Let's All Play at Our DIA

When the women in our family flew to a wedding, Matthew and I drove them to Denver International Airport and then explored. Like many people, I've always thought DIA was built so that former Denver mayor Pena could get an important Federal job in Washington, D.C. The state-of-the-art baggage system was a wonderful example of managers and politicians going wild without understanding technology. The experts who'd installed similar systems worldwide said it couldn't be done with the required configuration and deadline so a different company with inadequate experience was hired. And the "Denver" airport is farther from downtown than most of the suburbs. We took the so-called shortcut through Brighton and 120th Avenue. A winter storm has already shown that getting to DIA can be a problem for those few citizens who aren't high-paid football players with an important date. But I had never seen the airport through the eyes of a three-year-old.

The place is extravagantly decorated. Friends in government have told me the best paintings and coolest moving sidewalks are in the "International" part of the airport which is off-limits to local yokels for security reasons. At least the tile on the terminal's floor is gorgeous, but a floor is for walking, and keeping the marble beautiful is just an added maintenance expense. In the room where the inbound travelers get off the train, colorful purple sculptures of paper airplanes hang from the ceiling surrounded by walls of red sandstone in a mountain motif. As Matthew and I waited for the escalator to clear, I noticed none of the travelers racing to claim their baggage bothered to look around. But these problems only irritate adults. Three-year-old Matthew thinks DIA is fun.

We waived the obligatory ogling of planes taking off and landing. After Carol and Karen boarded their plane, we played around on the escalator going up and down and around and round the deserted end of the concourse. We bought popcorn and Snapple and took the subway back to the terminal. But that trip only lit up metal mining sculptures so we stayed on and rode out so we could see the propellers again. Or whirligigs as they were called by one of the people we met on the countless trips we took. We toured the main terminal's escalators and spent a half hour watching bags disappear into the X-ray conveyor where people get on the train to the concourses. We watched the bags come out and the guards wandsearch people who dinged the doorway. We had another round of Snapple and train rides. Finally, we hung out at baggage claim and watched luggage from two different planes dump onto the carousels.

Even the bathrooms were fun. With the automagic faucets coming on as soon as hands went under and the low-hanging soap and paper towel dispensers for wheelchair folk, Matthew actually enjoyed washing his hands. Over and over and over. "Look, Dad. Green soap in this bathroom, too." One of them had walls with facing mirrors that reflected an unending line of Daddys and Matthews. When we left, the parking fee for six hours was ten bucks. We could have stayed for twenty-four hours for the same price, but we had gotten our money's worth.

Now I have a completely different view of DIA. It's not a boondoggle. I think of it as Frederico's FunLand. And with former Secretary Pena returning to Colorado, he can help us build more fantastic billion dollar playgrounds for three-year-olds. Perhaps he can start with Pat Bowlen's Broncadium.