LA to Boston.

4.30 pm, PST: In-N-Out before returning the rental car and checking in. I get a cheeseburger (no onions), fries and a strawberry shake to split with Keith that is so thick it is hard work sucking it through the straw. I love In-N-Out. I hate how the closest one to my house is in Arizona.

5.05 – 5.34 pm: Rental return, riding the shuttle to LAX, checking in, security.

5.39 pm: On the phone with my mother, who is flying out of LAX direct to Manila tonight at nine. She’s traveling with her siblings — three brothers and two sisters — as well as some of their spouses, three of my cousins and my grandmother. I think there are thirteen of them total.

5.45 – 6.20 pm: Read Real Simple cover to cover. I’ve always liked their art direction, but is it strange to like a magazine devoted to home and organizing, particularly when your home is not very organized? I’ve got organization envy, I suppose.

6.30 pm: There is a man sitting a seat away from me at the gate, napping. He’s got impossibly small feet, and one ankle propped up on his knee. He’s holding his chin with his left hand, like he’s thinking deep thoughts in his sleep. He’s wearing a belt buckle as big as my palm, and a sizable mother-of-pearl ring on his pinky. And he snores at least as wheezily as my parents’ dog.

6.38 – 6.50 pm: Thumbing through Wizard while I wait for Keith to return from wandering around. I’ve read so many comics (an aunt worked at Marvel when I was growing up) and yet there’s still so many I’ve never even heard of. I love magazines that have list-y issues like this though.

7.00 pm: Boarding. Keith lets me have the window seat, which is nice. I like being able to see were I’m flying out of, if there’s still sunlight.

7.20 pm: Pushing back from the gate. The plane is full, apparently, of noisy kids. I am a lot less Zen about it this time around. If they don’t pass out in flight, I know I’m going to want to scream along with them.

7.23 pm: Listening to a plane powering up makes me think of a cat gearing up to pounce.

7.25 pm: How do planes work? How do they go up? How do they stay up? A plane is nothing more than an engine inside of a tin can with wings. A flying barracuda makes more sense.

7.31 pm: In flight. From my seat, I can see where Keith and I spent Saturday morning with my friend Ben, strolling along the Strand on Manhattan Beach. We walked about three miles out to the Manhattan Beach Pier, from which the million-dollar homes with Pacific views took on a strange appearance. “It looks like a shantytown,” Keith said, “like the slums of Rio.” Ben and I agreed, not that any of us have ever been to Rio.

7.35 pm: Flying over weird, just barely inland canals whose banks are lined with residences. Where is this? The surrounding area looks like a commercial port, and a processing plant.

7.46 pm: The mountains look beautiful in the setting sun, all stark shadows and craggy surfaces.

7.41 pm: Too many clouds. Can’t see anything but a few mountains poking through. They look like islands, and the clouds breaking waves.

7.45 pm: The light, and the fact that we’re flying east into night, makes everything below look like a solarized black-and-white photograph.

8.05 pm: Beginning our descent into Phoenix. Outside my window, it’s all a dull, colorless gray with the occasional freckling of light in the distance, like constellations.

8.11 pm: If this is Phoenix outside, which I suppose it must be, it’s as flat as a pancake. I don’t know anything about Phoenix except The Suns, and hot.

8.15 pm: I really, really, really hope the baby sitting behind me gets off the plane in Arizona.

8.16 pm: There is suddenly a whole cacophony of sympathetic crying going on.

8.23 pm: Landing.

8.30 pm: At the gate, sitting smack-dab in the middle of a row of empty seats. A scarily-slim woman plops herself herself down next to me… in a full-on squat. Her butt hovers a good two or three inches off of the chair. She takes off her shoes, a ridiculously high pair of purple patent leather strappy heels and begins wiping them off with a white athletic sock she pulled out of the beat-up shopping bag serving as her carry-on. When she’s done with the shoes, she starts picking at her toes. I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t stop staring.

