St. Kilda, Australia. 2007.
Alone at a restaurant, watching the world pass by.
This is where I am often most comfortable: alone. Surrounded by many but anonymous and alone.
The second part of my stories of Australia. This one, originally written on my way home from that tripe, December 10, 2007.
You can read part one here.
I’ve been in Australia for nearly a week and the time has flown by.
All the work is done. Time for a little relaxation. My shoes are covered in dust from walking the grounds of the Melbourne Zoo today. My head and neck is sunburned from the blazing, late-spring, equatorial sun. It got hot the last couple days. Considerably hotter than the useless weather forecast had claimed it would last week when I checked.
The trip, from a business perspective has been successful. I managed to defuse customer concerns, get an unmanageable local contractor managed, train dozens of people on technologies they have no prior experience with, and get yet another client up and running with products that will help them offer their patients better, safer health care.
Not bad for essentially three days of work.
And even more importantly I managed to leave myself some downtime… time to explore. Time to look around a city and a country that I am visiting for the first time.
…I like it here too.
Funny speak and pronunciations aside, I think they all dealt with my American ways and took things in stride.
Yes, sorry to say, my fellow Americans, but we are the odd-man out in the world. We do things different, but not necessarily better. The metric system does make more sense. Driving on the left or right… eh, I don’t know if either way has a significant advantage.
And it’s nice to walk through an airport to get to a domestic flight without having to undress and show your ID forty-five times.
Nevertheless, I do miss home. As the trip winds down I think more and more about what I will be returning home to in just two days. My kids, resuming business, working out things that I had begun working on before I left… getting on with life.
Getting on with life in a new way… a different way. A way I’ve never experienced before. Change can be scary… but it can also be so liberating. When you realize you can let go of the past and move forward with life. When you realize taking a risk doesn’t have to mean giving up everything you know and love… and everything you’ve worked to achieve.
When you realize, you can be in charge of your own happiness… you’ve found a certain freedom not many people allow themselves to have.
I have found it.
There were only two things on my mind as I wandered the zoo this morning; my kids, and getting really nice pictures for… someone that it would mean something to.
I explored. I observed animals I’ve never seen up close.
Yes, the platypus is the most bizarre thing you ever wanted to see…
I got really nice pictures of a type of porcupine native to the Australian continent. And Asian otters. Chirping, playful little creatures.
I took over 400 pictures. I love this new camera!
As the afternoon wore on, I felt the heat of the sun starting to penetrate. My head burned on the surface and began to throb on the inside. I knew it was time to go.
I quickly learned the Tram system, so taking the Tram to and from the zoo was easy and relaxing. I could have walked it. It would have been about four miles, but with time at a premium and my feet sore from the previous days of walking, the Tram was the way to go.
I returned to my hotel and picked up my bags, which they so graciously held for me after checkout. A quick cab ride to the airport and, literally, only about 10 minute through booking and security.
No huge lines. No Nazi’esque security measures. I didn’t even need to take off my shoes or show ID beyond ticketing.
Talk about foreign.
Sitting at the gate waiting on a flight to Sydney now – I get to spend tomorrow there before starting home early on Monday. The gate area is quiet. The airport, not as bustling as the airports in larger US cities. They have an arcade game at the gate – ironically named, “Daytona USA.”
Reaching up to rub my aching head, I feel the heat radiating off of it. That is going to sting tomorrow in the shower.
I’m debating calling David in Sydney to ask him to recommend a restaurant for tonight after I arrive. Maybe I’ll call before I board the plane.
I was asked if I’ve tried any Australian delicacies. I don’t know if there are any uniquely Australian dishes – with the exception of vegemite, which David described as tasting like salty dog poop. I can take a pass on that.
Yes, I realize I might actually like it… but, nah. With the influence of many Italian, Greek and Asian immigrants to Melbourne there was plenty of good food to choose from.
Thursday day night I had a linguine marinara with assorted seafood. I figured it would be pasta in a tomato sauce with a few scallops and shrimp tossed in… I was shocked when the plate was placed before me and it was a heaping mound of prawns, shrimp, scallops, mussels and even half of a crab tossed over pasta.
Now that’s the way I like to cook!
The entire week has been very interesting.
I arrived to the hospital I had to work at on Monday, earlier in the afternoon than I expected. David was working on trying to solve network issues with the hospital IT staff and the vendor team was waiting for me to help guide them through the last stages of the project. I sat with David in the IT department as we discussed the network settings and security implications with the IT team. After sorting out the variables, we headed to the BioMed department to test devices. None of them would connect on the network. IT was positive all the settings were correct, but they couldn’t activate the VLAN across all of the access points.
We were at a standstill. It was 4:00PM. We couldn’t go forward with configuring devices if they couldn’t make it work… so, we went out and drank.
We’re IT guys. When the going gets tough, the liquor starts flowing.
Helping matters was the fact I was demanding a hotel room and a shower after over 28 hours of travel. David and I walked to the hotel. From the hospital to the hotel was about a mile and a half walk (or, a couple kilometers). My first real look at the area was beautiful – the first part of our walk was through a beautiful park. People were playing and resting on blankets under tress. The foliage was magnificent and the tree-lined lanes looked like something straight from a painting.
