Travelogue: The First Flight Back To Work

Seven years may have been a long time between visits to my birthplace city. Certainly, I pined to come home to Los Angeles. It was not how I would have envisioned doing so.

Full disclosure, my consulting gig flew me to Los Angeles. I was hesitant in doing so, because of I have not been on a plane since February of 2020 and a lot has changed since then. All thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The reason is my long-term health. I had some throat issues that have affected my digestive and respiratory systems. There are times when I would cough real bad and fight for a breath. I had these issues well before the COVID-19 pandemic and, given my recent history with the healthcare system, never had any real diagnosis or treatment that addressed this issue directly.

Granted, I have avoided the virus. I also avoided the healthcare system beyond vaccine shots and COVID tests. I did get my flu shots, however. There are reasons for doing so. Just concerns that I might not get the care and treatment because the system has been slammed with COVID-19 cases.

Masks have not been my friend. I feared that if I kept it on for well over an hour, I might face some resistance from my upper respiratory system. Granted, some might say that I am creating drama for myself and is probably dealing with irrational fear, but – let me be perfectly honest here – I have not been comfortable wearing a mask because of my health situation.

However, I had to be a trooper about this. I knew that I would have to have my mask on from the time I enter Terminal 1 at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to the point where I drop my bags at my hotel room in downtown Los Angeles. That’s just the first part of the first day.

That first day started off with a swirl of anxiety and nerves. The first flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Dallas-Fort Worth was a challenge indeed. Getting on the packed American Airlines Airbus 319 was my ideal situation. While I was grateful for my roommate to take me to MSP, I was trying to work out in my head how this first flight was going to turn out.

Once on board, I was still a bit nervous. My row was full. Babies were crying. Yet I stuck to my guns enough to appreciate the drinks and snacks service in Economy. Plus, the paid Wi-Fi for an hour. At least I was able to monitor the voting for #VOTY2021.

Then, I transferred at DFW. I have not done that since 2006. I have flown in and out of there another time. My colleague from the consulting firm I work with met me at another terminal for some time inside the American Express Centurion Lounge – my first time one of their lounges. I was his guest.

We had a good lunch and got some work done before heading off to another terminal at DFW for our flight to Los Angeles. American served up a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner – my first widebody airliner since 1992. That included an upgrade to a seat with a bit more legroom. I felt spoiled. I almost felt like one of those AvGeek YouTube Trip Reporters who would show us how Business Class felt like on a long-haul flight somewhere in the world. Except, I did not film my entire experience. Nor was I sponsored by some VPN service.

If you get the chance, fly a Dreamliner. It was simply wonderful. Except for someone who did not comply with the mask mandate on our flight and another passenger who brought his own alcoholic beverage into Business Class.

When you deal with an unfamiliar place to stay, you have to do some research. In the case of the hotel my consulting firm booked for me, it was given a three-star rating on Hotwire. Then, I read the reviews. Some have given it high praise for their customer service and cleanliness of the small rooms. On the other hand, I read about issues with bed bugs and cockroaches. That certainly flew some red flags in my book.

However, the Kawada Hotel on Hill Street in downtown Los Angeles seemed quite like a nice boutique hotel in what appears to be a gentrified neighborhood. The rooms were indeed small, but they will do for the two nights.

The original plan for Tuesday evening was to meet with my brother Matthew for dinner in Little Tokyo. He texted me ahead of time to let me know that he had to bow out due to unforeseen circumstances with his family. I will always love my family and know that we will find a way to reconnect sometime down the line. I also sent healing energy to Matt’s family.

Instead of having my brother come up to downtown Los Angeles, some old friends came to join me for dinner. It has been fifteen years since I last saw Bill and Liz. I knew them both from Reseda: Bill since junior high; Liz from high school. Both of them have retired from their careers in technical writing for an aerospace firm and teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District respectively.

Bill and Liz both follow this life and career as long as we’ve known each other. This probably set the stage for our dinner in Little Tokyo. Over sushi, we caught up with everything and everybody. By everybody, we’re talking multiple marriages, kids, grandchildren, family reunions…you name it! And, deaths.

I have known Bill since 1976. Liz since 1979. Yet, to not see them in 15 years is practically a crime. It was great to see them again! It was also great to call my brother when I arrived at LAX.

At this stage in my life, family is important. Not just blood family, but family in terms of experience and history. Bill and Liz are family. We need to keep our family together. That is why I refer to the people whom I grew up with as “Reseda Family.”

There was plenty of excitement as my body’s clock did not adjust to the West Coast. I was ready to go…except it was 4:00 AM in the morning. I spent the newly waking hour finalizing #VOTY2021 and preparing for the e-mails and award order to be sent later in the week.

