I flew out of Gold Coast Airport on Friday, October 12, 2012, at 10.30am. Destination: Los Angeles. The first coherent passage of the notepad I kept during the almost three month trip refers to a Time Magazine article I was apparently reading on the plane. In it Ilan Halevi, a Jewish Palestinian Liberation Organisation member who lived in Israel during the hijackings, bombings and assassinations of the 1960s and ‘70s, said: “Because we took up arms, we were in a position to put them down with credibility.” I’m not sure if it occurred to me at the time, but now it seems odd but perhaps not inconceivable that a Jew could or would be a member of the PLO – which I imagine would be mostly made up of Muslims or at least non-Jews. Apparently the situation around Israel is more complicated, at least in that one regard, than I knew. I also noted that Yasser Arafat as PLO chairman during the same period “came to the UN with a gun in one hand and olive branch in the other”.
After landing in Auckland at about 4.30pm local time for a connecting flight scheduled at 7.40pm, the landscape around the city, as viewed from the airport, seemed a lot more dramatic than any of Australia’s. Heavily forested mountains rose abruptly from calm waters and gently rolling hillsides. A standard serving of sushi for dinner featured 10 small rolls, while a serving back home would be more likely to include four or six. I put this down to an assumed greater Maori appetite for meat. The airport’s smoking area felt like a cross between a prison guard tower and a prison itself. It was on the roof, and its view featured the rest of the roof, air conditioning units, chain link fences, barbed wire and other stony faced smokers getting their pre-flight nicotine fixes. Four cigarettes and two Johnnie Red and Cokes later and I was waiting at gate eight. I requested a double Scotch and Coke in the plane. The stewardess asked: “Red or black?”
“Red or black?” I questioned right back like a mirror.
“Yes, red or black Johnnie?”
“Oh, sorry. Red please.”
“Don’t worry, questioning almost over. Would you like ice?”
The sun set completely behind clouds below me and into the Tasman Sea as I sipped my drink and enjoyed reading about lies and accusations of lies and untruthful accusations of lies from both sides of American politics in Time. The lead up to the November 6 election, in which Barack Obama would be re-elected for four more years, was in semi-full-swing. I hoped to time my visit to Washington DC with the election aftermath. But I never made it to that famous power city on the Potomac River, due to unexpected affairs of the heart. And I still may never journey there.
I felt more happy being myself than I ever had. Because no-one else was, is or could ever possibly be me. How lucky I thought myself to be able to do this; not as a soldier being sent to fight misunderstood people in forbidding, faraway lands but as a peaceful traveller seeking naught but pleasure and knowledge. I couldn’t sleep on the flight, so spent my time watching movies, listening to music and reading. Watched a strange film I’d never even heard of called Hemingway and Gellhorn, featuring Clive Owen as Ernest Hemingway and Nicole Kidman as Hemingway’s wife and journalist Martha Gellhorn. Also watched The Amazing Spiderman and that Community comedy series. Accidentally woke up a young Maori woman to my left by stepping on her foot, while trying to get my own back under the blanket. That was the closest I came to causing an international incident without even having left Australasia. I’d never seen anything like LAX – Los Angeles International Airport. Standing outside waiting for the number three bus to Venice Beach, I sent myself dizzy watching the freakish merry-go-round – or carousel if you prefer – of coaches, buses, shuttles, taxis and myriad private vehicles constantly driving past and stopping at arrivals. After a coffee and mineral water helped me compose my jet-lagged self, I gave up on the number three and hailed a friendly cab driver to whisk me to a funky little hostel in the heart of Venice. The first walk along the Venice boardwalk is probably comparable to how future astronauts might feel stepping from their spaceship onto an alien world and immediately amid its truly otherworldly inhabitants. It’s the best free freak show in the world. Except if you’re a visitor it’s going to cost you somewhere between thousands of dollars jet fuel or a few bucks petrol. And if you’re a local – chances are you’re one of the freaks. And I never made it to Hollywood. Probably as many freaks there, just wearing more expensive clothes and jewellery. Art everywhere. Biggest thing I noticed straight up, in comparison to Australia. There’s art on the ground, on and in the buildings, on the people and everything they own. Everywhere except the sky. Seagulls are enormous over there (and in the UK). They looked like large albatrosses, cross-bred with common pigeons.
I still that first afternoon in the United States hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast on the plane. God knows what my first LA meal was though; I didn’t write it down. I did enjoy a “Golden Chaos” beer, which from memory contained about 12% alcohol. I sat at the Candle Cafe and Grill in the autumn sunshine enjoying clichéd scenery that even featured guys walking around with surfboards under their arms – even though there were no waves to be seen. The Doors, the Californication TV series, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Baywatch – it was reminiscent of them all and more. And less. The cafe sat overlooking a little oasis of palm trees jutting out into the wide beach. It was difficult to tell the difference between locals and tourists. Even those who didn’t appear to be happy at least seemed to be pretending. It was like a stroll across La La Land’s beach while the sun had not yet set over the Pacific could not reasonably inspire anything but pleasant thoughts. The LAPD arrived in the form of one black and one white officer, and strode toward the oasis where an apparently excessive glut of freaks in all colours, shapes and sizes had congregated. One of them, the freaks, complained “this is a police state!” while one of his comrades was handcuffed. A pair of Samoan toddlers – one wearing a tie-die t-shirt – rolled south on scooters, and their mother wandered after them. A cartoonish black man wearing a universe of multicoloured clothing slid past on custom made roller-blades, while strumming an endless ode to the City of Angels on his electric-guitar.