Across the park was the road to home – Flinders Street. Parts under construction, a little dusty and a main thoroughfare; busy, crowded and loud. About halfway down was this amazing yellow and red building, the Flinders Street Station. It’s a main depot for all Trams, Trains and busses in Melbourne.
The street is lined with shops and cafes. The smell of fresh coffee and baking flowed from every other doorway. I was getting hungry. Dinner was still hours away.
We got to the hotel. David told me to meet him at the bar in an hour. I spent the next twenty minutes trying to convince the desk staff that my reservation really was for five days, and not just one. They figured it out, but didn’t have a room they could give for five days.
Wonderful start. But, they sorted it and I was soon in my room, over looking the Yarra River and attempting to settle in a bit before showering and heading back out for the evening.
I met David downstairs – he was already seated and had beers on the table in front of him. I had little choice but to drink, but it was like I was going to put up a fight at this point? We only had a few minutes anyway – the restaurant the vendor team chose was about a 20 minute cab ride from the hotel, so we needed to down drinks and get rolling.
David and I discussed everything that had taken place up to that point with the project. The pitfalls and issues – mainly due to the fact it was the first such installation in Australia, and the time and distance between contacting teams in America during business hours made getting the information they needed problematic.
I promised him we’d get it all solved. He assured me of his confidence in that.
We left for dinner.
Two Fat Indians restaurant wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. I’ve never had Indian food before, but it was good. They also had a very nice wine list, which made it completely tolerable even if the food was mediocre.
One thing I was quickly learning though, in Australia, good service means you get something… at some time… perhaps even what you wanted.
I asked for water at least six times during the meal…
The teams sat around the restaurant, having coffee or hot chocolates, discussing everything from working on the next sales in Asia-Pacific, to asking me what they call this or that in America. Some of them have been to America, mostly for business events and generally just to New York City. New York City is not America… it should be its own country, if not its own state. And it’s a horrible representation of what the majority of America is like.
And, all of them… absolutely all of them, couldn’t understand why or how Bush got elected…. Not once, but twice!
One of the team members from the pharmacy team, Melissa, gave us a ride back to the hotel. She and I discussed the similarities in growing up in an Italian immigrant household, regardless if it was in New York or Victoria. And we agreed home-made Italian is the best Italian food!
Back at the hotel, the night was brief. David and I stopped at the bar for a double Bailey’s as a night cap and then we went to our respective rooms to rest from a long day. I checked email, returned messages, checked in with my friends online… I took some night pictures of Melbourne, and retired to bed.
I woke up at 5AM, wide awake and ready to go. David and I had agreed to meet for breakfast at 8AM, so I had time to kill. It’s afternoon on the east coast then, so it was a good time to catch up with friends and family.
Breakfast was decent, but not worth the $22 a plate the hotel demanded for it. David was running late, so I sat and waited for him. Four cups of coffee later, he was finally ready to take the walk back to the hospital…
Sitting here trying to recall my first full day, a grandmother just let her granddaughter loose in the concourse to go run to her mom. As her mom walked towards them, the toddler threw out her arms and yelled “MAMA!” and ran towards her mother just as fast as her little legs would take her. An adorable scene, but as cute as that sounds, just a meter before reaching her mom, she made an immediate left turn and ran in another direction!
Kids are great at that age, aren’t they?
The Australian culture is very fit. Much more so than America. Throughout Melbourne, people are jogging, riding bikes, walking fast… most younger people are very trim and the dreadfully morbesse person is very rare indeed.
That being said, in an ironic twist, they seem to be a lot less concerned with the negative effects of smoking. People smoke everywhere. I saw a woman power-walking through the park; a bottle of water in one hand, a cigarette burning between her fingers in the other. Although they’re very strict about smoking allowances in public places – no smoking indoors, no smoking on the sidewalk outside a building, you will still see people huddled into alley ways and delivery doors to catch their smoke break. Sitting outside at a restaurant means sitting in a constant cloud, or stream, of cigarette smoke.
I just don’t understand it.
Tuesday flew by as we had more than a days worth of work to do in order to catch up from Monday. We put in a long day and at the end, David flew home to Sydney – pre-arranged, figuring once the bulk of the work was done, I could handle the rest.
It got to be about 7:00PM by the time I began my walk back to the hotel. I took my camera with me and took pictures as I went through the park and up and down Flinders. A small Sushi take-out caught my eye, so I stopped and got some to take back to the hotel. The travel and lack of sleep the night before was getting to me. I ate my sushi, with full intentions of heading back out to see sights, but before I knew it was getting dark outside and the bed was beckoning me to join its downy sheets and marshmallowy pillows.
I woke up the next morning at 5:30AM. Getting better.
I took my time walking back to the hospital in the morning, knowing I had a full day ahead of me again. Training all the important people and cleaning up work that needed to be done, leftover from the day before. I felt good. Very good. I was all smiles and greeted everyone with a calm and happy greeting. Things felt different – I felt rested and ready to go. I think the reality that I was literally a half of a world away from home for the first time in my life had finally settled in.
