October 14, 2012

Spotting the Shuttle Endeavour on the Streets of LA

I missed the Endeavour's LA flyover mission because I didn't have a car, and I regretted it terribly.

So when I had the chance to spot the space shuttle on its tow path to its final resting place at the California Science Center, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see it close up.

I had plenty of chances to follow its path from LAX to Exposition Park, but I waited until Saturday afternoon, when it would be passing through South LA - more specifically, Baldwin Hills - for a brief stopover at Crenshaw and MLK.

I parked my car in a sketchy empty lot along MLK and walked to the mall, which was the recommended viewing point for the shuttle. Hundreds of people were already lined up. I wasn't going to be able to see anything from there.

So I left the parking lot and walked around the shopping center, heading south into the neighborhoods where locals had emerged from their homes to see what all of the fuss was about.

And I ended up with a front-row seat to Endeavour's passage.

By the time I got to Crenshaw and Homeland - about a half hour or so after I parked my car - the shuttle was about eight blocks away. Although it was traveling at 2 mph, it was running late. That meant I'd have to wait another hour to see it.

I got a little choked up as the space shuttle approached. I don't think it was patriotism overwhelming my emotions, but rather some sense of witnessing a historic event, like the Elephant Walk in New York, or the transport of the Spruce Goose, or of the unwanted Christ through the desert.

This was something that had ever been attempted before, and would probably never be attempted again.

I had to witness the tight squeeze past traffic lights for myself. I couldn't rely on mere reports of it. I had to cheer with the crowd. I needed a first-hand account of it.

There wasn't much to see as the shuttle passed by...

...only the behemoth of fuselage and machinery, crawling past, oddly earth-bound and horizontal.

But each power line that it cleared felt like a monumental accomplishment, worthy of applause, cheering the beast as it made its journey home, like King Kong on wheels.

Locals had been camped out for hours, seated in lawn chairs, snapping photos and snacking on barbeque.

I only had to wait an hour, and felt lucky.

I got stuck in traffic. I missed a friend's performance in a play. I missed a party. But it was worth it.

Something like this may never pass this way again.

And somehow, being a part of it made me fall in love with LA as never before...

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