Mike tells me so many Americans he comes across in business circles and socially these days are feeling tired, and bruised, after a very, very difficult year. Perhaps the lack of customers tonight in this smart watering hole in the weeks before Christmas could also be due to this malaise?
Déjà vu in America
Arriving in Los Angeles
No queue for Immigration at LAX!
Bags on carousel immediately.
Into a taxi within thirty minutes of touch down.
Wow! This is not the America I remember.
A welcome spot of ‘déjà vu’
Hopping into the back seat of a cab already waiting at the kerbside, old memories of coming in and out of the U.S. for 19 years, stir.
Cocooned in the back seat and separated from the driver by a dividing wall, I settle back, remember and reminisce as the ‘easy listening’ tunes from my era here are played by a smooth announcer with that homogenised kind of silky voice.
Sleepily, with winter sun streaming over me, I read the billboards interspersed with tall palms and straggly eucalypts lining the freeway; I read signs to destinations I know of so well like Santa Monica and Venice Beach but have never visited; I enjoy the cut and thrust of negotiating speeding traffic, escaping on flyovers like tangled spaghetti into the low-rise suburban sprawl. Closer to Beverly Hills there is that wonderful focus on landscaping – along the streets, outside office blocks and in front gardens. I need to spend more time here on my next visit.
Arriving at the Sofitel Hotel on Beverly Boulevard, not only are the doormen and valet parking attendants in black, but so is the lobby – in black marble and glass – dimly-lit with slippery, polished floors and walls all reflecting thousands of twinkling white fairy lights that throw no light, but are still dazzling and blinding. Where are the seeing-eye dogs for the likes of people my age?
A new, changed America
I enjoy a meal with an old friend, Mike Abraham, at the new Pali House in Hollywood – predictably in this part of the world, our waiter turns out to be an aspiring young actor, but Paul is an aspiring Australian actor, originally from Wagga Wagga. After a friendly chat, he unwittingly became a momentary face of the global financial crisis and how it has impacted so many Americans. He was tired – said he has been working hard and was looking forward to flying back home to mum in Canberra for Christmas.
A changed American Airlines
Next day I experience a malaise that has gone beyond the global financial crisis, and that is American Airlines. (And my host Edmundo says: “we have the Unions and the Democrats to blame!”) The once proud flag carrier from my heyday of frequent business travel in the U.S. is no more than a third world airline today. (And Edmundo says: “the U.S. government does not make things easier for the American airline carriers; they can’t subsidize them and they will not because of philosophical issues, and because the American government is fighting wars at the cost of more than 10 billion dollars per day, so we have had to put the niceties away. Let the rest of the world imitate the Pan Ams of the past; we are on another page!”)
I am using frequent flyer points to fly from LAX to MIA. Even with no passengers in the line at the First Class check-in counter, I am barked at by a surly older male person behind the counter telling me to go back behind the line until I am called – and then he walks away never to return. Welcome to American Airlines! (And Edmundo says: “this serves this Australian right for stepping forward before being called.”) A ‘gracious’ start to the American Airlines experience.
The American Airlines’ Admirals Club at LAX Terminal 4 is a wonderful space overlooking the concourse with the latest flying machines from all corners of the world coming and going – but it has absolutely no soul. Jugs of tinned juice, urns of coffee, a plate of ordinary biscuits and some apples is the First Class offering. Cheap signs point you to a bar for drinks and for cheeseburgers and sandwiches. Classy? But not First Class. And to think that the prestigious Qantas Club joint branding is also emblazoned at the front door!
It is threatening rain and is very dark at 1:00 p.m. with insufficient lighting to read my own newspaper. Come on, somebody! Is anyone in charge? Or does anyone care? Not just someone on the spot to see the lights need to be turned on, but someone in AA to see and rectify an embarrassing product and non-existent customer service ethic. Immigration and Customs officers can welcome me to America and process me efficiently, but AA just makes me wish I were somewhere else.
Whilst the inflight service was not special in any way, we touched down in Miami twenty five minutes ahead of schedule and I didn’t mind waiting for another plane to finish loading bags and leave our assigned gate. But waiting nearly 90 minutes for baggage delivery close to midnight was too much! Four baggage carousels had broken down and were being worked on by a maintenance crew while passengers from following flights backed up, milling and shuffling anxiously. Pity the flight from New York with notably more feisty passengers hadn’t arrived ahead of ours. Why couldn’t the bags have been moved in an alternative way? Again, does anyone in AA care?
To make the indeterminable wait worse, I felt queasy in the stomach and didn’t fancy the thought of hugging a toilet bowl in a public convenience should the simmering urge to throw up come over me. But it did, and on one knee on a surprisingly clean floor, I hugged the surprisingly clean bowl, hurled, and then felt much better. And I walked back outside to the baggage claim area to see lights flashing and the carousel starting to move.
Ahh! There’s my bag. We can go home at last.
(Edmundo suggests I to write to the Chairman . . .
I am an Australian, who worked for an American company for 25 years, and was a resident of your wonderful country for seven years. I continue to travel the world very often and I see the many virtues of my adopted country but what you are doing is a blot on American business and to the image of America in the world. . . . “)