I had the help of the local team, unboxing and reboxing devices as we went. The day flew by. Everyone seemed a lot more relaxed today. Perhaps it’s just my demeanor – people sense control and confidence when I do a job. Even if things aren’t going as planned. It is one of my finer points, I will admit.
My chemistry teacher pointed it out to me in high school, “You’re very relaxed and laid back. People will always feel relaxed around you and if you exude confidence, they will find confidence with you. But,” he warned, “if you don’t exude confidence, you’ll come across as apathetic and then no one will believe in you.”
He was right. I didn’t know what he meant at the time. I didn’t have confidence then and he knew it, hence his comments. But as I’ve grown into my adult life and career I’ve learned how important confidence becomes – especially when trying to lead. This job demands a leader. My life demands I lead, not follow. As my career has moved along, I’ve developed that confidence and I know I can lead and get others to follow.
Even if I have no confidence in myself otherwise.
Work finished up – I invited the vendor team to dinner, since they treated on Monday, I wanted to treat them once this week – to thank them for the opportunity and their hospitality. They all declined, which left me on my own for another evening.
No worries. I have feet and a camera.
I walked along the Yarra River, in front of the Crown Casino and Southbank Promenade. Taking pictures of the sun setting over the river, the people I saw, the buildings and bridges and scenery. I felt productive. Unfortunately none of the restaurants of the area were really catching my eye. I settled on Il Posto Primo, because it actually had things on the menu that didn’t make me scratch my head in wonder… and I’m a pretty daring person when it comes to eats.
It got dark quickly, and the time for taking good photos was over, but I got in some good playtime experimenting with the night lights and shutter speeds… it would have been a lot better with a tripod though…
Sitting in Sydney, reflecting back on the trip now and debating what I want to do tonight. Last night in town. Do I head to the party district and cut loose or find something cultural and more sophisticated to do, such as sitting at the hotel bar trying out expensive drinks?
My time in Sydney this trip is much too short and it seems like a very cool town. My first night, David and I went into Chinatown for dinner. Looks like every other Chinatown in every other multicultural and cosmopolitan city I’ve been to. Good food, a little different atmosphere than the rest of the city, given the culture and people you’re surrounded by. We passed by several restaurants – the hostesses aggressively trying to attract you into their particular restaurant… “You look for good dinner? We have good food! Come in?” and the sort. Imagine that in a Chinese accent, and I don’t mean to be offensive, that is what they do. Similar to the way you get approached on the streets of Vegas to go into the nudie shows, except the expectation is much, much different.
After dinner we walked the city, then got a cab to Kings Crossing – the party (or, Red Light) district. People watching there was amazing. Seriously. Being sober and watching the drunk people… not that it’s a new experience but in a vastly different environment than I’m used to.
David commented, “If I knew all the rage with young women this summer was going to be to dress like a slut, I would have opened up a slutty dress shop six months ago…”
The next day was spent wandering the streets with Brian. A good guy, but heavy Australian accent and he tends to mumble and stutter a bit which makes communicating with him a little difficult.
We started with lunch at a pub – pizza and pots of beer. We went daring on the pizza. All this time he has lived here and never had kangaroo meat... so we got one pizza with kangaroo and one with emu. Both, very tasty, I have to say.
We walked the harbor bridge, which for tourists, really leads to nowhere. But walking across it gives you a good look at the harbor, the Opera House and the city. So we walked its length and then turned around and walked back. Then, to the Quay, where the harbor market was taking place. We stopped and had a coffee and talked about life mostly. The differences in attitudes between Americans and Australians when it comes to living and relationships, and doing the things that make your life happy and meaningful.
I like the Australian ideas better.
No pressure to get married. People can live together, then move on. People who do get married generally wait until their older – 30’s or later. Divorce is no big deal and people have a general understanding that if it’s just not working out, moving on is a reasonable option.
Evolution never ends. We have a lot to learn…
As the dark clouds thickened over the city, we continued our walk through the harbor and up to the Opera House. It was crowded, but the heat and humidity probably kept it from being as crowded as it could be on a Sunday.
It is a lovely building… very unique and a much different surface than I had imagined from pictures.
Out past the city to the south, lightning began to streak across the sky. The first few raindrops could be felt – big, cold drops which at first were somewhat shocking to the skin.
Brian and I began to head back towards the city from the harbor. He had enough of sight-seeing and wanted to get on with his day. As we walked, a little more briskly than the leisurely stroll to the harbor, the rain intensified. Thunder rolled through the distance and the wind changed from the strong ocean breeze we once enjoyed to a course, violent wind blowing from inland.
We made it to the parking ramp where Brian had left his car. I thanked him for his hospitality and we parted ways. My hotel was a few blocks further and the rain was really starting to come down. My first concern, of course, was for my camera. I kept it covered in my clothing; the second lens in my pocket banged against my leg with every step.
The city is very hilly. The harbor much lower than the level the hotel is on. I climbed George Street past the shops and restaurants. I made note of a particularly interesting looking Italian place by the pedestrian mall on Nurse Walk. I found the stairs that would lead me back up to the hotel entrance. Old, cobblestone stairs, patched with concrete – they were steep and slippery in the rain.
