Accustomed to gaining a head start, David Lizarraga thinks nothing of beginning this particular work week on a Sunday afternoon.
As president and chief executive of the East Los Angeles Community Union, a Los Angeles nonprofit community development corporation known by its acronym Telacu, Lizarraga is the host of a fund-raising dinner for L.A. Opera at the company-owned restaurant Tamayo.
Between taking occasional jabs at his plate of sizzling carne asada, Lizarraga whispers intimately with his wife, Priscilla, chats up potential donors and then uses a microphone to address the group of 150 about the importance of giving back to their community. He pledges the use of the restaurant on a yearly basis for the fund-raiser and then introduces a current Telacu scholarship recipient whose soprano voice wows the audience.
Suddenly, Lizarraga tears himself out of the beautiful room. He kisses his wife, waves to some attendees and briskly heads for the door. He has a plane to catch. He is late.
Never mind that it is 7:45 p.m. and his red-eye flight to Washington on United Airlines departs at 10:20 p.m.
"I like to be there at least two hours ahead of time," says a hurried Lizarraga, jumping into his black Ford Explorer.
Lizarraga--dressed in his evening garb of black linen shirt, black dress pants and a dressy black blazer--points out his favorite route from the Eastside of Los Angeles to Los Angeles International Airport about 25 miles away.
He dashes on Olympic Boulevard to the 710 Freeway and connects to the 105, coasting along a clear freeway to the Airport Boulevard exit that leads him to Wally Park, a garage where he will drop off his car.
The car attendant, Neil, greets Lizarraga with a familiar smile and asks him if he has everything he needs from his SUV. "You have your cell phone with you?"
He does, and he thanks Neil for asking as he boards the garage's shuttle bus to the airport. He is at LAX Terminal 7 in less than five minutes.
During the quick ride, Lizarraga pulls out a zip-up plastic bag from his black leather briefcase and empties his pockets. Everything goes into the clear plastic bag, including his favorite pen, cell phone, Palm Pilot, jewelry, wallet and some change, and then the bag goes into his briefcase. A few pounds lighter, he is ready to breeze through the airport security scanner with no problem.
"It's all in one Ziploc bag. Now there's nothing in my pockets, except for paper money. I've got everything organized. I have no metal, I have my ID out, I have my ticket. By the time I get there, I have everything I need."
Checking in at the United counter, he says he has no luggage to check. By packing light with apparel that can be mixed and matched, Lizarraga never checks his baggage.
Although he is president of a $150-million company with 1,200 employees, Lizarraga never books anything but coach class. Instead, he uses his frequent-flier miles to get upgraded and usually gets his request.
"Those are the only perks you get. I mean, I would never pay what it costs to go business class or first class. We have a budget. You watch your miles and try to save, especially when you fly as much as I do."
With three people ahead of Lizarraga, his garment bag, roll-on suitcase and briefcase get scanned quickly and he is past the check point in three minutes.
He then immediately retrieves the plastic bag from his briefcase and empties it, replacing the cell phone in his coat pocket, the wallet in his pants, the pen, his ring, his watch.
"You put everything back right away so things are where they belong," Lizarraga says, stepping onto the escalator that leads him to United's Red Carpet Lounge area.
By 8:15 p.m., he is relaxing in the executive lounge filled with other frequent fliers.
"I stay away from the bar," says Lizarraga, nursing a cappuccino instead. He has two hours to spare and seems perfectly content with that.
"Before Sept. 11 you could afford to get [to the airport] an hour before and get on the plane. Now it's two hours at least. Sometimes you move pretty fast, but you never know. You just can't take a chance.
"To be quite honest, because of my features they usually check me closer. I'm Mexican but I look a little Arabic, I suppose, because I have a beard. I don't let none of that bother me. We all want to be safe and we want to be secure, so you just go along with it."
Lizarraga, 60, has been flying for 30 years, racking up more than a million miles on United and American Airlines, he says. He flies three or four times a month, mostly within California but also to the East Coast.
His air travel has not changed since Sept. 11, he says.
"I didn't stop flying. I just didn't feel that I should live in fear. I need to live my life and do what I do. I think the air is very, very safe."
A few changes he has made in packing include using an electric shaver instead of razors and leaving behind the scissors he used to carry to trim his beard.