I often think when I’m in airports that I should be a flight attendant. I like airports. There’s a hassle associated with travel, but I think it’s mostly in the getting-started bit. The challenge is in the inertia of getting going—packing and fretting over details, over not forgetting your keys or a coat or underwear; over how to get to the airport and where to park and find your terminal and your gate and then–security. But, once my shoes are tied, my belt is back on, and my government issued ID is put away, I like airports. I like the hustle of people, of so many different people, of all the differences but all of us together in this in-between space of travel. We’re discombobulated, which is perhaps why we’re so grumpy—no one belongs here. I love the choice of Starbucks by Gate 44 or 64. The magazines and bookstores. Oh how I love airport bookstores—I suppose that airports might be the only place that lots of people ever go into bookstores anymore, the only time when we have the forced and imposed luxury of time to browse and muse.
I left home Friday morning at 6:00 a.m. for work, fretted that I forgot to let the dog out of the house, got lost finding my pre-paid assigned parking lot, and inched along behind some very crabby people in the security line. But, I got myself a coffee and a bran muffin at the second Starbucks and found an empty seat next to two gabbing flight attendants. (From my use of the word ‘gabbing’ you might guess these flight attendants were stewardesses, but isn’t that a nice gender-neutral noun.) They planned the routes they’d get on next month—”Oh, I love the Mexico City overnight! I want to get on that one again.”
Granted, I don’t really want to be a flight attendant for many a reason. Most notably, however, because, now, as I sit in my window seat—the window seat and an iPod, the best part of travel, tranquil—and as I watch the California coastline unfurl below, they’re hard at work, cracking open crisp bottle of ginger ale and Bloody Mary mix. (Incidentally, United Airlines now gives out mini tins of sugar-free Altoids rather than peanuts. Amazing. Why has no other airline though of this?)
I recall reading that when Ahrnold became our governor, he chartered a plane to fly over the entire span of California, top to bottom. It’s opulent and odd, but… I get it. It’s a totally different way to conceptualize a place–a state as land rather than an economy.
And then we landed on a clear day in San Francisco: Golden Gate Bridge and a green bay, and I began my first weekend as a “travel writer” with an assignment.
I checked into my first hostel, snapped some awkward photos, and went a’wandering. I bought myself a camera case for a fancy new camera. I looked, high and low—literally, those darn hills—for a grocery store where I could buy food to make dinner in a bright and clean communal kitchen. As you might guess, Downtown San Francisco does not offer a plethora of produce markets, but rather a glut of wine-and-cereal corner stores. So, I went into the Urban Tavern—sounded earthy but was very chi-chi—took a seat at the bar, ordered myself a beer, and had a lovely vegetarian cassoule while planning my route for the next day. I made friends with the gents sitting next to me who, I suspected from my eavesdropping, were on their third date, and they recommended a place in the Mission I just had to see.
Hostel to hostel I bumped. Picture after picture I snapped. People either thought I was really cool—a travel writer! yes please, let me show you around—or, really weird—”can I see some credentials please?” one particularly sketchy owner asked me.
While I enjoyed buzzing around by myself, power walking up hills and “scouting out” neighborhoods, I did have moments when I realized I had more in common with the homeless, stringy-haired woman muttering to herself a street corner than the hip aussie backpackers I was supposed to be hob-nobbing with. Monday after traipsing over to the windswept Fisherman’s Wharf, I clambered around North Beach and, famished, found an Italian restaurant that served late brunch (on a Monday, no less! I love brunch.) I plopped down in my seat and ordered from a cute blond with a perky yellow flower in her hair only to realize my cardigan was buttoned the wrong way and my braid had unravelled and frayed until it resembled a fuzzy vine of ferns.
Though, in the end, my Italian frittata was stellar, as was the blueberry coffee cake I got for dessert.
After spending four days with travelers, four days interviewing travelers and asking about where to and where from, and what next and what before, when I descended into Los Angeles—when I descended into Los Angeles at sunset—I really began to appreciate living in the city where I’m from.