Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Endeavor Flyover: Getting a Premium Rush in L.A.

Los Angeles perhaps seems most lovable when you’re in motion, tooling down the highway in a late-model sports car. Anyway, that’s the message of Randy Newman’s great L.A. anthem:

Roll down the window, put down the top
Crank up the Beach Boys, baby
Don't let the music stop
We're gonna ride it till we just can't ride it no more . . .

(I love it!)

As every resident knows, L.A.’s such a sprawling megalopolis that it just has to be negotiated by automobile. The freeways, of course, are the way you whisk yourself from here to there . . . except on those odd occasions when they’re closed to all comers. The much-traveled San Diego Freeway (also known as the 405) normally takes thousands of L.A. drivers from the suburban San Fernando Valley over the Sepulveda Pass to the trendy Westside. But starting tomorrow night we’ll have to contend with Carmageddon 2, a sequel to last year’s weekend-long shutdown. Which means a lot of us won’t be going much of anywhere.

It was less than a week ago when we Southern Californians got a real lesson in speed, as well as the perks of celebrity. Friday, September 21 was the day the space shuttle Endeavor, riding piggyback on a 747 jumbo jet, entered L.A. airspace, en route to its retirement home at the Los Angeles Science Center. Our city was granted one of the four surviving shuttles because of the importance of the Southern California aerospace industry throughout the shuttle era. We all knew the shuttle would be flying south from the Bay Area, but I don’t think most of us realized in advance the scope of its victory lap. For over an hour, Southern Californians of all stripes were bound together by a remarkable sky-show, as Endeavor cruised down from Malibu (crank up the Beach Boys, baby!), passed over the Santa Monica pier, flew by the posh mansions of Brentwood and the skyscrapers of Downtown, circled the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, then dipped its wing to the Queen Mary in Long Beach Harbor before alighting at LAX.

I myself saw Endeavor under the best of circumstances. I’d breakfasted at a rooftop restaurant in the Miracle Mile, then joined a throng of excited Angelenos watching as Endeavor glided over the Hollywood Sign and the nearby L.A. Observatory (which I’ll forever associate with Rebel Without a Cause). The sky was a pastel blue, the air was clear, and the moment was magical.

This being L.A., the news media included in their coverage of Endeavor the reactions of show biz names from Justine Bateman to Tom Hanks (whose role as astronaut Jim Lovell in Apollo 13 has pumped up his enthusiasm for all things space-related). His tweet: “Just flew over my head!!! Don't see this everyday. Never will again. The Spaceman in me just went berserk. Hanx."

If Endeavor on its farewell flight was poetry in motion, it was also a reminder of how rarely we in L.A. really feel the pleasure of speed. There are just so many of us -- so many cars, trucks, motorcycles, and (heaven help us!) SUVs -- that the on-the-road feeling we love is increasingly impossible. Pondering that fact, my mind makes a cross-country leap to a movie I recently enjoyed, a chills-and-spills action flick set among the bicycle messengers of New York City. Premium Rush is worthy seeing for its kinetic energy. Quite a contrast: the heavenly gliding of Endeavor and the “ride like hell” pedaling of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, ricocheting off of car hoods on the mean streets of New York.


  1. A lovely post! I have seen two shuttle launches live - and not closer than several dozen miles away - one in Florida in the middle of the state - daytime launch - could clearly see the shuttle going up in the distance. The other may sound fantastic - but it really happened - during a night shoot on Dawson's Creek we were out on location at Kure Beach - and in the quiet night darkness near the Fort Fisher museum - we saw a rare night launch all the way from Florida!It was truly wild and awe-inspiring to realize we were watching something happening hundreds of miles away with our naked eyes!

    I was a NASA kid growing up - loved the shuttle program - got to see the Columbia sitting on the launch pad a week before going up for the very first time on a vacation to Florida. I wish I could have seen this one sailing over the Hollywood sign - as perfect a convergence of my interests as there has ever been!

    Best of luck with Carmageddon 2! Is there a subtitle associated - like Carmageddon 2: Car Harder?

  2. I've had plenty of NASA experience too, at least by proxy. My husband was involved with the payload of the first space shuttle, and at one point spent a lot of time at the Cape and in Houston, hanging out with astronauts. There was a time he was determined to become an astronaut himself: this was when mission specialists were being recruited from among the ranks of the engineers at Hughes Air Craft. Fortunately for me, he didn't get selected. One Hughes-ite who got the nod was Greg Jarvis, who died with the rest of the crew in the Challenger disaster. I didn't know Greg, but do know quite well his back-up, who was at the launchpad watching along with Greg's wife when the disaster occurred.