After being kia ora-ed and welcomed aboard our Heathrow – LAX Air New Zealand flight, a sufficient quantity of time had passed for Adi and me to exchange worried glances and mutterings about how long it would be before we could have a drink. Service, it was announced, would begin mercifully soon afterwards, and we heard the approach of the trolley, its attendants, and their offerings of a merlot-cab blend, a pinot noir, a chardonnay or a sauvignon blanc.
“Would you like some wine, sir?”
I looked at the cabin attendant and smiled. I smiled because I have ‘boy band hair’ circa 2010 – think ‘swept over forehead at a rakish yet somewhat vulnerable angle’. Also because I was wearing a black crew neck T-shirt with a plaid shirt open over it, and was sans make-up or jewellery. I smiled because among the sea of faces and torsos the attendants were politely trying to booze-up and send off to the land of nod, at a glance, I looked very much like a chap. I smiled because gender is a social construct linked to gender norms and expectations and I quite like to subvert these in my own small way, day to day, just by living my life in the way that makes me happy – for ‘happy’, read ‘comfortable’.
“Yes, merlot-cab, please” I said, a fraction of a second before the attendant sputtered “I’m sorry, madam!” with embarrassment and tried to placate my non-existent ire. I waved away the discomfiture and settled in properly to my first ever transatlantic flight.
The flight was long: two episodes of Family Guy; a trashy film, Bad Moms; an excellent film, Goodfellas, which Adi hadn’t seen before (I know, the horror); a little sleep; and a silly film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople –long. Before we flew into the dark, I saw the picture-perfect icy flats and snowy mountains of Canada and felt the scale of the continent to which we were moving unfold beneath me, and I was a little awestruck. By the time the cabin crew were instructed to prepare for landing, the lights of Los Angeles were just beyond the horizon.
It is vast, bright, even from the air you feel its brash dirt and wonderful danger. I never liked the idea of LA that was sold to me. The cheap-looking couture, shiny, expensive, aspirational idea. The clean-living, ersatz, regimented white teeth, fake smile idea. Then I read that women-loving misogynist’s Hank Chinaski’s life in dirty, hard drinking, sun-soaked, piss-stinking LA, and I fell in love (or lust) with the idea of it. Snakes of red and white traffic slithered slowly across the twinkling grid, the black voids of hills and clouds smothering whole sections of the lightscape.
Walking out of LAX, the cool evening air touched our tired faces. The sound and bustle, the emotionless announcements, constantly moving cars, buses, taxis, shouting voices, trundling suitcases were all straight out of Airplane!. Adi asked me what my first impression was, but other than the bumpy-fronted buses, it could have been any airport. The impersonality faded as our taxi sped along the freeway. We were still looking down into the lights, but LA was so much closer, its smells and sounds flowing in through the open windows; fast food, sweet and tangy; billboards, brightly lit and out of context; road signs for movie and TV series locations, but for real; Sacramento writ large above our heads, a place I’ve heard said many times by my friend, who lives there, now just a (long) drive away; and somewhere in the distance the Pacific ocean. As the meter ticked up into the high 40’s we finally descended to street level, Santa Monica. Here the palm trees towered above us and the apartment blocks above them, and we finally came to a stop on 7th Street. We’d explore the next day, look at the ocean, orient ourselves, but for now a shower and sleep were all I wanted.
I said this was my first ever transatlantic flight. This was – is – also my first ever jet lag. I was apprehensive, I’d heard such horror stories, but as someone who enjoys getting gently pissed of an evening it’s no worse than a mild hangover. Except in its tenacity. A hangover you know (except in exceptional circumstances, like when my dear friend Jenny got married and I was a terribly behaved bridesmaid) will go if you just get through the day and then get a good night’s sleep. Jet lag stays with you (like my hangover when my dear friend Jenny got married – two and a half days it lasted) making you drink copious quantities of water and caffeinated libations, eat far more than is strictly necessary and simply long to be horizontal. I’m still battling, but LA’s out there, the seething, bustling, dirty, great mass of it, and I can’t wait to see, smell, taste and experience all (well, not all) of it that I can.