Into the Orange Sherbet Sky
My family didn’t do glamour. Although my mother was always fashionable, things like fancy parties, dressing up, and style didn’t mean anything to my parents. They did, however, do curiosity, adventure, and travel. Both were self-employed, cool but not self-consciously so, my father a tattooed artist in raggedy jeans, my mother a psychotherapist in colorful, compelling jewelry. They made things, helped people, drank coffee, watched arthouse movies, and traveled, always traveled—or at least talked about it.
I came to understand my parents’ love of travel on the first flight I ever took without them. A friend of mine had moved to Los Angeles, and when I was 11, my parents drove my younger brother and me to JFK and put us on a plane to visit him over Christmas break.
I don’t remember a teary goodbye at the gate. It was the 1970s, and parenting was much looser than it is now, which, when combined with my parents being all about exploration and separation, meant that the family just didn’t operate like that. My brother and I were expected to do things, be out in the world, consume everything there was to offer, and then come back to talk about it.
I also don’t remember the flight attendants paying special attention to us, and no one gave us wings or invited us into the cockpit.
This is all to say that on the surface there was nothing especially unique or life-changing about our departure, and that for most involved it was just like any other day.
It’s just that it wasn’t. Not for me.
People dressed up for flights back then, like they were attending a benefit or a Broadway show. They wore suits and nice dresses, hats, perfume, and jewelry. The food was plentiful and hot, and the passengers talked, swilled drinks, watched movies, and smoked cigarettes; the airplane filled with a mixture of smoke and joy for the entirety of our flight. This may all have been normal for the other passengers, but for me it was electric, a real-time moveable feast full of pinging energy and the promise of excitement and discovery. It was like entering an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, gaining access to an exclusive party saturated in joy and escape.
Stepping off of the plane at LAX was no less exotic. Everyone was tan, willowy, and blond. The heat, swirling and shimmery, rose from the tarmac like a mirage. The airport restaurant coolly beckoned us as it rotated high above. The palm trees languorously swayed under a liquid, orange sherbet sky.
I would go back to Los Angeles many times after this first journey west, dressing up for flights and reveling in the countless discoveries that came with every trip: watching the first runs of Blade Runner and The Decline of Western Civilization; stumbling into Carrie and The Catcher in the Rye; losing myself in the Getty Museum; dining on dim sum, though I avoided the fried chicken claws; savoring the awesome freak show that was, and is, Venice Beach; and experiencing the stomach-dropping terror of riding what was then the biggest roller coaster in the world, at Knott’s Berry Farm.
Will it come as a surprise, then, that I sought work that included air travel? Or that I’ve been to 48 of 50 states over the last 20 years, mostly for business, and almost always by plane?
I don’t really dress up for flights these days, and no one smokes on planes anymore, but when fellow work travelers tell me they are tired of the endless flights, airports, and hotels, of the packing and being away from their own beds, I tell them I honestly can’t relate. To this day, I love the idea of visiting places both known and yet to be known, and the most exciting part of any trip remains choosing the right clothes as I pack my bags, and picking out the books, work, and snacks that will accompany me as I escape earthbound matters, head into the sky, and rejoin the never-ending moveable feast known as taking flight.