Tuesday, March 10, 2009

It's a Bird, it's a Plane: It's a Plane!

(This non sequitur piece about my journey from Alaska to Australia was written in the Tom Bradley International Terminal.)

Raving fans and gentlemen, my name is Chris Lauer and I am sleep deprived. You might have seen this coming—I did. Seventeen hours ago I started my trans-hemispheric trek from Alaska to Australia. There’s no rest for the traveler. Let’s measure the journey: alphabetically, the move from Al- to Au- is trivial, piddling. As time commitments go, I’m not even halfway through the adventure. In the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX in Los Angeles, I’m a mere quarter of the way through my ten-thousand mile marathon.

Psychologically, I’m ready to give up. I’ve done war with a veritable evil axis of cold symptoms for the last two weeks. What began as a case of the sniffles evolved into punishing salvos of sinus congestion, chapped lips, a sore throat, intermittent deafness, spontaneous erections, coughing, and solipsism. The common cold is the David to my Australia trip’s Goliath. Unable to pop my ears during the descent into Seattle, I experienced knifebrain for the first time. Knife meets brain. Knife falls in love. Knife penetrates brain. Try ramming an ice pick between your eyebrows. Such is knifebrain. These two minutes of desperation are longer than any heartbreaking rejection or scathing lecture you’ve ever known. You’d peel off your own scalp for thirty seconds of relief. And as quickly as it comes, knifebrain disappears. The phantom pains stick around for the next hour or so, but the headache itself has said so long, see ya, deuces, peace, hasta la vista, arrividerci. You frantically pop your ears, hoping to appease knifebrain. Knifebrain is a jealous master who insists you worship no false maladies before it. So you pop enough Tylenol to give an alcoholic cirrhosis and cultivate a jaw-popping tic that wards off all potential mates. The homeless give you a wide berth. Children stare and point. Mentally, emotionally, I’m fried.

The Sea-Tac airport isn’t unpleasant, per se, but I’m always happy to leave the Emerald City behind. Consider the following statement: Seattle yuppies are pretentious shits with atrocious taste in airport art. I experienced firsthand the despair of “Clumps and clods.” This particular opus features a scattering of large metal blobs on an improbably located staircase. “Brilliant” commentary on the evanescence of life aside, I weep for the art world. Moreover, I weep from lack of sleep.

Through the miracle of Orbitz and my own trip-planning genius, I gave myself a seven-hour layover in Seattle and a nine-hour layover in Los Angeles. For those of you keeping score at home, my first day on the road involves seven hours in the air and sixteen hours with my thumb in my butt. I’ve seen the sights, and the sights are few. In Seattle, I’m rescued from two hours of abject boredom by Tyler Mahoney, Ben “Tombstone” Watanabe, and Trevor Lane. It’s early, and none of us are at our best. Honestly, I must be a let-down. It’s like going to see a concert from an artist who’s decided to dive for rock bottom: no shtick, no jokes, just head-clutching, sleep-deprived, surly Chris Lauer. The breakfast is more for me than them. I need to see those boys before I hit the fatal shore. By the time I get back to the states, they’ll have been long-graduated veterans of the real world and I’ll be an over-partied, sunburned, worn-out college student. So, out of pure selfishness, I asked them to crawl out bed at 7:30 on a Monday morning to entertain me. I love those guys. This blog goes out to them. May you all be healthy and well-dressed.

After my hetero life mates deposit me in the airport, I hunker down for another stint in the stratosphere. We take aim at Los Angeles in a 66-seat Canadair, the smallest plane that’s ever had the luxury of carrying me. Raving fans and gentlemen, you might not know this about yours truly, but turbulence excites the bajeezus out of my “holy-shit-I’m-going-to-di
e” reflex. 66-seat airplanes magnify turbulence. You can do the math yourself: my nerves are tangled and balled up like a set of Christmas lights, I’m too tired to think, and my ear drums might burst at any moment. Sunny Los Angeles is enjoying a particularly blustery round of the Santa Ana winds, and my wee little aircraft bucks and shudders like a drunken sorority girl on a mechanical bull. Like Deion Sanders drunk with a football, the pilot all but spikes the plane into the runway. We bounce twice. My life flashes before my eyes. The plane is completely fine. I’m rattled but otherwise OK. United Airlines is not to be trusted.

And here we are: I’m in Los Angeles, where paparazzi hunt celebrities, everyone tries to be a celebrity, and nobody likes celebrities. The internal contradictions are stark and amusing from a distance, but take the distance away and the city of angels holds only the smell of exhaust, the taste of stale vomit, and the sight of the gorgeous Hollywood sprawl. The lady at the Qantas check-in counter clicks away at her keyboard with inch-long fake nails: such is the cost of vanity. I shake my head and ask her why she works with nails that would instantly disqualify her for air travel. She informs me that, contrary to my belief, they are attractive. That’s right. Us guys love our long-nailed women. I’m reminded of the many social devices mankind has used to subdue womankind: high heels, corsets, The View. Miss airline employee dismisses me as a dumb yokel from the backwoods blown into LA by gale-force winds and checks me in. What a town! I slog through security for the third time in 24 hours only to learn that the Tom Bradley international terminal is undergoing a makeover. Scratch that: it’s going through complete facial reconstruction. Between me, blinding halogen lights, and a scattered few construction workers, I’m the only person in my end of the terminal. No food, no soft lights. Just hard airport seats and welders shouting at one another in Spanish. Famished, I leave the security area to find food.

Be wary of the sushi sold in airports.

So here I am, typing to you from a crowded computer lounge at LAX. The next time you hear from me, I’ll be in Australia, where the men are drunk, the women are gorgeous, and the children are poisonous spiders. Raving fans and gentlemen, my name is Chris Lauer and I’m needed urgently down under. I’ll post more as events warrant.

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