The plane drops through the thin layer of smog and shudders on the rubber-scarred runway. After hours over the infinite dreamy blue Pacific, LAX is another world. Science fiction. Beside me, Tomasi grips the armrests and stares. He’s never left the atoll before. Now 18, he’s on his way to Germany, to join a merchant ship.
LA burns. A river, a torrent of oil, feeding this furnace, driving the frenzied, incessant movement. Heat haze and exhaust fumes blanket the acres of concrete, glass, steel and seared brown grass, dulling the bright early morning sun.
We taxi, kilometre after kilometre, though the flat, disorienting landscape of lines, numbers and signs. The hostesses, with fresh makeup and stale smiles, thank us half-heartedly as we shuffle out, and down the steps into the kerosene-flavoured air. Tomasi, tense and bewildered, stays close.
Hostile airport cops with guns and batons shout instructions against the roar of the machines and marshal us into the transfer buses, great low-slung things with black concertina middles. “Back of the bus! Move down inside! Let’s go, let’s GO!” A tired-looking woman mutters “Welcome to America” to no-one in particular, as we are packed in.
The doors hiss shut and the bus accelerates. Another long ride, speeding past rows of parked planes, warehouses and hangars. No-one talks.
One day, the river will be dry. I see grass growing through cracks in the concrete and people living in the smoke-blackened stairwells of our fantastic monuments. Tomasi turns cautiously, and smiles.