Once back in my room, I downloaded pictures from my camera, happy it had survived the rain. A few people were online, and I had a quick conversation with a friend before she retired for the evening… and my bed was calling. Although it was an off day without work to do, the heat, the walk, the climb… made it an exhausting day. A nap was in order…
When I awoke about an hour later the sun was shinning again. I showered, changed my clothes and headed back out to find dinner. I walked back down the hill to the mall and rediscovered that Italian place I had seen earlier. As is common, when eating alone, I got seated in the smallest table in the most remote corner and promptly forgotten by the staff. But as I sat and waited, I observed another gentleman who was also eating alone. Finishing his meal and drinking the last of the beer in his glass.
He looked to be in his late fifties. Shaved head, business attire… and seemed to be lost in thought. He took out his Blackberry and began fiddling with buttons. He put it away. He read the label on his beer bottle. He fidgeted with his napkin.
I watched him intently for a few minutes, but my thoughts revolved around myself. Do people observe me when I eat alone on the road? Do I look as lost in thought and looking for something to do… to occupy myself… to pass the time where if I were with someone there would be conversation? More to the point, will this be me still in twenty years?
And if it is… is that self-reliance and independence, or just plain pathetic?
My meal finally arrived just as the subject of my observations left. Bland, uninteresting soup. Bland uninteresting pasta dish. I expected, better. Flavor. Something.
I ordered a second glass of wine. Then a third. I should have ordered a bottle.
It was about this time that Sarah called me just to say hi. Hearing her voice illuminated my spirit - what a wonderful surprise! I walked away from my table to a quieter part of the mall so we could speak, albeit briefly. Always, too brief.
I returned to my table and sipped my wine, now, becoming lost in thought as well. The waiters began moving tables around on the patio to accommodate a group of people. The heavy marble top tables required two of them to move. The wrought iron legs still scrapping across the concrete patio blocks.
Three women were shown to the table combination, but they set up chairs for six, taking one from my table. The women were obviously having a fun night out. They spoke in loud voices with intermixed laughter. The one sitting closest to my table turned to me and apologized for their raucousness. I assured them it wasn’t a problem. The blonde at the furthest end of the table was looking at me and whispering to the third.
“Yes, let’s invite him over,” I heard her say, “he’s obviously alone.”
Her friend was more cautious, “But we don’t know him,” she said, “what if he’s crazy or something?”
“Oh, the more the merrier!” was her response.
So they invited me over. Their other friends joined. A man and a woman. They were on the phone calling their sixth friend. I ordered another glass of wine. Now why didn’t I just get a bottle?
I finished the glass… and ordered a bottle. I finished the bottle.
The entire party was a collective like the United Nations. Two from the UK, two from Germany, one from Denmark, one from Finland… all in Sydney to celebrate one of their birthdays.
Quite a party.
After they had dinner we all took a cab to a night club in the city. We drank more, we danced. I headed back to the hotel around midnight, knowing I was going to have to travel the next day and fight on helluva hangover.
But it made the night a lot more interesting than just sitting alone…
Thursday in Melbourne was a busy day of work. I went to the vendor’s local offices to train all of their sales and services teams on the technology that they are starting to offer their customers. The technical aspects of it, the procedural aspects of installing it and migrating the customers to it once it is installed. It was an all day training.
Nicole, the vendor rep for the area, picked me up from my hotel at 9AM and we went to their offices. The training went well for being a little off-the-cuff and all improvisation. Then it was back to the hospital to finish work and some training there. We wrapped up around six and as we left the hospital, she called her husband to let him know she wouldn’t be home for dinner.
“I’ll be out of town tomorrow, so you and I need to have dinner tonight.” She told me.
I didn’t argue.
We got in her car and she handed me a gift bag.
“I hope you like red.” She said with a smile.
“Love it! But you didn’t have to do that, really…”
“No, no. Without you this task would have been impossible for us, and you’ve come a long way to make it happen. Thank you.”
“Well, it was my pleasure…” and it really was. I do enjoy the work I do, and, when you get the chance to travel like I have… this one was indeed a rare opportunity.
She drove us out to St. Kilda Beach and we walked the pier. It extends out into the ocean quite a distance. In the middle, a kiosk and concession stand. At the very end, boat slips where hundreds of boats were docked. The wind blew strong off the ocean and I snapped picture after picture as we went along.
“Do you want me to take pictures of you… someplace?” Nicole asked.
“No, that’s ok,” I replied, “I know I was here and having me in the picture would just take away from it…”
As we walked the pier and snapped pictures at random, not even lifting the camera to see what it is I’m taking pictures of.
It’s digital, they can be deleted later, and sometimes you get some really neat shots just being random.
“Do you even know what you’re taking pictures of?” she asked.
“Not all the time. I like being random.”
“What do you like taking pictures off? Anything in particular?”
“Hmmm, not really,” I responded, “I tend to just take pictures of whatever catches my eye. Like, for example, you know how you see the Japanese tourists all taking turns taking pictures of each other standing in front of a monument or landmark?”