8.35 – 9.22 pm: Read Lucky from cover-to-cover. I really like Amanda Peet. I think it’s her eyebrows. I also really like how Lucky doesn’t pretend and proudly calls itself “the magazine about shopping and style.”

9.25 pm: There seems to be a lot of small children at the gate. This portents doom.

9.43 pm: What appears to be at least twenty middle school kids in matching kelly green T-shirts just showed up at the gate. It looks like a class trip of some sort. This is going to be terrible.

9.50 pm: In our seats. A flight attendant asks one of the kelly green kids, “Where are you seated?” The kelly green kid replies, “I’m seated here.”

9.57 pm: Realize that we are surrounded on all sides by kelly green kids. I may have to ask them whether or not they plan on sleeping at all during the flight.

10.15 pm: Take off. Keith asks the kelly green kids behind us to please stop using our seatbacks as drum kits. He is much nicer than I would be… which probably crossed his mind.

10.30 – 2.10 am: Sleeping, or trying to. I hate trying to sleep on planes, especially when it feels more like being strapped into an amusement park ride. Each time the plane jostles the tiniest bit, the kelly green kids squeal and gasp. They eventually quiet, possibly because they’ve been knocked out by the bumps.

2.34 am: There aren’t many things prettier than early morning light. From over Keith’s shoulder I’ve lost track of the number of white church steeples rising up amongst the trees and houses.

5.38 am, EST: We’re home.

Breakfast at the North End Café.

I was so excited that my friend Ben was free to meet up for an impromptu breakfast this past Saturday. The only thing hampering our plans was the fact that none of us were remotely familiar with Manhattan Beach. Keith and I hadn’t the time to explore; all we had seen was a very unscenic stretch of Sepulveda dotted with P.F. Chang’s, California Pizza Kitchen, IHOP and Jack in the Box. Determined not to end up at Starbucks, we settled on North End Café on Highland, which we discovered simply by Googling.

The café is quite easy to find; there’s not way anyone could possibly miss its chartreuse-colored building, let alone the line wrapped around the front. The key is most certainly in arriving early, something Ben, Keith and I lucked upon.

Aesthetically, North End Café leans toward industrial chic, with concrete slab floors, stainless counters on casters and fans from the Modern Fan Company. The clear showpiece of the space, though, is the wall of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking 35th Street. Not only do they let in massive amounts of light, but they also open up the café, which is actually very small.

The menu is completely egg-centric; I think there are only a few choices that don’t rely on eggs at all, but avoiding North End’s eggs is just plain silly. Even Keith, who’s not a huge egg-eater, cleared his plate.

I chose the Neapolitan Toast — grilled bread filled with fresh aged mozzarella and checca, with a side of Italian eggs ($8.75). As far as coffee went, I had been engaged in my regular hemming and hawing (Did I want a latte? A cappuccino? An Americano?) when Ben pointed at what is destined to become my caffeinated version of a soulmate: the Medici — a mix of espresso, chocolate, orange zest and milk ($4.75 for a generous medium). Trust me when I say it tasted as amazing as it sounds.

You may not be able to tell from the photograph, but it’s not one, but two sandwiches stacked next to the pile of cheesy, herby, tomato-y eggs. While the flavors were all bright and fresh, I had the following three small issues:

  1. the eggs, though delicious, left vaguely unsavory tracings of oil all over my plate;
  2. the sandwiches would have been leagues more enjoyable had they been toasted just a smidge longer, fully melting the cheese within; and
  3. I wish the bread used had been something heartier, something with greater depth, for these slices made me think a little bit of Wonder Bread.

You know what though? None of that matters; I’m being needlessly nit-picky because, truly, I had a really great time at the café. It was a sunny morning, one of the firsts I had been able to appreciate for a while, and I was eating a tasty breakfast with two people whose company I love. What could possibly make a meal better than that?

North End Café
3421 Highland Avenue
Manhattan Beach, California 90266

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