Shameless plug: if you desire to travel, explore, & meet new people, work for an airline. Stop thinking about it & just do it.
Saturday afternoon while getting ready for Blue, I started thinking about my weekend & the time I would have off. Now that the new bid at work has come out, both of my work schedules are synced up -- which means that I get three days off per week. I started pondering about adventures that I could take in one day, & decided to take a little trip to the west coast to visit Los Angeles on Sunday. Before Sunday, I had never been to that region of California, but the direct flight option that was available from Springs was too good to pass up. My flight departed at 7:05 A.M. (which oddly felt like sleeping in since the new bid came out) & my return flight arrived back in Springs at 10:30 P.M. I had every intention of hiking to the Hollywood sign, eating at In 'n Out Burger & Pink's Hot Dogs, & taking a nice nap on the beach... but the day totally got away from me.
Debbie was working the gate when I checked in. Wearing my street clothes & having the various crew members recognize me by name in front of other passengers was an odd sensation -- I felt slightly like a celebrity, or some rich snob who could travel for fun. The truth is, I'm simply an airline employee who makes minimum wage & takes full advantage of the travel benefits. The moment I am in the sky & I can hear the wheels being tucked back into the belly of the plane is my greatest satisfaction when leisure traveling. That sound harnesses my gratitude for having such an incredible job & fills me with expectant joy for the adventure that awaits when I land.
The best part about morning flights is the complimentary Dutch caramel waffle in-flight snack. Some days, I wake up craving them... sad, but true. I sat next to an older gentleman, Jim, on the way to Los Angeles who was traveling for work. He had served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force & was now fulfilling contract work for them as a mechanic. We conversed for the duration of the flight wile admiring the views flying over the Rockies, San Juans, Monitor, & Sierra Nevada mountain ranges. The flight landed two minutes early at LAX & I took the shuttle to pickup my Thrifty rental vehicle. I selected a grey Nissan Versa, rolled the windows down, & turned up the music. That thing was a little spitfire, I loved it. It was only missing one thing... note to self: upgrade to a sunroof for the next California trip.
I frequently complain about the drivers here in Colorado, but sweet goodness, Los Angeles drivers have got to be the worst in the entire country. They never used blinkers & they never followed the speed limit signs, which made me grateful that I had paid the optional $11 insurance coverage. And never in my life had I ever seen so many luxury vehicles & sports cars. Range Rover's, Ferrari's, Audi's, BMW's, Mercedes Benz's, they were everywhere. I saw very few "normal" cars. Most notable about the drive through Los Angeles was the number of movie billboards at practically every intersection. I see movie advertisements strictly online or through television commercials, so I was pretty awestruck to see these giant, flashy billboards advertising the latest work of Hollywood greats. I should also mention that there was a Walking Dead billboard, which almost made me crash into the curb while trying to take a picture. I need a chauffeur for these trips.
Seeing the Hollywood sign was my top priority for this trip. I used the All Trails app to locate the trailhead for what I thought would lead me to the Hollywood sign. Friends had warned me about trusting internet maps to find the sign, because the locals are allegedly so tired of the tourists that they've intentionally altered the maps. Since I was using a hiking app, I thought I had outsmarted the locals. HA. I caught glimpses of the iconic sign as I drove to Griffith Park & shook my head in disbelief that I was actually in LA. I parked the car, changed into my hiking clothes, & hit the trail, realizing pretty quickly that hiking at sea-level was awesome. I love me some fourteeners, but it was a nice change to be able to breathe while walking uphill. About one mile into the hike, I looked at the navigation map & realized I had missed a turn somewhere along the way. None of the trails were marked, which made for a very long, difficult journey. I was able to find the "turn" I had missed, which I really couldn't tell whether it was a real trail or not. But I took it anyway. Fun fact: not a real trail. In no time, I was climbing up the side of this mountain through sand & dirt, following in the footsteps of those who had gone before me. Imagine Red Rock Canyon Open Space on steroids with zero signage. I later learned that Griffith Park is home to over 200 miles of trails, which would explain how I got so lost.
The "trail" to the Hollywood sign
Hiking in unfamiliar territory was such a mind game! I had no idea where I was going & the trails weren't marked at all, so I relied strictly on where I felt was the right direction, After climbing the side of the mountain, I reached a point where the mountain opened up & everything was clear -- I thought for sure I had finally reached the pinnacle of the trip. Nope, not at all, but it did provide a beautiful view of Los Angeles. Families, couples, & solo hikers sat on top of the hill & admired the fruits of their hiking labor. I enjoyed it for just a moment, because I was beginning to feel anxious about whether I would find the sign or not.
At this point, I saw a couple who looked like locals & asked them about the trail to the Hollywood sign. They said I had to go past the Observatory, & that it was at least another two miles. This had me calculating my return trip to the car, coupled with the time of day, coupled with my list of other activities I wanted to accomplish. We engaged in small talk & they asked where I was from. Turns out, they want to retire in Colorado, so I gave them my email in case they ever made a trip to scout out the area. We shook hands & I continued on the trail, thinking that I could certainly make it in time if I really hustled. The trail continued winding through timeless views of the city & lush green, rolling hills. I could see the Observatory in the distance, but it looked much farther than two miles. I kept walking anyway. And then a fork in the road... as in, an actual road. I had reached a parking lot with a map -- finally, a map!!! -- but I was so far off from where I needed to be. The map detailed how to reach the Hollywood sign trail from the Observatory, but I was out of time at this point. I later learned that the original trail I started on would lead me to the sign, but the total distance was 15 miles. No, thank you, maybe next time.
