Argabright - Down Under Diary
DOWN UNDER DIARY December 28, 2003 WILL ROGERS STATE BEACH, Santa Monica,
California - Sunday, Dec. 28, 3:52 p.m. PST - In terms of distance, we're
about a quarter of the way between home and away. It is a sleepy, sunny
Sunday afternoon here in southern California, and Sherry and I find ourselves
in the middle of a 12-hour layover at Los Angeles Intl. Airport (LAX). Rather
than sit in the stifling boredom of an vast commercial airport, we decided
to grab some wheels from Avis and pass the day as enjoyably as possible.
So we drove north on the Pacific Coast Highway, and even on a Sunday the
traffic was heavy.
We found a parking spot here at the park, thirty yards from the gentle
surf of the Pacific. Yet, because of the constant roar of traffic on the
PCH, just 20 yards to my left, this is not a tranquil place. In a nutshell,
this spot defines southern California: develop virtually every square inch
of property, leaving only a tiny sliver of beauty to perhaps make it livable.
But I can't complain. Is this better than sitting on a hard bench at LAX,
with the loudspeakers announcing the arrival of flight 995 from Las Vegas
and would the person in the blue Mustang please move his car from the curb
immediately? Oh, yes, it is much better. So we will savor our brief (alas,
I wish it were more brief) layover by visiting the beach.
There was very little sleep last night. It was in the wee morning hours
when we finished packing...well, no we didn't; you're never really finished
packing, because there are always a few things you think you're forgetting,
so it's really a matter of at some point having to load the car and drive
to the airport, ready or not. This trip has brought lots of anxiety to me.
The fear that I would forget to pack something very important; the fear
that something will go wrong at home while we're gone, with me 10,000 miles
away and unable to fix the problem. What if the kids get sick? What if the
furnace breaks down? What if the mailman bites the dog?
When Jack Hewitt and I were writing his book together a year ago, Hewitt's
Law, we were up against our deadline and trying to kill the beast and put
it out of its misery. Sending a book to the publisher brings stress and
pain and anxiety that is hard to describe; but it's a little bit like childbirth,
because if the baby is beautiful you immediately forget about all the hardship.
But at one particular moment I was in emotional knots, trying to chase a
million details, with another million things that might go wrong. "I'm not
going to worry about it," Hewitt told me one afternoon. "Because I know
you'll worry enough for the both of us." That was an eye-opening moment
for me, because it made me realize that I do indeed worry too much. I wish
I could be more like Hewitt (wait, I can't believe I said that...I meant,
I wish I could worry less, like Hewitt). His ability to worry is right up
there with a five-year-old kid. Something went wrong? Oh, well, it'll blow
over. That's a beautiful attitude, really. He'll tell you it's because he
just doesn't give a shit; maybe that's right, but it sure works for him.
And he'll probably outlive all of us.
Things didn't go as planned this morning. When we booked this trip, our
greatest challenge was getting from Indianapolis to Los Angeles to catch
our 11:55 p.m. flight to Auckland, New Zealand. Everything-and I do mean
everything-was oversold and overbooked. We finally booked a 7:00 a.m. Frontier
Airlines flight through Denver, which meant a 12-hour layover in LA. But
they had no seats for us on the Frontier flight, so they arranged a couple
of seats on a Northwest flight through Memphis. Our bags had already been
checked on the Frontier flight, and there was no time to pull the bags.
"They'll be waiting for you in LA," we were assured (they were). That meant
another trip through the security checkpoint at a different terminal (the
first took 15 minutes). Having no checked bags is an major red flag for
security; Sherry and I were immediately pulled aside for a more thorough
examination of our persons and our carry-on bags. The scene at such checkpoints
can only be described as chaos. Shouting, people milling about, sensors
screeching in protest, the thud of bags on and off the x-ray belt, with
tension at a razor edge among passengers, who just want to get on the airplane
As we were examined (I couldn't help thinking of Arlo Guthrie's words in
Alice's Restaurant: "inspected, detected, neglected, and selected), an elderly
man behind us was also singled out. It was a sad scene. He had difficulty
hearing their questions; they were patient, but the man was clearly upset
and confused. Impeccably dressed in a camelhair coat and sweater vest, he
stooped over his cane and tried to comprehend what they wanted him to do.
"Which ones are your bags? Raise your arms, please! Unbuckle your belt,
please!" "Take off your shoes, please!" I'm not questioning the need for
security. Nope, you just never know when a cunning and calculating 80-year-old
white guy with a cane and Dexter soft-sole shoes is going to take down an
airplane, do you? Perhaps it's true that security is a hard, thankless task.
But Sherry said it right as we talked of that unfortunate older gentleman:
"Makes you wonder what kind of world we live in, doesn't it?"
Whatever happened to the fun of flying? We were packed tightly in our seats,
with barely an inch to spare in any direction. The rows of seats are so
close together, your knees rub the back of the seat in front of you. The
overhead space was full. The service, while very friendly and pleasant,
was sparse. If Greyhound could get a bus to 30,000 feet, it would be exactly
like this scene right here. No glamour, no joy, just basic transportation
at 500 mph. From Indy to Memphis my row consisted of a woman in her early
20's-I'm pretty sure it was a woman, but I didn't think it appropriate to
inquire on such a specific matter-with her entire right arm covered with
body art tattoos, who seemed to lack some basic hygiene skills (her coat
carried a little button that said, "I'm a little stinker." No doubt she
was unaware that it had a literal meaning).
Next to me was the kindly older gentleman whom we had watched struggle
through the security checkpoint. Nobody spoke; before we had left the runway,
I was nodding off, as was Sherry in the seat across the aisle. From Memphis
to LAX we were stuck in the very back row of the cabin, and our seats would
not recline. So it was four hours and 15 minutes of discomfort, eased somewhat
by our new portable DVD player and the musical, Chicago. The sun is nearly
touching the ocean to the west, and the shadows are growing long. The air
is remarkably clear, and the bright sunshine brings great depth to the color
of the surroundings. The ocean seems more blue; the white hair of the older
couple holding hands as they walk along the beach seems more pure; the bright
red and blue helmets on the children skating along the sidewalk is more
striking. It will be time to go soon, as darkness comes and the park closes.
We will find a dinner spot, and enjoy a final meal in America before boarding
Several people have cautioned us that the beef in New Zealand and Australia
is "different" than what we are accustomed to, especially in the Midwest.
"Just doesn't measure up," one friend insisted. Time will tell. Just in
case, though, Sherry and I have decided that tonight it will be steak, a
piece of meat so big that has to be delivered on a cart. So heavy that it
makes the wheels squeak as the cart approaches the table. So imposing that
the waiter will give an audible gasp as he lifts it to our table. That kind
of steak. Then we will give the car back to Avis, meet the wonderful people
of Qantas (I'm being cautiously optimistic), and leave the country. Sherry
and I are very much hoping-is desperate too strong a word?-that our seats
are more comfortable than those of the Memphis-LAX flight. Ahead of us lies
many thousands of miles and 12 hours of 747 living. I can't say I'm looking
forward to the flight; but I am certainly willing to endure it in order
to see the land that sparkles in my imagination in every sort of way. That's
all for today. G'day, mates.