Thursday, December 1, 2011

California Winds, Elvis and Nixon

Gilda and I got caught up, actually, grounded would be a more appropriate word, in the Santa Ana winds that pummeled Southern California Wednesday night. The winds knocked out power to Los Angeles International Airport just as we approached the terminals in the rental car shuttle. Suddenly all the street and traffic lights went out, as did the lights in the buildings inside and outside the airport.

For almost an hour we waited inside a terminal lit by just a few overhead lights powered by emergency systems. We were taking the night flight back to JFK in New York. It was supposed to land around 5 am Thursday, early enough for us to beat the rush hour traffic on our way home to recuperate before Gilda goes back to work Friday. But as the delay endured, I realized we would land in the heart of rush hour. I also realized we might not get out because aircraft coming into LAX would be diverted because of the power failure. Indeed, Jet Blue personnel at first asked us to go down to the baggage area to board buses to take us to Long Beach Airport where our diverted plane was headed. After 15 minutes or so of waiting for buses, Jet Blue reversed course and told us to go back upstairs as the plane had reverted to its original destination once power had been restored.

Controlled chaos ensued. Imagine your worse day at the airport, trying to get through the security check. Or imagine the longest serpentine line at Disney World. We finally took off two hours late. I barely slept during the flight. Gilda didn’t sleep at all. The only consolation for us was that the passenger for the middle seat in our row never showed up so we had room to spare. And when we arrived at JFK our luggage was among the first to come down the shute. The ride back to Westchester, however, was just as I feared, almost continuous traffic.

During our trip to Los Angeles, the main purpose being attending the wedding of my sister’s oldest child, Ari, I accomplished a feat I’d venture to say few if any of you have—I can now claim to be among the chosen who have visited the birth homes of both Elvis Presley and Richard M. Nixon.

Elvis was born in Tupelo, Miss., in a two-room house. I had traveled to Tupelo with one of my advertising salesmen. We were early for an appointment, so we played tourist to see where the King’s life began. It was truly humble surroundings.

Visiting Nixon’s birthplace was an intended tourist stop. Gilda and I planned a few extra days in LA after the wedding to avoid any travel delays from the long Thanksgiving weekend (ha!). We chose to go to Yorba Linda and the Nixon Library and Museum because of the new Watergate exhibit rather than visit the Reagan Library in Simi Valley.

Nixon’s birth home is part of the compound. Standing on the very spot where his father built it from a kit, it is a modest home of some 900 square feet. The Nixon boys lived in the attic, now off limits to visitors because of the low ceiling. As his mother rarely threw out anything, almost everything displayed in the house was original to the family.

The presidential museum itself is impressive in appearance but with the exception of the Watergate wing is mostly a whitewashed history of the 37th president. You might be wondering why a facility dedicated to the memory of Richard Nixon would be so honest about his downfall. It’s because the museum no longer is privately run by friends and supporters of the Nixon, but rather, it is part of the National Archives. Watergate was the first exhibit area government historians and archivists worked on. Here’s an interesting article contrasting the Nixon and Reagan libraries: