Sunday, March 02, 2008

Goodbye Paris

It wasn't easy getting back to Santa Barbara from France. The little pieces of the corporate world don't really mesh that well. This is especially true of the pieces that connect to other corporate worlds in other countries. Trying to get Air France to book our bags onto United Airlines for the hop from LAX to Santa Barbara took at least half-an-hour of standing at the counter with this very nice young man who wanted to help. How long would it have taken if he didn't?

The flight was great because so many seats were empty. Coach was always bearable when no one showed up, and you could dump all your crap in the seat next to you. I got a huge amount of research work done because I couldn't check my email to find messages on the UC budget meltdown irritating enough to require a response. It was a nice trip, floating over an increasingly wet-looking polar ice cap - until we landed at LAX.

We had to go from terminal 2 to terminal 7, found a nice supervisor to give us the boarding pass to the United flight that Air France couldn't, got on the little jumper and took off only a half a hour late. It was a beautiful mid-afternoon off the Southern California shore - so much nicer than the city itself which I grew in but do not miss. It was 1 am for me Paris time so I dozed and then woke up to see the Goleta coast below us - trucks crawling on highway 101, the temporarily florescent-green coastal hills, and then El Capitan, and up there Gaviota. Suddenly I realized we'd gone too far north! Everyone was reading or sleeping, and as we drifted along in the sunlight I thought oh, so we've been hijacked. And laughed. And then thought that wouldn't be so bad, doomed to buzz along like this inside of our giant silver bee above the sunny shoreline water and the empty hills.

Then the pilot came on to say that a fog back had rolled in. We couldn't land in Santa Barbara. We had to fly all the way back to Los Angeles, which is what we did. And that meant crossing the whole LA basin, with its dirty pastel circuit-board of streets and one-story houses stretching without end unless here and there interrupted by the large rectangles of industrial buildings. There are plenty of swimming pools but hardly in the whole dry basin a square of grass. We landed back in the coastal fog. We sat on the plane. Two passengers used their cellphones to rent cars or get SB Airbus reservations and they were gone in 60 seconds.

A customer service guy came on, and his charm lasted about the same amount of time. But he did have some good news: the pilot was going to take us back to SB. There was a 95 percent chance that this time we were going to land. On the other hand, he said, if we didn't land he'd fly on to San Francisco and put us on a (6 hour) bus back to SB from there.

I was having my usual dark thoughts about United right then. There was no way they could do anything flexible like land at Santa Maria and put us on a 60 minute bus back to SB. There was no way they could do anything nonpunitive like say let's try a second time and then we'll take you back here for a bus from LA. There was no way they could actually commit themselves and say we'll get in this time, let's go, period. 95 percent sounded like a fake number, and we'd already failed to land when everyone assumed the odds were 100 percent.

So who else got off? Here we are at the counter:

There were two sisters in their 30s whom I'd noticed in the airport bar because of their non-identical matching jeans, boots, tattoos, and walking-around impatience that was equal to ours. One told us she had a friend who worked at the SB airport and the fog had rolled in again. We got up and followed the Blackberry twin. Two Brits sitting next to us got off too; they were doing a documentary for the Discovery channel on brain evolution - obviously had to go a long way to find any evidence for it - had just come from Australia, had discovered United had lost one of their equipment bags, had an 8 am UCSB shoot about the topic, and couldn't still be on the bus from SB having breakfast in Pismo Beach when the time rolled around. Finally, a German woman visiting her uncle came with us too - all the long haul folks, the SB twins having come from some fashion shoot in New York.

I sat in the back of the supershuttle with the twins. We crawled up the westside 405 for an hour or so. Welcome to LA I said to the middle row, British and German, who sooner or later managed to fall asleep. Avery tried every once in a while to get the semi-deaf shuttle driver to agree to stop at the Radisson but he never would. Looks like he's using his disability as an excuse to give us rock-bottom service, I said to the twins. Does he work for United? The one sitting next to me laughed and smacked me. Looking around past Sunset I said it's great to have a whole new audience for the comment I always make after coming back from Europe: in a 100 miles stretch through some of the richest areas in the world, you can't find a single building you'd want to look at. - The Bonaventure, the other twin suggested? - that's downtown, doesn't count! And on we went like that, with stories of war movies, restaurants that opened and closed, and what it was like to grow up in Santa Barbara and have to leave.

It's nice to be back in Santa Barbara, since I don't expect more from it than the mountains and the ocean and my friends. I hope to see them soon. The sun comes in the yellow kitchen in the back of the house, and shines in the breakfast room all day long. I looked around remembering what it was like when we first bought it, and how Mrs. Cavaletto spent most of her time in the breakfast room because of the light. Avery has all our stuff out of the garage and back in the house in two hours or so. I spend the morning getting the old cars going again. Gas price booms has made one of our junkers valuable. Triple A asks me what color is it, I say can't tell any more. Tow truck driver says, now it's a "gas saver," you should hang onto this. On the second day we drove back to LA, to the 24th St theater downtown were Avery gave a talk at our friend David Lloyd's play reading. We were back up here by midnight again. Spring has started - the pear trees have already gone from blossom to leaf. The trick will be to stay happy with the things that really are here.


SurferGirl said...

Welcome back! ;)

Monique said...

When did you go to Paris??

And late-winter/early-spring flights are my favorite, since they're rarely even half-booked :)