Wednesday, September 13, 2006

THE SIR TESSA USA ’06 TOUR – DAY 1
Melbourne -> Auckland -> Los Angeles -> Seattle

Ugh.

If there is a hell, if hell is personalized for the individual needs, if I am going to hell, then it will involve being several thousand feet above the Pacific Ocean, in a tin can, suffering motion sickness, with no relief in sight.

Let me rewind.

They slotted in a nightshift before my annual leave kicked in, to minimize the number of days I had to apply for. Working ten days in a row means getting six days off afterwards. Some of you may remember that that particular nightshift kicked my arse. Even after several days of sleeping and resting, the day before I flew out I was still very FUBAR. I was stressing about the long flight and motion sickness that I knew awaited me, so of course I did not sleep that night. I wasn’t really expecting to.

As I was due to flight out of Melbourne with Air New Zealand at noon, I had to be at the airport by ten, (this being before the English caught those smuggling liquid explosives on board, with check-in times still something reasonable). That meant leaving home at nine, which meant getting up around eight for a shower. I was up a bit before seven.

From the carpark to the check-in counter was the first time I carried my rucksack for any length, and with the strap around my waist secure, the weight was off my shoulders, and it was surprisingly comfortable. Black Wolf make a good sturdy bag.

But of course, my flight was delayed by an hour.

There was time to sit around the tiny food court, and notice just how banged up Melbourne airport is getting. She’s showing her age; the lights aren’t being replaced, the tables are chipped, the grills fallen out. The poor old dear. We drank tea, shared a Danish, and watched the painted Qantas jet take off.

I’m not very good at waiting when my nerves are up. Hear that stomach churn.

Finally, I told my family to go home. They hadn’t intended to wait with me the whole time as it was, and the extra hour was just more time staring at the walls. It was, in my mind, a step towards going – I hugged and kissed them at the wailing wall, and passed through The Sliding Doors of Doom. Through Customs, to be pulled aside by the most unsettling security worker I have ever met. It was a standard explosives swipe, but his manner, the way he spoke...he was either high as a kite, or dumb as a rock. Possibly both. And he was unsettling. According to mum, they’re independent contractors. Make of that what you will.

After an airport-priced sandwich, I sat, and waited, and waited, and churned.

The flight from Melbourne to Auckland is on a smaller plane (2 seats by 3 seats by 2 seats), and takes only four hours. Air New Zealand has great food in my experience, and given the sandwich was all I’d eaten, I was looking forward to lunch.

Tip: airline stewards will not, if you are sleeping, wake you up for food.



Morris ze Dinosaur. On a plane.

We came up to New Zealand in dusk, with the sun behind that famous long white cloud. I hogged the window, and watched as New Zealand drew closer, and closer- and then we passed over it in thirty seconds, to come around for another pass. I could imagine the pilots crying, “crap! We just ran out of New Zealand! Go back, go back!” It was pretty, with the lights coming on, dotting the islands and hills. I will get there in a more than transitional way, one day.

At Auckland I changed planes, not flights. The leg from Auckland to Los Angeles is 12 hours in the dark, and after an accidental nap, I didn’t like my chances of sleeping through it. Churn, churn. I sat in the waiting lounge on the floor, by a family who were reading books to their daughters, one of whom was a Tessa. This little Tessa had an enormous pink shiny unicorn stuff toy. It had wings. And pantaloons.

Thankfully, the Fates, Destiny, Chance and Luck decided to take pity on me, and I was granted a window seat as well as an empty seat next to me.

Tip: if there’s an extra pillow, claim it. Right now.

And thus began my ascent into my private hell. New Zealand vanished in seconds, and then there was nothing but plane.

I felt yuck.

The exact magnitude of ‘yuck’ will be lost on any of you who haven’t experienced motion sickness. Imagine you are sick, a minor case of food poisoning, for example. Normally, a decent vomit will result in you feeling much better. Not the case with motion sickness, as what is making you sick is not what’s in you’re stomach, but what you happen to be sitting in. There is no way to alleviate motion sickness without stopping the motion, which needless to say, wasn’t an option.

Still, when you get to the point of vomiting, it’s better to have something to bring up than nothing at all. Once the dry heaves start, they don’t stop.

Tip: for those of you who get plane sick, eat everything they give you. Just do it.

Further tip: chew lots. Masticate that sucker into mush. That way, it won’t hurt so much on the return trip.

I discovered during dinner that moving made me feel worse, and so after a very nice dinner of roast chicken and vegetables, and some absolutely wonderful ice cream, I curled up with my pillows and jumper, pulled the blanket over me, put the chair arm up, put my feet up, and tried not to move for the next 12 hours.

The extra pillow comes in there. The chair arms against the wall don’t move, so if you want to lean against it, you’ll need some padding. I didn’t sleep. I spent those 12 hours very awake, very ill, very miserable, and very focused on my misery. There used to be a display in the Air New Zealand flights, showing where the plane was on the map, and how many hours to go. They’ve replaced it with a very fancy entertainment system that I can’t use for aggravating my motion sickness. This misery had no known end.

