Sorry for taking this long to get online folks. But I’m on the ground in the US and moving eastwards, so read on.
The best laid plans and airports… what can I say? After the recent tragedy in Spain, the last thing you want to hear before take-off is that technicians are looking into an engine problem that is preventing take-off. Which is exactly what happenend on Heathrow and which delayed my flight by well over two hours. Apparently they fixed it properly though, since we made it to LAX without a hitch and five hours later I was standing on the pavement of the LA airport.
The difference between LAX and Heathrow couldn’t be bigger as western world airports go. London Heathrow (as well as Amsterdam Schiphol, where I started my trip) is a rich, sprawling lounge of endless luxury stores and espresso bars in modern architecture. You’re waiting, but it feels like a day at a luxury mall where you really don’t mind spending some time. LAX on the other hand, at least the part I ended up in, looks like it was built somewhere in the 70’s or 80’s and pretty much nothing changed since then. A crowded jumble of makeshift solutions, barely coping with the massive traffic being pushed through it. It probably didn’t help that my delayed flight arrived outside of its timeslot, but there was little fun to be had on this airport. It took well over three hours to get through customs, luggage pickup and a final security check.
Another marked difference is in staffing and their approach of the travelers. Where Heathrow has zounds of automated systems and clear voiceovers directing the flow of travel, LAX seems to rely on security personnel herding the masses through the system with barely audible speakers crackling service messages into the crowds. At both airports, I almost got into trouble when shooting some pictures near customs. For some reason, taking pictures of the security area isn’t allowed but in London, after taking quite a few pictures, a gentleman walked up to me and asked me in a friendly voice to refrain from photographing security and to please move along so he wouldn’t have to keep watching me. He then proceeded back to his station and patiently watched me take some more pictures (not of security, obviously). At LAX, I nearly got my camera taken away from me from an armed security guard, who was on me before I could even take the lens cap off. The main reason I wanted to take a picture at all was to be able to contrast it with Heathrow, but the text will have to do as you understand.
Apart from that, security was actually fairly light, I found. No padding down, no drug dogs, no questions about the equipment I was carrying and pretty much the same treatment for all the people around me. I guess the terrorist threat has cooled down and the war on drugs is over.
Anyway, LA. Picking up a car was an interesting experience. You basically pick out a car, any car, that falls into the category you reserved. A compact in my case. All of the cars sit on in a huge parking lot, all with the keys sticking out the driver’s door. No camera’s, no security, just lots and lots of cars with the keys in them. Since the area designated as ‘compact’ was empty, I talked to some staff and they told me I just got ‘upgraded’. I got a choice of some gas-guzzling battleships and even thirstier sports models. The Pontiac hard top convertible with a powerful 8-cilinder engine did look tempting, but considering the amount of fuel it would take to get to Washington, I decided on a nice Toyota Avalon, which was still quite a boost up from the Chevy Cobalt I would have been driving otherwise. The woman helping me seemed to think all this was a good thing and proclaimed “we’re giving away everything today” with a broad smile, but I had economy on my mind.
I picked up a cheap mobile for $9,95, stocked up at a 7-Eleven and proceeded to drive out of the city, towards the south. ‘Out of the city’ being a relative term considering that LA just seems to go on and on forever. I ended up in an inn in the harbour area, after getting a few stunning views of the city from the top of some very high bridges. The amount of light LA is putting out, even in industrial and relatively uninhabited areas is incredible. From the top of these bridges, as far as the eye could see, everything radiates a harsh yellow glow. Impressive though and if it wouldn’t have been suicide to stop at the top, I would have taken a picture to prove it. I guess satellite imagery of the US at night tells pretty much the same story though.