Saturday, March 22, 1997
They Really Do Say "G'day"
My two weeks in Sydney passed very quickly. Work kept me very busy. I had one weekend free to play tourist, otherwise my explorations took place in the evenings and mostly consisted of finding interesting places to eat dinner.
Thanks to Lorraine (and to John) for driving and navigating and showing me around and for Sweeny Todd. Thanks also to Phil (and to Ann and Dan as well) for the Moon Terrace and The Rocks and the bridge and the zoo and Manly beach and North Head and the history of Sydney. Thanks to Mark and Scott and Phil and the rest of the West Pennant Hills gang for the visit to an Australian pub.
Australians really do say "g'day" in real life; it's not just a movie thing. And water really does turn the other way as it goes down a drain. And I've seen a real live kangaroo... a whole bunch of them... and koala bears... and a duckbilled platapus... And even in the park, there among the (to me) usual park birds I could see an ibix and a cockatoo... and look at those trees... there's a palm tree... and there's some kind of giant fern... Wow... And it was summer. To my friends in Sydney the weather was cooling off, moving into autumn, but to me it was summer... bright sunshine and temperatures in the upper 70's to low 80's and a least once moving up into the high 80's, pushing toward 90. This is not March weather to me. (Nor is that typical mid-September weather in my neighborhood.)
I had never been to a Nepalese restaurant before visiting Sydney. There are an incredible number and variety of ethnic restaurants in Sydney. It would be impossible to ever exhaust the possibilities. I did not have a bad meal in two weeks.
On Sunday afternoon, after returning from my 5k race, I visited the Museum of Natural History. There were some very interesting and imaginative exhibits. My kids would have loved the skeleton exhibit and the dinosaur exhibit and... Yes, and there's the problem with my visit... my family was back in Rhode Island. So as I walked through the museum I kept thinking how much my kids would enjoy this exhibit or that exhibit.... And then I visited the Art Museum... but I wanted to be sharing the experience with my wife... we've always enjoyed touring art museums -- London, Washington, Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia -- we've spent many hours in their museums. And that was the big drawback to my trip... I was on the opposite side of the world from my family and I wanted to share all of this with them.
Normally I have difficulty sleeping soundly when I am away from home. On this trip I slept well, getting up around 5:30 a.m., going for a run around Hyde Park or working out in the hotel exercise room (and what a marvelous view from the rooftop pool!), then putting in a full day (including more than an hour commute each way), wandering about central Sydney, etc. I was truly tired and ready to sleep every night. The only night that I had any difficulty sleeping was my last night, where I woke up several times during the night...
The return trip had a shorter flying time for the Sydney to L.A. leg, but that was partly cancelled by a delay in take-off due to overbooking and the need to find some volunteers to stay overnight and take the Sunday flight. This time I was really far back... 60H... an aisle seat in the second row from the rear exit door. The last three outside rows in that configuration of a 747-400 only have two seats due to the narrowing of the fuselage. Still, the leg room just isn't there. I think it is important to stand up and walk around from time to time. In fact, I joined a group standing in the rear...not waiting to use the lavatories, just hanging out, talking. But then we hit some turbulance and the flight attendants chased us back to our seats. It was a very bumpy ride, many hours of the seatbelt signs being lighted up. Very strange experience. People had told me that jet lag was worse on the Australia-to-U.S. direction than on U.S.-to-Australia. I knew that was true for trips between the U.S. and England and so I could see that it might apply in this case as well. The nominal take-off time was 2:35 p.m. Saturday from Sydney and scheduled landing at Providence was 8:46 Saturday evening. Gee, just a bit over six hours... Well, since I had lost a Saturday going from Rhode Island to Australia two weeks ago, I was about to pick up an extra Saturday on the return trip.
We flew through daylight into twilight and then night. On through the night, bumpy hour after bumpy hour in the darkness. Again three movies: the latest Star Trek (which I had already seen in a theatre but since I had to stay in my seat because of the turbulance, I watched most of it again), and Shine (I watched parts of it, but only watched, I didn't bother with the headset), and a third movie that I did not pay any attention to at all. Finally we flew into the dawn of a new day: Saturday again. (I was glad they hadn't been showing Groundhog Day.) Two Saturdays...
We landed in L.A. just about on time... I think... It may have been a bright sunny day in L.A. but it was the middle of the night for my body. I was feeling very cranky and annoyed at the procedures there. There was no explanation of what was going on or what to do. Just like on the trip out, this was another case of same flight number but change of equipment (this time from the 747 to an Airbus A320). I expected my checked luggage to be transported to the Chicago plane while I presented my passport and paperwork to immigration. I moved on, trying to follow the signs to the departure area to find the gate for the Chicago flight... suddenly some woman is snapping at me where did I think I was going, didn't I have any other luggage? Well, sure I did, but it was all in checked through baggage to Chicago and then Providence... Wrong... you have to pick up your baggage from the baggage carousel and carry it to another area to be put back on a different conveyor belt to take it to the next airplane. Why? And why doesn't somebody explain this ahead of time, or at least put up some signs explaining things? And since the airline was pretending that this was really the same flight, just a change of equipment, couldn't they at least use the same terminal... or at least have explained that we needed to pick up our luggage and cart it from Terminal 7 to Terminal 8...or was it from 8 to 7?) Yeah, well, I told you I was feeling tired and cranky.
The A320 seemed pretty much like the 757... and once again my promised aisle seat was not an aisle seat. This time I ended up in a middle seat. Okay, the seats were no wider than on the 747, but at least there did seem to be an inch or two more leg room. This flight was also showing Star Trek and wanted four bucks for the pleasure. Since a high percentage of the passengers had been on the Sydney flight, there weren't very many takers. This was also a very full flight. Almost everyone had just a short time to make connecting flights... so naturally at Chicago we had to sit on the ground and wait for another plane that was connected at our arrival gate to move out for take off. Some people were getting rather anxious. Once we did get into place it seemed to take forever before the door actually was opened and people could leave the plane. Unlike my flight two weeks earlier, my departure gate was not close to my arrival gate; in fact, they were in two different terminal buildings.
Take the underground route from Concourse B to Concourse C, get on that nice 727, the one where the aisle seat really is an aisle seat and there are at least three or four more inches of leg room than in a 747, the one that means only another hour and a half of flying time left in this journey. Flight attendants distribute a snack box: a minature sub sandwich, a cookie, a trick-or-treat sized box of candy. We're coming down already, landing a bit fast... very screechy brakes... very strong burnt rubber smell... who cares, we have landed... we are even a bit early... in fact, I get to the baggage carousel before my wife even gets into the terminal. She had figured on the scheduled 8:46 landing.
I am so tired but it is so good to be home. It is around 9:30 Saturday night when we get home and my body and brain are both very tired and very confused. It should be just past lunch on Sunday afternoon. And it is cold here, winter jackets still needed, but I had just spend two weeks in summer weather. No matter. I am home. I am with my family.