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It was about the time I began critiquing the fashion choices of our fellow passengers in the Long Beach Airport I realized I had reached my limit for what the brain could tolerate on “vacation.” Completely mean-spirited, I was watching the passers-by stuck in the same predicament as me, crammed like cattle waiting for their damned flight crew to arrive so their plane could take off, now three-and-a-half hours late. “That woman should never wear stretch pants,” I spewed in my head. “She looks like a naked mole rat rolled in purple icing.” I’d turn in another direction, only to face someone else worthy of my skewering. “Jesus Christ, dude. Have a little dignity. Leave the acid wash at home in the bins,” I’d scowl.

But this was just an indication of the fragility of my own mind since I am a great slob myself, rarely bothering to put my clothes together in any discernibly fashionable way. I am, in general, sympathetic to my fellow American slobs. Sometimes it can just be too much bother to put on clothes that look more interesting than thrift store cast-offs, when one knows that the outfit’s only future is one with spots of ketchup and paint splatters on it.

We had endured an amazing number of obstacles to what anyone might call “fun,” and we were now stuck in Long Beach, in one of the most dismal little airports I’ve ever seen, trying to get home. We had already spent the morning in Los Angeles fighting a cloudburst of epic proportions and forging through rivers of water making their way to  LA’s inadequate sewer system to get to the Museum of Natural History. We were soaked, grumpy and hungry when we got in the doors of the museum where we discovered there is no restaurant. We took one look at the T. Rex just past the door and turned around to ford L.A.’s new rivers again, looking for crappy food in a crummy part of town.

We returned to the museum, ever mindful of our flight a few hours hence. We carved a neat path through the exhibits and it was enjoyable enough, but we were happy to get our soggy asses to the airport, the first step in our trip back home. We arrived with a picture-perfect finish at the airport, just enough time to pick up a magazine and get on the plane.

This is a small airport. It was built in the 1950′s and perhaps updated most recently in the late 80′s or early 90′s. It has a grungy institutional lack of charm, made worse by its lack of amenities. So when we arrived, thrilled at our speedy dodging through L.A. rush hour traffic, we were dismayed that we would be spending a rather long stretch here. Ours was the only delayed flight in the whole damned airport.

When we checked a bag (a decision based solely upon our unwillingness to drag our bags, along with our son, through the airport for our long delay), my husband asked if there was anywhere to wait it out. “You could either go to your gate–which is basically a big room–or the restaurant.” That was it.

Restaurant it is! We parked ourselves in the booth and whiled away the time as best we could; eventually we could no longer tolerate the nice but useless waitress or drink more beer and get thrown out for public drunkenness or cited for child endangerment: our son was flopping into the aisle, and we needed to remove him before he tripped someone and sent food raining down on his head. So despite having several more hours to wait, we gave up our plush digs in the ugly paneled restaurant and opted to go to the big room.

Big room is right. At the entrance there was a “bar,” separated from the main room with a barrier rope; they apparently couldn’t be bothered with walls. Two of its four seats were occupied by bozos hitting on the female bartender. At the other corner of the room was a snack bar, similar to what one might find in the lobby of a hospital, with blue plush bears no-one wants and bags of popcorn and licorice, some aspirin and bottles of water. We found seats in the remarkably quiet room in front of the only other amenity, the magazine kiosk, manned by a pimply overweight young man who looked ready to kill himself. There were four gates and rows upon rows of Trailways-era institutional seating. That was it.

But at least it was empty, and our son could burn off a little extra energy by climbing the seats and running through the aisles. Which was fine, but only good for so long. So we gave him our phones to play with. That palled after a while, so we went to the bathroom. A brief distraction, but at least we got to see what the toilets looked like.

The only art in the whole airport was hung between the men’s and women’s restrooms, a fitting place. My husband encouraged me to look at it, and since I wasn’t encumbered by distractions, I walked up to it.

