Kalifornia to Kowloon for Kolor

Blognosticator Head

I’m in Hong Kong this week to attend the ICC conference. I composed this en route:

Kowloon via San Luis Obispo, San Jose and San Francisco
A melodrama in seven acts

I have been sitting in a nearly upright chair for the past 18 hours, a function of getting on a really big airplane and taking a really long flight. I just arrived in Hong Kong, and made my way very quickly from the airport to my hotel via high speed train and a free shuttle bus that ferried me directly to my destination.

Rigo mosaic 1

This is a mosaic, nearly 50 feet across, in the boarding area of Gate 98 in the San Francisco International Airport. It is the work of an artist named Rigo. It is one of many pieces of fine art in the airport buildings. Click on the image to see it at twice this resolution

The train was beautiful, quiet, and very fast. The entire journey from the airport to my hotel took less than an hour, which is admirable for any big city. I doubt that ground transportation would have made it here so quickly.

The day started with a flight in a propeller plane, an Embraer EMB120 Brasilia, a 33-seat turboprop made in Brazil. These are the staple of SkyWest, which operates as a feeder airline under the name United Express. The flight to San Francisco usually takes just a hint over an hour, and you arrive at United’s terminal there with access to every destination in the world.

But San Francisco had a surprise for us yesterday morning: thick fog. We circled overhead for thirty minutes, then landed at San Jose airport at the southern tip of the San Francisco Bay. There, the passengers were treated to a push-me, pull-you vaudeville show involving air traffic controllers, United Airlines Operations, various baggage handlers, ground handlers, and, of course, the weather.

The pilot pulled up into a line of these Brasilia planes, all diverted to San Jose from various small cities in California: Chico, Redding, Crescent City, Arcata, Bakersfield. We were last to land there, so last in line to be refueled. The pilot shut down the engines, the flight attendant opened the door and lowered the stairs.

We were then told that the plane would be fueled, and then we would fly to San Francisco – a seven-minute trip. But then a baggage truck pulled up and took the baggage off our plane and drove away. The passengers were in a tizzy. The pilot then told us we would be taken by bus to the baggage claim area to retrieve our bags, then put on a bus to San Francisco airport – a 45-minute trip.

The fuel truck pulled up, the driver unreeled the hose, stood there for a moment, then reeled the hose back into the truck and drove away. I found this odd because no matter what the outcome of our situation the plane would need fuel. Then a second fuel truck drove up and unreeled his hose, stood there for a minute, but did not connect the hose to the plane’s wing.

The pilot announced that we would be boarding the bus to the terminal in just a moment.

Less than two minutes later, the pilot said, “Wait! United Operations has given us permission to fly to San Francisco, and the fog has cleared.” We in the passenger compartment cheered this announcement. Then the baggage truck returned with our baggage, and – I presumed – loaded it back into the plane.

The passengers were chatting about missed flights (almost everyone had rescheduled using their iPhones), missed meetings, and missed opportunities. We were all resigned to getting wherever we were going – late. I never worried though; I had originally had a four-hour layover. Surely my big bird would be standing on the tarmac when I arrived (it was).

The fuel truck operator sang an aria entitled “Jet-A j’taime!” from Verdi’s operetta “Tarmac.” Then he added fuel to the plane.

Then, in the most ironic scene of this melodrama, a man boarded our plane, lifted the microphone from the front wall and announced that we were going to be disembarking (thank goodness he didn’t use the non-word “de-planing”) and going by bus to San Francisco. There was a collective groan from his captive audience.

Moments later, after a tête-a-tête with the pilot and the very patient flight attendant, the pilot announced that this announcement was not up-to-date, and that United Operations had indeed instructed us to fly-on to San Francisco. We would be departing, he promised, in 11 minutes. And we did, and the flight really only lasted seven minutes, and we were in San Francisco less than 15 minutes later, inside the terminal. Hats off to that flight crew! (And we all gazed down at the buses transporting our comrades from Chico and Crescent City as we flew over them.)

Zoell and window

Robert Zoell’s art in the glass of the International terminal at SFO: I loved the reflections of real airplanes combined with his typographic art depicting birds and airplanes. This is really nice work in an area where one does not expect fine art.

I had time to burn in San Francisco, so treated myself to a nice lunch and an unrushed walk to Gate 98 in the International terminal. Along the way I enjoyed the display of Japanese toys in the museum/concourse at United. The City of San Francisco runs the airport as an art museum, with ever-changing displays of art in the hallways, along the big United concourse, and a substantial permanent collection of art on the walls of the various terminal buildings.

Zoell 1

This art, which is encased in the glass along the walls of a passageway between two United Airlines terminals, is the work of Canadian artist Robert Zoell. In his description of the art, called BFILRYD, he explains that it’s about birds and trees and airplanes. I was impressed that it is made up of letters.

In the hallway between buildings I noticed artwork that I have never seen before. It is graphic art by Canadian artist Robert Zoell featuring birds, airplanes and trees, most of the art composed of sans serif letters. Zoell went to work in his father’s printing company at the age of 12 (sounds familiar) where he set type and made litho plates (sounds familiar). He obviously became enamored of type at an early age, and carried that through to these delightful pieces in the glass at the San Francisco airport.

In the boarding area of the International building was a breathtaking mosaic by a Portuguese artist who goes by the name Rigo. This work, entitled Thinking of Balmy Alley, is about 50 feet in width, and made of broken ceramic tile. It was refreshing to see the quality of art, and the commitment made by the people of San Francisco to make the airport both a terminal for transportation and a gallery of really fine art.

Mosaic detail

This is a close-up of the detail of Rigo’s mosaic. Click on the image to see it at twice this resolution.


About Brian Lawler

Brian Lawler is an Emeritus Professor of Graphic Communication at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and was a Guest Professor at Hochschule München from September, 2021 to September, 2022. He writes about graphic arts processes and technologies for various industry publications, and on his blog, The Blognosticator.
This entry was posted in Adventures, Art, Color Management, Typography and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.