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Claremont close to, far from the world

By John Pixley

Never mind having my own private airplane. This was like having my own private airport.

It was 8 o’clock on a recent Friday morning, and I was flying to Portland, Oregon with a companion for the weekend. Being dropped off at Ontario International Airport was exciting—I don’t fly much and love getting to do so. It was also weird.

This is an international airport? A ghost town was more like it.

Okay, it wasn’t a ghost town, but it was certainly quiet. There were cars, but I wouldn’t say there was any traffic, and the curb looked like it was begging to be used. Apparently, we were the only ones getting dropped off.

Like I said, it was like having my own private airport.

Inside, there were people getting tickets and checking baggage, but there were no lines at the counters. Going through security was a breeze, or as much of a breeze as going through security can be, and the large halls were all the larger with a few people scattered here and there. It was a surprise when the plane turned out not to be my own but own but full—where did all these people could from?—although it was a pretty small plane.

This was weird, but it really wasn’t. Apparently, Ontario International Airport is now like this much of the time. I have been seeing reports in the last two years or two that the airport is struggling. Or, more correctly, the airport is in the middle of a struggle.

For some years, the city of Ontario has been saying that the Los Angeles International Airport Association (LAIAA), which runs the airport in Ontario along with others including Los Angeles International Airport, has been ignoring the Ontario airport, letting it languish, in favor of LAX. Ontario has been trying to take over the local airport’s operation, saying it can do a better job and also eyeing the revenue it can raise for the city, but the LAIAA refuses to let it.

So there’s a stand-off here, and the loser is clearly this all-but-empty airport.

As nice as an uncrowded, if not private, airport is—certainly better than when I flew out of LAX several years ago—it would be a real shame if the Ontario airport ended up being shut down. And not just because I have sweet memories of going there as a child to pick up visiting relatives. (This was when there was only the ticket counters, waiting rooms and baggage claim, all in a row, before there were those great long halls with practically a city of shops, restaurant and cafes, long before the post-9/11 screening, and when passengers walked on the tarmac and used those airplane stairs and loved ones could join them right up to the tarmac.)

At the very least, getting to the Ontario airport is so much easier than getting to LAX. For as long as I can remember, I have heard people sigh, grumble, groan when saying that they are taking someone to or picking someone up at LAX. Indeed, whether someone in Claremont will give a ride to or from LAX may well be the ultimate test of friendship.

LAX may be the bane of our existence out here in Claremont—how could it be possible that no one is using the Ontario airport?—but the reality is that going to and from anywhere in LA is a crapshoot.

Sometimes LA is just so far away. Like on a recent Saturday night. I had seen a play at the Odyssey Theater in LA, it was after 11 and getting back home suddenly seemed like a huge ordeal. It didn’t help that the on-ramp to the 405 was closed—no, it wasn’t the “Jamzilla” weekend—and that there was suddenly a bank of very dense fog. I told my friend it would be nice to have an apartment out there where I could crash.

Once we finally got on the 10, after ending up on the 405 south of the 10 and having to get off and get back on heading north, it wasn’t bad. Still, I found myself saying, “This is when I hate being in Claremont.”

I told myself a number of years ago that I would stay in Claremont with it being easy or at least not too hard to get to LA. (The Metrolink train and the 210 freeway extension helped in this decision.) At times like this, it feels like the deal is being broken.

Sometimes, it’s just late by the time I start heading out of LA, especially the west side, and I wish I could go right to bed—I’m not 25 anymore—rather than have to take the trip home. Sometimes, there is traffic on the way home at 10:30 on a Saturday night or going to LA at 7 p.m. on a Saturday or at 2 p.m on a Sunday. The fact is that “the 5 o’clock traffic” doesn’t mean anything anymore. (It sounds quaint, doesn’t it?) There is, or can be, traffic anytime, anywhere.

It is frustrating having to leave my house by 6:30 for an 8 p.m. show in LA, knowing that I might get there at 7:15 but also that if I leave at 7, I may well get stuck in traffic and be late. (Having GPS with a traffic feature helps.) All the more frustrating is knowing that I was recently able to get home one evening from the Mark Taper Forum in half an hour.

Perhaps this isn’t the best—not with this griping now and then, not to mention wondering about the handy local airport—but it’s certainly the better part of both worlds. Or perhaps of all worlds. Especially when, also in recent weeks, I’ve been able to see Avenue Q performed at the high school (the intrepid Krista Elhai and her brave crew strikes again!) and a Leonard Pronko-directed production of Moliere’s Tartuffe at the colleges here.

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