THERE ARE PEOPLE, hundreds of them, who now live in Chicago's O'Hare Airport. It's warm, it's open 24 hours a day and it's relatively safe. Now that the '80s are over, it's clear that Ronald Reagan was right: The safety net is still in place. It's just been moved to the airport.
But, aside from those people, most of us perceive air terminals subliminally, as the blurthat rushes past us as we try to get to the plane or the parking lot. A facility that can get our luggage off the aircraft in one calendar day and keep the Krishnas under control is all most of us ask.
An airport, however, can tell you a lot about a city. And that's what bothers me about LAX: It lies.
Fly into Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, for example--go ahead, take a week off and do it; I'll cover for you--and you ride some kind of futuristic escalator through some futuristic glass-walled curving towers. It tells you, before you've even cleared customs, that you've arrived in a place where the arts are revered, even if those arts happen to be bad comedy and annoying singing.
Or notice what happens on the walls at London's Heathrow while the moving sidewalk whisks you along. You behold a series of advertisements, and more than half of them are in Arabic. You could spend several boring evenings in stupefyingly expensive London disco-casinos and not learn any more about the changing sociology of Mayfair and The City than you glean from that brief ride.
In fact, almost every airport in the Western world boasts corridors full of advertisements, like the electronically enhanced warnings to get ahead in business that blurt from the walls of New York's JFK, or the videotaped plugs for local restaurants that play from monitors hung over the baggage carousels in Port-au-Prince that make all of Haiti seem like some sort of public-access paradise.
Only in Los Angeles can you go from jetway to getaway without ever becoming the captive audience for advertising. It's weird. It's eerie. It's like the states in this country where the government owns the liquor stores, and buying some alcoholic beverage exposes you to an environment as denuded of visual stimulation as the post office.
Now, given the fact that Los Angeles International Airport is the hub of a citywide transportation system that has no spokes, there is much about it to be admired. If you ignore the signs and run over the barriers, it's often relatively easy to find a parking place. The Food Court is a place over which Judge Wapner would be proud to preside. The welcoming pictures of Tom Bradley remind you that we do indeed have a mayor. And, despite the occasional published worries from pilots, the planes do continue to take off and land. The airport even has a new neighbor, an apartment building erected cheek by jowl with the northernmost runway, so that one could, if one chose, rent some rooms that offer the ultimate in noisy moving wallpaper.
But for a city as vulgar and full of hustle as this one to insist that its airport's corridors be devoid of commercial nudging is such a prim little lie. Wouldn't that long walk to baggage claim be enlivened by a reminder that Angelyne ROCKS? Wouldn't an enforced layover be less tedious if the walls apologized for Jay Thomas or urged you to shoot your next film in Illinois? Shouldn't your reward for passing through the metal detector be one last opportunity to see Bijan jumping for something that looks vaguely like joy?
The airport has made major strides over the years in offering ever more last-minute gifts to take to the folks back home. The commercial impulse is so enshrined in Gifts and News, in fact, that you could miss your flight trying to explore your way through the wonderland of Gifts to find News, thoughtfully planted in the very back of the store. So why the glum silence of the corridor walls?
This is, after all, the vibrant chief bazaar of the Pacific Rim, whose airport should be bursting with ads in so many Asian languages that the ex-mayor of Monterey Park would, in his monolingual rage, be reduced to riding Amtrak.
You may remember that LAX once tried to enliven its walls a few years ago with murals depicting children's-eye views of the aviation panorama. Why did they go away? I suspect a well-hushed-up scandal, in which the "child" artists turned out to be a mill of semi-pro art students, cranking out ersatz fifth-grade renderings in a Hawthorne warehouse.
It's time for our airport to stop lying about us. Let's finish the Reagan Revolution and put the magic of the marketplace to work in the temple of jet travel. Let's fly away with visions of the Epilady lady dancing in our heads.