Fresh off the plane at LAX and admitted to the USA, I asked the information volunteer in a cherry red suit jacket how he recommended filling a few hours before my next flight, perhaps a little walk I suggested. He recommended a nice hamburger place about a twenty minute walk away, the In and Out, which ‘if you like planes’ is also a good place to watch them. In the spirit of Bill, I decided that this sounded interesting, despite the likelihood that I could not eat their burgers because I am a vegetarian.
I set off in the direction he pointed, and tried to muster the feeling of being in a foreign country, but it felt like Surfer’s Paradise, the landscaping tropical, the infrastructure run down, or vintage, the air heavy with moisture.
I turned on to Sepulveda Blvd and stumbled along in sleep deprived state chewing over whether I was a good traveller or not, glum that I wasn’t inspired yet and my mind still seemed unbroadened. The right side footpath was apparently not the safety side to walk on as traffic roared up behind me. Then a plane flew over so low and overhead I could see it’s underbelly parts, like the segments of an enormous insect. A young bearded man with spectacles was behind a brick fence taking photos of the plane with a digital camera. ‘So cool!’ he grinned at me once the plane had passed. ‘Oh god’, I said, ‘so scary’. ‘But cool too’, I agreed, and left his head prowling behind the fence.
Sure enough, just across the road was the In-N-Out burger place (which my sister has since informed me is ‘legendary in the US’). The logo and colours were cannily similar to McDonalds, as though one of the golden arches had turned on its side, and turned into an arrow. The cars in the drive-through wound around the restaurant like a python squeezing a gazelle’s neck, there must have been twenty cars waiting. I waved to a car and ducked under the cordon and walked in the door. (Waving is my new insurance against forgetting which side the cars are on.)
I ordered ‘fresh cut fries’ ($1.50, $1.63 with tax), and took my tray outside to watch the planes from under a hard plastic umbrella. The fries did seem fresh cut. A man sweeping the concrete asked me how I liked it ‘Maam’. I said ‘Very nice, thank you’. A group of airport border staff piled good naturedly into their black truck. Several real Americans were enjoying their food outside under plastic umbrellas, I noticed one man had a cheese sauce on his fresh cut fries. I enjoyed the ambiance, the fries, the planes, and congratulated myself on having an adventure already, just like Bill, and so soon. Then it got a bit much and I returned to the airport, past a person totally covered in a plastic poncho asleep or watching the planes in a park opposite the In-N-Out, and a run down, unfinished multistory car park.
I checked in to the gate to await my Mexico flight. I’d bought $150US for the purposes of food and entertainment, but unlike Sydney and Auckland, the United Airlines terminal seemed strictly utilitarian, with some sparse stands selling bottled drinks, chips and magazines. I’d expected glamour, so I ate a squash soup at one of two food bars and had a lie down.