On Friday afternoon we got a call from Viv's brother Tim to let us know he and his family would be laying over in L.A. on Saturday for a few hours on their way back to Irian Jaya. Since Viv gets to see him on the average of every four years or so, we decided to make an event of it. It's no fun hanging out in an airport terminal for five hours, so Viv and I decided to get a room at the Marriott at LAX, thus providing them with a comfortable place to bivouac, and us with a spontaneous one-night vacation.
We opted for an upgraded room on the Concierge Level to take advantage of the nicer amenities and the Concierge Lounge (free hors d'oeuvres and breakfast). This put us on the 18th floor facing west. If you know the layout of LAX you know that Century Blvd., hotel row, cuts through the middle of the airport, running parallel with the runways, two of 'em on the north side and two of 'em on the south. So there I was at 200 feet, to my left were runways 25L and 25R. To my right were runways 24L and 24R. Being Mr. Flyboy, I wore a headset, and my trusty scanner (with all the right frequencies punched in) was hung on my belt. It was like butter. From jumbo jets to commuter aircraft, they all made their approaches from behind me and rolled out on both sides, tires smoking, turbines spooling down, pilots scooping up commands from the tower and reading them back like consummate professionals. Order, speed, precision, three-dimensional anticipation -- the sublime ballet that is a major airport knocks my socks off every time.
They came up to the room a little after 4pm and we sat and chatted for an hour or so. Ben and Kristi behaved better than you might expect for a couple of pre-teens who've spent most of their lives in the Indonesian jungle. Amy got the chance to meet her cousins, wrestle her uncle with them, and make the initial contact with these relatives who I hope will be able to have more frequent contact with us in the future.
We went downstairs for their last American meal. The seven of us chatted some more, about places we'd live if we could live anywhere, travel, the details of work, and food. Kristi spent most of this time in the restroom. Arlene, her mom, explained that it was a fascination with the ameities of the bathrooms of civilization, which, one hopes, is true. If this behavior were observed by aliens who knew nothing of the principles involved, they'd probably suspect an eating disorder. Her brother Ben got up from the table every so often to check on her. Very nice-brotherly.
After the meal we went back up to the room where the traveling family freshened up for their flight to Bali via Singapore and Taipei. They've traveled extensively. Tim's company, a mining megalith, offers generous perks to keep its personnel happy in the face of these lengthy stays in the jungle, and they've certainly taken advantage of them. We spent the remainder of the evening listening to the kids tell us about their favorite stays, which have been in Africa where their contact with the native fauna has been thrillingly intimate and comic.
Soon it was time for them to head back to the terminal to catch their 1:30am flight. They gathered their carry-ons, the most precious of which was Kristi's, a large case full of her own native fauna -- dozens and dozens of Beanie Babies. That's all. Just Beanie Babies.
Viv and Amy went to bed soon after that, but I stayed up, tuned in to the tower, and enjoyed the ship movements of the sky. Viv stirred a bit around 1:30, and in a whisper I asked if she'd like to watch her brother's takeoff. I unplugged the headset and we sat there in the dark, listening and watching as a jumbo jet carried her brother and his far-flung family off to the other side of the planet.
* * * * * * *
Events like these, sudden serendipities, always throw perspective onto what I'm doing with my life. Pulling into my driveway again on my little cul-de-sac, the act of coming home was the little movie, the short clip that runs on the loop in my head when I think about how different our lives are from those of Tim's family. That comfort of knowing where you are, the ease and relief that comes from being home at last is the same for them as it is for us, despite the surroundings. Exotica is relative. I'm thinking about how wonderful it will be for those kids to be able to share the stories of their childhoods with others, and how curious and interested people will be in them because their experience is so unusual. At first consideration, a part of me wishes I could provide my family with such adventure. But then, experience isn't what happens to you, it's what you do with what happens, and that realization puts me at ease again, knowing that the act of pulling into one's own driveway, no matter where it is, is happy-making for any kid any age anywhere.
"The Grid" -- Philip Glass -- KOYAANISQATSI: ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK
Wisdom of the Day:
"You can observe a lot just by watching."
- Yogi Berra