It struck my husband and I both with foreboding and curiosity about the artist’s intent. A rank, yellow sky hangs in the background, the Washington Monument shooting up violently behind a single skeletal tree, while two children flee in the foreground. Or is one fleeing the other in terror? Their backs are turned to the viewer, making the observer a party to the action, either pursuing, which is creepy, or being pursued, which is creepier. A girl is looking over her shoulder to see if the threat is gaining upon her. A plane shoots diagonally overhead, its vapor trail leaving the viewer wondering if it were the culprit in making the sky yellow, a villain leaving behind clouds of mustard gas or sulphurous evil intent.

It did not soothe the uneasy traveler into a sense of calm about their impending journey. And it didn’t matter that upon further examination I discovered the kids were not fleeing but ice-skating; it remained jarring merely by its composition. The artist pulled a fast one, even if they themselves didn’t know it. They had a lark at the expense of poor hapless purchasers of bland institutional art.

My husband took a photo he was so charmed.

Meanwhile, the room was filling up. The passengers were all similarly travel-frumpy, most recently having come from Disneyland and god knows what horrors there. Most of them were dressed in Classic American Tourist: pale shapeless blue jeans or Dockers for the gents, often with a cell phone clip on their belt. A well worn t-shirt from some other tourist destination they visited long ago, now soft and faded from washing, or a shirt with sequins, glitter or some unholy combination of the two. An impossible number of stretch pants under too-large t-shirts, a look I sported when I was 15 and promptly retired realizing that no-one wants to look at a sad-sack Olivia Newton-John facsimile. Sandals, though it was not warm. There were perms.

And there were more and more of them coming. Our son was being squeezed into smaller areas of territory, and like a cheetah losing habitat he was becoming more brave and more ornery: climbing up and over the bucket seats right next to whoever was there, placing an unwelcome foot dangerously close to a pissed commuter; sitting on the tables bolted between them and twitching and fidgeting, throwing elbows out too close to grumpy seatmates; distracting people from their only respite: reading People magazine or looking at their phones.

Our plane was now four hours late. The natives were getting restless. There was a sense of static electricity in the room as people swapped stories and bonded over their stranding; I overheard conversations full of intimate details of other failed vacations between complete strangers who had become their new best friends in the dreary Long Beach Airport. Parents were desperate to keep their children from exciting a riot, which in this fevered climate would not be too difficult.

Like streaming tides of wildebeests the stranded passengers began to crowd towards the gate. Had someone seen something? Did someone spot the crew? The collective had spoken, and all passengers uniformly wove their way to where our plane was supposed to have departed, so long ago. We too followed, a rash decision as we had staked out our territorial claim early on. To leave it was a hopeful, but ultimately senseless act of optimism.

The wildebeests had not seen the crew, nor gleaned some greater intelligence about our flights status; the airline, choosing wisely to placate the beasts with symbolic gifts had left out water and soda and some bags of fodder in the form of mini pretzels and cashews. The herd had gone to the wallow, and we, proper dupes that we are, had given up our prime section of grassland for an utterly craptastic booby prize.

I don’t know if we cheered when the crew arrived, or simply tasted blood in our mouths from the anxiety and waiting. I know that when we finally got on the plane our son was running on fumes and nervous excitement. We were relieved that the plane would lull him to sleep, the drone of the engines knocking him out like a sedative.

Alas, that is not our son. He’s a perpetual motion machine, always enraptured by anything new. So while our fellow wildebeests slept, we were stuck with a playful calf, jumping into the aisles and jostling the flight crew, playing peek-a-boo with the toddler seated behind him. He would have been cute had everyone around us not been trying to sleep.

Predictably, just as the plane was descending toward our blessed Portland home, our son passed out cold, the fatigue overcoming him in the last ten minutes in the air. Our journey not quite complete despite our tantalizing proximity to home, we now had to get our checked luggage and a dead weight through the airport past midnight, to curbside and a taxi.

We struggled in the aisle with our belongings, the other wildebeests laughing at our impossible task: our son was so asleep that we couldn’t pull his coat on, couldn’t move him, couldn’t figure out how to negotiate this last obstacle to free ourselves from the belly of the plane. With no small amount of help from the herd, we somehow stumbled free.

