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A Los Angeles Primer: LAX

As soon as you leave baggage claim, the apologies begin. “We are in the process of building a world-class airport for Los Angeles,” one announcement offers by way of explanation for the discomforts, delays, or other hassles you’ll soon endure. The increasing frequency with which I use Los Angeles International Airport, or LAX, has inured me to many of its difficulties, but that specific mitigating promise has stood out since I first heard it. You’d expect a city as future-oriented as Los Angeles to keep its main point of entry up to date, but how can it have put off making its airport truly “world-class” until now, solidly into the 21st century, over eighty years after it first opened?

In his essay “Where Worlds Collide,” Pico Iyer finds LAX “a surprisingly shabby and hollowed-out kind of place, certainly not adorned with the amenities one might expect of the world’s strongest and richest power.” Almost twenty years on, parts of it still come off, like much else in Los Angeles, as inexplicably unfit for a city of such undoubted economic and cultural prominence. Underneath the speakers promising that bright future, arrivals have one of the least appealing ground-transportation experiences in all the major airports of North America; the endless scrum of private vehicles weaving in and out of one another’s paths — a system that works haltingly in practice and surely not at all in theory — must look sadly familiar to those coming from, say, a struggling Latin American country.

Read the whole thing, my last excerpted essay from the book, at KCET Departures.

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