“Well, I’d be taking a picture of the Japanese guys instead of the landmark, because that behavior and people are more interesting.”
She shook her head in a little bit of disbelief, but I think she already suspected I’m not ordinary.
We walked back up to the street and headed into the restaurant district of St. Kilda. She decided on The Street Café – and Italian restaurant, and according to her, an institution. One of those places you just have to go to. We ordered birra Pernonis, garlic bread and ate an incredible meal.
After dinner she took me back to my hotel and we said our good-nights. Odds are I wouldn’t see her again this trip, but she has to come to America for trainings in the near future, and she wants me in charge of all of their Asia-Pacific installations, so you never know what the future will hold.
Friday I had to myself. A few calls into the hospital to make sure everything was going smooth a few conversations with David and a couple with Nicole. Everything was running along according to plan.
I took the morning as a tour of the parks near the hospital. Fitzroy Gardens was especially beautiful. For me it was particularly relaxing to just wander, to take in the natural beauty of the area and take pictures of everything I saw.
A company picnic where men were playing football in slacks and dress shoes. The beautiful flowers, people sitting and reading, enjoying a morning or afternoon break. I spent over four hours just enjoying being outside in the sunshine and observing life.
The battery on my camera started getting low and I wanted to go to the zoo later. I walked back to my hotel to try and charge the battery. Fortunately the hotel has a 110 outlet set up for American electric razors in the bathroom; otherwise my picture taking might have been done days early.
After a rest and giving the battery time to charge, it was time to head back out. I stopped at the front desk and asked how to get to the zoo. The woman looked at me with disappointment.
“Awww, sir, the zoo closes at 5PM every day. It is about a 30 minute tram ride to get there…”
It was already 4PM… where had the day gone. But that’s ok, plan B. I can hit the zoo tomorrow before I fly to Sydney. I asked her how to get to the Botanical Gardens. She showed me a map. About a three mile walk, across the river and down St. Kilda Street. I headed out to enjoy more of the day.
I took pictures as I went. The walk was longer than I expected, but very interesting along the way. I took pictures in the gardens behind the rowing club houses and all along the river promenade and through the Temple park where their memorial to fallen soldiers stands.
I finally got to the botanical gardens – mostly out doors except for a few conservatories. I walked the entirety of the gardens. It was about 6:30PM. Now where to?
Well, I was on St. Kilda Street, so why not St. Kilda. I wasn’t sure how far it was, it’s not on the city map. I started walking. I made it about another two miles and then realized I’m still no where near it. So I hopped on a tram for the remainder of the trip.
The beach was extremely windy. Wind surfers filled the harbor, darting quickly in the strong wind. I walked the sandy beach from the pier to the end of the break, then headed back towards the restaurants to find dinner.
I wrapped up the night back in my hotel… relaxing and cooling off from the hot day. I wanted to get to bed early because I knew the next day would be busy, hectic, and even more tiring.
When I woke up Saturday morning and put my feet on the floor I was greeted by immediate pain radiating up through my legs. All that walking the day before in sandals had my feet completely cramped up. It took a bit of walking around, and standing in a pool of hot water in the shower to loosen everything up.
They had better cooperate though, I thought… otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to go to the zoo….
I’ve started the last bit of my trip now. It is Monday, December 10. I spent the morning at the vendor offices in Sydney drinking water trying to shake off the effects of Sunday night. I talked business with Brian for a while, then we tried explaining sports to each other… him telling me about Cricket, Australian Rules Football (which is played in some areas of Australia) and Rugby (which is played in the other areas). I tried teaching him more about American Football.
He dropped me off the airport for my 4:15PM flight to San Francisco… wonderful surprise, since the flight was completely sold out I got bumped up to business class. Ah, the benefits of having over 135 flights on Star Alliance partners this year!
In the airport I grabbed up souvenirs for the kids. I got Heathers’s shot glass that she requested. Sarah refused to let me buy her anything… but she did get otter pictures.
One of the best inventions ever – Noise Canceling Headphones. I sit on this 747, listening to music Sarah has sent me to travel with, lost to the world. I can’t hear voices; I can’t hear the hum of the engines. I can only hear blissful, beautiful music.
The kind of music you can wrap around yourself like a blanket…
But when I take the headphones off – the noise of the cabin is incredible! Even with most people sleeping.
Only ten hours to go until touchdown in San Francisco… I wonder how pissed off the guy sitting next to me would be if I tossed a glass of water in his face while he slept… hmmm….
Landed in San Francisco. I swear there isn’t a single English speaking person working in this airport. And isn’t it always comforting to be around the group of Asian travelers all wearing their surgical masks in public? Oh no, please, sit near me! I insist!
Have an hour to go before my connection to Charlotte. I didn’t sleep well on the flight from Sydney, so I’m tired and still feel the effects of Sunday night. It’s hot in this airport and my stomach is churning. Is it still recovering or maybe returning to reality. When I’m home I have constant headaches and heart burn. My stomach felt horrible the first two days in Australia, but after that, I relaxed and felt fine. Now, more than halfway home, it’s returning.
