This is the hallway to the baggage claim at LAX.
I had left the office early so that I might catch the 3:30 bus downtown. I walked from my house the ten minutes to the bus stop. The Seattle sky was misty and grey and smelled of slime and worms, but the air was not too cold. It was just cool enough to be refreshing, but not cold enough for muttering obscenities to myself under my breath. I reached the bus stop one minute past the bus’s scheduled departure time, and was overcome with a wave of fear: the fear of being late. However, a bus showed up within a few minutes and I was on it. I paid $2.25 to get on, and found my way to a seat next to a man who pretended I wasn’t there. Even with just a few belongings, including the all-important saxophone, I felt like I was on my way to a place from which I would never return; a prison, or a space colony.
The bus stopped, not surprisingly, downtown. I got off at my stop and proceeded to the tunnel, where I was to catch the light-rail to the airport. As I made my way into the underground tunnels, the moist, cool, blue-grey of the city street was replaced by the sickly green-yellow light of the catacombs, and the smell of the rainy day was replaced by that pungent, offensive odor that only seems to accompany underground transit tunnels. I purchased the $2.50 one-way train ticket; which was difficult, because the ticket machines are located about a half a mile from the train stop on a different level from the train. I am not sure why the city chose this confusing way of doing things…perhaps for the same reason that social networking and webmail sites make it difficult to find the “sign out” button. Maybe if we are confused enough we’ll end up accidentally paying money for something we don’t need. Perhaps an overall feeling of confusion in society is good for generating revenue, or perhaps the overall feeling of confusion in society is exactly what causes these types of ridiculous decisions to be made. In any case, it was a miracle that I even made it to the platform with a ticket.
Like most underground transit platforms, this one was warm from exhaust and humanity, and sticky with the filth of ages. It seems as though things age more quickly underground. Perhaps it’s being hidden from the watchful eye of above-ground society, or perhaps it’s the fact that the underground is slightly closer to the center of Earth’s gravity, thus time moves with a bit more speed. The concrete ground was covered in a layer of not-dried-up-enough sludge that made it difficult to walk, and even more difficult to imagine walking into my clean house a couple days later. Lost in thoughts of timeless grime and hot subterranean stenches, I was startled by the appearance of my next mode of transport: the train! King County’s light rail is actually quite heavy despite the name, but then it occurred to me that it might be called the “light rail” because of the unforgiving and harsh florescent bulbs inside the train cars. The train came to an eerily silent stop right in front of me, the doors slid open futuristically, and I boarded with the confidence of a five-year-old entering a courtroom.
The inside was as sterile as a hospital, except, of course, for the floor. I made my way to a seat that looked comfortable and I attempted to relax. It would be my only relaxing time until late that night when I went to bed. The train exited the station with a subtle lurch, and the soothing sound of the mysterious rising electrical tones lulled me to sleep.
But only for a moment.
I was awoken two stops later by the entrance of a small group of sweaty teenagers. They sat in the seats directly behind me, and had a ridiculous conversation that was too loud to block out. Unfortunately, I could not remember the exact details of the conversation. All I could remember was that Kaitlyn is a b-word, one of them absolutely loves “Robotripping,” Kaitlyn should know better than to “pull that shit” (attempt suicide), gangsters are hot, and that the evening’s party was going to be wild. Eventually, these future eligible voters left the train and released themselves onto the unsuspecting outside world. The sudden departure of these oily adolescents and the accompanying fadeout of their klaxon-rusty-nail-parrot voices came like the wave of euphoria one feels when the pain finally disappears from a badly stubbed toe. I was happy to be rid of them. The next few stops flew by as I pondered this, and more quickly than I could have imagined, we were at the airport.
Well, not at the airport.
The Seattle/Tacoma International Airport resides neither in Seattle, nor Tacoma, but in the mystical in-between city of Seatac. The train stop nearest the airport seemed to be in a different city altogether. Perhaps Tukwila…perhaps some other city. It was not relevant, I suppose. But it was a long, long walk down the platform, down the stairs, through the “turnstiles,” across the sky bridge, through the parking lot, across another sky bridge, into the airport, through security, and down the long hall to the gate. I probably walked about two miles. I was very thankful that I was relatively young and relatively healthy. But even if my physical health was intact at the end of that journey, my mental health was thoroughly tested by the difficulty of having forgotten my ticket and also by having to deal with the increasingly ridiculous security procedure. In case you didn’t know, they now put everyone through an x-ray. Since I do not like being x-rayed by anyone but a doctor, I opted out of the x-ray, and was instead given the hilarious and annoyingly slow opt-out pat-down. Years ago, I was patted down in an airport, and it was cold and sterile and quick. This was cold, sterile, slow, and overcompensatingly fake-compassionate. And it appeared to be how “everyone’s doing it” now. I could tell that the unfortunate TSA agents who get stuck with the pat-down job say the same speech a hundred times a day, each time trying, and failing, to muster up a tone of concern. “I’m now going to place the back of my hand on your leg and move up your inner thigh.” And they have to say that for every body part. Talk about foreplay! But, like so many unsatisfied lovers, I too was left without satisfaction, and asked to move along to make room for the next affair.
The flight was uneventful. The plane took off on time and flew at 38,000 feet and about 600 miles per hour. I wondered how much time would be added onto the flight as a result of time dilation, and if they took that into account when estimating arrival times.
Each time I enter LAX, whether arriving or departing, I am struck by its unassuming grandeur; its humble flamboyance. Its architecture, within and without, is a triumph in aesthetic failure. Much like the artworks that the city of Los Angeles is famous for, the airport gives its patrons only what is necessary to get the job done, without any of the pretentious attention to craft that keeps so much art from being successful financially (and keep sso many other airports running inefficiently). But they try. The result is a tragedy of colors and shapes that prepares you for the addictive ugliness of the city’s various skylines, and the horrifying yet pleasant web of culture that ties it all together. Even the sign that greets visitors outside the airport is an exercise in over-the-top obviousness. Three twelve foot high letters, L-A-X, in the most boring font possible — a fitting metaphor for the Hollywood screenplay. Further in, a series of luminescent columns that hold up nothing: a beautiful representation of the Hollywood film plot. The mile-long hallway that leads from the terminal gate to the baggage claim looks like an insane asylum in paradise. The entire wall is a mosaic of all the colors that weren’t pretty enough to make it into the rainbow; a monument to the sub-sublime; each color adding very little to the spectrum of colors that makes up the tiled mural that that seems to be less than the sum of its parts. But, like the unnecessarily dramatic Hollywood, this hallway carried us from one end to the other, and before long, I was on the curb to meet my ride and venture into the heart of Hollywood, where I would help to make beautiful music all weekend long.