I have admitted before that I am more than happy to play personal limousine. Or chauffeured town car. Or cranky, creaky short bus super shuttle. With at least one day’s notice, I am more than happy to drive friends and family to and from The Airport. I am even open to doing the favor for acquaintances whom I know at least well enough that I am comfortable being alone in the car with them for 20 minutes. A ride to the airport is always “No problem.” In fact, I might even say that I have an odd, maybe sick, pleasure from driving people to and from the airport.
However, if the destination is anywhere else, forget it. I hate driving in LA. I hate the haphazardly designed freeway “system,” as if calling it a “system” means there is some reasonable planning that went behind the decision to not build a direct shot from West LA to Hollywood, or from LA-proper to the 10-freeway. I hate the poorly poured street surfaces that have potholes and crevasses as deep as Joan Rivers five-year-overdue face lift, even though LA hasn’t seen a freeze since the Ice Age. I hate selfish, self-centered, kamikaze drivers. I hate spending 48 minutes looking for parking then taking out a second mortgage to pay for valet. Most of all, I hate traffic. I hate it. Hate. H-A-T-E, abhor traffic.
How about popping over to Beverly Hills for a cupcake and couture-gawking? No, and Sprinkles tastes like frosted cardboard anyway. Want to buzz over to get juicy soup dumplings over in the SGV? No way. Hey, let's do firesweat soon dooboo jigae in K-town. Are you out of your mind? No, not even for firesweat.
Pop over? Buzz? When is driving just one block to Frankie & Johnnie’s, yes I drive oneblockthisisLAduh, for a single slice of cheese pizza just “popping over?!!?”
But when it’s the airport, it’s a whole different sigalert. In fact, the KNX traffic report dissolves into some soft symphonic romantic comedy’s soundtrack with harps and pan-flutes. Hey Sarah, I’m going to Wisconsin for the weekend, do you think…? And before he gets another word out, before he even finishes the sentence, before he can utter the three letters L-A-X...the lighting in the room changes, and my face softens like hers always does through that filter when it’s a solo shot of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. I turn slightly to face southwest, in the general direction of LAX with a faraway, longing look in my eyes. There might even *gasp!* be a tiny twinkle, a shimmering tear, in the corner of my eye.
"Yes," I whisper.
"Yes," I’ll say again.
"Yes!" I cry. "Yes, I’ll take you to the airport!" And suddenly the tiny sparkle that was a tear in my right eye, never mind that my contacts cause my eyes to water, has turned into a flood of joyful emotion, and I’m clutching the cell phone to my heaving bosom as if letting me shuttle him to the airport just sent me clicking my ruby red shoes back to Kansas.
It sounds sick. Twisted. Demented. Maybe even a little pathetic – for anyone else, the drop-off/pick-up favor is a dreaded, time-consuming, inconvenient chore, but for a pitiable food blogger who has nothing better to do, it is a rare chance to “go out,” to have human contact, to enter something into a dismally bleak calendar. Please. Don’t feel sorry for me. I have plenty of opportunities to socialize. I just choose not to take them (most of the time).
I love to "do the airport" because it gives me this strange feeling of empowerment or control. I am not exactly sure what to call it. Even a bit of retribution, though I am not quite sure on whom I am getting revenge. It’s really just a big bravado of cowardice because when it comes down to the final click toward non-refundable ticket, I just can’t. I won’t. I am afraid to fly.
I hadn’t flown for years, but after two very rocky “maybe I can do this” flights at the end of last year, I told myself that unless Tyler Florence is the flight attendant serving Benito’s Nachos and a Xanax and Tonic on the rocks to me and Tony Bourdain in First Class, I would never ever board a plane again. Maybe I’d board a plane, but I'll never leave the ground in it.
Thus, driving through the loop, or taking the “secret” United cross-cut, then quietly exiting onto Century Boulevard, I feel like I can turn around and give a hearty “Fuck you!” to the control tower because they got you trapped in a giant metal deathtube with five-ton wings that don’t flap worth a dime, but they didn’t get me! Ha! I go to the airport all the time, but when I leave the airport, it is never be by air!
I realize, of course, that this is so very sadly irrational, but hey, phobias are never about rationale.
But let’s be serious here. Even having an opportunity to say “hasta!” to LAX, air traffic control, TSA, and every major and minor airline listed on orbitz.com every time I drive a friend to/from the airport doesn’t sound like enough of a reason to be “okay” with it all the time. There are times when the flights are cross-country. And what about those international flights that arrive at a normal hour by Greenwich mean time, but depart LA at 6:30 am? I have to set my alarm clock for 3:30 am along with the alarm on my cel phone and while we’re at it, the alarm on my microwave oven because 3 am is an ungodly waking hour. I roll out of bed, stumble in search of my glasses which have unsurprisingly ended up slightly warped under my pillow because I fell asleep the night before with them on while reading. I mumble something about “truck drivers on the 405 before dawn.” I grumble as I brush my teeth, but since nobody’s looking (because who the hell besides milkmen and paper boys are awake at that hour) I secretly smile through the minty foam.
Because I remember I am going to the airport.
Because I will drop him off at Terminal 3.
Because on my way out, I can drive thru the double decker 24-hour McDonald’s and get an Egg McMuffin.
If I am playing chicken with semis on the 405 on the way down, I need a reward. If I have to sit through unmoving traffic on the way back up the 405 because LA housing is too damned expensive so half the workforce lives in Long Beach, I need nutrition. Egg McMuffin.
It’s a gorgeous thing. The Egg McMuffin breakfast combo is a perfectly transportable, portable breakfast in a bag that hits every major food group: melty, salty, crispy, and of course, coffee. It comes with orange juice, but I have standards. McDonald’s orange juice sucks.
Of course, I ate my Egg McMuffin after I got home. Sick as airport shuttle love may be, I am also a savvy food blogger and didn’t want to miss the photo opp. I peeked inside the wrinkled bag, inhaled that familiar fragrance that I could identify blindfolded – McDonald’s frying oil – but willed myself to buckle the bag into the passenger seat. If I had a carseat, I would have used it. It was everything I could to hold myself back from tearing through the lightly waxed pale yellow paper that had been expertly wrapped so that the corner with “Egg Mc Muffin” would be resting on top, and the three other corners labelled various other breakfast delights would be tucked neatly inside. I could feel the grease weeping out of the hash browns, soaking through four layers of paper onto my passenger seat. It would leave a spot, I’m sure, but I didn’t care. So dirty. So delicious. So bad, it's almost as good as French fries.
I have made my version at home. The Egg McSarah, as I like to call it, but the achievement of the original is in vain. There is no way I could ever replicate the strangely chewy, rubber-like texture of the English muffin. The eggs are perfect circles, so diametrically perfect in shape, with just enough random layering of yellow and white to make it look…natural. And yet, so deliciously fake. Like everything they sell on their menu that follows the formula of protein slapped between gently curvaceous halves of a bun, the McEnglish muffin is so much bigger than the contents it holds: the egg, the vinyl square of cheese that has been scientifically manufactured to melt justsomuch, and that which looks like ham, but do we really know that it really came from a pig? Mine, no, mine will never reach such epic disproportion.
I can only wait until I have to go back to LAX to pick him up.
** a year ago today, i made dinner with garlic, i got sapphires in return **