This is the sucky part of travel – when you’re in the airport, once you have your ticket and are through security, you’re a prisoner. You can’t go outside. You can’t do anything but sit around. I need some fresh air right now… but I can’t go get any and in an hour, I’ll spend another six hours in a tube traveling at 500 miles per hour.
For that, I can’t wait to get home. Just to walk outside and breathe some fresh air.
I wonder if the bank has sent back the contract yet… I hate banks. Of course they haven’t. They’re sitting on it for no good reason. “They’re busy,” is what they’ve officially told my agent. Busy is no excuse. Banks don’t take “I’m busy” as an excuse if I’m late with a payment on something. The fuckers better get on it ASAP.
This is what I have to catch up with in life upon my return… and it’s still too gawddamm hot in this airport.
I’m now back in Charlotte. It seems like just yesterday I started my journey here, but it was ten days ago. But now it ends… one last flight and tomorrow, life will resume.
But, what exactly will tomorrow bring?
Life can be funny that way… you never know, so you have to take it a day at a time.
It was December of 2007. My life was changing in drastic ways, and I was on my way to Australia. These are the thoughts and experiences surrounding making that trip...
Originally written December 2, 2007
Another rushed morning preparing for travel.
This usually happens on a Monday morning, or even a Tuesday. Rarely ever a Saturday, but today’s trip is unlike any other I’ve taken.
The other side of the world; my first journey off of North America. It is a trip I anticipated back in the summer. The project plan started in March. I received my assignment in April and they projected I would have to make this trip in late June. Back then, I was excited to go. To get away from the things bothering me here.
Those months seem so long ago.
Since then, so much has changed. And although I still want to go to Australia and make a trip to a place I’ve never been to, and perhaps would never get to go to… the timing couldn’t be worse.
I start my morning by skipping the bathroom routine – no teeth brushing, no shaving… just go to the fridge and pour a glass of orange juice to get things going. I know I’m not going to have the time to brew coffee and no one here will do it for me, so I skip it. I can get some with lunch when I land in Charlotte.
My real-estate agent calls at 8:15. He didn’t realize the bank wanted a fully executed contract yesterday, so we have to do it today before I leave – 11 days from now might be too late. Trying to make a real estate transaction happen while bounding around the country... never in town… and make it happen in half the time of a normal transaction.
It has already been stressful, timing makes it doubly so.
I work in my office, preparing things for my extended absence. I have to get FedEx shipments together – 11 days from now for them will be too late. I send my last few emails, back up the accounting software. The contractor noticed a mistake on yesterday’s invoice and he needs me to fix it before I leave. I print out a new invoice and email it to him.
Everything is packed and ready to go except my laptop. My agent arrives at 8:45 – the contract is printed but he needs to review it. A thirteen page contract, sign and initial every page as we review it. There are four copies to sign and date. I only have an hour, and he wants to do this thoroughly. The clock is ticking, I need to shower and get dressed, I need to finish a few things in my office… time is valuable.
We finish the contract… he looks up at me with a smile and says, “Australia? Wow. I have to admit, I’m a bit envious.”
“It’s just a business trip. I’ll make the most of it but, it’s just another trip to me…”
“No, it’s not.” He says, “some people might say, yeah, no big deal, you’re just getting on a plane and you’re there… but a trip that far, there is so much more to it than that. It takes a certain amount of bravery to undertake that kind of trip. I don’t know if I could do it.”
“If you can get past the boredom of two full days on airplanes, you can do it.”
“I suppose. Try to enjoy some of your time there, and take lots of pictures! Don’t worry about the house… I’ll make sure everything goes smooth.”
“Thanks,” I replied, “I really do appreciate how you’ve gone the extra mile on this one.”
“My pleasure. Safe journeys, and we’ll finalize things when you get back.”
He left. Now it’s 9:40, I have to leave for the airport at 10:15 and I know my exit from the house won’t be quick or easy.
I rush through a shower and I’m ready to go. My laptop goes in my bag, my MP3 player in an outside pocket and I carry everything from my office downstairs.
I can hear the kids playing on the other side of the house… I round them up for hugs. My daughter, the eldest of the three, comes to me with tears in her eyes.
“I don’t want you to go…” she says while bravely trying to hold back her tears.
“Awww... I know… I don’t want to leave you for so long either, but this is part of what I do…”
“I know…” she replies. She has been missing me more and more these days. School has been rough for her this year. The boys are getting older and more mischievous. She gets less attention at home, and growing up, has more responsibilities. My travel has become more stressful to her.
I took a morning off a few weeks ago before driving to a job in Syracuse to join her in a father-daughter breakfast at her school. We had a wonderful time just sitting and enjoying the morning. Then they announced it was time for the dads to go so the kids could get to class… as I left I turned to look at her, and she was crying. I couldn’t leave her. I went back in, took her hand and walked her to class. I spent some extra time in her classroom just, hanging out with her.
She might be seven now, but she’s still my baby.
After a ninth or tenth round of hugs and kisses, I loaded up my truck and was on my way to the airport.
