I felt something was different as I made my way through the TSA Security checkpoint and was directed into a clean empty hallway. "To all Gates" read the sign above an elevator. Escalators were a bit further down and not so obvious, but I stepped on and watched my surroundings change into a place I had never been before.
A few employees wearing id tags and black t-shirts that said "Welcome" were coming right for me and checking doors. I was clearly unsure where to go, but only their shirts bothered to greet me. Suddenly an unmarked door opens behind me and a head pops out. The group turns. "Hey is that the break room? I need a smoke." They file right through me and into the door, it shuts, and again I'm alone at the end of a hallway. There was no way to go but to my right.
"Just keep going up to your right" I hear a voice from the Security checkpoint hollering to a couple arriving at the top of the escalator. So I kept going to my right, around an atrium filled with natural light, with a moving mural wall at the far end. Breathtaking. I stop to take it in.
This was definitely not the same terminal I'd transited so many times. I was certain I had turned the corner into an art gallery. More people with "Welcome" shirts scurried about ignoring me. I figured if I had inadvertently stumbled upon a private gallery opening, I was going to play it cool as if I was totally meant to be there. There was still only one direction to head, and I proceeded confidently.
As the hallway poured out into a main foyer, I spied signs "Micheal Kors", "Tumi" and "Duty Free" and almost wept to realize this was, in fact, the newly renovated Tom Bradley International Terminal I'd only ever seen in construction phases from the outside. I checked my watch - I had a good 2.5 hours to explore and take it all in before my flight was to depart. How excited was I?!
Where to start? The place was empty. I spotted another small cluster of "Welcome"-clad people at a table with signs. I read the sign behind them.
Grand opening September 18... that's today! And it's here! And now! I asked the woman who was eyeing me as I took pictures "So is this really the first day this terminal is open? Today?"
"Yes," she replied to the obvious, offering no further information. Again, her black t-shirt screamed "Welcome" as she proceeded to silently wait for me to finish so she could finish whatever nothingness she was meant to be doing there.
I looked around and spotted flight crews and yes, other travelers, gathering across the floor, so I headed over to see what the draw was.
Ah, welcome freebies! Water & Wi-fi! I took a water for good measure as it seemed to be the most forthcoming "welcome" on offer, and settled on a place to sit, pull out the real camera, and continue exploring as if I were now on a press assignment. I wasn't, it was sheer coincidence that had me here for the Grand Opening of the terminal, but work habits die hard and besides, it was clean, uncrowded, and architecturally stunning.
The moving murals would evolve from cascading waterfalls to suitcases piled sky high....
....from cloudy skies to a Japanese painting...
...to subtle retail imagery inspiring you to shop in the not-yet-open boutiques...
...all with gentle sounds elements wrapping you in the experience as you pass by.
I managed to post a couple of quick Instagrams featuring a few of the airport "Pups" - pets unstressing passengers - what a brilliant addition, well-played LAX!
Then the time came to hang out at my gate for my Emirates flight.
The seats in the gate area were all lovingly accented with plug outlets, another quietly unassuming welcome detail in the new terminal.
Alas, time came to board and I took one last look back down the row of empty retail space and wondered how different it will all look when I come back through here next month. One thing I will know for sure is that I definitely will have been here before.
This post is shared with Instagram Travel Thursday, where you'll find more bloggers using Instagram to share their travels.