It is some sort of divine joke when you’ve reached this point and step off the plane into a completely deserted concourse only to discover that you are at the very furthest end of it. Unlike Long Beach Airport which is the size of a gymnasium and just as unattractive, this concourse was long. But if adversity is the mother of invention, I discovered my willingness to travel by wheelchair. With my son weighing a metric ton in my arms, and my husband burdened with carry-on, I sat down in the first airport wheelchair I saw, right at the end of the ramp leading off the plane.

Wildebeests laughed and applauded but then raced to the luggage carousel: whoever got their luggage first got the first taxi, too. Realizing the desperate race had begun in earnest, my husband, a wheeled bag in one hand and another across his shoulder, our son’s car seat wedged between his body and the handles of the wheelchair, began to push the wheelchair as fast as he could. I was buried in heavy child, trying to keep his limbs from getting caught in the wheels as he flopped around. My husband found it so ridiculous that despite carrying two bags, a car seat and 170 pounds of human cargo he took out his camera to document our final journey down the long hallway home.

 

We’re back now and we made it in one piece. Even though we did not beat the clock for our luggage, and no kindly soul offered us to cut in line for a taxi, despite it being 22 degrees and carrying a boy utterly insensate to the bitter elements, we were finally ushered into a cab where Rasputin himself was at the wheel. It was a fitting end.

Since then we’ve got scanners which nuke us, TSA rubdown services, and the still-hygienically dubious shoeless security check, not to mention all the other unpleasantries left over from both failed and successful terrorist attacks.

And we just booked our flight to Hawaii.

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QUENBY MOONE used to be a graphic designer who wrote once in a while. After her father came down with a touch of Stage IV prostate cancer, she became a writer who did graphic design once in a while.

She's written a book called Living in Twilight (no relation to vampires - unless dying of cancer is a part of Edward's story) in which her design skills came in handy, and includes some of her stories featured on The Nervous Breakdown.

31 responses to “Going on Safari With the Wildebeests of Long Beach”

  1. Art Edwards says:

    I can only get excited about clothes-buying as thrift stores. It has something to do with the fact that they’ve been discarded once.

    Great piece, Quenby.

    Art

    • Quenby Moone says:

      My husband had a friend who, when asked what he was wearing, said, “Old dead guy’s clothes.” That just about sums ‘er up.

      You look so sober and serious in your Gravitar! I can’t believe this is the same person I met in the Blue Monk the other week! I wouldn’t read with this guy on a bet; he looks like he could write the pants off of anyone.

      I’m glad I met you before I saw this quite wonderful but intimidatingly classy picture.

      • Art Edwards says:

        “Old dead-guy clothes.” Yes! That’s me.

        Look how sober and serious I am! Barrel of laughs, that guy. “Sir, what do you think of the Molly soliloquy at the end of Ulysses?” He could probably tell you.

        I have a new picture, but I was waiting for the right time. Maybe you just prompted me.

  2. Irene Zion says:

    Quenby,

    I see the painting differently.
    I see that the girl is smiling as she runs from her friend, playing.
    The other people in the painting seem to just be standing around.
    I don’t see any threat.

    Traveling sucks.
    I want them to perfect “beaming.”
    I want to beam to where I’m going and beam back.
    Scientists should get their act together and start working on it!

    • Quenby Moone says:

      Irene, I love you! You, with your remarkable “outsider art eye” would find a special affinity with this painting!

      There is no threat in the picture, but if you just wander up to it in the airport, it’s easy enough for the over-taxed mind to find the threat. (Scroll up to the picture but block the skates and squint; there is most definitely an air of the chase and the girl’s expression is murky.

      Plus, the sky is yellow. YELLOW, Irene. The only place the sky is ever yellow is in apocalyptic prophecies with things like raining frogs and rivers running black with blood. I’m just sayin.’)

