I peered down at the fried fish whose eyes bore back up into me and knew right then this trip was one for the books. I was accompanied by my newspaper advisor, three fellow reporters, and a chaperone, all of us sitting inside BCD Tofu House, a restaurant in the Koreatown portion of Los Angeles.
We had arrived in sunny California that morning from the vastly different setting of Nebraska. We were there to proudly represent the Flightline newspaper at the 2016 JEA/NSPA Convention after being unexpectedly informed of its Pacemaker Finalist status, which ranked it among the country’s top 50 high school newspapers.
When I had strolled into newspaper class the first time, I never fathomed it would send me to Los Angeles. I just happened to be a girl who thrived off the thrill of the written word, which remained strong despite countless articles and dauntless deadlines.
We walked out of the restaurant into the bustling streets of downtown, my stomach just beginning to digest the foreign substance of tofu. I pondered the late nights writing, rewriting, then re-rewriting, now grateful because they were the reason my advisor extended me one of four invitations to come. Looking at the palm trees everywhere, I couldn’t have felt more alive because if there’s one thing I enjoy right up there with writing, it’s traveling.
The purpose of the trip was to attend the convention and accept a plaque, but that only occupied a small portion of our three allotted days. The rest was a blank page, ready to be written with stories of the numerous destinations and activities Los Angeles presents.
The activities we undertook were far from organized, but that’s the reason they became most memorable. My previous travels had been constrained by strict itineraries, but there was something exhilarating about going with the flow and pulse of the city around.
We waited outside two and a half hours to enter The Broad, Los Angeles’s new contemporary art museum. We passed time viewing the signs around while playing “guess that font,” a game only newspaper nerds could invent. This could have been eliminated had we reserved tickets in advance, however, the building anticipation made the towering electric blue balloon dog and larger-than-life dining table appear considerably more awe-inspiring. Not to mention, the moments outside forged a bond between us that simply hadn’t existed before.
The night before leaving, we ventured to Santa Monica. This impromptu endeavor proved timely, for the sun was just beginning to set when our toes touched the soft sand. We reminisced on the fun times, but more importantly laughed at the improbability of where we were and the fact that newspaper brought us here. With that breathtaking sunset backdrop, I knew these people were no longer just fellow staff members, but friends.
When it came time to board the plane home, none of us were prepared to say goodbye to California, and it seemed California wasn’t ready to see us go either. A glitch forced the plane to return to the gate just moments before takeoff, delaying our arrival to a ripe 1:30 a.m.
Memories like these couldn’t be planned, but I’ve discovered now the very best ones can’t be. I learned to fall in love with the experiences unique to a place rather than the destination itself. I realize now that truly memorable moments won’t be found on pages of an itinerary but within the spontaneous exploration of the world beside people who share in the adventure.
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