Becoming A Man 3: Plane Travel

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Men have an innate desire to travel. It comes from an urge to conquer the unconquerable. It’s the same reason Sir Edmund Hilary climbed Mt Everest and put a cross on top. It’s a way of saying to new places, “Yeah, I went and stood on your face! What ya gonna do about it?” Tropical countries use incurable disease as their form of revenge on men who so boldly and brashly shout abuse at nature from their very core.

But in order to get to new places and conquer them in the name of manhood, first we must get there. That’s where plane travel comes in. In the olde dayes, men would travel by boat, enjoying dry vermouth, witty banter and scurvy over the extended trip. Technology has both blessed and cursed us with plane travel, allowing speed but confining us to a box of dubious safety and quality.

My most recent bout of plane travel came following a trip to Mansong, the Hillsong Men’s Conference. I was to be flying from Sydney to Los Angeles at 2:30pm. Easy. Except that my running mate (who, for purposes of anonymity, I’ll refer to as ‘Callum’) was flying out at 6am and dropping his rental car off beforehand, eliminating my primary mode of transport and forcing me to spend 9 hours in an airport. My running diary kicks off at 3:45am, Sydney time.

3:45am. Callum’s alarm goes off and we blearily begin to wake up. Traveling men know to be fully prepared the night before an early start. My mind briefly fought with my…mind, refusing to believe that we should be getting up this early. But up we were. After a nutritious and uninspiring cornflake breakfast, we leave for Sydney Airport.

4:45am. One stop for petrol later, we have reached Sydney Airport and attempt to drop off our car to Avis. Just one, totally minor problem: Avis are shut. We look around for an Avis attendant with no relief. I quip to Callum that it might be the same woman coming to open who verbally eviscerated him when we rented the car earlier in the week. He looks at me coldly in response.
A couple from Perth nearby look as perplexed as we are which is pleasing, though unhelpful. Around us, businessmen are arriving with rentals, parking haphazardly and walking away. Callum wanders over to check in with Jetstar.

5:05am. Callum has returned. Despite promises of ‘Open at 5!’ emblazoned on Avis’ window, nothing doing so far. Finally, some ten minutes late, the very Avis attendant Callum had feared breezes in and airily says, ‘just leave your keys in the ignition and walk off,’ before Callum has a chance to open his mouth. No logic or eye contact is made and my traveling companion has once more been emasculated by the female Avis attendant. Lover of schadenfreude that I am, I grin to myself. Final score: Avis Ice Queen 2-0 Callum.

5:10am. We head through security, me with my full baggage including laptop, suitcase and carry-on bag (because remember, I’m not leaving for 9 hours). Callum passes through with ease. Me, not so much. The security guard looks at me with beady eyes. “You wanna take that belt off?”, he grunts. No dinner first?

5:20am. I finally have a coffee in my hand. Not a good one, mind you, but it’s there nonetheless. We finish our coffees and I see Callum off to his gate, before wandering off to find a decent breakfast. A true gentleman always takes his guest to their destination, but a true man doesn’t need to kiss them goodbye. This goes for loved ones, children, pets, funerals and combinations of these.

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Seriously...seriously...seriously...bored

5:55am. I slump disconsolately in a chair at a presently empty gate, playing Angry Birds reading a classic novel and pondering the rest of my day at the airport. I eventually rouse myself, shut my iPad and wander down to the Virgin transfer helpdesk, where I engage a delightful lady and regale her with stories of why I’m here and where I’m going. To shut me up, she smiles and gives me two free transfer tickets away from the domestic terminal. Then politely, but firmly, asks me to leave. A gentleman can take a hint. At this point I become aware that I’ve become That Weird Guy Who Harasses Staff At Airports. And I’m only just warming up.

6:30am. I am bored, tired and increasingly aware that Sydney domestic smells like old vomit. It’s a delightful scent. I head to the ONLY cafe in Sydney domestic that isn’t in a food court/serving processed mush for breakfast. It’s shut. Of course it is.

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Sydney Domestic Terminal. I was like Tom Hanks, but only for 9 hours.

7:05am. Several wanders up and down the corridors later, I amuse myself by finding the most over-priced item in the Virgin store ($45 for a Blu-Ray of National Treasure 2, anyone?) and head back to the cafe. Someone is there. It’s still not open. “5 minutes mate”.

7:25. I return to the cafe. It’s *still* not open, so I slump next to the wall for another ten minutes until it is.