      Traveling sucks! You remember when we used to look forward to getting swizzle sticks from TWA and they served coffee in real porcelain mugs? I have a ton of swizzle sticks my grandma collected from years and years of travel. No way she would have had the stamina under current conditions.

      • Irene Zion says:

        Quenby,

        I think your traveling, which is totally sucky at all times, influenced your view of the painting.
        Totally understandable.

  3. dwoz says:

    I’m looking at the posture of the rear-most skater. It looks like someone running. That figure wearing figure skates has never skated.

    Regardless, he’s certainly not a Capitals fan.

    Artist’s intent: Skating away, skating away-hey, skating away, on the thin ice of the new orange alert?

    • Quenby Moone says:

      That kid most definitely never put on a skate in his life. I’m not sure about the girl either, but at least her jacket matches the apocalyptic sky. Orange alert, orange jacket. I’m going to color-code all my clothes according to the terrorist threat level.

      I’m going to have to buy a whole new wardrobe.

  4. This was a familiar scene. We all need to do what it takes to avoid descending into madness during our unwanted hours in transit.

    What a strange painting… I don’t even know what to feel about it. It just confuses me.

  5. Simon Smithson says:

    I kind of enjoy traveling, actually, for the most part. Which isn’t to say that beaming wouldn’t be fun. And less draining. Maybe it’s because I so often travel solo; suddenly I’m the captain of a ship of one, zooming from A to B with only that goal in mind.

    That being said, when travel sours, it sours into purgatory and there is nothing worse in the entire world until you have leprosy.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      I used to enjoy traveling. Now I see it as a torture one must endure before being rewarded with whatever is waiting on the other side. One must hope that it’s a pretty big reward.

      Maybe it’s the difference of having a child to haul with the baggage through security. Explaining to a six-year-old why he has to take his shoes off to walk through a security gate raises the security measures to new heights of absurdity, and you realize that the terrorists actually won. We actually missed our flight out of Denver in October because of “security.”

      The only thing that was secured was our ire.

  6. Gloria says:

    Ugh. Stuck in an airport with a child – especially a high strung, intelligent, easily distracted child. I don’t envy it, but you guys made it through. Good luck in Hawaii? I just booked a ticket to Austin and if I get the full body treatment, I really hope I’m menstruating. I want it to be uncomfortable for everyone – not just me.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      Oooh. That is absolutely beautiful in a gross, completely inappropriate way.

      My mother has gotten pulled aside during security checks, all 4’11 of her. Now, I’ll admit that the fumes of booze leaching from her pores might raise a flag, but she’s pickled because flying gives her the terrors and she couldn’t get on any other way.

      I would think they would realize she wasn’t armed with anything more harmful than a headache, though.

  7. Zara Potts says:

    Oh Quenby! Airports can be the best of places and the worst of places.
    I agree with you about the painting – it is very threatening!
    Airports are a lot better now than they used to be. I remember back in the eighties it was like every airport in New Zealand had hired Liberace to do the designing. Horrible, horrible garish carpets and awful colours. None of it was designed to relax the traveller. It never made sense to me.
    I’m a nervous traveller and as such, I have splurged on an airline membership card which gives me access to relaxing lounges with free alcohol and good food and even showers. I can’t tell you how much better airport waits have become for me since I did that!
    Ugh. Delayed flights are the worst.
    Although, the one word in this story that really terrified me was: Perms.

  8. Quenby Moone says:

    I’m glad you see what I see in the painting! Irene was making me doubt my apocalyptic vision! Whew. Vindicated.

    Perms. Oh my.

    I think this airport is probably Liberace era, but without the Liberace budget. So instead of gaudy carpeting it has vinyl industrial seating and linoleum floors. They’re both eye-searing in their way.

    I will have to look into this exclusivity of which your speak! That sounds like Valhalla in the middle of hell! If we had the option of hiding in our own private sneaky zone we probably wouldn’t have wanted to tear our eyes out after hours in LGB.

