By Greg Brown
“No more complaining about Phoenix traffic,” said Jean, as we idled in darkness on a densely packed Los Angeles freeway. Our move-in mission had ground to a halt. We were here in support of our older son, Hannis. Upon completing graduate studies in New York, he’d recently crossed the country to Phoenix in a rental van crammed with all his belongings.
Two days later he’d set out for L.A., where his shiny new master’s degree in film scoring might best be applied.
“I’ve found a place!” he soon reported. “It’s affordable and near the heart of Hollywood.”
Hannis’ next mission was to move his belongings and furnish his apartment. Volunteering to help, I phoned ahead to inquire about short-term tiedown and rental car availability.
“Better come this weekend,” said the lady at Santa Monica Airport, with some only-in-Hollywood advice. “Next weekend is the Academy Awards.”
Painstakingly we apportioned Hannis’ belongings between his subcompact car and our Flying Carpet. He took the heavy stuff while we topped our backseat and baggage compartment with lightweight clothes and bedding. Hannis’ friends Conor and Megan would bring the larger musical instruments by car the following day.
Hannis embarked on the six-hour drive Thursday morning, and Jean and I took flight just after lunch. Along the way, we peered down at Interstate 10, wondering if our son might see us fly over. Across the Sonoran Desert we soared, past the green Colorado River with its patchwork cloak of irrigated farm fields, beyond the shifting sands west of Blythe, over Palm Springs and through the Banning Pass between mighty San Jacinto and San Gorgonio peaks. From there we sailed a 100-mile sea of rooftops.
Though skies were clear, I’d filed instruments to navigate LA’s complex airspace more easily.
“Traffic ahead of you is a Goodyear Blimp,” said our final SoCal approach controller. “You’re overtaking him, so turn 20 degrees left, radar vectors to join the final approach course.”
There on the hazy edge of the Pacific Ocean perched one-runway Santa Monica Airport. It looked peaceful enough from the air, but the ramp was crowded with jets and turboprops.
“There’s a pro golf tournament at Pacific Palisades,” explained the courteous ramper who greeted our plane. Driving me to the terminal, he told of pampering celebrity golfers and noted hangars of the rich and famous.
Jean and I set out in a rented cargo van on the seemingly short journey to Hannis’ new apartment, but it took us more than an hour to cover the 10 miles. No amount of conditioning prepares outsiders for Los Angeles auto traffic.
“Let’s go to the Ikea store for furniture!” urged Jean when we finally met Hannis at 7 p.m. It was just up the road in Burbank, but traffic was so slow that after one wrong turn we realized that we’d run out of time before the store closed at 9. Turning back, we fretted over Hannis’ latest discovery.
“Funny I didn’t notice before, but I guess apartments here don’t come with refrigerators,” he said.
The next morning we finally made it to Burbank, ordered a fridge and stuffed the van with furniture and household supplies. Proof of our shopping success came at store number three where our credit card was denied. With 20 people waiting behind us, I phoned the bank.
“We get lots of credit card fraud in California,” said the customer service agent. “Are all those purchases really yours?” Reassured, she reactivated the card.
After hauling cumbersome boxes upstairs to Hannis’ abode, we returned the rental van to Santa Monica Airport. That took another two hours. Then we assembled our son’s new bed and soothed our souls at a nearby Indian restaurant. With the heavy lifting done, Los Angeles was finally feeling like fun.
Later that night, Conor and Megan arrived; together on Saturday we cleaned, bolted and hammered to tinny rock music extruded through a laptop computer. Conor and Hannis go way back as high school buddies and then fellow musicians in Lobe, a popular jazz-hip-hop band. Conor was also one of my first-ever Flying Carpet passengers. So as hard as the work was, our company of good friends generated the constructive warmth of an old-time barn raising. By afternoon, we’d settled Hannis’ home for his new life as a Hollywood composer.
To celebrate that evening, the five of us wandered Santa Monica Beach. At sunset, we sampled the Santa Monica Pier carnival’s colorful lights and characters. After riding the rollercoaster and satisfying Megan’s craving for funnel cake, we dined to live music at the 3rd Street Promenade.
“What a weekend,” said Jean when we finally sank into bed that night. “I’m exhausted.”
I was programming an extensive instrument clearance out of Santa Monica Airport the next morning when ground control called. “Are you ready for takeoff? Contact tower immediately.”
In my rush to comply I apparently missed a button, because after takeoff, my carefully crafted flight plan had mysteriously disappeared from our GPS. Fortunately, I’d recorded the clearance and pre-tuned the radios, so, overcoming surprise, I flew my assigned route the old-fashioned way.
“Look down!” said Jean as we crossed the shoreline. “It’s the Santa Monica Pier where we went last night!”
On departure vectors, we toured the Los Angeles shoreline—Marina del Rey, Los Angeles International Airport, Palos Verdes Peninsula and Long Beach Harbor—before turning inland towards home.
“I’m glad we’re finally gazing down on all that traffic, instead of buried in it,” said Jean as we cruised uncongested skies.
Cool clouds and virga shaded Phoenix when we arrived, and multihued hikers waved welcome to our Flying Carpet from atop Camelback Mountain.
“I figure we spent 50 percent of our L.A. visit sitting in traffic,” said Jean as we drove blissfully un-crowded roads from the airport. “But helping Hannis start his new life was worth every minute of it.”
Visit Hannis’ film scoring page at [http://www.hannisbrown.com]. Author of numerous books and articles, Greg Brown is a columnist for AOPA Flight Training magazine. Read more of his tales in “Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane,” available through your favorite bookstore, pilot shop, or online catalog, and visit [http://www.gregbrownflyingcarpet.com].