As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Transportation Geography class I am taking this session promised a day-long field trip to Los Angeles International Airport (known to Angelenos as “LAX”) and the Port of Long Beach. In fact, this past Wednesday was our lucky day! It began at Flight Path Learning Center, a small homey museum tucked away in a little-known corner somewhere on the southern border of the airport grounds, which none of us had known the existence of prior to the visit. Yet, there were so many pleasant surprises in that quaint little establishment alone that it would have been well worth it if that had been the only thing on the itinerary. Firstly, our tour guide was an enthusiastic and adorably bubbly ex-stewardess in her 60s, who not only loved her job as the manager of the museum but was also incredibly proud of the whole LAX heritage. From her, we learned the LAX song (who knew airports had their own theme songs?), some brief history, and took a bus tour of the tarmac. Weaving in and out between airplanes on the runways in an inter-terminal transport bus was definitely one of the coolest things I’ve ever done at an airport! It was also a great privilege to see the official runway of Air Force One (aircrafts carrying the President of the United States) and the terminals where famous celebrities like John Travolta and Kobe Bryant disembark their private jets.
The museum itself was a sanctuary of aircraft and flight memorabilia, including hundreds of old stewardess uniforms dating from the 1950s, maps of service routes, and antique airline silverware. What a wonderful and rare opportunity to experience an airport and flight history from an educational perspective!
Our day continued at the Port of Long Beach, and we took our lunch break in the cafeteria of their administration building, which happened to have an outdoor rooftop patio with stunning 360º view of the Port. Despite our guide covertly telling us that the building was seismologically uncertified due to its sinking foundation on infill land (basically, the building was built on loose sediment that was piled into the ocean to extend the coast ocean-ward through land reclamation), the presentations given by three important figures on the Port’s board of administrators captured our attention until it was time to leave. My inner Geography nerd was fascinated most by their environmental equity programs that sounded great in a presentation but on second thought were sometimes on shaky ground. The great thing about field trips such as this is that we get to apply the historical and theoretical knowledge learned in class to real life situations and current events that are happening right before our eyes.
The final stop of our excursion was SA Recycling, a facility that purchases, processes and sells all sorts of scrap metals for recycling. Although that branch did not do any actual melting of metal (this was done wherever their metal was sold to), they still had some astounding machines on site. The tour of the scrap metal yard felt like a walking tour of the backlot set of Wall-E, had it been filmed in real life. Mountains of scrap metal spotted the huge yard in seemingly random piles, although the excavator operators knew exactly which piles were sorted/unsorted. We gaped at the huge grapple machines as they picked up hundreds of pounds of metal as though they were sheets of aluminum foil, and watched another split a small truck in half with three easy snips. (We concluded that the machine operators must be unbeatable when it comes to the claw cranes in arcades.)
The sheer volume of metal that passes through the yard baffled us, and we were taken aback by how much behind-the-scenes work goes into every discarded metal product of our daily lives. This is one of the most pressing concerns of a Geographer: collecting, processing, and recycling (or discarding) products of human waste can easily be unsustainable and inequitable. SA Recycling was an example of waste export, a company passing on our waste overseas to another country that is willing to process, recycle, reuse, store, or demolish the vast volume of waste products.
Overall, it was an exciting day packed with invaluable field experience that we could never have gotten sitting in a classroom. During our return trip back to UCLA, I asked my professor how he managed to convince the department to fund the field trip (we had traveled in a very nice charter coach), and he answered that he had applied for a grant set aside especially for educational field trips. This is just one example of the myriad of opportunities that await UCLA students, and I am grateful that my professor took time out of his busy schedule to organize and coordinate a composite field trip itinerary with numerous presentations and multiple destinations.