IT HAPPENED TO ME: An Airport Encounter Forced Me to Reconsider How I Feel About L.A. People

I was expecting the woman in the stiletto boots and matted fur coat to be an obnoxious Los Angeles stereotype. Now I don’t know what to do.
Publish date:
January 23, 2015
Los Angeles, stereotyping, prejudice, L.A.

That woman is so L.A.

Here in the Delta terminal at LAX, waiting to board the 6 a.m. flight to Milwaukee, I watch the personification of my former friends — the lost souls who moved to this city from our Midwestern home that, though they look the same, have morphed into something terrible. Something judgmental and angry and jealous. Something that fractured our friendships and colored my perspective of the L.A. public.

My spot on the cold linoleum floor, far away from the crowded attendant desk, gives me a panoramic view of the stereotype. She’s pacing. Her ankle-high black stiletto boots clack impatiently on the floor as she heads toward the attendant desk yet again. She must be trying to get to first class. In L.A., it seems like someone is always trying to get into first class.

The scent of the hash browns at McDonald's sneaks down the hall and into my nose. I consider getting up. I’m definitely in the market for some McBreakfast, except that’s clearly the call of a burnt brown. I stay and watch Miss L.A.

She looks to be about 45. Not young, but not old by any means. Her blonde hair is bleached to straw, sticking out like hay from a loose bale. I’m sure the hay-hair is right on the heels of “clinging to my youth.” Clack, clack, clack, she marches back to the attendant desk. Oh, great — and now she’s on her phone.

I wonder what business she’s got in my MKE. It’s May, and she’s wearing a matted, white fur coat, blousing out from cinched elastic at the waist. A fur coat? I checked the weather this morning. Wisco is at a balmy 65. Chalk it up to another L.A. trait: Weather intolerance.

The woman lifts her shoulders with the huge breath of someone about to scream. I watch her with stunned anticipation, waiting for her to cause a scene.

There is silence. Then a sob — a strangled, teary sob. Everyone is looking at her. Tears stream down her face. I was expecting her to be obnoxious. Now I don’t know what to do.

The woman heads toward me. I shrink down into my linoleum corner. I want to be invisible right now. Please, please, please, don’t come over to me.

I can hear her quietly tense conversation.

“I can’t do it, Paul. I just can’t do it. What’s going to happen? How am I going to deal with it? I just — I just can’t. I want to come home. I’m coming home.” She sobs once more, tears pouring down her flaming red cheeks, then falls silent. She’s listening to Paul as though a miracle might be in his words.

“No, I don’t think so. Why? Why do I HAVE to?”

She listens again.

“Okay. I know. So when I get there, the car will be coming to get me, and I will put my bags in the trunk, get in and go. I will deal with this.”

I know I shouldn’t stare, but I look right at her. She must be exhausted. So early and so much emotion. This is really tugging on my sympathy.

“Al lright. I’ll try. Bye.”

She hangs up, heads to the seats at the opposite end of the small gate, and slouches down into a chair at the end of the row. Even though she’s hiding her face, I can hear her crying again. Her shoulders are heaving. I think about going to her, but I stop myself from moving.

An attendant walks over to check on her. The woman is hiding her tear-stained face. The attendant sets her hand gently on the woman’s shoulder. They exchange a few quiet words and the attendant heads back to the counter.

The woman continues to cry. I imagine that she needs a hug. I almost go to her.

No, I’m going to head to McDonald's. I know I should talk to her. Every nerve in my body is urging me along. But really, I don’t want to get involved. Is it bad that the first thought I had was that she’s probably going for rehab? I hope I’m not seated near her on the plane. I get up, look away from her, and walk out of the gate.

Who’s L.A. now?