On the Road: Notes from LAX


I was flying to Sydney via Los Angeles and Brisbane, but at the moment it didn’t matter. What mattered was: I was heading out to see the world.

I touched down in LAX via the Greyhound of the West Coast skies, otherwise known as Alaska Airlines. Heading outside, I blinked at the flashing lights of the hotel shuttles and taxis.

It was my favorite time of day—early evening when the sun sets and swarms of passengers arrive for red-eye flights from the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

I watched as people greeted one another after a long journey or said farewell as a journey began. Excited hellos: lower deck. Tearful goodbyes: upper deck. It’s a regular circle of life right here at the airport.

Tips for LAX

1. Understand that LAX is essentially nine distinct airports. Unlike other airports with multiple terminals, LAX keeps it independent. The terminals aren’t connected, and you can only clear security in the terminal from which your flight departs.

2. There is a shuttle that connects the eight airports terminals, but don’t bother waiting for it to swing by. Better to hoof it unless you have a ton of baggage.

3. You can get around on the departures or the arrivals level. Escalators and stairs connect them throughout.

4. Despite what Google Maps tells you, there is not a Baja Fresh restaurant anywhere in the vicinity. Don’t spend 40 minutes schlepping your bags in search of it.

5. Waiting forever on your hotel shuttle? Take a different one. Many LAX hotels are close to one another. You can easily walk from the Embassy Suites to the Four Points, for example, or from the Sheraton to the Radisson.

6. Etiquette for catching free shuttle rides, also known as the bonus shuttle: always tip your driver, and don’t take the bonus shuttle if it’s too crowded.

A tall blonde guy is working over the arriving passengers, soliciting donations for a cause or cult. From the corner of my eye I can see that he’s picked me out as a mark.

I realize why he chooses me: everyone else is scurrying around on a mission, but I’m just standing in place. Not waiting for someone. Not lost. A regular tourist, here to see the sights of the terminal.

Doesn’t everyone appreciate the wonder of LAX? Probably not, so that’s why I’m the victim. “Where are you from?” he says, extending his hand.

I ignore him but he’s prepared. “I come from Europe,” he continues while offering a brochure.

Really, Europe? Last I heard, that’s not a country. I’m not sure what’s worse—the fact that the LAX international terminal is the new grounds for cult recruitment, or that most Americans relate more to the vague concept of Europe than to whatever country he calls home.

“Sorry, not tonight,” I tell him and move on.


Earlier I had coffee at PDX airport, typing away on my laptop in a frantic attempt to stay ahead before commencing the 14-hour flight to Australia. I followed the first coffee with a second. Why not? I knew I’d have a late night.

The flight to LAX is so bumpy that they skip the drink service, apologizing with a meal voucher that’s only valid for the next hour in a terminal I won’t be staying in.

I have no complaints, though. I’m on the road! Choose your adventure, chart your course, and bring your own entertainment.

Later I’m on the Virgin Australia long-haul to Brisbane. This flight is also particularly turbulent. First we’re stuck on the ground for an hour while cargo is shifted around, and then we’re stuck in the air for the better part of two hours in search of smoother altitude. Since the flight was scheduled for an 11pm departure, this means we’re on track for meal service around 2:30am West Coast time.

The flight eventually lands in Brisbane and I clear immigration, heading for the domestic airport and one final connection to Sydney.

I’m wide awake and eager for a new adventure.


Image: Neil

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