What does one do at 4:00 AM in the morning on a weekday in downtown Los Angeles? Has anyone thought of that? Not me, either…

I knew I had to get my credential and the on-site documentation ready prior to the opening breakfast. I also knew that I need to prepare to get my content in order for both clients and readership(s). Sometimes, a mind can only go as fast as the body. Sadly, I felt like a practice lap at Willow Springs International Motorsports Park.

To accomplish this early start, I snuck towards the Convention Center using L.A.'s Metro public transit system. Not as fresh as I first rediscovered it fifteen years ago, but it still works. A switch from the B/Red Line near the hotel to the A/Blue Line at the Metro Center station took me within a block of where I needed to be.

In setting the stage for my coverage of Automobility LA, the Los Angeles County Public Health Department has mandated wearing a mask inside – and outside – all public buildings. The Los Angeles Convention Center is a publicly owned building. That posed a few challenges, as well.

One of those challenges is to have most of your colleagues not recognize you. First off, Automobility LA did not print out badges for any of us. That is usually an identifier as to who you are and what you're doing there. Without badges and lanyards, it was even more absurd that with a mask on – and not wearing my glasses, because they fog up when I do wear a mask – we were reduced to mere ninjas. Instead of badges, Automobilty LA gave us two bracelets – one identifying our role at the show with the other identifying our vaccination status.

Over one-and-a-half days, I witnessed the next wave of electrified vehicles – with an emphasis on battery-electric vehicles. Most of the new vehicle debuts came from start-up companies. Some of them wore familiar names. Others may have come from left field.

As far as how these vehicles looked, some look cool. Others…well, in the words of RuPaul Drag Race All-Star Ra’jah O’Hara: “I’m not gagging.”

After a long day inside the Convention Center, my colleague and I ventured for food at L.A. Live. We found a pizza place not far up from the Staples Center. The NHL's Kings were playing the Washington Capitals at the arena, which brought out the "Go Kings Go" and "Rock The Red" crowds together.

Dinner lent to a Lyft ride back to our hotel and an early night to rest my shoulders, back, stomach, and all other minor aches from that long day inside Automobility LA.

The final morning yielded a bit more energy. The stomach was better, as were my shoulders. My thighs were still sore. The hotel room was better than I expected. No reports of critters, but the shower’s temperature control was broken. Travelers, say “no” to cold showers.

The morning was spent back at Automobilty LA. Just a couple of hours to catch up on photos I did not get the day before. Then, it was back to LAX for my Southwest routing home through Denver. Unfortunately, I experienced my first “private screening” from the Transportation Security Administration. Yours truly was not a happy camper.

As for the flight home, I admit to being anxious to get back to my own bed. A less-than-two hour run to Denver was tolerable, thanks to my iPhone and my music files. Too bad the Wi-Fi on board my Southwest flight did not work. The good news is that they noticed my connectivity issues and refunded my charge back to my account.

The cool part was chatting with a cute flight attendant on my LAX-DEN leg. Cute? Well…he was Bearish. The rainbow band on his Apple Watch was a dead giveaway. I could hear some of the flight attendants I know prodding me for intelligence about said Southwest crew member…

The extended layover at Denver International Airport became a marathon, as my last leg home was delayed. That meant an arrival after midnight local time into MSP’s Terminal 2. My body was still in Central Time.

After the delay at DEN, the final leg pf the journey commenced. It was a packed. The crew was not in the best of moods, even though they lightened things as we taxied away from the terminal. Although it was a bumpy ride home, we managed…

In all, it was a productive trip. I accomplished as much as I could for my consulting gig. I also got enough for publication on here and in another outlet.

The one thing I love about working auto shows and other media events during these unsettled times are the people you bump into. From media colleagues I see multiple times a year to ones I’ve only seen on social media or on a Zoom call.

As for my concerns about flying during this extended pandemic, I could fly again. It would be nice if we get to the point where we do not have wear masks in the air and on the ground. The issue is no longer about my throat, but how sore my ears were wearing those damn disposable masks.

One thing was made clear on this trip: I miss my family and friends back in Los Angeles. There are many others I have not seen in decades. I would love to spend a lot more time at my birthplace and see more people.

Working Automobility LA/Los Angeles Auto Show this year came as quite a surprise to me. I’m glad to have done it. Although my concerns and thoughts evaporated as time went on, I still wish that we can get on top of this health challenge that has been with us for 20 months and steer towards normalcy. Of course, that depends on your definition of “normalcy.”

DISCLAIMER: Most expenses for this trip was paid for by the consulting firm I am a freelancer for. This notice is to meet Federal Trade Commission requirements for media outlets such as Victory & Reseda

All photos by Randy Stern

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