It still felt like crisp morning air outside. Winter is settling into the north… the air was very brisk. As I drove east on the highway to the airport snow began to fall. Fluffy, winter clouds were beginning to cover the icy blue sky and the bright sun was dimming overhead.
My truck skated on the slushy, wet road. Being the first snowfall of the year, I started wondering if this might actually cause some delays in my travel today.
I got to the airport and checked in the old fashioned way – talking to an actual person. The kiosk didn’t seem to comprehend I had to go to another country.
She handed me the boarding passes and then sent me to the United counter to get a seat assignment and a Visa for the flight to Sydney. Apparently Visa’s aren’t a common thing at the Buffalo airport – they had quite a bit of difficulty generating one. As I stood there waiting for my Visa to process I began to think of the travel that lies ahead. I began to think of what I am leaving behind. I began to think of the return trip and how things are going to change when I get back. I began to think about responsibilities and the things I need to do, and business, and a little girl with tears in her eyes….
…and my stomach filled with butterflies. Tears welled in my eyes.
I began to question, for the first time…. Can I make this trip?
It’s not an option. I have to. This is something I try to impress upon my children daily. Sometimes we don’t have the option – we have to be brave and do… whatever it is we need to.
I want everyone in my life to understand… this isn’t just a job. This… what I do… it is what I have to do.
As the United agent worked on my Visa, I helped her passengers queuing in line figure out the check-in kiosks.
Sometimes I am really baffled at how helpless people are with even the simplest technology.
She finished my Visa, returned my boarding pass with seat assignment and passport, and I was off. It was getting to be boarding time for my first flight by now; a two-hour layover in Charlotte. A rare flight to Charlotte on a regional jet. Only on Saturdays, a slow travel day, would they not fill a large jet to Charlotte.
The flight departed Buffalo at 11:55. I hadn’t had a chance for breakfast or lunch, so the first bag of trail-mix was a great option.
The flight was smooth and uneventful. Even the climb out of Buffalo, through the wind and snow was relatively turbulence free.
With not much to do but sit and think on the flight, a song popped into my head. Lyrics that speak to the moment.
“Sailing away on a crest of a wave, it’s like magic.
Oh, rolling and riding, and Slipping and sliding, it’s magic.”
The trip had officially begun. With a sense of concern, but at the same time, a sense of relief… knowing it’s underway.
I stared out the window at the passing clouds and the mountains below. The mountains that a few months ago were lush and bright green are now brown and dark green with traces of a rusty-red… winter is even moving into the south. The landscape below passes by and I think of you. I know when I’m supposed to see you again, but will that be when I see you again?
…I have had hope in my heart since that time in Marietta when we got to know each other so well.
I hoped this day would come. But it’s not here yet. And the first plans made, didn’t transpire as we had hoped. Ten days… how much could happen in ten days…
“Taking a dive, ‘cause you can’t help but slide, floating downstream…
So let her go, don’t start spoiling the show, it’s a bad scene…
And you… and your sweet desire… ”
The plane lands in Charlotte. It’s 1:47 PM.
I exit the plane and head through the concourse to the main terminal, dragging my rolling bag behind, but the heavy thoughts weighing on me. I slowly walk through the airport looking at the people passing by. Sometimes I wonder… what are they facing in their lives? What secrets do their eyes hide?
I sit down at the quiet, mostly empty restaurant at the airport. I’ve been here so many times before… once, even with you. I remember that trip… sharing nachos and smiling at each other. Knowing we would soon have to go separate ways, but enjoying the last moments of our time together on that trip.
I wonder if the future will change how much we appreciate that time… the time pressed and forced into our schedules, just to spend time together.
I take my MP3 player out and plug in the headset. I remove the memory card in it and replace it with the card I loaded last night while chatting with you. You sent me music… without me listening to it first – I know if it’s something you enjoy I will enjoy it too. I loaded it onto the MP3 player as your unintentional surprise to me. Music I’ve never listened to… and it would surprise me when it is played in the midst of music I know and am familiar with.
I put on the ear-buds and played the first song… it was one of yours, but not one of the new ones. A Bjork song you had me listen to a long time ago. I love it… it’s so you, and you had said it reminds you of me. I listened to it as the waitress came to my table.
“Hola! How are you today? Would you like a margarita or perhaps a cold beer today?”
“No, thank you. How about a coffee please?”
“Cream and sugar?”
“No thanks, just black is fine…”
I sat and listened to the song. I thought about when you had sent it to me… what you had said about it. I listened to the lyrics as if listening to them for the first time. Taking them in – understanding what the song was saying.
I sipped my coffee. I took some Tylenol. I closed my eyes, leaned back on the bench seat and thought about the pictures you sent me the night before.
I logged onto MSN on my phone while having lunch and we chatted. We planned. We discussed the future. A future only days away, but it feels like it will be so long… so far away. With so much ahead of me in the next week.
We spoke on the phone as I boarded my next flight. San Francisco. An area I’ve been to before but an airport I’ve never flown to.
It was so nice to hear your voice and your laughter. I’ve missed it. The past weeks have been so full of stress for you… I needed you to find your laughter. I needed to help you find it…. I felt like I failed you when I couldn’t do that.
