Every aspect of commercial air travel is hellish.
Except the view.
I always choose a window seat.
Because when your chair is seven miles up in the sky,
you can see forever.
Every aspect of commercial air travel is hellish.
Except the view.
I always choose a window seat.
Because when your chair is seven miles up in the sky,
you can see forever.
I’ve logged nearly 150 miles in the pool since November, which is the good news. The bad news? My favorite swim trunks have been degraded to the point of scandal. So, today I found myself in the shopping nirvana that is the Century City mall, in pursuit of a swimsuit. I had done my homework and headed directly to H&M, which had what I was looking for. Sadly, I tried on three different styles in size MEDIUM before succumbing to the harsh reality: I still require the LARGE. You know, I’ve heard that they take liberties with women’s size labels. Why don’t men get this courtesy? What about size labels such as POTENT or BRILLIANT or PROSPEROUS?
[Sidebar] A thousand years ago, I had my first big-city job in New York and bought my first big-city winter overcoat. It was a brown tweed number, trench coat style with wide lapels. I felt very cool while keeping warm that winter. One cold night, I stopped to see my friend Kip at his parents’ house. His father opened the door and gave me a hearty welcome. “Steve! Well, you’re looking prosperous!” Now, I knew I had overpaid for that coat, but in that moment I felt entirely vindicated. I suddenly hoped summer would never come. It was some time before I learned the crushing truth: “prosperous” is a polite synonym for “fat” – as in “well fed” – used by very nice-if-somewhat-snarky New England WASPs. (I lived.)
Anyhoo, success. I found my swimwear for the next several hundred miles. But then it took longer to get to the cash register than it had taken me to get to the mall. And I was nearly asphyxiated when the charming little girls behind me smashed a vile vial of glitter nail polish on the floor. Their mother pretended not to know them while the employee (who would otherwise have been ringing up my purchase, thankyouverymuch) discovered the near impossibility of wiping up glitter-infused nail lacquer from a white marble floor.
And no, I will not model my new swimming costume for you. Maybe next time… when I’m sufficiently less prosperous. Hey – this post is not even about swimwear, or overcoats, or child terrorists. Hello! Focus people, focus!
That mall has an immense underground parking structure, and I’m always a little relieved to find my way to any exit. Today’s roulette put me on Constellation Blvd and I found myself looking up at the crisply striped twin towers of Century Plaza against an endlessly blue sky. (Sometimes, the blog post just writes itself.) Here’s an aerial shot to show you how these 500-foot tall wedges stand in relation to each other. The six angles produce ever changing communication between these two giant sculptures.
Once a New Yorker always a New Yorker (no matter how much ankle-deep slush I no longer have to step in) – so the first time I heard someone refer to Century Plaza as “the twin towers”… my reaction could be summed up as fuhgeddaboudit!
My stance on this has softened somewhat since learning that these twinned towers in LA share something rather significant with the iconic Twin Towers of the original World Trade Center in NYC: their parentage. The same architect, Minoru Yamasaki, designed these buildings. What’s more, they were built around the same time. WTC was finished in 1973; Century Plaza Towers opened two years later. And the family resemblance is striking. Yamasaki favored aluminum cladding and narrow dark windows. These two side-by-side shots show the similar design elements:
Of course, New York’s Twin Towers were far more massive and 2-1/2 times taller than Century Plaza Towers. But as I stood looking up at the interplay of the twins here in LA, I couldn’t help recalling the same strained neck while standing between the North and South Towers of WTC, once upon a time. There was a time when this would have made me sad… but today I found myself happy to visit the California cousins of those noble old New Yorkers.
Day 090 #100happydays
P.S. I have just traveled here from the future! Well, little more than a week after the original date of this post. Because I found another shot in the album from that day. I didn’t use it in this post, as the trees interfered with the clean lines of the architecture. But I like the juxtaposition of the natural and built environments. So I’ll just sneak it in here, and return to my proper place in the timeline.
The End (so far)
When I was a kid, I was fascinated with planes, airports and everything to do with aviation. Along with most other little boys of my generation, and undoubtedly quite a few of the little girls. A big jet launching into the air presents a heady mix of science, engineering, magic and romance. How does it fly?! Where is it going? Who’s on it?
Fast forward, decades. Wide-eyed little boys and girls become bleary-eyed passengers. Science and engineering are now in the service of shoehorning ever more butts into ever-shrinking seats. Magic is required to jam giant carry-ons into overhead bins. As for the romance of air travel… that phrase just reads like a punchline.
But there’s one place that even the most jaded traveler can summon his inner kid: at the end of a runway.
I dropped Eileen at LAX this afternoon, reluctantly sending her back to the last vestiges of Boston’s never-ending winter. Instead of hopping back on the freeway, I decided to take a quick detour down the Imperial Highway, which runs along the southern edge of LAX. It parallels the runways, and like all westbound routes, it ends at the big blue Pacific.