We went to the Observatory together, which is famous for the James Dean film Rebel Without a Cause (I had to look it up on YouTube). Sure enough, the Observatory that I visited was the same one from the movie, so that was rad! Hoards of people were on the grounds, including a group of Purdue students. Naturally, I said, "Boiler up!" & took their photograph. I wish I would have taken a photo with my own camera -- something I will work on for future travels.
The Observatory was really beautiful, but the visit felt very rushed. My lingering anxiety about wanting to see everything on my original itinerary only increased my pace -- I didn't take the time to really soak in the history or the views of the city. Next time, I told myself. Next time I will spend more time here. Looking back through my photographs, I can tell that I was rushed, because my compositions weren't 100% right (I'm sure no one else will notice, but that's not the point). Lesson learned: wherever you are, whatever you are experiencing, be all there. Don't stress about the time, just immerse yourself in the environment, the sounds, the smells, & the people. Be all in.
I really wanted to eat on the beach, but I knew the shuttles to the airport would take longer than usual to get to the terminals because of the protests surrounding President Trump's Executive Order & the media circus that isn't disclosing accurate information. I returned my Versa & waited a few minutes for the shuttle. The majority of the customers had been waiting for nearly an hour & were quite vocal about their dissatisfaction -- to which I kept my opinion to myself. The drivers can't help the influx of traffic at the airport. Within 15 minutes, the shuttle had returned & prepared to load the passengers on board. I noticed a group of three struggling with their eight pieces of luggage & offered to help them. They had amazing British accents! I learned they had been in the U.S. for an entire month exploring the western half of the country -- I was so proud of them! They went on & on about how friendly everyone was & how much they want to come back soon. Made my heart swell with some serious American pride.
And then the actual drive to the airport... took over an hour for the shuttle to take its routine three mile trip to the terminals. While waiting in traffic, many of the passengers got off the bus early & opted to walk, for fear that they would miss their flights. I was watching the clock & making my own calculations, agreeing with myself that I would get off the bus no later than 6:15 P.M. to allow myself ample time through security. My terminal, of course, was the very last stop for the bus. The gate for my departure? Also the very last gate at the end of the concourse. The load of Brits made it to Terminal 1 & thanked me for helping them with their luggage (legit, the cutest people of all time). The driver, Greg, was assisting them with their bags when two passengers approached the bus from the terminal. They had been waiting for the shuttle for over an hour -- & were incredibly rude. A bus full of passengers who may not make their flights, & these two people wanted to argue about how long they'd been waiting. Well guys, it's a Sunday night at LAX & there's a huge protest happening -- stuff isn't going to run on time. The worst bumper to bumper traffic I had ever seen.
Sitting on the bus in the standstill traffic was making me crazy, so I asked the driver if he would please let me off early, to which he obliged. Thankfully, I was still wearing my hiking clothes, so I literally ran through protestors, other passengers, & vehicles making my way to the counter. At one point I heard a "thud" & wondered if it was something from my bag hitting the ground. I almost kept running, but I heard someone say, "Miss, you dropped your wallet!" Good thing I turned around! There on the sidewalk was my red wallet. Thank you, kind stranger! I wore my backpack as a "front pack" for the rest of my run through the crowds to ensure I wouldn't drop any more valuables.
The line at security moved quite quickly, so I caught my breath while waiting in line. No issues at TSA, so I continued on to my gate, where I could hear my name being called for a seat assignment. One thing to note here is that non-rev travelers have a dress code requirement... and I was still in tank top & shorts, tattoos hanging out. I approached the podium to check-in, & the agent, Julie, said, "Nothing you have on right now is appropriate for flying." Still catching my breath, I told her that I had every intention of changing my clothes beforehand, but the shuttles were late due to the protests. I was so frazzled & out of breath, it was embarrassing. I had turned in to one of those disgruntled passengers that I frequently write about in Terminal Tales. She gave me my boarding pass & I headed for the bathroom to change my clothes & freshen up so I didn't smell like trails & sweat. When all was said & done, I even had time to purchase a shot glass for my destination collection.
Sunday still feels completely unreal to me. I look at the photographs, I read through my notes from the day, & I can't help but be overwhelmed by the experience. The day was a complete whirlwind, a total adventure that fueled even more curiosity about the world. In my time of reflection on the trip to Los Angeles, I learned that I need to slow down & enjoy every detail, no matter how big or how small, that I encounter. To accept that my plans aren't perfect & that my plans will change. That my plans should be more of a guideline than an unwavering task. So I didn't get on the right trail to get as close as I wanted to the Hollywood sign... big woop. I still made a generous hike. I still saw the sign & made a friend along the way. Los Angeles, even through its hustle & bustle, taught me that I need to slow down & savor the experience, wherever I am, whatever I'm doing. To be fully present in any moment.
What's next for Megan? Three days exploring Redwood National & State Parks,
Megan Elizabeth is a storyteller based in Kalispell, Montana. Take a peek at her blog & portfolio, drop her a line, & follow her story on Facebook & Instagram.