Sacramento, CA

Planes, Pains, & Automobiles

Sarah Rose

[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
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The woman at the check in desk at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Sacramento was wearing a mask. She wasn't the only person I saw in Sacramento still wearing a mask; the woman at the Grocery Outlet who fingered no less than a dozen oranges before finally settling on one. The couple in the burger joint next door, who sat outside, fully masked, as they waited for their roasted edamame and kombucha beer. One of my Uber drivers, a bellhop, the girl sitting next to me on the flight, a lady on the treadmill in the hotel gym. I felt as if I'd stepped back time say, a year or three, when the whole world was masked and mad about it.

The woman at the check in desk at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Sacramento asked for my ID and a credit card for "incidentals," in case I decided to drink the $18 water in the mini fridge that was so cold the bottles were frozen. "And," she said, finishing her compulsory check-in spiel, "Wi-fi is free!" I'm pretty sure Wi-Fi is free at most truck stops, too, and at Super 8 motels, and Subway, and in any respectable establishment in the year of our lord 2023, but I hid my cynicism, smiled and said "thank you." My cheeks felt like cooling plastic, like maybe, if I didn't move them, they'd be stuck in my fake smile forever.

People complain about traffic everywhere, but traffic in Los Angeles is a special thing. There are more people in L.A. county than in most states, so take your Denver rush hour traffic woes and politely, cry me a river. Monday morning, I flew from Los Angeles to Sacramento, spending just as much time in my car as I did in the plane. On my way to the airport, I encountered an eight-minute slowdown. "Not bad," I thought to myself smugly. "I'll have plenty of time." Google Maps even re-routed me once, saving me an additional ten minutes, or so I thought.

Traffic rises like a blooming onion from the bowls of Los Angeles freeways, smelling of tar and cannabis and ennui. Traffic can be rolling along smooth as a bald spot and stop suddenly for no apparent reason. On Monday morning, that's just what traffic did, catching me in a 20 minute slowdown that tested my break pads and my patience. I saw a man in a U-Haul staring at his phone as he idled in the carpool lane, alone. I concentrated on finding a song to calm me down, and landed on a playlist entitled "White Noise," that is probably not meant for disgruntled women in heavy traffic, but rather, to sooth a small child or serve as background noise for a guided meditation class at a yoga studio where one class costs more than most reasonable rents.

My sour mood did not improve when I got to the airport, though. The service I used to book my pre-paid parking spot directed me up to the departures level when the only entrance to my parking deck was on the arrivals level. More traffic. More waiting. More deep breathing to soothe whatever feeling was making me sweat-was I anxious? Was I panicking? Was I simply mad, at 7:45 on a Monday morning?

After parking, determining that the "tow away" signs in the parking deck would not be in effect until after I got back, and sprinting to terminal three after mistakenly entering terminal two, I discovered that my Delta app, which I had used the day before to check in to my flight, was sending me an error message, "Please see a Delta agent," it told me. Standing in a swarm of irritable flyers, I resigned myself to the possibility of missing my flight. I have never, not once, missed a flight, a fact which I spat into the very nice face of a gate agent, "I'm late for my flight and my app isn't working," I told him, "I've never missed a flight," and I thrust my phone at his face. "Alrighty," he said calmly, not in the least bit concerned. Why should he be? He dealt with crazed passengers all day, every day. He punched some keys, looked at my ID, then into my face, and printed me a new boarding pass. "Thank you so much," I mumbled, without smiling. "Have a great flight!" he instructed.

I soared through security, thanks to TSA pre-check and my lack of guns or knives. I made a quick pit-stop to fill my water bottle and pee, and there was (of course) a line in the women's bathroom. I watched a mother carry her screaming toddler into a toilet stall. I heard someone let out a terrible sound, followed shortly by a terrible smell. When a stall finally opened, I discovered that the lock was broken. "I'll hold it for you," a woman offered, and I wanted to hug her, but airport bathrooms are no place for hugs.

By the time I walked up to gate 37A, the plane should have been nearly all boarded, but by the looks of things, they hadn't even started. "Has boarding begun?" I asked the Delta gate agent, not believing that I may have rushed and panicked and sweat for no reason.

"No ma'am," he answered, "plane's here, but the crew's not." I wanted to laugh and cry all at once. Of course, in this maddening, over-crowded city, the flight crew had gotten stuck in a "bit of traffic, nothing bad." We starting boarding ten minutes later, and departed from Los Angeles only twenty minutes past our original takeoff time. I stared at the back of the seat in front of me for many minutes, before being startled back to reality by someone tapping my shoulder, "You're going to have to buckle up, miss," the flight attendant instructed me, "we're about to take off."


Sarah Rose

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