Scanning people at SJC. Sweaty faces. Hurried footsteps. The man ahead of me in the security line is frantically taking off his belt. There is no security line–and that’s messing us up. No time to extract the one quart ziplocks of three ounce liquids from the rest of the luggage. No time to down that last gulp of water in the bottle. I’m stumbling over my shoes with one hand still trying to shove my ID back into my wallet–thankful, really, that belt-man is holding up the line.
I don’t scan for AEDs at SJC anymore. I already know where they are–a kind of learned instinct, I suppose. Instead I scan faces, make judgements. I’ll bet your cholesterol is high, man in the business suit whose tie is feeling a little too snug. You’re looking a little red in the face and I’m sure you’re a very important international businessman running late for your international business meeting, but don’t you worry, sir, I’m an EMT and I’ll be there in a flash if you start feeling weak and clutch at your chest and just so you know there’s an AED not 200 feet behind me and another coming up ahead. Don’t you worry, sir.
Rattling down highway 405 in a Flyaway shuttle. The scenery bounces past for this mile or so stretch without traffic. I can barely focus my eyes on my iPhone screen, much less hit the right keys as I text my parents that I’ve arrived. Thank God for autocorrect. The shuttle rattles so much that the emergency exit window beside me is almost falling off, a thin sliver of cement highway pulsating between the black rubber linings with each bump in the road.
The hapless driver charges forth, spearing the tank of airport shuttle through openings in traffic. I would trust his experience except he already left the shuttle doors open while trundling around the terminals, oblivious until another Flyaway driver yelled, “DOOR!” as we drove past. He’s listening to something unintelligible on the radio, quietly buzzing beside him as we rattle on down the highway. The rattling sporadically connects the audio to the rest of the shuttle and blasts R&B in neurotic spurts, long enough for me to feel the soul of the singer pouring out but too short to even make out the words.
Lying on my friend’s futon in the dark. The interview’s still nine hours away and I can’t think about anything else, much less sleep. I tell myself to breathe, slow it down, feel the calm creep into my bones. But it’s too early, too early for sleep to set in, even if I do need to be up at seven. I lie there and listen to the sounds of others moving around. Showering. Brushing teeth. Switching off lights. Rolling over in bed. To them it’s another night at home, another night before work or class, another night to fall asleep in.
There’s a strangeness in sleeping in someone else’s home, no matter how wonderfully gracious the host. It’s their home, not yours. I stare at the lighted porch outside, trying to summon parallels to make this place feel familiar. That light is the glow of the street lamp outside my senior year dorm room, I tell myself. It’s that soft glow on the ceiling.
When that doesn’t work, I lie there with my eyes closed, imagining best friends and calming presences in the rooms next door. What makes places feel like home? You carry the voices of the people you trust inside yourself. Let them permeate this unfamiliar space until the strangeness is gone.
Making snap judgements of fellow candidates in the admissions office. Not so much judging as seeking guidance and comfort from our similarities. Girls with purses. I need a purse like that. Leather-bound portfolios. Just like mine. Mismatched pinstripe blazer and plain black slacks. I guess you pulled that off. Minimal makeup. Good, I didn’t under do it.
Chit chat fills our time as we wait for the bus to take us elsewhere. I’m not the quietest one like I would have been a few years ago. But I’m not the loudest one either, crowding the conversation with my voice out of nerves or affable personality. I’m calm. I leave the free coffee untouched.
Touring the campus behind three first year students. One guide in skinny jeans and sweatshirt branded with school pride. One guide in scrubs. One guide in his white coat and slacks, Skullcandy backpack, a pink collared shirt, and sunglasses settled jauntily on the top of his head. It’s this last one that amuses me–he wasn’t assigned to lead the tour, just hopped on like he owned the thing. He smacks on his gum while dispensing advice in his SoCal rhythm–so extroverted, so confident, so likable. One of the others reveals he was an English major who wrote for MTV before matriculating. And glancing at him again, this makes perfect sense.
He went out and purposely bought that pink shirt this morning, he tells us. Just for Valentine’s Day.
Sitting in a French bakery-café, watching all the dutiful boys go by with bouquets from the flower shop next door. They’re sweet arrangements, pink and white and red. Roses interspersed with baby’s breath, all wrapped up in tissue and cellophane.
You can tell which ones are headed for the flower shop by their walk. Head down, purposeful. Checking the street signs to make sure they’re going the right way. Even from across the street, watching them waiting at the crosswalk, I can spot these dutiful boyfriends and husbands fidgeting. Some worried–they forgot to order ahead. They remembered everything else–dry-cleaned the suit, made dinner reservations, bought her the perfect necklace. But some, they forgot it was Valentine’s Day until they got to work and every woman in the office was cooing over bouquets or chocolates or balloons or neon pink pieces of construction paper cut into hearts. These guys would never admit their fault–what man would? Besides, it’s the thought that counts and less is more and all those other clichées that are overused but so, so true.
I watch them parade past, calmed by the bouquet in hand, and for the first time in a while, I don’t loathe Valentine’s Day. It’s adorable, watching them file past this café window. Call it over-marketed, call it a corporate construct, call it a day to make us single people feel inadequate. But damn it’s cute to see so many romantic gestures synchronized to the same sunny afternoon in Westwood.
One last photo of a muggy LA sunset snapped through the window of the Flyaway heading back to LAX.
Goodbye LA. Perhaps I’ll see you again soon.