I remember being that upset with my circumstances, that I decided I was never going to leave Australia again. Flying was just too bloody awful, and no destination would be worth the journey.

The sun came up. The blinds came up. They served breakfast, and I chewed well, and moved little. We began our descent into Los Angeles. The end was finally well and truly nigh. About bloody time.

The descent also destroyed the intense willpower I’d exercised during the whole flight, and just before we touched down, I hurled dinner and breakfast into a wax paper bag. We landed at noon, and I felt ever so much better.

Tip: two chuck bags are better than one. If you’re stuck holding it, well, it’s only waxed paper, you know.

The Land of the Free, the Home of the Brave. Or the other way around. I left my chuck bag on the seat, and fled the plane, dreading the return trip. I was rank with vomit-induced sweat, having stewed in my clothes for a good day already, and more than a little wobbly on my feet, and damn I was happy to be on solid ground.

No, wait. Possibly my personal hell will involve dealing with the Los Angeles International Airport, again, and again, and again.

I, and a few hundred other souls, rolled down the corridor, to meet up with a few hundred souls from an Air France flight that had arrived at the same time, and we headed to the immigration line-

-which was staffed by eight people.

I remember it taking a long time to get through immigration last time I visited the States, and since then they’ve ramped up security measures to include taking everyone’s finger prints and photos. It took me well over an hour to get through immigration. The immigration works were trying to be proactive, shuffling the queues around, which only extended my wait. I watched the minutes tick by, and tried not to think about my connecting flight to Seattle, which was down on my itinerary as 1530. It was close to two when I finally hit the line. My impatience must have worked its way to my fingers, as my prints went through first time. Now, if I resort to a life of crime in either Australia or America, I’ll have to do it with gloves.

I grabbed my bag, shouldered it, and wobbled my way to domestic transit. American Airlines flight to Seattle at three-thirty.

Except, the woman working the terminal said, checking her sheet, there was no such flight.

This isn’t exactly what I wanted to hear.

Did I mean Alaska Airlines? They had a flight to Seattle at four-thirty. I had no idea. I didn’t want to know. A check of my itinerary didn’t help.

You mean Alaska Airlines, she said firmly, terminal four.

Okay, I said, and went. There comes a point when you stop fighting back (generally after 12 hours of motion sickness), and can’t even work up the energy to be worried, stressed, frightened, or frustrated. Zombie mode can be your friend at times.

There isn’t much difference between inside and outside LAX. It swelters. I staggered my way to terminal 4 – my bag really is a comfy bag, despite the weight – and found Alaska Airlines. As I had nothing in the way of a confirmation number, I couldn’t check-in electronically, and had to go via the service desk. There was a queue. It took an hour. There was a small child with a remote control car that he insisted on driving into every obstacle around him, including me. I have mad jedi skillz when it comes to patience. LAX = standing in queues in the heat.

Yes, it was Alaska Airlines, not American Airlines, and yes, the flight was at four-thirty, not three-thirty, and yes, everything was as it should be. I was too zonked to be relieved.

After proceeding through security, which aside from having to take off my boots and show my boarding pass five times was no different to any other airport security, I ducked into the toilets and tried to clean up.

Tip: it’s not just emergency undies/socks/bra you need, it’s an “I really smell” t-shirt.

I took my tee off, and just wore my jumper. I sprayed deodorant everywhere. I wiped my face, neck, bits I could reach. It made very little difference. The best I could do was not move, and thus keep my aroma to myself.

Next order of duty was to find food.

Melbourne Airport might be showing its age, but in comparison, it shines. LAX is a shithole. It’s nothing more than a bunch of portable buildings which should have been replaced years ago, and each terminal has maybe two places to eat. In the case of terminal four, you can choose between Burger King – a great big lump of greasy might-be-meat – or Starbucks - cakes.

All I wanted was a piece of fruit.

But lo! There was a chicken Caesar salad sitting in the Starbucks fridge, and even though it was pretty ordinary, it was the best Caesar salad I’ve ever had. Food has a wonderful way of making you feel better. The zombie wore off, and something resembling normalcy returned. Salad is best for those with a twitchy tummy and another flight to go. Nevertheless, chew that sucker into oblivion.

I watched as business glass and special member passengers were allowed on first, and watched the rest of us plebs mill about and edge closer to the queue. They let me on, and yes, the last leg! The end was almost nigh! I’m not sure flying business in a USA domestic airline is worth it – the seats are a bit wider, but that’s about it.

Saw the painted Qantas plane as we took off, and left bloody hellfire LAX behind.

I can’t say I remember much of this flight. I know I was trying not to move, as I was in a middle seat and thus wanted to keep my smell to myself, and that’s about it. I roused when we landed.

