As mentioned else where in this site, my move to El Segundo in 1978 opened a whole new urban world to me. The central satellite to all the 'space age' I was bumping into at the time was the Los Angeles International Airport. With my curiosity and its behemoth shadow covering the area, it didn't take long after my arrival that I made my first detailed visit to LAXland.
All that jet setting I saw on TV, ads, movies and the rest of the media at the time was finally all in front of me in this land and was soaking it all up. The real problem with this soaking business was that I was too young and arrived far too late for the party. Actually, too young AND too geekish to participate. You don't see anybody wearing thick glasses in, say, one of those bachelor lifestyle spreads in Playboy (outside of Woody Allen). But then pretty much everything in that floating castle is all an airbrushed fantasy anyway, but I digress.
It goes without saying that if you're one of those addicted people-watchers, you'll have an o. d. from the circus parade called humanity at the airport. I did my fair share of ease dropping, but I didn't go far as doing the George Carlin thing and play 'spy at the airport;. I was just digging in the scene.
......and the ye old air of the port was buzzing with airlines, a ton of them: Hughes AirWest ('The Big Banana'), Piedmont, PSA (a goofy funky little airline that painted smiles on their plans and employees would wear costumes during holiday flights), Air California, TWA, LTU, World Airways, Pan Am, Transamerica, Western, American, National, SAS, United and so on. With almost each airline, they had their own sky lounge, magazines, catalogs (with their own logos plastered on everything) and, with the bigger names, their own individual terminals. Yup, it was an age of living large with extra leg room.
Connecting between the terminals without the bother of security meant you had to go down that looooong brightly lit thin underground tunnel that felt like eternity, or an echo chamber, whichever surreal moment you found yourself in. I created one of my own with my old Sears portable boom box and a cassette copy of Brian Enos 'Music For Airports'. It could have been worse if I had 'O Superman'.
Another tunnel that offered cheap entertainment was the colored tile walls at the United terminal that connected the main lower lobby to the escalators up to the terminal. I've tripped over the end of the moving sidewalk too many times from staring at the changing colors with idiotic fascination. For a little guy like me, this was as close one will ever get to a experience without drugs. You can actually see the mural and its effect in the opening credits of Jackie Brown.
After awhile, I began to notice that I wasn't the only airport-rat (similar to mallrats, only less welcomed) running around, thanks largely to a baggage cart retrieval system that rewarded you for returning the carts to a rightful station by automatically paying you 25 cents. I did this for a while and got up to an average of $5 per visit, but it was becoming time consuming and I was beginning to feel like the rest of the desperate and broke idiots whom were also fighting over a quarter. So I gave it up and watched those rats increasingly get in serious trouble with airport security.
I also discovered a different breed of airport-rats in places like the Observation Deck at the legendary Theme building and Sandpiper Drive, plane spotters! Even though the deck had coin-operated binoculars, these rats brought their own and almost wore them as glasses to the point that I felt better with my own.
When I felt brave enough, I'd take the shuttle to the West Imperial Terminal (aka The Shack), far south and west of the LAX entrance where smaller airlines like World and Laker Airlines (remember Sir Freddie Laker?!) or any other company that couldn't afford or find space at the major strip. The shack shuttle only ran once an hour and tough turkey turds if you missed the last one home.
I was also beginning to collect pretty much any paper goods from my favorite airlines like magazines, buttons, baggage ID tags, flight schedules, ticket jackets and even stickers for old seating charts. Yup, my collection was getting bigger than my general LAX interest and it was getting sad. But not as sad as my brief spell with stewardess worshiping.
The water fountain
A cartoon of my youth some of which was spent worshiping of the former Space Age water fountain.
The basis of this worshiping phase was anchored by a short-lived TV series that was filmed at LAX called Flying High (left). The show was about the loves and lives of three cute stews and I tried to watch this show as much as possible, though this would compete with bedtime and all. I loved the three leading actresses, Pat Klous, Kathryn Witt and, in her acting debut, Connie 'Please call me, Mz. John Tesh' Sellecca.
Looking back on this and considering how my taste in entertainment has seriously evolved to another universe, I can't believe I was such a sucker for this level of late 70's TV melodrama/comedy/shtick. However, I'm still a proud old Gong Show/Match Game fan, so what the hell am I to be THAT judgmental on myself. I think the seed behind this was originally planted when my stepfather gave a copy of 'Coffee Tea or Me' when I was 14! I didn't read it at the time, but I liked the illustrations a lot and managed to get a copy of the sequel, 'Around the World Diary' and eventually got all three books.
During the time of my visitation period, LAX was just getting started on their remodeling project that would include a second level and a gigantic international terminal that didn't look like a overcrowded shack. As they were peeling off old walls for new ones, I saw shades of the past, like parts of United Airlines before they adapted that Saul Bass designed 'U' logo and a few obscure airlines I never heard of, so obscure that I don't remember them now. Didn't have a camera then, 'cos too many of those visits through x-ray can cause damage to the film AND I wasn't thinking about it at the time.
Soon afterwards, airlines were beginning to buy each other out, proving the old American business commandment, 'If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em'. Pan Am bought National and, much later, Delta bought Western and USAir got PSA. And if THAT weren't enough, the industry was crying like a spoiled baby for deregulation. When they got it, all hell broke loose and 20 years later many of the airline either went out of business or struggling. Easily, the romance was knocked out of my system. It was an end of an era as well as for my LAX days.
Think about all those airlines that begged for deregulation years ago and take a guess how many of them are still around. Sometimes the smell of irony can be stronger than jet fuel.
In the late 90's, The Golding Institute released a series of field recordings from around the globe. The first two of this 'Sounds Of..' series where of American Fast Food Restaurants, San Francisco Adult Bookstores and this, Sounds Of The International Airport Restrooms. This (below) record contains recordings of the said restrooms from such international destinations like Honolulu, South Korea, Australia and, of course, LAX and each copy came with an Esperanto transcription of the narration and a paper toilet seat. Guess you can figure out by now, this is a small elaborate joke and further more into this reality, the Golding Institute is really Gregg Turkington who is also the performer behind the Andy Kaufman-inspired character, Neil Hamburger.