Thursday, January 14, 2010

LA Diary, Part 2 (Took My Chances On a Big Jet Plane)

Thursday, Jan 14, 9:37AM
Did New York sleep in? Was there a sporting event/weather catastrophe/Billy Joel concert I didn’t hear about? I made it from my apartment in the East Village to Gate 22 in JFK in 57 minutes. How is this possible? I caught the first cab I saw. There was--wait for it--almost no traffic between lower Manhattan and the airport. And Kennedy can only be described as “desolate” right now. I won’t lie to you, I feel like I’m Hancock. What’s happening here?

Meanwhile, I’ve got Todd English, his Bonfire, 16oz of Starbucks workjuice, MSNBC, and about 14 people at my gate to keep me company. I’m sitting still, but I’m inching toward Los Angeles. I can feel it getting closer.

(They’re showing clips of Haiti on the news right now, and everyone’s watching.)

I love airports. You know those people who loathe traveling, get stressed in airports, or wracked with anxiety when flying? I’m not one of those people. I’ve probably flown 34 times in my life, and I always act like a third grader when the plane takes off and I can see the toy houses and cars diminish below me. I love looking out the window and saying, “oh, there’s Georgia, or Idaho, or whatever,” and knowing it’ll be gone in twenty minutes. I judge the flight crew by their takeoffs and landings, and relish the moment when the plane first touches down and you actually realize how fast you’re going.

(The news shows footage from the Haitian presidential palace--the ruined opulence, the broken pillars--a 2-year old at the gate is crying.)

It’s not so much the novelty of taking off in one place, reading a magazine, then landing in a different world (although that’s still a novelty to me); it’s that you don’t really see the trip happen. If you’re driving, you’re always sliding into your destination, and mentally tracking the journey; you watch the land pass until, eventually, you’re there. But flying skips the tedium of visual transition. Of course, I feel the same way about the subway. I still can’t believe that I can go underground, wait fifteen minutes, and come up in Spanish Harlem. It’s like really slow teleportation.

As much as I love flying, I love airports more. I fully recognize that this is not normal. I enjoy any place where there’s a set, finite, pre-determined amount of time that you’re there, especially if there’s not much to do. It makes me want to work, or think, on something I typically wouldn't. “Oh, I’ve got 40 minutes to kill...I’ll re-organize my photos while listening to Teenage Fanclub and watching the kid in front of me run around like a drunkard.”

Airports are awesome.

(On cue, they cut to a story of a kid who couldn’t bring his pet monkey to school. The 2-year old is laughing. People check their phones.)

But here’s the rub: the second my flight is delayed, and the length of time I’ll be at the airport isn’t set, finite, and pre-determined, I want nothing more than to leave and get home. Suddenly, I hate airports. I only like them as long as there’s a known expiration date--like dairy products, country music stars, and some relationships.

I remember flying home from Oxford one summer, getting to Charlotte at night, waiting for my plane to Little Rock, and realizing that I might be delayed overnight. The walkway that connects the gate to the plane wasn’t detaching. The problem wasn’t that we couldn’t board the plane, the problem was that the plane couldn’t leave the gate. I had been traveling for what seemed like 2 days. I was exhausted, freezing cold, homesick, bored stiff, and suddenly facing the prospect a 14-hour delay. Just when word started getting around the gate, the pilot emerged from one of those “Do Not Enter” doors with a crowbar. He disappeared down the Skywalk. He came back 8 minutes later, tossed the crowbar toward the desk like Bonds after hitting a homer, and said, “let’s go.”

And what I’m trying to tell you is this: I have never loved any stranger more in my life than I loved that pilot in that moment.

Meanwhile, I’m in an airport, typing to you. I’ve got a destination (California), an expiration date (1 hour), and the sun’s rising behind me. There are clear skies. The people at my gate are fixed to the television. The earth is always moving.

Thursday, Jan 14, 12:03PM
Unless it’s not. I’m stuck in NY. Some part of the plane’s nose was damaged when we pulled away from the gate. So, we’re essentially waiting on a new plane, or nose job.

Where is the Charlotte pilot when I need him???

In other news, I am awesome at:
--Eating barbeque
--Talking about pop music from the mid-90’s
--Watching football
--Jinxing my own flights


Thursday, Jan 14, Suspended In Time (PM)
Well, I’m on the plane, the plane took off, and now I’m somewhere east of the Mississippi. The plane got a successful nose job (auspicious start to an LA trip, I think), and now I’m typing on a tray table that may or may not give out at any moment.

There’s nothing to do on a plane besides sit, stare, listen to music, read, sleep, and watch people. I can’t sleep--ever, really--but especially on planes. I can’t read--ever, really--but especially on moving vehicles. So, I invite you to join me in my sitting/staring/listening to music/people-watching experience!

