On the evening before we departed for Los Angeles I’d packed everything save the actuality of my going. Even after we’d stuffed all of our possessions in the taxi that morning, picked up my bro on the way, I still wasn’t mentally en route. The traffic was slow and strained, the emerging stress of my not being able to spend enough time in the bar prior to flying began to take form. LA was still miles out of my reality but the ten-hour flight with a 20-month-old baby was coming rapidly into view.
I’ve flown long haul a few times, I don’t like flying so, obviously, I’m not in my happy place. The only possible way of dealing with ten hours plus in the sky is to factor in the ten hours plus of free booze. I vaguely recall the nice stewardess on the Virgin flight back from Tokyo a few years ago, she slipped me a full 75cl bottle of Shiraz after getting fed up with my constant pleas for a refill which took the edge off of proceedings to the point it was almost alright. Lately, the better half and I have gotten used to the short hop across North Europe to Italy: we know the ropes, we can drink a bit, the boy will sleep a bit before he’ll want to walk the aisle for a bit. It’s not pleasant but it’s never more than two and a half hours, it’s not four times that.
Trying to reconcile a dread for flying for ten hours is one thing, to do so with the prospect of not enough booze and a 20 month-old-baby was inconceivable. The airport drink at Heathrow was rushed and fraught, we said goodbye to my bro (due to meet us at the designated apartment in LA and sensibly taking an Air New Zealand flight) and walked the plank into United Airlines’ finest. At the end of this missive you’re free to read the letter I sent to them when we returned to London as I’m keen to avoid recalling a single second of the miserable experience as I did just then.
Arriving in LAX was weird, apart from the fact it was day again (when it should’ve been 2am) the airport itself was dark and sparse and the sudden reunion with the better half’s sis and respective siblings at the end of an endless corridor quietly freaked me out. We drove to La Brea as the sun set, that odd feeling of being somewhere at once familiar on account of TV/Films etc. and completely alien at the same time was aided and abetted by the fact I was with my wife and 20-month-old son. It’s worth noting that I regularly have these ‘I’m married?!’ ‘I have a son?!’ moments in direct contravention of those stoned days when I had neither: from the point of view of that sad, south London couch and a lump of squidgy black, the current and yes, cheery, position of being both a husband and dad are unimaginable. I digress as per.
This sense of weirdness was amplified further when we got back to the apartment where my younger sis in-law and wife’s bro-in-law were waiting to greet us, I hadn’t seen the latter since we went out in New York and got paralytic on red wine -I then recalled the first time I went to NYC noting the current LA paradox of ‘I’ve been here/I’ve not been here’, at the same moment my bro, fresh from LAX, walked into the room as if he’d just come back from a long piss at Heathrow. Can I have some more wine, please?
I’d always made it quite apparent to myself that I’d never visit LA unless invited to do so; it’s not like New York, say, a city begging to be visited on account of its museums, galleries, theatres, venues, restaurants and excellent, user-friendly transport system. No, LA is basically concrete lumps in a desert near the ocean. To my mind, one’s reasons for going needed to be put into a context of sorts, which also made LA a rather illusive and strangely unattainable place by my own conditioning system. I figured there were plenty more places to see with far greater cultural significance without definitely having to hire a car.
What I hadn’t reckoned on was how my perception of LA would change when family are factored in. We weren’t staying in a hotel, we were in a family apartment, my bro was with us, which had the unanticipated effect of making the city feel rather homely, and whilst we had that ‘holiday’ feeling it was more down to the fact that it was holiday- season rather than our being on a holiday, type thing.
Driving around the city from the get go helped with the process of settling in our new environment too: there’s no time for looking at chopped Shovelheads in their natural surroundings when you’re squished in between six angry lanes of traffic on the freeway. That shit is real, as was the close call we had on the first day when the lane I was driving in turned into an exit ramp and I took extreme measures to get us back on track. The subsequent bollocking from my co-pilot bro was the final check into reality. Hello LA.
My family and I, two adults and a twenty-month boy, flew with you recently from LHR to LAX, and I’d like to talk to you about it.
First, the logic of placing a 20-month old child by the entrance to business class. That flimsy little curtain, the one that’s just about translucent enough for the clowns in coach to get a coquettish glimpse at how the other half lives, isn’t going to inspire hearing loss when, inevitably in the course of a ten-hour flight, he kicks off a hollering and a whooping.
Secondly, when he does start screaming the place down, because we’re expected to have him sit on our laps (for ten hours) it might be a good idea if the stewardess doesn’t refuse to get him some milk because, and I quote ‘…doing something else’, which was preceded with a charming ‘can’t you see…’ She was picking up litter, by the way, not resuscitating the pilot.
She refused to move out of the way, note ‘refused’, so I had to walk back up the aisle and shuffle up behind another stewardess on the adjacent aisle who was also picking up litter and wouldn’t move either. After ten minutes and much screaming (not me, the kid. I don’t fancy being beaten up by your cabin crew, something you have a reputation for. In fact, the reason we chose you over other equally competitive operators was that we’d figured you’d be bending over backwards to make amends for half killing a Korean Doctor. We’ll get back on to that shortly) one of your team handed over half a cup of milk which the boy devoured in seconds forcing me to repeat the same procedure as previously cited.
Back to the logic of placing a twenty-month child on a ten-hour flight in discomfort by the entrance to business class, I’d have thought you’d be doing all you could to prevent a small child for disrupting your premium paying passengers in case they, like me, decided to never, ever fly with you again. It’s not as if you can afford to lose passengers, is it? Before I booked with you I read that in the few months after you half-killed Dr Doa your passenger rates were at their lowest since 1995, specifically, down from 0.62 per 10,000 passengers to 0.44 per 10,000. Now I’m no businessman, but, well, why would you not want to give a crying child sat by business class some milk to shut him up? Even on the most basic of levels, in four months’ time, the boy in question would have been a paying customer as well. Goodbye, another passenger.
And finally, one of your crew in particular, a waspish looking individual with a small amount of hair on his head, took it upon himself to fire me the most unpleasant of glances throughout the whole miserable journey. I hadn’t spoken to this character, I’d not impersonated his gait or done that bald slappy-head thing, but for whatever reason, this guy seriously didn’t like me. Now I’m not saying I’m everyone’s cup of tea, heaven forfend, but on a professional level, keep your prejudices to yourself, no?
Just before I say cheerio, your food was appalling as well, actually inedible, and you’re stingy with the wine on top of it.