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….