Perhaps Tom Hank’s role in The Terminal wasn’t that unusual. In an excerpt of a new book about airport security, sociologist Harvey Molotch cites some sociological research about people living in airports:
For people much lower on the social totem pole than appliance dealers and closer to our own time, airport openness served another function. Airports sheltered the homeless. According to the research of sociologist Kim Hopper, hundreds of people once lived in airports. It was a plausible solution to a host of practical problems. Airports have heat in the winter and air-conditioning in the summer. They have running water and bathroom facilities that are mostly empty for long periods of time. And there is also a good supply of free food, cast off by restaurants or left behind by hurried passengers. Also, sleeping at the gates is common enough to allow homeless people to have a rest without being too obtrusive. But now without a boarding pass, homeless people cannot get very far. They were living in the interstices, and interstices are inimical to security regimes.
Considering airport security today, it is hard to imagine this. But it would be interesting to hear some of these stories. How long could one live in an airport? What exactly was the standard of living in such a setting?
If this is true, did the homeless live in other public settings? Like The Terminal, perhaps the story of The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is also not too unusual…