First impression of Seattle; gosh, that’s a lot of green trees. Actual green trees. I never realize just how grey/black/brown gum trees are until I look at something else.

Picked up my luggage without issue, and wandered around like a lost dog until I found a shuttle bus – any shuttle bus – that would take me downtown. The Greyline folk were very helpful, and called in a connecting shuttle to get me to my hotel.

The ride from the airport to Seattle proper was spent re-emphasising the tyranny of absolutely green trees, and staring at planes. The Boeing plant takes up most of the highway, and makes for interesting scenery. There’s something amusing about seeing bits of plane lying around like a do-it-yourself kit. The hotel had information about tours which run through the plant and aviation museum, but I didn’t go on any. I’d had enough of planes.

Perhaps it was because I was so exhausted, perhaps it was because it wasn’t my first time in a foreign country alone, but there was no fear to be had. The last time I visited the States, and I had to find a shuttle bus to my hotel for my one night in Los Angeles, I was terrified. I was alone, and nothing worked quite the way I expected it. This time, I didn’t even freak out when the bus started driving on the wrong (right) side of the road.

Probably because I was so exhausted, I forgot to tip the driver. Sorry, mister.

I was dropped of at the Days Inn on 7th, and on check in discovered that all non-smoking rooms had been taken. I didn’t care at the time, I just wanted a room. As soon as I got to said room, I cared, oh boy did I care. If you book a non-smoking room 6 months in advance, make some noise when they don’t give you one. It reeked. There was some fierce stench ground into the carpet. I stopped smelling it after a while, thank goodness.



After 24 hours travel, you'd look green and blurry too.

It took me 15 minutes to figure out how to work the shower. Don’t laugh – it was the one thing that had kept me going since LAX. It nearly broke my heart. To save you the same torment, I shall impart the secret bit of wisdom to you.

Secret Wisdom: Pull and hold the knob thing in the tap up, until the water diverts to the shower. Water must be running while doing this.

There. Look, it wasn’t obvious at the time, okay? Greatest shower of my life.

Clean, and with clean clothes, the only thing left to do was get some dinner. Unfortunately, by the time I’d made myself human against, it was getting towards ten at night, and nothing was open. The receptionist directed me to a service station a couple of blocks up the road. There were police cars and families every where, due to a torchlight parade. I felt, with my inability to cross roads without a lit crossing and inability to press the right crossing button – like everyone could see the great neon flashing sign on my head, crying “foreigner!” It was a lovely night for walking. Coming from Winter to Summer is a bit of a shock. I’m not a Summer person by nature, but I do love a warm balmy night for walking.

Service stations don’t tend to offer much in the way of decent food. I found a hard bagel with cream cheese, a piece of banana bread (BANANAS!), and I figured I’d be safe with a Kit-Kat. I was terrible bemused that a meal which would have been around $7-10 at home cost a mere couple of dollars, and that I was getting change in 1 cent pieces. With my great bounty, I headed back to my rank abode.

At this point, I discovered that while my phone would work, my carrier wouldn’t, and no other mobile network wanted anything to do with me. I’d promised to give the family a buzz to let them know I’d arrived without hitch, which left me with the hotel phone. There was an 85% hotel surcharge tax on international calls (oh my freaking-), but I figured, a 5 minute call couldn’t cost that much.

All the stress and exhaustion piled up when I heard their voices. I nearly cried, I don’t know why. It was a relief to know that despite the fact that I’d woken up in another place and another time and I’d vomited in front of strangers, they were still there, normal, sane. Touch base, children, touch base.

I channel surfed. I find foreign TV fascinating, especially so given that so much of American culture appears to revolve around the TV. I was stumped to see there was a channel just for asian programs, and that it was actually called AZN. That tickled the gamer in me. I caught Tokyo Godfathers just as it was starting, and watched till I couldn’t watch any more.

6 comments:

  1. dragondawn14/9/06 07:00

    *gathers pillow and snacks for next installment*

    ReplyDelete
  2. Greatest shower of my life.

    I remember thinking the same thing when I finally had my shower after taking three flights: Toronto -> L.A. -> Auckland -> Brisbane. I also remember going through Australian customs and feeling miserable and confused but then I walked into the arrivals area and spotted Kate and Robert H. I've never been so happy to see two people in my whole life.

    It's a long, long, flight but it's worth it in the end.

    ReplyDelete
  3. yeah, AZN is a pretty mixed bag. Half if it is pretty decent stuff, while half of it seems to be propping up stereotypes

    ReplyDelete
  4. I really wish I your phone would have worked earlier :(

    I also wish I would have remembered to take more pictures.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Soup, just as long as AZN play whacky old kung-fu films on a regular basis, that's oooookay.

    Grim...yah, me too. Did I tell you how much that call from the hotel cost?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Suzanne, oh I know. It's amazing how traumatic sitting for hours can actually be.

    ReplyDelete