From There to Here: Starman Envy 

Photo by Gregory Borjorquez

O Starman, Tucker, Fabulous Baker Boy: Yes, you, Jeff Bridges. There you are sitting in the departures lounge at Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris, waiting to board the 6:55 p.m. flight to L.A. Most people have been sitting around the airport for hours, but you’ve just strolled in, minutes before flight time. Being very wealthy and famous, you look, needless to say, like a guy who just got out of bed with $10 to his name. Your clothes are the requisite baggy, anonymous celebrity-wear. Black-framed reading glasses perch on your nose as you scan a gleaming copy of Details. Your carry-on is an old shoulder bag with almost nothing in it. Your hair is all there but not freshly washed.

Being neither wealthy nor famous, and with a rather meager sum of money in my bank account, I feel the need to look like someone reasonably well-off. My roundtrip ticket cost $360; yours must have gone for something like $6,000. But I’m the one wearing the smart (inherited) jacket and the freshly polished shoes ($30 at the Payless ShoeSource). To me, overdressed and carrying an elaborate leather shoulder bag with a zippered section for every facet of my airplane paranoia (the medical section, the book section, the food section, the money-keys-documents section), you seem, Jeff, as enviably unencumbered as a man embarking on a 30-second walk from his car to a restaurant on a warm summer evening in downtown Malibu.

Perhaps you have been in Paris to shoot a movie — que sais-je? Probably you speak no French. I suspect the presence of a small container of very expensive sleeping pills in your bag. You will eat magnificently — on Air France, the food is good even in economy — and then slumber all the way to Los Angeles.

Behind you a group of Tahitians dressed in trashy international sportswear (Gauguin would be shocked) strum guitars and sing the beautiful songs of their island. From a little jerk of your head in the Tahitians’ direction, I see that the songs have penetrated your consciousness. People are singing — why? They’re traveling, it’s an airport, that’s what people do when they have to sit around. Sounds kinda nice. Probably you don’t even know, Jeff, that they’ll be traveling on the same flight — for them, a connecting flight to Papeete. You don’t know, because you didn’t have to stand in line behind a hundred of them waiting to check in about, oh, four hours ago. I did, and I’m really, really hoping that I’m not going to be sitting next to them. When you get on a plane armed with sleeping pills, earplugs and literature, you don’t want to sit next to someone whose carry-on luggage is a guitar.

The plane is a 747, massive and about 80 percent full. All the way from Paris to L.A., the plane registers barely a tremor. Next to me is an enormously friendly American missionary who looks like a car thief. He has just been in Romania, and the subtext of his conversation is “Isn’t it great to be flying to America rather than away from it?” The meal done, I watch Legally Blonde for a few minutes while wearing earplugs rather than headphones and wait for the sleeping pill to take effect. Faintly, I can hear a Tahitian strumming a guitar 10 rows back, and everyone on the movie screen is gorgeous.

When I wake up, we’re three-quarters of the way to L.A. I consider taking a nibble from the large dried sausage I bought with my remaining French francs in duty-free at Charles de Gaulle, but instead I fill out my customs declaration and actually declare the sausage. As I do so, an autobiographical passage by the crime novelist Patricia Highsmith goes through my head: “Criminals are dramatically interesting, because for a time at least they are active, free in spirit, and they do not knuckle down to anyone. I am so law-abiding, I can tremble before a customs inspector with nothing contraband in my suitcases.” At any rate, a large dried sausage purchased (upon presentation of passport and plane ticket) in duty-free can’t possibly be considered contraband. I write it down: value approx. $8.

I see the Fabulous Baker Boy again in baggage claim. He’s just picking up his bags: two large, smart-looking suitcases. “That was quick!” he tells the woman from Air France who is there to assist him. By this point, I’m in a very bad mood, mainly because I’m dying for a cigarette and can’t have one until I get my one suitcase and am allowed to leave the terminal. The 12-hour flight I was prepared for, but the half-hour we spend sitting on the runway after landing does me in. “Well, it would be quick for you, wouldn’t it,” I mutter at Bridges’ head as I watch him stroll toward the exit.

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