Friday, March 7 thru Sunday, March 9, 1997

Providence to Sydney

Flying ten thousand miles in Economy Class is agony. (Policy is to fly Business Class on flights that are more than eight hours long... ah, yes, Catch 22... that is, "with management approval") Well, actually, the flight from Providence to Chicago was not bad. It was a 727 and not only did I have my requested aisle seat, the middle seat was empty. Anyway, that is not a very long flight and it was still daylight when we passed over Niagara Falls. The connection at Chicago worked out fine also; the gate for my outbound flight was right across from my inbound flight, very convenient.

Flight 815, Chicago to Sydney with change of equipment at Los Angeles, began with a 757 out of Chicago. I was not thrilled to discover that I had a window seat instead of my expected aisle seat and the plane was filled, no opportunity to switch seats. Neither was I impressed by the opportunity to pay four dollars to rent a headset in order to listen to music or to the film that was being shown. They were also peddling wine for four dollars a glass (plastic cup) and beer for three dollars. No thanks, I'll just work on some of the three bottles of water I've got in my carry-on bag. (Air travel is very dehydrating; always drink lots of water on airplanes.)

Gee, my first trip to California, but all I get to see of it is a brief glimpse of nighttime L.A. during our landing approach and about a half a mile of airport interior while trekking from my arrival gate to the departure gate. At least I get the chance to pay an inflated price for a small bottle of Advil. I have a head cold and the pressure changes have produced a sinus headache and I foolishly packed my aspirin in my checked through luggage instead of in my carry-on bag. I am also beginning to feel some of the dislocation of travel: I'd left home in early afternoon and my first flight departed Providence at 3:55; I'd left Chicago at 6:10 local time, which was an hour later by my internal time; now I was wandering around in LAX, waiting to board the next leg of my journey, somewhere around midnight to my body but only about nine o'clock local time.

I do have an aisle seat on the 747, seat 51C, and the middle seat is empty. Economy Class seating on a 747 on this airline is cramped, to put it mildly. I swear there was more leg-room for backseat passengers in the old VW beetle I drove in my college days, except the VW seat was more comfortable. I keep telling myself to accept the modern miracle of a fourteen hour trip from the United States to Australia compared to the many weeks that same journey would have required back in the days of sailing ships. I acknowledge the vast improvement in travel; however, that still does not give me any more room for my legs. Three movies on this flight: The Preacher's Wife (watched most of it, really light weight stuff), a middle movie of which I watched perhaps twenty minutes (and the title has already vanished from memory), and SpaceJam (watched even less of that). There were also chunks of NBC news magazine programming and endless promotional stuff about golf and various exotic golf resorts. (Why would anyone in his right mind spend a fortune to travel to some luxurious hotel in a tropical paradise, and then waste the day trying to hit a little ball around a manicured lawn that looks just like the manicured lawns back at home?) I can fall asleep watching television at home, but the least comfortable seating position in my living room is more comfortable than an economy airplane seat. Besides which, my living room doesn't keep vibrating and bouncing up and down. (Most of the flight was not too bumpy, but there was a spot just a couple hours before Sydney where the flight seemed more like a carnival thrill ride.) At least they don't want to charge for the headsets on this leg of the journey. Airline food. Well, actually, let's be honest; although nobody would mistake it for fine dining, it isn't that bad. I mean, I'm sorry folks, but although it's been many years since the one year I did live on-campus, I can still remember the vile garbage served in the campus dining hall. Airline food is better. Take off. Beverage service. Dinner service. Gap of time. "Midnight snack." Well, it must be midnight someplace. It is dark outside and it is about the middle of our journey. Another gap of time. Breakfast. It's daylight.

There's Sydney. I can see the opera house. And bridges and highrise buildings. Landing. Five hundred people pour off the plane and queue up for customs/immigration. It's a long line, but fast-moving. Find my luggage. There's my collegue who came to meet me. Find the Hertz counter, get my rental car. Yes, Lorraine, please drive. I am totally jet-lagged and can't possibly cope with Sydney traffic and driving on the opposite side of the road. We landed at 7:35 a.m. on Sunday. After customs and car rental, it is almost 9:30 on a bright, hot, summery Sunday morning in Sydney. At that moment, it is 5:30 p.m. on a brisk late winter Saturday back in Rhode Island. My body no longer knows what time it is. I have been up and awake for thirty-six hours. My body and my brain are both very confused.

Lorraine gives me a brief tour of Sydney, we have lunch at a sandwich shop, I find an ATM that belongs to the Currus network so I can get some money (I still find it amazing that I can walk up to an ATM in England or Australia, push the buttons just like back home, and withdraw money from my checking account back in Rhode Island), then finally get settled at my hotel.

I am staying at the Marriott on College Street, right across from Hyde Park. My room on the 12th floor has a magnificent view of the park and the city. I am trying to stay awake until dark so I can switch to Sydney time. (I am afraid that if I fall asleep too soon I will wake up in the middle of the night and will have trouble adjusting to local time.) Phone home: it's one o'clock Sunday afternoon for me and nine o'clock Saturday night for my family. Change to running shorts and t-shirt and go for a run in the park to work out some of the aches and kinks of the journey. This is incredible. It is summer. How can this be real? I jogged about two miles, then back to the hotel for a shower. Eat dinner in the hotel sandwich shop, overlocking the park. It is getting to be dark outside. I've now been awake for more than forty-six hours. Time for sleep.

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