In March 2003, the LA Weekly newspaper sent me to Los Angeles so I could perform at the gala opening of "Kaante," a truly awful Indian film. I've never had so much fun in my life. It was the first time I'd been in a plane. My first trip south of New England. And the first time people had invested a lot of money to watch me do a pseudo-impersonation of a popular Indian starlet from the '60s. The last time too, incidentally.
While I was there I kept a journal, which I've barely glanced through since. Just thinking about the trip was enough to make my heart feel like it was going to melt. Now that sufficient time has passed -- and my ache for LA has subsided to a dull sob -- I have an urge to post it online. Maybe because my life right now is so boring, and it's the one truly spontaneous and exciting thing I've done in my life. Or maybe because I can't think of anything to say at the moment.
So here's part one: My Fabulous Los Angeles Vacation. Let the wide-eyed naivete be revealed!
March 12, 7:00am
The airport employees are about as pleasant as anyone paid to hunt terrorists at 6am. The custom official may have actually said "get your ass in," but I was too busy being nervous to be sure. To any future first-time travellers my advice is: know where to find your pen. And telling a frustrated woman with a buzzing metal prod that this is your "first time" doesn't cut any ice.
Even through my gummy eyes I can tell that the Toronto terminal is big. The Orlando flight has removed most of the children, but two manic, half-human monsters delight in crawling underneath me as their father takes pictures. I can't tell whether the parents are patient or stupid, and my drag queen intuition tells me they're patient. But drag queen intuition is often wrong.
The mysterious, rapid-fire lyrics of "Mera Naam Chin-Chin Chu" fight for recognition in my brain. I have butterflies about performing, the kind of butterflies that suck your face off in the Congo. Three hours of sleep has left me looking like I have tuberculosis.
There is a momentary tussle outside the gate. There is some question as to the identity of the pilots, who have boarded without giving their names. The women who don't have bobbed hair all have ponytails.
More than anything else I am looking forward to sleep. Sleep seems almost possible, given the right sort of seat without a child under it. Not for the last time I think of the joys of home: a purring cat, a quiet room, a controlled and calming bubble that appeals to my neurotic "never been on a plane" personality. But fun, excitement, and opportunity are not things that come often in a bubble. I feel like a fresh-water fish dropped into the Pacific ocean, but determined not to explode, or whatever fish do in the wrong type of water. I can't ask my own fish about it because he's at home with some sort of parasite on his gills.
Two antagonistic sisters engage me in a brief and vitriolic debate about smoking. One tells a story about standing in an LA bathroom and listening to several women discussing their augmented breasts. Being hicks, we all find this an apalling cliche that shouldn't happen in real life. I hope to see this for myself after having a long sleep.
No matter what I am prepared. I have gum.
On the Plane
The pilot speaks as though ice was invented in Toronto. This is not true, as the Inuit dealt with it first. We just put it on planes. Giant mechanical dinosaurs with spotlight eyes spray something on our wings, to frighten the children.
I have a lot of time to think before takeoff. When we first stated moving I got excited, but by now we've navigated most of the area around Toronto in a convoluted labyrinthian path. It's a larger version of the lineup at customs, without the velvet ropes, and it seems like the end of the line is moving away faster than we can approach. I'm convinced the pilot is driving around like this because he's bored. After an extended period of just rolling around, the announcement that we have 13 minutes left is greeted with groans, but gives me time to...find my gum!
The plane itself is, judging by the interacting oscillations of the fans and engines, a Brian Eno model. Eno would have even thrown in the yelling children, though he probably would have added echo.
The instructional video has an amusing shot of a cheerful businessmen puffing on the tubes of his life-vest like a gratified stoner, no doubt about to drop head-first into the middle of the ocean. I have oceans on the brain and I'm not even flying over one.
In the Air
Well, "whoosh" pretty much describes it, and the somewhat unreal image of the world has disappeared. We're all alone up here in "the friendly skies," except for the other passengers who are -- so far -- friendly At least nobody is hitting anybody. It's my hope that I can spend the entire trip without seeing anybody fight, which is why I'm not watching the news.
Being at 28,000 (?) feet isn't nearly as disturbing as being in a ferris wheel. I'm absolutely terrified of heights, but only if I can imagine falling from them, or, more specifically, hanging above them off some unstable precipice. But hanging off the wing of this airplane is just not feasible. I can't imagine it. I doubt it's going to happen.
I'm reminded of all the pop songs about airplanes, and -- thanks to Laurie Anderson -- the avant-garde ones as well. In deference to her I make sure my tray table is in its upright "locked" position.
We arrive at Chicago O'Hare and people are moving. Due to the uncredited Inuit invention of ice our plane is almost an hour late. Some of the passengers have certainly missed their next flight, but a few of us -- including myself and a woman I'll call "Misty" -- have exactly 8 minutes to run from one end of the airport to the other. O'Hare is a big place. I have no idea what the consequences will be for missing this plane. We run.
Misty is a sensible, professional businesswoman in her late 30s, and she's also very funny. She claims that she has missed more connecting flights than che can count, and even takes a sort of karmic blame for our late arrival.
As we dodge slowpokes who "stand on the left" and spend absolutely no time enjoying the neon borealis leading from our terminal, it's obvious that even though Misty's got spunk she's a bit of a liability. She has short legs and her rolling suitcase is holding us back. But I can't ditch her because she knows more about airports than I do, and her sense of direction is impeccable. After she darts off to her own gate I really turn on the jets, getting a sense of the size of airports, this one in particular. People laugh at me as I run. The man at Gate 15 laughs at me too, and says "Oh, it already left."
Gasp! What happened next? Stay tuned...