  9. Matt says:

    I find something very “Cold War”-ish about that painting. Like that airplane ripping through the chemical yellow sky had originally been painted as a fighter and then later modified by the artist for the sake of sellability.

    …and then there’s the fact that the boy is chasing the girl towards a huge, fully erect phallic symbol…the mind boggles!

    I tend to actually enjoy traveling, though like Simon I’m pretty easy-going about it. I flew cross-country once with a girlfriend who was emphatically not easy-going at all, and more or less made the entire trip a struggle. Can’t even imagine what it’d be like traveling with a child…and I’m now REALLY glad she and I didn’t have a kid together!

    • Quenby Moone says:

      Your phallic analysis is beautiful! I love it. Of course she’s running towards a giant penis! Don’t we all? And the jet, there’s something menacing about it, and your Cold War vision might just explain it.

      “I know,” says the designer of bland institutional art, “we have all these cast-off posters from the Cold War but since the Berlin Wall came down, things just haven’t been the same. Let’s throw a couple of kids in there over the people fleeing for their lives and make the fighter look like a passenger plane and we’ll sell them to airports nationwide. No-one will even notice! It’s like printing our own money!”

      I’m going to send you all my strange finds for interpretation from now on, Matt!

      • Matt says:

        I seriously think we might be on to something here. The Berlin Wall could easily have been painted in where that row of trees is.

        I also find it really creepy that the boy’s face is completely concealed by his scarf and sweater. Nothing about his posture suggests anything remotely approaching the benign.

        And that sky is a color that no sky in nature has EVER been! It’s the color of human urine. What the fuck?

        • Quenby Moone says:

          That kid in the scarf in one of the most disturbing parts of the picture. No matter how you look at him, whether he’s chasing or fleeing, it’s menacing.

          And again, are we the pursuers? Or are we being pursued? Are we a part of the mob violence?

          I seriously wish I could find this poster and hang it on my wall next to the one I showed David —^ up there. They’d be perfect companion pieces.

          Acid yellow sky. The only place a sky looks like that is when the bomb drops or Rapture.

        • Matt says:

          That poster you showed David is so awesome that I had to save a JPG and set it as my iPhone wallpaper. It’s like something out of Brazil.

          Seriously, this entire image is just a riot of semiotic confusion.

        • Quenby Moone says:

          There was a whole campaign of “Secure Beneath the Watchful Eyes” featuring these unbelievably paranoid eyeballs staring down upon hapless consumers of public transportation, but this one takes the cake. We have all four, I believe, but we got this one framed and stuck it in our stairwell so it could stare down menacingly on all our house guests.

          So you can see how much I would like to find this one and hang it beside the Watchful Eyes. It would be like the paranoid security state collection. I love shit like this!

          The EYES couldn’t really make a better iPhone desktop since there’s something so weird about iPhone’s! I mean, I couldn’t function without mine, but I recognize something sinister in the Big Brother thing Apple has going for it.

  10. D.R. Haney says:

    One of the few good things about being at an airport, for me at least, is that it allows for observation of a wider range of people than almost anywhere else I know. For instance, living on the east side of Los Angeles, I almost never come into contact with west-side types, and there’s a distinct difference. Yet there they are, at LAX, along with a good many other types I never see: people of all ages, ethnicities, occupations, and income brackets, except for the very poor, and I’m very familiar with the poor already, being one of them.

    It used to be said by European friends that they could always spot Americans at airports by how poorly they’re dressed, but I wonder if American influence has now crept its way into European styles. I wouldn’t be one to ask, since I don’t scrutinize clothes; I tend to focus on faces and let the rest kind of sink in unconsciously. I take it that’s not the norm. Meanwhile, I don’t know how so many people make the observations they do, since I rarely catch them take in strangers. I’m constantly staring at strangers, I’m afraid, which makes for a lot of awkwardness. The supposition seems to be that staring always has to do with sex or some sinister motive (including sex, if you’re not a desirable applicant), but I’m simply curious, and sometimes I’m met with a fleeting glance that more or less says, “Would you please stop looking at me?” But here I think I’m returning to our exchange about paranoia some weeks past.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      I don’t know to what I owe the honor of such a thoughtful comment but I’ll take it!

