P.S. I Love You

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Ok, dear reader, let’s not get carried away.  That P.S. isn’t a romantic little postscript.  No – the P.S. – that’s Palm Springs.

I’d booked flights to LA some time ago – at least in part to try Air New Zealand’s new Club seat  – but then totally forgot to plan anything else for the long weekend.

Time was short but you can pack a lot into four days.  I briefly considered whether it might be possible to drive across the States – Gumball Rally style. Or whether I should try my luck getting to the summit of Mount Whitney in winter.  Or even run a section of the Badwater Ultramarathon (somewhat easier in December than July)

But after a rather high-octane few months, I thought it better that I re-learn the skill of lounging by a pool. I had an uncharacteristic urge to sit quietly and read a good book by day, before gorging on high-calorie American food by night.  If that’s what you want, there’s no better place to do it than at the Parker in Palm Springs.

Famous as the late-1950s hangout for the Rat Pack, Palms Springs is very much cool again.  Nestled at the bottom of the Coachella Valley, it’s dwarfed by the San Jacinto Mountains to one side and the San Bernardino Mountains to the other.

Two hours East from LA, Palm Springs and its Mid-Century Modern architecture, felt like the appropriate destination to celebrate what I was trying to pretend wasn’t a significant birthday. Still a little sore from a race earlier in the year, I figured this would be the first step in my rehab. So I flew to LA, picked up a rental car – a little two-seater cabriolet since you ask – and headed East on Interstate 10.

Today Palm Springs is a retro-chic resort town. With wide main streets and an easily walkable centre, it’s got the best of American motorcar culture, without all the downsides. There’s something charming about resort towns just outside peak season (it’s why I love Chamonix in May).  The restaurants, shops and hotels are still open, but you virtually have the place to yourself.  It’s like the whole town has a moment of breathing space.

And what air to breath. On the edge of the desert, Palm Springs has that crisp dry desert air, somehow every breath feels restorative.

And so to the Parker. A quirky 1950’s motel that’s been tastefully restored into a full-service resort hotel. It feels like a Conde Nast photo-shoot.  Yet out of peak-season, you don’t have to put up with the celeb hangers on.

So I took on the Parker’s manifesto, raided the minibar and spent the next two days having a good steam and a nice soak in the hot tub, and generally pampering myself in the whimsically named Palm Springs Yacht Club. The grounds of the hotel are perfectly setup for doing very little – the hammocks were my favourite. I had the odd gentle run up into the mountains – I couldn’t resist. Sea level to 3000ft in one hard slog.

Palm Springs might fail my ‘Provincial Test’ – it’s impossible to buy a copy of the FT, or any international paper for that matter – but it feels more open than many American towns of its size. It reminded me of the Short North in Columbus – artsy, interesting buildings and good food. Throw in a nice pool and good room service, and you’ve got a perfect lond-haul weekend getaway.

Powerless at LAX

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“Please return to your seats, fasten your seat belts, put your seat into the upright position and stow your tray tables for landing”

You know the drill: the familiar sound of the flaps descending; the whoosh of air as the undercarriage deployes.  The end markers of the runway come into sight, then – hopefully – the gentle thud of the gear making contact with the ground.

That’s how it’s supposed to be. But Los Angeles International airport – LAX to its friends – was having a bad day last Wednesday. The worst windstorm in 10 years so they said.

We spent a while circling, not particularly uncommon at peak times. Not that I was complaining. Watching the nighttime urban sprawl of LA never gets tiring.

But we were getting bashed about by the wind. Not since I flew into Munich the day this was filmed have I had such a rough approach.

Yet the flaps came down, the gear deployed and the runway markers came into view. The problem was they were only in view out of one window as the pilot struggled to keep the plane level. Out one side was nothing but runways out the other nothing but sky.  Not a good way to land.

Seconds later the two massive General Electric engines whirred to life and the plane, now all but empty of fuel after a long flight across the Atlantic, and much lighter, soared skyward like a rocket.

A flustered-sounding pilot quickly came over the intercom to say something about wind sheer and how we’d be coming around for another try.  We circled bumpily over the pacific again, me happy to have more time taking in the view.

Second time around was only marginally less bumpy than the first.  I wasn’t particularly confident that the pilot wouldn’t fluff it again. But in a rather assertive move, he forced the undercarriage onto the tarmac with a thwack and we eventually came to a rather shaky stop on the taxiway.  Even at standstill, the wind buffeted the plane like a child’s toy.

As the tow truck lugged us to the gate, a couple of bright flashes lit up the sky. With a cloudless sky, it wasn’t lightening but, it turned out,  an electrical substation blowing.

Immediately the floodlights on the airport apron fell dark, then a few seconds later so did the lights in the terminal.  The huge LAX airport was plunged into darkness, including, rather alarmingly, the control tower.

The pilot came back over the intercom to say that it might be worth making ourselves comfortable whilst the ground crew came up with a plan to get us off the plane. Clearly the jetways wouldn’t budge without power and with a terminal in darkness, it was probably better for us to wait on the plane. Besides, the ground crew had other priorities, like fetching stray baggage containers that were being blown about the airfield.

The cabin crew, who must have been tired after a long flight, quickly got to work raiding the galley and handing out water, crisps, coffee, newspapers, magazines – whatever they could find, they put to use.

The contrast with last week’s debacle at Heathrow couldn’t have been starker.

After about 45 minutes, power was restored and LAX flickered back to life.  The doors were opened and I made a dash for immigration.

But not before I thanked the crew and asked – to myself – if they could provide training for British Airways.