Leg­less in Los An­ge­les

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Holidays For Seniors - JEFF WELLS

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.

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