As the closed the flight we said goodbye. The plane pushed back from the gate, as I leaned my head on the wall and dozed off…
It’s a six hour flight from Charlotte… and I had already been traveling tired and ready for sleep.
They offered a meal for first class – three-cheese calzone or seafood lasagna. I love seafood, but, when offered to me on an airplane I think of the movie… “Airplane!”
“Our survival depends on finding a passenger who cannot only fly and land this plane, but who also didn’t eat the fish.”
I never eat fish on an airplane.
“What did you serve for dinner tonight?”
“Well, the passengers had their choice of either steak or fish…”
“Ah, yes, I remember now... I had the lasagna.”
Reminds me of a cross-country flight to San Diego when I was young… back in the ‘80s when they served a meal to everyone on a flight. Flying with my family, we had the choice between a chicken dish, fish or vegetable lasagna.
My mother ordered the chicken. My father ordered the fish. I ordered the lasagna.
My mother said, “You know, it’s not like the lasagna I make at home…”
I said, “Yeah, but you’re going to eat a meat or fish on an airplane? Are ya nuts?”
“Good point…” she said.
We all survived the flight anyway.
The attendant covering first class wasn’t shy about serving the drinks. Before the in-flight movie even started, I was on my third.
The movie was “Unaccompanied Minor.” Not a masterpiece of American cinematography, but a cute family movie about kids traveling alone stranded in an airport at Christmas. I doubt anyone produced it hoping to win an Oscar, but if a couple million families shelled out $10 a person to go see it, I’ve sure they cleared a profit.
The fourth and fifth drinks blurred past as I listened to the music you gave me… and the sky outside turned from bright blue, to red to dark…
You asked.. “I wonder what kind of interesting people you’ll meet on your flight to Sydney…”
I will soon find out.
I guess the answer to that question was, no one.
I sat alone. Which suited me just fine because it allowed me the chance to sleep. A fourteen hour flight after traveling nine hours just to get to that flight… have to get at least eight hours of shut-eye in there somewhere.
Well, probably more than that. They served dinner on the flight and I read the first few pages of one of the books I brought with me… the first in flight movie was “Transformers.”
I looked up at the screen once in a while, but opted to listen to the music you sent me instead. The movies just weren’t going to keep my attention anyway.
The dinner was decent. Airline food, but not entirely bad. At least the portions were right – maybe the airlines have something there. Smaller portions, lower cost. We don’t need to eat as much as can fit on a twelve-inch plate and then go for seconds. We’d be better off as a society if we could moderate just that one thing…
I fell asleep about halfway through “Transformers.” Woke up briefly during the second movie, which I didn’t recognize. Next time I woke up, “Ratatouie” was on… I quickly fell back to sleep.
The next time I woke up they were showing “Live Map” on the screen… only 3:48 left in the flight. Still, a long time. But at least that confirmed I actually did get a good amount of sleep.
As I type this out, they’re beginning breakfast service. “The Santa Clause…” two. .or three… or how many of these crappy movies have they made? Anyway, that is what is on the screen now. Yeah, I’m typing and listening to music and not watching it. A shocking turn of events, I realize. Please sit, catch your breath… then I can go on.
Movies rarely catch my interest anymore. It seems as though Hollywood is content to put out movie after movie with low quality acting, poor editing and plots as thin as cheap nylon stockings, but not nearly as sexy when the right person is wearing them.
Less than an hour now to land in Sydney… then a connecting flight on Virgin Blue to Melbourne.
One thing I can say, for the distance and size of this plane, this has been one of the rockiest flights I’ve had in quite some time. These things happen I guess.
Customs should be interesting… I hope they don’t seize my trail mix.
Well, the bastards seized my trail mix. Damn them! Damn them all to hell I say, as I shake a fist in their direction.
Customs was interesting. Customs took over an hour, after presenting my ID and entry card to about thirty five different customs agents, I was finally allowed to enter the country, which basically meant I got to go do a different area of the airport…
Even more interesting is the airport itself. Domestic transfer to Virgin Blue was a 20 minute bus ride to the other side of the airport. And the coffee shop doesn’t double-vent their cup lids so it’s almost like you have to suck the coffee out of it.
I feel like I’m two again.
Now I’m just waiting on my flight to Melbourne… I’m so excited to be getting on yet another plane….
Getting used to the accent here will take some time. They’re making announcements in the airport that I really, have, no, clue what they’re saying. It’s English, for sure, but my simpleton brain can’t wrap around it yet. But that’s ok, the lady at the coffee stand asked me for my name four times before I finally had to spell it for her.
And really, it’s pretty common, even for here.
The airport has a Krispy Kreme, a McDonalds, a Subway… also has a toy store called “Kaboom.” Is that an appropriate name for a store in an airport? So there are some familiar things, but mostly, it’s a much different world.
But, I could get used to this….
Perhaps one of the best cups of coffee I ever had. An early morning walk from my hotel to where I had to work in Melbourne. There was a tiny cafe that served fantastic panini sandwiches and some of the richest coffee I have ever had. I didn't even mind that the jet lag had me waking up at 4:30AM every day... it gave me time to enjoy this.