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Kiss a Palm Tree, Take an Aspirin and Hop a Flight

August 02, 2000|CHRIS ERSKINE

Next time you go to LAX, don't forget that the American Airlines flights are spread across two terminals, not one, and that if you wind up at the wrong terminal and wait in line 20 minutes for the skycap to check your luggage and then find out that no, you're supposed to be at the other terminal! remember that it's a 10-minute walk back to the correct terminal with the kids and six big pieces of luggage, a 10-minute walk along a sidewalk next to shuttle buses and limos and cars with confused drivers straining to read the tiny signs and muttering under their breath that next time they're going to fly out of Burbank, even though Burbank is usually a little more expensive. Or walk. Even though it takes longer, they'll just walk to Reno or Orlando or Guadalajara. Because it has to be better than this.

"How much farther?" your kid will ask as you trudge to the right terminal.

"Twenty miles," you'll say, and not be bluffing much.

Next time you go to LAX, remember that it's always under construction, like Disneyland or Cher's face, one of those never-ending multimillion-dollar projects that go on and on and never quite finish. When the airport construction crews are done, you'll never know what they've accomplished, they'll just move their plywood barricades and their signs to the next project. "SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE" the signs posted on the plywood will say.

Next time you go to LAX, remember that the bridge to the short-term parking garage is on Level 4, and that sometimes you need to go up and across, then down, or down and across then up, and you can get turned around easily, like in a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-driver, round and round you go.

"I'm just totally turned around," a woman standing outside a parking garage elevator says, looking left, looking right, looking up, wondering whether God is watching.

"The terminal is that way," I say.

"Thanks," she says.

Next time you go to LAX, remember that it revolves on its own axis, much like Earth but at a different rate of speed, and that you may enter the parking garage expecting to see your car where you left it and it will be gone and you'll think, "My car has been stolen," and it'll take you 20 seconds to realize that your car is actually in another garage. Which garage, you won't know, but you'll finally realize that you're in the wrong garage.

Next time you go to LAX, remember that there is no swift rail line that reaches there, that for some astonishing reason the Green Line trains run to within a mile, tantalizingly close but not close enough. Instead, there are endless lines of shuttle buses and vans--vehicles that you can never see around. Like cattle, these buses, cattle that roam LAX day and night, day and night, looking for someplace to rest, spewing methane and carbon monoxide, munching on pedestrians who wander in their path. And there are no special lanes for the buses and shuttle vans, so be prepared for a little gridlock. One day, the departure lanes will completely gridlock, when a Hertz shuttle bus locks bumpers with a Hilton shuttle bus, and a SuperShuttle van will rear-end the Hilton bus, causing an Econo van to sideswipe the Hertz bus, thereby completely damming up the road into LAX for several hours. It'll happen in front of the United terminal, at about 5 p.m. on a Friday. Three traffic cops in orange vests will put their hands on their hips and just stare. Dozens of flights will depart empty.

"I wonder what happened to all the passengers?" a flight attendant will ask, then look out the plane's window to see traffic backed up to Fresno.

Next time you go to LAX, remember that the baggage claim carousel could start up at any minute, like the signs warn, only your luggage won't be on it if it does, your luggage will be on some luggage carousel 100 yards away, under a sign from another airline. Or on the way to Guam.

Next time you go to LAX, remember how much you dread the experience even though there are hardly ever any serious weather delays, like in Denver or Dallas, and how bad would the experience be if there were the usual weather problems that most places experience. Blizzards or thunderstorms. Icy runways or tornadoes. Kiss a palm tree and remember that.

Next time you go to LAX, remember that everyone else is in the same mess you are, so don't try to push your way to the skycap or to the front of the line at Java Java or torpedo your body through the X-ray machine. Just don't. No matter how much better it would make you feel.

Next time you go to LAX, remember that the airport is the first thing visitors see. Remember that there are the things we love about Southern California and the things we hate. Smog gets better. Crime rates drop. But at LAX, nothing ever changes.

Next time you go to LAX, take an aspirin first.


Chris Erskine's column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is

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