When I was little, maybe one or two, we used to fly up to Sacramento to visit my grandma. That was back in the day, when you could still show up minutes before your departure time, frantically check in your luggage and make a mad dash for the gate (Dad tells me there used to be a commercial with OJ Simpson running through the airport, leaping over people and sprinting to the airplane — so I guess we weren’t the only ones).
Apparently, I would giggle the entire way — I thought it was a game — oblivious to my parents’ panic as we rushed through the terminal, me bouncing up and down in my dad’s arms laughing like a crazy person. Somehow, we always made it in the nick of time, finding our seats moments before the doors closed and the plane transported us to Sacramento.
I finally understand what mom and dad must have felt. Only, now I’m almost 25 years old (I have a quarter life crisis pencilled in for this fall), and there are a lot more obstacles between the check-in counter and plane then there were when I was a kid: computer kiosks for printing tickets, the baggage drop-off, a winding hallway through ongoing construction, long lines before the security check where the prospective traveler — it’s all tentative at this point — must remove jackets and scarves and shoes and laptops and place them in plastic white tubs on a conveyor belt, and then proceed through beeping metal detectors (and in some cases, whirring full-body scanners), re-collect all personal belongings and shove them haphazardly back into their respective compartments, and then head to the gate, where fellow anxious passengers are waiting listlessly for the voice over the overhead speakers to announce their turn to board.
I don’t know what I was thinking, but for some reason, I didn’t plan nearly enough time to make it to the airport and check in. For Jet Blue flights, you’re supposed to arrive no later than 30 minutes before the departure time. I got to the check in counter…at exactly 29 minutes before my flight was scheduled for take off. Of course, the last time I flew out of Long Beach Airport, it was nearly deserted.
I hadn’t anticipated that there would be a massive line just to get into the security check area. Everyone around me (yes, I eavesdrop from time to time) seemed to have the same sentiments. “This airport is always empty.” “I fly out of here because there’s never anyone here.” “If I had known…” Yeah, me too.
I was still outside the sad excuse for a gate (seriously, Long Beach Airport is under renovation, so they’re using those portable buildings they used to use for additional classrooms when I was in grade school) when a garbled announcement for my flight came over the intercom. I think the combination of the panicked pleading and deer-in-the headlines look on my face made people feel sorry for me, so they mercifully let me cut to the front of the security check. As luck would have it, there were still about 25 people still to board when I reached the end of the line.
I was still shaking with adrenaline when I squeezed into the middle seat of the last row of the plane. I tried to slow down my breathing as I settled in, tray stowed, purse tucked under the seat in front of me, seatbelt securely fastened, phone rebelliously on “flight mode” instead of turned off. I was thankful I had no other carry-on luggage with which to wrestle into an overpacked overhead compartment.
The woman to my left shifted uneasily, her thighs — we’ll call her muscular — uncomfortably nestled against mine. I closed my eyes and tried to pretend I wasn’t being elbowed every time she sought a more suitable sitting position. She had a black-dyed, edgy haircut, blotchy skin, thick hands, a large hooked nose, and she breathed laboriously like a heavy smoker with a bad case of sleep apnea, only she was wide awake.
The olive-skinned gentleman on my right wrote a cryptic message on each of the business cards in his seemingly random supply strewn across his tray table. His receding hairline offset by hair cropped close to the scalp, he had a strong nose and a salt and pepper beard. He opened and shut the window shield twice during our hour flight, and dispensed with three complimentary bags of King Nut Fancy Nut Mix. I think I might have stolen what was intended as his fourth, but he remained unperturbed.
After waiting an hour at the rental car hub, driving into Sacramento, and unpacking my things at my aunt’s house, I found myself at Insight Coffee Roasters. I knew I had found the right place when I spotted a hipster couple — skinny jean-wearing guy with scraggly blond hair and equally scraggly beard and maxi-skirted girl — discussing literature outside at the wooden spool turned table. Four blue plastic chairs faced the street on the curb at the corner of 8th and S St, occupied by an older set of gentlemen. The exact mix of clientele I expected at a place known for “good coffee.”
I ordered my requisite latte and settled down in the theater style folding seat in front of a large window with a long wooden shelf, facing the street, back to the coffee bar. Behind the bar were various glass coffee contraptions arranged like lab instruments, wrought iron coffee filter-holding cones, and an iPad register. A high table, already occupied, with fully-rotating wooden stools of various heights, a large wooden art piece hung with thick chains, and a comfy looking worn leather couch completed the industrial look of the concrete and brick space. On the walls, black and white photos and acrylic paintings displaying the underwhelming talents of local artists.
Behind the shiny copper espresso machine, a pretty barista with mocha skin and half-shaved pony-tailed curly hair wearing a mustard knit sweater and matching Keds made my latte. The cafe was quiet save for the jazz track on the sound system and the click of laptop keyboards. I pulled out my journal and sipped my latte — smooth, substantial, sweet — and watched the tree shadows shimmer across my page.
I looked out the window at a recently yarn-bombed lamp post, a graffiti’d stop sign, rust-red brick building, vacant fenced lots and foam-colored warehouses — not the Sacramento of my childhood.