Legless in Los Angeles
LOS Angeles International Airport has long been a source of trepidation for this ancient traveller. It started in the 1970s, when I drove a rental car from Phoenix and braved the madness of the LAX airport circle for 30 hairy laps, searching for the rental car return, which was, naturally, a mile away.
Since then I have been diagnosed with benign vertigo, which has me lurching about like a drunk. Now I am back in Los Angeles and it’s 6am. I am in an Ingelwood hostel’s rattle-trap courtesy van, my nerves jangling every time it crashes over potholes. I have a bleeding gash in my leg from stumbling into an exposed bed frame. What kind of weird vertiginous chaos will ensue on my flight from LAX to Miami, I wonder.
Immediately at the airport, there is pandemonium. I’m the only hick punching the wrong code into the automated check-in machine and have to be led away by an old man in a uniform to a ‘‘resolution desk’’, where I must fork out $US25 to check a bag.
Soon after, I wobble through the security scanner in the arms-raised position ready to surrender. Next comes Starbucks. A long queue, a bucket of alleged latte and the complexities of trying to cut through a tough bagel with a plastic knife and smear it with cream cheese while onlookers snigger.
At the designated gate, ‘ ‘ celebrity’’ complimentary shoeshiner Marvin Earle is chatting about his buddies Brad Pitt and Cindy Crawford when I hear my name on the loudspeaker. My flight is about to leave from Gate 43. Nobody told me it had changed. Curse LAX.
The plane is old and packed and a blurry television hangs from the ceiling. I blink. Is it vertigo or is Morgan Freeman really white?
I pay $US5.29 for celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson’s hand-crafted New American Table Cuisine breakfast tray. The menu pictures a lean and handsome Samuelsson with a sandwich as big as a football. I get Craisins (withered cranberries), all-natural Stacy’s Simply Naked Bagel Chips (pieces of dried bread), Emerald Natural Almonds and a biscotti the size of a postage stamp, no doubt to limit fat consumption for all those behemoths wedged into the seats.
However, for free I can get a can of Mr and Mrs T Bloody Mary Mix, featuring celery garnish, freshsqueezed ripe tomatoes, a dash of real lemon juice, coarse black pepper and a pinch of salt. Wow. I was a big fan of Mr T from The A-Team. I have a mental picture of a hulking, menacingly mohawked Mrs T standing over him and shouting: ‘‘Get that mix right, FOOL!’’ (I later Google Mr and Mrs T — they turn out to be white folks Herb and June Taylor, of Van Nuys, California).
But what is a bloody mary mix without vodka? For $US7, I get two vials of vodka, hand-crafted with Swedish winter wheat, and two plastic glasses filled with handchipped ice. Ask Americans for ice and you get ice on ice.
I now have two bloody marys on my tray and soon need the ‘‘bathroom’’, for which there is a growing queue of passengers who drank gallons of Starbucks in the terminal. Afterwards, I bounce off seats on the way back and a voice behind me hisses ‘‘Drunk!’’.
Reeking of booze and staggering with benign vertigo, will I be arrested or denied a rental car in Miami? Paranoia reigns. Due to another automated code problem, I’m stuck for an hour getting the car and have to plunge straight into Miami peak-hour traffic. The adrenalin rush is like a double bloody mary hit. I might just drive all the way back to accursed LAX.