Let’s take a quick tour:

At 12 o’clock: The aisle. I’m in 22C, which is (weirdly) near the front. So I’m on the aisle. The plane is packed. I heard one guy, while boarding (the second time) say it’s “packed like a can of sardines.” I’ve heard this before, but never in my life seen a can of sardines. I’ll take his word for it.

The Sounds:
I’m listening to one of three playlists I made for this trip. They are:
1) "There." You guessed it: a playlist of music tailor-made for a trip to California, and the mix I’m listening to.
2) "Back." What I’ll listen to on the return to NY in the middle of the night, Saturday.
3) "California." A giant hodgepodge of my favorite California artists, songs about California, or anything else I’m into right now that fits the trip and/or season.

Right this second: Counting Crows, “Daylight Fading.”

The Sights:
An aisle, and a poorly curtained view of first class. Is that stewardess Marisa Miller? Are they serving duck?!? Capitalist pigs!

The Smells:
A Wendy’s salad. If you had asked me three hours ago what a salad from Wendy’s smells like, I would’ve told you that I’ve never had a salad from Wendy’s, and wouldn't know where to begin. And yet, here I am, in 22C, engulfed by the smell that I know to be a Wendy’s salad. Where did it come from, how did it get here, and why has it consumed this plane? I have no idea. Maybe it has something to do with sardines.

1 o’clock: An elderly woman two rows up and across the aisle. She has a veritable graveyard of empty booze bottles on her tray table (I count four). Did I mention we’ve been on this plane for 35 minutes? She can’t weigh 95 pounds. She drinks and looks like Lucille Bluth, if Lucille Bluth was 85 and wore Mr. T jewelry. Lucille 3 is the best.

2 o’clock: Nothing crazy, just middle-aged man falling asleep while reading the New Yorker. If I wanted to see that, I’d visit my parents.

3 o’clock: A woman who cannot wait to get rid of her empty cup. Does she think it just became toxic waste? Why is discarding her cup so urgent? Is she Jack Bauer? Is there something I need to know? A weather catastrophe? A Billy Joel concert?

4 o’clock: A row of 20-something men asleep. Why is everyone asleep? Maybe Jackie Bauer smells a gas leak.

5 o’clock and 6 o’clock: More aisle. I envy the people in the rows behind me. They have their windows open, they’re fully conscious--it seems like Studio 54 compared to my section.

7 o’clock: A woman eating a Wendy’s salad.

8 o’clock: A woman. That’s all. She’s just there.

9 o’clock: The two girls (I’d guess twenty-three) sitting beside me. They have accents and speak to each other in a different language. If I had to guess, their accents sound Eastern European, but their language sounds Nordic. The lesson, as always: I don’t know anything.

They’re enthusiastic about three things:

1) US Weekly (did you know that Tiger wasn’t the first...all men have ALWAYS been cheaters!).

2) Something called the Vampire Chronicles, which they’ve spent money to watch. I know nothing about the Vampire Chronicles, other than that Cash-from-Friday-Night-Lights is in it, and I’m guessing it’s related to Twilight. I can’t remember a wider gap between something’s popularity and how much I know about it. Even Harry Potter, which was huge, and which I never actively tried to engage, crawled into my life somehow. I had to read the first book in a class; I knew enough lovable, self-identifying nerds in Nashville whose idea of good clean fun was inviting people over and watching an HP movie (God bless them). So, without trying, I know Harry Potter. And I don’t dislike Harry Potter. But I’ve got NOTHING on Twilight. I know that there’s a werewolf, and a vampire, and the whole thing is vaguely emo. That’s it. Help? Wait, don’t help. Wait, help. Oh, I don’t know anymore.

3) Legroom. And they presently don’t have any, because...

10 o’clock: ...two women leaned their chairs back. The Swolish (Swedish-Polish-I-can’t-tell) girls are tall, and have no legroom. I feel bad for them. Can we all just collectively decide not to lean our chairs back on airplanes? It makes the Leaner’s life maybe 1.5% more comfortable, and makes the Leanee’s life 3,000% less comfortable. Let’s call a moratorium on reclining airplane chairs. Let’s get utilitarian with it.

11:59 o’clock: My TV screen, which does not feature the Vampire Chronicles.

And now Lucille 3 orders another round. And now my monitor tells me we’re three hours from Los Angeles. And now Tom Petty’s “Love Is a Long Road” is in my ear.

He ain’t kidding.

Thursday, Jan 14, 6:17PM (local time)
I solved my lifelong dilemma of not-enough-hours-in-the-day: keep moving west.

3,500 miles later, I'm camped out in Hollywood, about to get some dinner, and I see this:

Right back where I started.

Lights, camera, action. Goodnight, LA.

Check back tomorrow for more updates!

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