Planes, Pains, & Automobiles

Sarah McMahon
5 min readMar 23

[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]

The woman at the check in desk at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Sacramento was wearing a mask. She wasn’t the only person I saw in Sacramento still wearing a mask; the woman at the Grocery Outlet who fingered no less than a dozen oranges before finally settling on one. The couple in the burger joint next door, who sat outside, fully masked, as they waited for their roasted edamame and kombucha beer. One of my Uber drivers, a bellhop, the girl sitting next to me on the flight, a lady on the treadmill in the hotel gym. I felt as if I’d stepped back time say, a year or three, when the whole world was masked and mad about it.

The woman at the check in desk at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Sacramento asked for my ID and a credit card for “incidentals,” in case I decided to drink the $18 water in the mini fridge that was so cold the bottles were frozen. “And,” she said, finishing her compulsory check-in spiel, “Wi-fi is free!” I’m pretty sure Wi-Fi is free at most truck stops, too, and at Super 8 motels, and Subway, and in any respectable establishment in the year of our lord 2023, but I hid my cynicism, smiled and said “thank you.” My cheeks felt like cooling plastic, like maybe, if I didn’t move them, they’d be stuck in my fake smile forever.

People complain about traffic everywhere, but traffic in Los Angeles is a special thing. There are more people in L.A. county than in most states, so take your Denver rush hour traffic woes and politely, cry me a river. Monday morning, I flew from Los Angeles to Sacramento, spending just as much time in my car as I did in the plane. On my way to the airport, I encountered an eight-minute slowdown. “Not bad,” I thought to myself smugly. “I’ll have plenty of time.” Google Maps even re-routed me once, saving me an additional ten minutes, or so I thought.

Traffic rises like a blooming onion from the bowls of Los Angeles freeways, smelling of tar and cannabis and ennui. Traffic can be rolling along smooth as a bald spot and stop suddenly for no apparent reason. On Monday morning, that’s just what traffic did, catching me in a 20 minute slowdown that tested my break pads and my patience. I saw a man in a U-Haul staring at his phone as he idled in the carpool lane, alone. I concentrated on finding a song to calm me down…

Sarah McMahon

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