Who, in their right mind books a 3 a.m. flight?
Those flying from Vancouver to Australia wanting to save money, that’s who.
We had never met our granddaughter and wanted to be there for the birth of our grandson, so we booked six and a half weeks in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia and hoped for an unforgettable adventure.
I learned that ‘unforgettable’ is a double-edged (s)word.
Only birthdays and directions should never be forgotten. Childbirth and our journey to Oz should be buried so deep into the psyche that only Dr. Phil could dig it out.
As a white–knuckle flier, my doctor prescribed for me a tiny white pill that packed a big wallop. One whole pill was good for 8 hours, half a pill 4 hours (and if you just wanted a catnap, give it a lick). Our flights were approximately twenty-two hours ONE WAY, including a stopover in Hong Kong so I brought enough medication for ‘total airborne time’, not calculating that we might be get stuck in, let’s say, somewhere like Seoul, South Korea while they scoured the city for a more qualified pilot. Silly me!
After the ninety minute ferry ride, we hailed a taxi for the airport whose bumper sticker that read ‘BEWARE ALL YE WHO ENTER’ must have fallen off.
I sat up front with the driver and took stock of our chauffer du jour. I would have been concerned at the way he bolted out of the parking lot as if he were the driving the purple triple-decker bus in Harry Potter, but I was too distracted and startled by his loud, raspy breathing, each exhale an embattled struggle for air. He was like a cross between Darth Vader and Burgess Meredith.
A slight, wiry man, his brown leather bomber jacket looked borrowed and battered. Silver wisps of hair peeked out from under his black wool toque and a grizzled 5 o’clock shadow bristled his pointy chin and sunken cheeks. Rheumy eyes, magnified to Betty Boop size behind his thick, coke-bottle lenses darted back and forth across the road and I got the distinct impression that he was trying to focus. Unfortunately, I was right.
The hour-long drive to the airport felt like a TRON arcade game. From my front row roller-coaster seat, listening to his obscene-phone-call breathing, we hurtled through the pitch-dark night, the bright neon city lights flying past me in a stringy, fluorescent blur. I braced my feet against the floorboards and tried to remember the old ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death...’ psalm. Then suddenly, steering with his wrists, he began to switch his glasses on and off with another pair, squinting around questioningly.
At the airport I paid off Burgess Vader and kissed the curb.
We arrived three hours early and at the half-hour-to-boarding mark I dragged myself to the bathroom to take my magic pill as directed.
The second I walked back out, wiping the water from my mouth, they announced that the flight would be delayed and possibly canceled due to the fact that the pilot was missing. At 4:00 a.m. they found another. At least that’s what they tell me. I have no recollection of getting to my seat.
I woke up groggy in Seoul, Korea. Our pilot wasn’t qualified to fly into Hong Kong. Perfect.
After eight hour flight from Hong Kong, we finally arrived in Perth at midnight only to get the wrong room at the hotel we booked. In an Inspector Clouseau-like scene, I fought the thickly accented Aussie behind the counter but eventually won.
The next morning we got ripped off by a cabbie then took a seven hour train ride to the red, Mars-like Outback where the bottoms of your shoes can melt off on the sidewalk. Like mine.
We were there for the birth of our grandson and the god-awful trip (in total: about 43 hours in the air, 27 hours waiting time, 14 hours on trains, 10 hours on buses and various TRON taxis) was worth it, and we were finally able to cuddle and kiss our sweet little granddaughter (well, not 'we' exactly...she clutched onto Grandpa for six weeks and allowed me close enough to shake hands with her while boarding the train to leave).
And I admit, had I been mugged at any point during our stay in Oz, I would have handed over my gold fillings before I would have given them my stash of return-flight, little white pills.
D Sevier Fries