Friday I finished my business meeting around 5 p.m., and had to navigate back from Orange Coumty to the Los Angeles International Airport for a midnight red-eye flight. Driving from Orange County, an hour to the south of the airport, on a Friday rush hour is not so much a choice of routes as a choice of parking lots.
I chose to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway, so that I would get the most anjoymnet from the trip. To the north of Los Angeles, just above Malibu, the Pacifci Coast Highway, Highway 1, features great ocean vistas which last until one is well-nigh to Oregon. In southern California, though, the highway is less a matter of vistas and more a matter of populated beach towns.
At one point, on my right, I saw the shorebird refuges of Bolsa Chica, great marshes of brackish bay, just to the right of the highway. Gulls, terns, herons perhaps a pair of ospreys, and other birds swam, flew, dived, and looked, in general, riotously happy. I had not yet changed out of my suit, and did not see a good park at which to do so, so I did not stop.
I drove through the towns of Newport Beach and Huntington Beach, with their fish restaraunts and
beach-town stores and sushi bars, as well as beach parking lots and dramatic public fishing piers.
I stopped in Huntington Beach at a place called "What the Pho?" for a quick supper. I rolled past the little town of Sunset Beach, and into Seal Beach, just below the Los Angeles County line, one of my favorite beach/pier communities. I kept rolling up PCH, listening to an episode of "This American Life" in which a fellow figures out he was a product of artificial insemination, and then reads his DNA results over the air. I thought to myself about how often the stories we tell ourselves involve a great deal of worry about a great deal of not very much.
I pulled into Harbor City and Long Beach, the onset of that gritty, ocean-port part of Los Angeles, in which the upscale pier atmosphere was replaced by ominous buildings and flocks of giant mechanical cranes. The starkness holds for ma a beauty all its own, although it is a beauty tempered with by-products such as industrial pollution. It is the beauty of the tornado and the exploding building.
The stores and the people did not wear the bright colors and sun and surf gear of Huntington Beach, but instead had a practical, no-frills look. Still, the storefronts were all interesting and varied, and the little city parks no less beautiful. They were colorful agates against a setting of gray slate.
I eventually moved north into the "lighter, prettier" parts of Long Beach, and into Torrance.
Torrance is the archetypal "normal" city--neither rich nor poor, neither splendor nor squalor.
I passed the South High School, at which school (or its twin, North High School) I went on a college recruiting visit for the University of Arkansas. The kids there were really interested in becoming Razorbacks, because of the cross-country team. Football and basketball were not mentioned.
I arrived in Hermosa Beach, a place where I have caught many mackeral from its simple pier, and once saw a whale in February surface and spout. I headed on one town north to Redondo Beach, to walk near its pier. I changed into play clothes at the King Harbor Pier,and began to enjoy my evening.
Redondo Beach was once featured in a Patti Smith song, but it's not really a New York poem. It lacks the upscale hauteur of wealthy Manhattan Beach Pier to its immediate north, nor the funky sense of great absuridty and mild danger of Venice Beach further north. It lacks the industrial refineries of El Segundo, nor the resonance of 757s overhead of Playa Vista. It's instead a good-sized-but-not-Texas-sized pier, filled with people walking its odd geometric shape, and fishermen catching little eight-inch mackererl from its rails. It's got little tourist shops, and "bakeries" which sell churros, and tons of cafes in which one chooses one's fresh catch, an it is cooked as one watches.
I saw rows upon rows of families on long meeting-room tables, busily using hammers to open the local spider crab. I walked past the seawall, where people sat and fished on the portion of the wall that says "no sitting on seawall. no fishing". The place is an incredible mass of humanity, mostly families, of every ethnic group and social strata, all partipating in a common experience, and yet all, in the Los Angeles way, in their own little circuits, oblivious to the gestalt.
Los Angeles is so often portrayed as one paricular distasteful substrata or another, but this Los Angeles is the one I know and love--down to earth, unique, colorful, and festive. I wandered all around, wishing that I could catch a twenty dollar fishing party boat out to catch a mackerel, as I once periodically did, but all the boats were closed for the evening.
Finally, I drove up to the Los Angeles airport area, stoppping for gasoline at a station named "Tacos!", and sampling, in mild violation of my dietary point counts, chocolate Necco Wafers. Then I turned in my rental car and turned up quite early for my midnight flight.
I say "quite early", but, in fact, you see, I was "quite late". One day late. I had committed that cardinal sin--I had booked a redeye I intended to leave at Friday midnight for Friday at 12:30 a.m.,and not Saturday at 12:30 a.m. I travel a great deal,and often make my own arrangements, so I knew better than to commit this particular faux pas. But I had committed it, and the travel place I had used for the inexpesnive tickets for my lenghty trip had already closed its "escalation" unit, which would have helped me. The airline, Contintental, proved remakrably unhelpful, although, to be fair, they have the right to enforce their fare structure (although also, to be fair in the other direction,they have the discretion to relax it, and their failure to do so will make me far less likely to fly them by choice).
I called Southwest Airlines, because I knew I had a free ticket on that airline or two from past Rapid Rewards, and because I knew that they would address my needs, and not merely put me on hold or express how I must speak to another person about my issue. Sure enough, within ten minutes that paragon of an airline had me booked on the 7:45 a.m. to Houston, changing planes to Dallas.
I phoned around until I found a Best Western in Lawndale which offered free airport shuttle and only mild highway larceny rather than full=bore robbery. I caught the shuttle with a family of eight from New Zealand, who had also missed their flight. The mother and the father looked about my age. I wondered at the task of raising six children. They were in high spirits, for folks with an unexpected day added to their trip.
I rose early, got to the airport in good order, and bought magazines for the trip. I like that air travel gives me the patience to read things I never get through otherwise. On the trip out, I fell in love with Trollope's Dr. Wortle, after years of failed tries to enjoy it as a landlubber.
On this trip, the Atlantic Magazine short story issue pulled me in. I am not much for what I thin of as a "certain kind" of short story, stylized, featuring characters with only mildly absurd names, who, in elegant prose, do things or don't do things, and shatter illusions or build illusions, and really, not much happens, and it's time for raisin bran. While the authors of such stories get university appointments inflicting dogma about such paper-thin fictions upon unwitting undergraduates with undulating wide-eyed uncertainties, the rest of us are ready to head to the lending library and find a crackling good read. In fact,though, I read some pretty good stories, including one which told me that the universal language of people is deceit, which nacowafer would have written better, and with more feeling, but which was enjoyable nonetheless. I also read in Spin Magazine a lot of things about a lot of bands which are not old nor new which incongrously leads me to say that rust never sleeps.
We landed in Houston, and one turkey wrap sandwich later, I was on the way to Dallas. We landed at 3, I went home and slept until 7, I played with some music remixing, creating a kind of odd raga, and then we went to a dinner of grilled salmon and skewered vegetables over rice. I walked the dogs at midnight. Then the sun rose, and it was a day of rest.