I Was Sick of L.A. Traffic. So I Took a Plane to Work
|If Kobe can fly to work, why not me?|
I am flying westward over the Angeles Crest Mountains, the morning sun shining down over the San Fernando Valley as it spreads out below me and we bank south. The Cessna 152, aptly named "the Commuter," cruises at just over 3,500 feet as we travel from the Agua Dulce Airpark toward Santa Monica Airport -- a 47-mile trip that will put me just two miles from my office in Culver City.
Exhilaration rushes through me as the plane reaches optimal speed, or "trues out," at about 95 knots, the propeller spinning in a blur. The pilot, Michael Gold, checks in with air traffic control, effortlessly communicating a long string of flight information consisting of letters and numbers. I may be on my way to work, but this is definitely not an ordinary workday.
I don't usually commute by small plane. Other than the Lakers' Kobe Bryant -- who famously helicopters from Newport Beach to Staples Center -- who does? Since I started my job a year ago, in fact, I've been commuting almost 70 miles round-trip each day on L.A.'s jam-packed streets, spending, on average, three hours (or more) stuck in traffic on the 405.
Like so many Angelenos, I've become numb to the frustration of fighting the gridlock every morning at the dreaded interchange of the 101 and the 405. Mere mention of the words "Skirball" or "Getty Center" is enough to keep me in my office until well past 8 p.m. When it's just too much and I'm completely stopped on the highway, needing to pee so badly, my numbness turns to desperation: Screaming inside and crying proverbial tears of blood, I tell myself that there must be a better way!
But the thought remained just that -- a cry for help more than a plan for action -- until I met Michael Gold.
Gold is in his second year of flight training, working toward his commercial license. A recent college graduate and studio musician, he has been obsessed with airplanes since childhood.
After our brief introduction at a friend's barbecue, it was only a few seconds before the conversation turned to traffic. I launched into my usual complaints, only to be stopped short when he casually mentioned that, by air, the same trip would take about nine minutes. Nine minutes? I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
Was there really hope? A way around the traffic? Some sort of salvation? I had to try this!
But could I really fly to work?
"For me, flying is a way to understand the world. It helps you figure out where you actually are, physically speaking, but it also humbles you when you realize how small you actually are comparatively," Gold tells me as we map out our flight plan a few weeks later. With the help of CP Aviation in Santa Paula, he enthusiastically agreed to help me, saying, "Any excuse to get more time in the air is good enough for me."
We planned a Monday morning trip. I would drive the 14 miles from my house to Agua Dulce. From there, we would take off for Santa Monica, where a friend had agreed to meet me and whisk me away to my office.
But first, of course, there are a few inevitable challenges. When I arrive, the gate to the small airfield is locked, a problem unexpectedly solved by a quick trip to the local hardware store, where the clerk, who seems all too familiar with people being locked out of the airport, happily tells me the combination. (Agua Dulce's small-town vibe, suffice it to say, is nothing like the high security at LAX -- and I'm not sure whether to be grateful or wary.)
Next, I find myself getting anxious when Gold relays info over the radio as he reviews our flight plan, including the fact that our plane is red.
"Why do you need to tell them it's red?" I ask.
"Well, if you go down, they wanna know what color your plane is," he says, matter-of-factly. I gulp as I brace myself for lift-off.Up next: How did it go?