Dockweiler State Beach sits under the bluffs at the end of the airport’s runways. You’d never know there is a massive intercontinental transportation hub behind that hillside covered with ice plants, because you can’t hear or see the jets until they have launched themselves right above your head, out over the ocean. Doesn’t matter the destination: north, south, east or west. Transcon or transpacific. All flights jump off headed west, into the wind. Some will turn left or right. Some will just keep going, into the wild blue yonder. Next stop: Hawaii. Tokyo. Sydney. Hong Kong. Singapore…
So the little kid in me got to relive some long-forgotten thrills today, watching big planes climb up into the bigger sky. How does it fly? Where is it going? Who’s on it? And between launches, I was drawn – as I always am – to that zone between land and sea. Where the relentless blue-green surf throws itself upon indifferent sands. It is somehow violent and peaceful all at once. An unending war, fought to an inevitable draw, over and over and over again. The sound of it is comforting, like a lullaby. The sea breeze is constant. There goes another jet. Down the beach, a few kites take to the sky. And the great flocks of gulls gathered on the beach to breed are a little more skittish than usual. They take wing en masse if someone approaches too close, settling again just 50 feet down the beach.
That was a busy stretch of sand there at the end of the LAX runways this afternoon.
And one very happy little boy.
Day 084 #100happydays (And here’s a few more pics from today.)
Santa Monica’s gleaming white skyline follows the sweep of the coast just north of LAX.
Hillsides covered in fire-resistant succulents called ice plants explode with vibrant colors in the Southern California spring.
If you squint you can just make out a jet headed west over the ocean. The smudge along the horizon is the marine layer – dense fog banks a thousand feet high or more – that is California’s natural air conditioning. As the inland areas heat up, the marine layer is drawn closer in, giving us a nice cool hug. In June, it might not burn off until early afternoon, earning the meteorological moniker “the June gloom”. Some folks find it depressing. But as a veteran of many a sweaty summer in New York, Boston and Washington DC – not to mention six consecutive summers in the skillet of the Palm Springs desert – I’m a big fan of the marine layer. It’s cool.
We are not as complicated as we make ourselves out to be.
The recipe for a successful day has few essential ingredients:
Sun. Sky. Sand. Sea.
Throw in a siesta.
And finish with a celebratory cocktail.
Repeat as often as
Eileen expertly demonstrates the beach siesta…
…and the celebratory cocktail.
(She had help.)
Day 082 #100happydays
Today I watched three refugees from winter begin to thaw. It was beautiful.
Mario, Jim & Eileen on the Venice Beach boardwalk.
Los hermosos… patrolling the sand.
Just as we’ve long suspected:
She walks on water.
Mario & Eileen, deep in reflection.
Jim… footloose and fancy-free.
Sun, sand, water + friends.
Day 081 #100happydays
Spring may have sprung, but the Northeast is looking down the barrel of another nor’easter this week. So, let’s face it: a couple of days of clouds with zero chance of snow? That makes me happy.
Day 076 #100happydays
Day 059 #100happydays
You hear an oddly familiar engine droning. You look up. See something that looks like fuzzy Morse code in the sky. Then that thing happens where 73 billion neurons start firing inside your brain… detecting patterns… breaking codes… and 6 nanoseconds later – you realize that you are looking at English words being spelled out one-letter-at-a-time across the sky blue sky by an invisible squadron of tiny planes. SKYWRITERS!
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a message sent using this method. I thought the advertising banners trailed by single-engine planes up and down the coast were the most primitive form of messaging left in our world. But no, skywriting wins. Is this yet another peculiar form of Americana – or do folks in other places look skyward and watch skywriters at work. Or, if we’re too late, we watch the message deform and scatter on the high-altitude winds.
In any event, I think it’s pretty clear who started this trend:
It wasn’t a menacing meme in the skies above LA today… but it was mysterious enough to send thousands of us to Instagram and Twitter. For this is what we saw:
Holy Hashtags, Batman! But whatttttttt doesssssss itttttttt meannnnnnnn??????! To the Twitter – but that offered more questions than answers. The only thing left to do was to obey the clever sky creatures.
100 miles to the east of Los Angeles is the desert playground of Palm Springs. The two-hour drive can take three hours, or four hours. But the tension evaporates into thin air as soon as you’re through the mountain pass that separates the valley from the rest of the world.
So thanks to Hal & Paula for the warm and wonderful hospitality (wining, dining, Koffi-ing and grapefruit!)… and to Christina for a long overdue lunch… for having survived so much, so beautifully… and for giving me some much needed inspiration: that we old dogs can learn (ahem) new tricks. And to Joel, who forgave me as I zoomed past without time to stop on my way back to LA this afternoon.
Friendship is food for the soul.
Day 033 #100happydays
P.S. There were some cool clouds in the desert sky, too.
We are stardust.
Billion year old carbon
We are golden.
Caught in the devil’s bargain
And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.