      I’m an inveterate starer. I learned at my father’s knee, who was an artist and took it as both a necessity and a right to stare. Luckily, nobody shot his eye out; I guess if you have a sketch book in your hands much of the time it’s like wearing a shield. Since most people think artists are both kind of unsavory and kind of magical, they must just think staring is a part of the eccentric package.

      And I suppose staring has served me well. I have an uncanny sense about people much of the time, probably from staring at so many of them. It used to serve me in the function of being a junior high school counselor for all my dumb-ass friends since I had no other desirable features (being slightly dorky and without boobs), but now it allows me to capture a bit of the flavor of the details that make up the panoply of human foibles.

      I remember dressing up to fly places. I would put on my cutest shoes and my favorite dress to get on the plane to go to grandma’s; now people practically show up in their fuzzy bedroom slippers at the airport. The first time I ever noticed “Juicy” couture clothing was at the airport because some girl’s ass was emblazoned with “Juicy” in nice fat gang tat lettering across her velour sweatpants. I couldn’t believe it, and when I realized later that I had witnessed “fashion” I was glad that basically my fashion sense is one of distant scorn.

      Must be part of the critical staring all the time.

      Anyway, yes, the airports are one last arena where we all come together, and I suppose you’re right that I should appreciate it on those points. It’s sort of the modern souk. But the Long Beach airport was, on that particular day, not a melting pot on internationalism, but a squirming mass of overweight tourists wearing Dockers.

      But that’s just the grouch talking, since I was, and in fact often am, a tourist right along with everyone else.

      • D.R. Haney says:

        American life will make a grouch out of anyone. In fact, I’ve slowly been putting together a piece so grouchy that I’ve been nervous about posting it, though I may bite the bullet in a few minutes.

        A sketchbook may amount to a shield for inveterate starers, but a camera is decidedly not. The surest way to freak out a stranger, I’ve learned, particularly in the U.S., is to point a camera anywhere in his or her direction. A book like Robert Frank’s Americans could probably never be amassed nowadays.

        I don’t think that staring has given me an uncanny sense of people. I used to posses such a sense, but it’s been permanently damaged, though I’m not sure of the cause. Possibly it’s solitude, or possibly it’s too much exposure to technology, or maybe it’s some combination of the two. They do tend to go hand in hand.

  11. Ah man, I just returned from a very long road trip with my nine-year-old and my two-year-old (also of perpetual motion), and we had a moment similar to this at a Chili’s in Stringtown, Oklahoma where we’d stopped to give the little one a break from the oh-so-objectionable confines of her seat. They sat us in the bar, and I too was disgruntled enough to critique the other customers. “I’ve never seen so many children in camouflage in all my life!” or “It’s twenty degrees outside and she has on bejeweled platform flip-flops!” I think I was wearing a sweatshirt and jeans, so … yeah. I *still* envy your trip via airplane! Although the last time I did that with Chloe there was a crap explosion which required a change of clothes for more than just Chloe (which were in the *checked* luggage, of course).

    • Quenby Moone says:

      Oh, yes. I know the camo critique intimately! My brother and I barreling across the country together in October in an SUV through Idaho, Utah and Colorado brought it all back to me. I believe we took pictures of a gun range billboard in Utah which, if memory serves, read “The Only Range in UTAH with Automatic Machine Guns.”

      I realized that we were HOME.

      And what is it with the high-heeled flip-flops? It’s like some sort of short hand for aspirations of trashiness.

      My brother and I sat in an Outback Steakhouse in Grand Junction having basically these same revelations. And Outback was completely urban compared to most of the restaurants we had visited. This is something I’ve thought about before: every time I take a road trip, the truth of the urban-rural divide comes home to me like a bolt of lightning and I realize I really am the elitist snob they think I am.

      It’s always pretty damned unsettling.

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