Catching a 10.15 am flight from Philly on American West (whom I shall never fly again out of principle because they are extremely cheap and do not allow one to ply oneself with their booze for free and charge $5.00 for ear phones), I found myself one seat in front of an orthodox Jewish family with four young, vocal children on their way to Santa Barbara.
Seeing them caused me to remember the time a few years ago when Larry and I dropped my parents off at Newark airport for their return flight home after a visit. Like me, my mother is a nervous passenger and, in the line in front of her at the check-in desk, were four Hasidic Jews. In Northern Ireland, there are no Hasidic Jews and, to people who have never seen them before, they can be very scary. My mother scrutinized them while affecting nonchalance to us as the line moved slowly forward. I know her every gesture and she wasn't listening to a word of my conversation, responding 'yes' to every question I asked her, and her face was glowing and had developed a sheen. Just as we were about to check in the bags, she chaffed at the bit, turned to my father and said, "James, I am not getting on a plane to London with these Arabs. It'll be the end of us."
It didn't matter one iota when I argued they were Jewish and prayed as much if not more than she did, and my twice-uttered insult that she was a bigot was ignored. To her, they were scruffy and dangerous-looking and she did not want to fly with them. In the end, I dragged the bags to the counter while my father calmed her down before the speechless check-in clerk.
In my case, the family was not Hasidic and they were all goodlooking, though curiously only the little girls were burdened with being dressed in painfully old-fashioned clothing. The wife was in her early thirties, English and highly educated judging by her rounded vowels, and I found myself taking many furtive glances at her while I debated myself back and forth as to whether she was wearing the de rigueur wig. (I occupy my mind on minutiae during flights, as well as scrutinize the flight attendants faces for any evidence of surprise or fear during bouts of turbulence and their attendant aircraft lurches, or upon the outbreak of unexpected creakings from within the plane's walls and bowels. My reasoning is, if it's unusual, their faces will register it.) In the end I concluded she was bewigged, because she kept scratching at the hairline on her nape during the flight and I was sure it couldn't be nits, my deduction being spot-on because she put on the little cap thingie which orthodox women wear during our stopover in Phoenix. What was truly remarkable about this family was that they were accompanied by a blonde-tressed Swedish or Danish au pair who had a small tattoo on her back and was dressed as liberally as they were conservatively. Indeed, it was clear her Scandinavian liberalism had already infected the family because their son was sporting a tattoo--admittedly only a transfer--on his forearm and Tati (their word for Daddy) who was clad in a black suit and hat, had obviously allowed it.
The flight would have been perfect had it not been for an outbreak of turbulence (judged excessive at the time of its occurrence, but filed in my mind under 'mild' once my butt was safely on the ground) halfway through the flight coupled with the alternate sighs and muffled squeaks that the aircraft's lurches elicited from one vastly more sensitive passenger--a macho, hirsute gentleman whom one wouldn't annoy if one encountered on a city street--across the aisle from me.
My first aerial view of Los Angeles was highly favorable and I was struck both by the contrast between Philadelphia's landscape of lush, green fields and woods and Los Angeles' crinkled mountains and the sprawling vastness of its grid. More than the distance and five hour duration of the flight, this remarkable contrast in topography viewed from the tiny porthole window of an aircraft was an apt reminder of just how vast is the territory of the United States.
Being practical, I had taken only a small backpack and I was out of the airport in five minutes. Though I had never been to LA before, within minutes I found myself ensconced in a Super Shuttle Taxi on my way to the hotel in West Hollywood...or so I thought. Thirty minutes later, after two complete revolutions of the entire airport's terminals in some mad hunt to fill the van with more victims, I had had enough, objected, and the other passengers chorused their agreement. What should have taken 40 minutes took one-and-a-half hours and I was dropped off last--as punishment for raising said objection, naturally. (Tomorrow, I shall relate further taxi service woes still raw in my mind.)
Anxious to taste West Hollywood, I showered quickly and hit the Santa Monica Blvd where I dropped in on A Different Light, the bookstore where I was to read the following night and went to supper at Hamburger Mary's. I'm a sucker for a good old fashioned hamburgers and this place goes right to the top of my list because it was cooked as requested, loaded with lots of interesting toppings, and accompanied by a huge organic salad (no iceberg or Romaine lettuce here) which worked wonders at extinguishing any guilt.
[technorati: Los Angeles, A Different Light Bookshop, Hasidic Jew, Judaism]