinage. Filipino lady barkers, chirpy English-spewing clones employed everywhere, beckon toward sushi and caviar bars, and everyone else plays musical chairs with not enough uncomfortable lobby seats for everywhere to sink into stupor in. The whole world seems jet-lagged, knocked-out, trapped in a festival of discomfort. Lost souls and tour groups snore in unison. Most are Chinese peasants in undertaker suits clutching tickets to plow fields of consumerism. I glance up to notice the victim next to me picking up purse and belt from scanner conveyor belt appears to be Nicole Kidman, identifiable by her purposely mannish designer gear as several personal sycophants hover near least this Hollywood mirage succumbs also to the general ugliness that’s too weary and unoriginal to even be called ugly. Here, if such a word applies, the worst of everything has been conveniently gathered, the worst people, worst ingestibles, worst luxury colognes, worst adverts, worst trips for the worst motives. The prayer rooms look like mirrored Vegas casino adjuncts, the toilets can’t keep up, the smoothies are rough and the minimum wage workers of the world have nothing to lose but their plastic hygienic hand gloves required for falafel wrap wrapping, brick-like frozen croissant reheating. In this meta-monster, they’ve already run ahead of marketing jingles just trotted out and run out of gates. The busses to parked planes take half an hour or more but no one complains about anything that can get them out of Emirateland as rapidly as inhumanly possible.

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