– Joni Mitchell
For a species that was mucking about in the slime just last week (in geologic time), our civilization has advanced at a pretty good clip. In the space of only ten thousand generations, our illustrious family went from taming fire to screwing in lightbulbs to igniting the ion thrusters of interplanetary probes. We are golden. But we pay a price, small or large, for every step out of the darkness.
Take those lightbulbs, for example. Humans are too puny to be seen from space. Even Chris Christie. You can’t even see the giant bridges he sabotages, or what he ate for lunch. So you’d never know there are 7+ billion of us scampering around on this orb. Until nightfall. Because what do we do in the dark? We turn on the lights!
And do we ever. In this night view of North America – from the Arctic to Aruba – those zillions (actual number) of lightbulbs reveal our major cities, tiny towns, the highways and byways that connect us. The coastlines are well defined (everyone wants waterfront property); the lakes and oceans are absolute black. But look – there’s the tiny little speck of Bermuda floating in the middle of the Atlantic, halfway between Nova Scotia and Puerto Rico. You’d never see its pink sands and pink tourists in the daytime version of this photo, but it shines like a beacon at night.
I’ve never orbited the Earth on a satellite or space station, and (having seen the film Gravity) I never will. The closest I’ve come to that vantage point was on a flight from Cape Town to London. I woke up in the middle of that flight, middle of that night, disoriented. The cabin was darkened in ‘sleep’ mode, and everyone seemed to be complying with the suggestion. Where am I? I raised the window shade and was gobsmacked by the sight. My camera was stowed, but this is what I saw:
As the BA jumbo, seven miles high, approached the north coast of Africa, the velvety black Mediterranean Sea spread out before me like a jeweler’s cloth, scattered with diamonds twinkling the outline of Continental Europe. It’s one of those moments of my life which I can revisit simply by closing my eyes. Feeling my forehead and cheek pressed against the coolness, trying not to fog the window with my breath, hearing the low thrummm of the engines, wishing the plane would circle this spot for hours. That didn’t happen. I had already been granted one wish that day. BA had wrapped up a very nice upgrade for my 40th birthday.
So, lightbulbs. (If there is an award for Best/Most Digressions in a Blog Post, will someone please nominate me? I think I’d win. My acceptance speech would take three weeks.) Lightbulbs, right. Thomas Edison’s invention and its progeny certainly make our world a brighter, safer, more productive place. And a spectacular sight to behold from on high. But those same lights cause a sort of cataract to dim our sight for the real pyrotechnics: the view when we look UP.
Our home planet (Earth) orbits a star (the Sun) which flies through the universe as part of a pinwheel-shaped galaxy we call the Milky Way. This blog (and everything else in our solar system) can be found halfway out from the bulging center, along one of the pinwheel’s spiral arms. When we look up at night and see the milky haze of stardust and starlight arcing across the sky, we are looking toward the galactic center of the Milky Way, edge on.
Most of our night skies do not look like this, thanks to the light pollution from all of those brightly lit mall parking lots, gas stations, baseball diamonds and interstates. I live in the middle of Los Angeles. I’m lucky if I can see the full moon. This photo above shows the Milky Way in all of its glory, from a place with one of the darkest night skies on Earth: the Atacama desert in northern Chile. Here is the most amazing video, Ancients by Nicholas Buer, which sparked this post:
There are several hundred billion stars like our sun in that cosmic cloud of our galaxy. And there are several hundred billion galaxies like our Milky Way in the endless expanse of the universe. Some uber-geeky types speculate that there may well be billions of universes beyond that. But I think they just make that shit up. I mean, it’s not like you can prove anything like that. Like god or something. Oh, wait…
I came face to face with the Milky Way, once. The darkest night sky I’ve ever been under was a billion years ago (it seems) on an idyllic holiday with idyllic friends on the Caribbean island of Nevis. We had a taxi driver named Marlon Brando (why would I make that up?) who took us late one night to a local hangout waaaay off the beaten path in a jungle clearing on the beach. It was just an open-air pavilion packed with people, locals and touristos, dancing in the dank Carib humidity. In the wee hours of that morning, almost dead from happy dance exhaustion, my clothes soaked through, I stumbled out to the beach, looked up… and just gasped at the sight of it. We are stardust.
We are stardust looking back at stardust… which may be looking back at us. Like that bathroom mirror infinity. Only better.
The dark night sky makes me happy.
Day 020 #100happydays
One of the prerogatives of life in Southern California is being able to torment friends in northern climes with sunny beach photos in winter. It is especially gratifying for those of us who originally hail from those arctic latitudes. Pictorial nyah-nyah-nyah-NYAH-nyah. Call it Schadenfroid.
I just got a merry email from my friend Maria, who is spending this xmas with her sister’s family in Connecticut. She attached several pics from a wintry walk they took around the beach at Tod’s Point. It’s cold. The pale sun hangs low in the gray sky. There’s snow on the sand.
It’s 72 and sunny here in Los Angeles this Christmas. But if I were going to take a walk on the beach today, I’d choose somewhere warm and cozy… like a cold, snowy beach in Old Greenwich.
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