7:35. Success! I rush in and secure a corner booth. In the true spirit of airport vagrancy, I am unable to find a spot with a power plug but keep my eyes peeled. I order the Big Breakfast – because it would be wrong to consume the bacon and eggs without also enjoying the tomatoes, chipolatas and mushrooms – but order a glass of water out of spite for the outrageous pricing. This being done, I alternate between pretending to start a uni assignment and watching Dexter. Needless to say Dexter wins. My meal arrives. It is poor. I am too polite and frightened to complain to the waitress, so I tweet a disgruntled comment about being up early. The white, middle-class, non-confrontational response.

9:45. I decide I will leave the cafe before my fossilized remains are discovered embedded into the leather seats. Wandering through the terminal in search of power for my electronic distractive devices, I stumble across the mystical and beautiful gate 33. I set up my suitcase as a protective barrier, plug my electricalisms in and then disappear into a haze of reading and study for the next two hours. Flights come and go, I ignore everyone giving me weird looks and small coins for sitting in a corner for hours on end (remember I still have full luggage with me) and enjoy the free wi-fi.

12:15. My wife arrives! I manage to roust myself from my wi-fi to collect Jen and her baggage, before heading to get a transfer to Sydney international terminal. I discover I have lost the free transfer tickets I finagled from the Virgin attendant. Outraged, I am forced to fork out $11 for a 2 minute drive that is just too far to walk. Urge to kill…rising.

1:00. We hit airport security having checked our bags in. I held my suitcase for 8 hours today. I was unsurprisingly willing to see the back of it. I buy a Coke Zero and crack the top off, before going to head through security. “No liquids of more than 100ml!” one of them snaps at me. Even though I have just bought it, I am forced to scull down as much of it as possible in a jiffy, before throwing it away. The other security guard looks at me with sympathy, but informs me he’ll also be taking my water bottle, toothpaste and my dignity. My dignity?

1:03. Oh. My dignity.
As I finally go through security, I am stopped and taken aside as a probable terror threat random passenger to be screened by security. This event involves the removal of numerous items of clothing, unpacking of bags, electronics and other things that had been unpacked for security only moments earlier and the scanning of various body regions by a special electronic wand that, frankly, could have been a child’s toy for all the results it was/wasn’t producing. Somewhat ironically the man screening me is a shifty-looking guy from somewhere in the subcontinent. It’s clear he couldn’t care less about my displeasure about being tested or the glares I’m giving him. He begrudgingly let’s me pass through. I am at a DEFCON 4 level of anger at this point.

2:00. It is finally time for the exciting part: boarding the plane to go overseas. My wife is worried we’ll be next to the newborn we see in the terminal, but of course it’s a massive plane. And of course, the newborn is directly in front of us. As is a small child, who turns and grins at me menacingly. I am almost positive that her head swiveled 360 degrees like the child from The Exorcist at this point. Thankfully she doesn’t throw up on me while doing so. Yet.
We are flying with United, a company immortalized in a film about terrorism (United 93) and known for poor customer service and old planes. Our plane has about 3 total TV screens on it, is almost completely full and is serving a bizarre biscuity thing for breakfast. Hopefully the film selection is good, at least.

2:05 “Ladies and gentlemen, the first film for this flight will be Zookeeper, followed by Mr Popper’s Penguins.” The last part of me that cared for art has just died.

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No personal TV screen? Why not just slap my white face?

2:07 I lean over to say something to my wife, whereupon an old Italian man attempts to steal my overhead compartment. I shoo him away with my hands and he hisses at me like a cat. I wait for him to leave, then immediately secure my wife a spare window seat, giving us both an extra seat apiece. I return to my seat to find the lady two seats away already slumped asleep over the seat Jenny just vacated. The exorcist girl in front of me grins evilly again. I am borderline zombie at this point.

2:15 The flight attendants run through the safety procedures, doors are locked, electronic devices turned off (outrageous!) and we are off. Switching to LA time, it is now 7:45pm.

11:45 I finally drift off to sleep after submitting myself to both Zookeeper and Mr Popper’s Penguins. My book would be better, but it’s on my iPad and my wife has it #firstworldpains

1:15 I wake up. I do not sleep again for the remainder of the flight.

7:45am We arrive in Los Angeles. Between the armed guards, the smog and the renovations at LAX, you’ll forgive us for thinking we’d just been taken hostage in a warehouse in the Philippines.

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...but I hate Sydney domestic more.

8:25 After a small delay, we get on our bus to Santa Barbara.

I have been awake for 22 of the last 24 hours (I wouldn’t sleep again until 10pm that night). United and Sydney Domestic Terminal have both just made ‘the list’, as has Jim Carrey (Kevin James was already on it).

But most importantly, plane travel has proved to me that it should only be undertaken for 1 hour intervals, in business class or higher. Yes – higher. I think I’ll return to hiking up mountains, helping stranded women and undergoing failed camping trips rather than flying internationally.

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