Friday, October 12, 2007

The adventure begins

First posted June 2006


I asked our friend Amanda to drive Andrew and me to Brisbane airport, so he’d have company going home instead of feeling lonely and deserted.
(This photo is of Andrew, the man I left behind.) They couldn't come into the departure lounge with me, but waved from upstairs as they sat and had a coffee, while I changed some cash to American dollars.

The first leg was Brisbane to Auckland on Air New Zealand. My brother is a University lecturer in Auckland. He was unable to get away from work during my stopovers, but urged me get a window seat and have a good look at the view on arrival and departure. ‘Seriously!’ he said. He was right. I was astonished by the approaches to the city — the beautiful expanse of hills and water; soft curves quite different from an Australian landscape.

Next stop Los Angeles. People told me beforehand that LA airport was huge and confusing and ‘no bugger will help you’. But everything was well signposted, and the airport staff were as helpful and pleasant as could be. I just smiled and asked politely; no problem. It was certainly big, though; I got to do some walking. All to the good, I thought: no deep vein thrombosis for me!

When I did become a bit uncertain, walking between buildings, some lovely people collecting for charity offered to help me. After going out of their way to point me in the right direction, they politely asked if I’d care to make a donation to help homeless kids. They showed me the boards they carried, legitimising the request — but I got scared when I saw $20 suggested as minimum donation. I didn’t know how well my money would last over five weeks. ‘I’d love to,’ I said, ‘But I’m on a really tight budget. Perhaps on my way out of America.’ I felt guilty for being so frugal with my funds, and added — as if by way of excuse — that my friend in Austin (Thom) was involved in feeding the homeless. They were sweet about it. ‘That’s OK,’ they said, ‘God bless you!’

Later, inside the airport, I heard repeated announcements telling passengers we were not obliged to give money to solicitors. A bit harsh, I thought, a bit officious. They were such nice people, it was a very good cause, and they weren’t doing a hard sell. On the plane, I wrote a poem about the experience. When I aired it in Austin a few days later, I was surprised by the audience's cynical laughter. Someone explained later that these collectors are notorious religious scammers, collecting not for the homeless but for the coffers of their church.

The departure lounge for my Austin flight was empty and unlit. I was early, and glad to have it to myself. I took off my shoes, walked up and down, did some stretching exercises, refilled my water bottle from the fountain, and finally arranged my cabin luggage as a pillow and lay down to rest on a row of empty seats. I felt smugly efficient and resourceful. Gradually half a dozen other people turned up. The lights still didn’t go on. We started to wonder. Finally someone went off to find out, and came back with the news that the departure lounge had been changed; all the other passengers were queuing at the top of that escalator over there. We gathered up our stuff and joined the long, slow queue.

This lounge was crowded. A young woman was working on her wireless laptop; people were discussing business on their mobiles (as we say in Australia; I soon learned to call them cell phones). There were computer terminals dotted conveniently around the airport for passengers' use. Ah, the 21st century!

Then came the announcement that the flight was delayed two hours. The aircraft was faulty and they had to find us another. People were anxious and irritated. But from the moment of separating from Andrew and Amanda at Brisbane, I’d stepped into a state of being in the moment, which lasted the next five weeks. It was all an adventure. I bought a phone card and rang my host in Austin, Neil Meili, a poet friend of Thom’s. He and his partner Dorsey would be putting me up in their office. Neil had intended to meet my plane, but he said the delay could drag on; I should get a cab from the airport and he’d pay for it.

Outside Austin airport I panicked a bit. It was dark, and I couldn’t see anything that looked like a taxi rank. I parked myself at a bus stop where I tried in vain to flag down passing taxis, feeling very inept. Definitely not the way it’s done in the movies, where the first car hailed pulls smoothly into the kerb at once! Then a uniformed man told me I was in the wrong place and showed me where to go: half a block away on the other side of the road. My suitcase started feeling very heavy. (I always TRY to travel light, but I’m not very good at it!) When I arrived at the right spot there was an efficient operation in progress, plenty of cars pulling in, and officials directing people to the next in line. My luggage was taken care of, and I was away. I was going to hop into the front seat, but the driver had his belongings all over it; clearly that wasn’t done in America, so I ‘played ladies’ and got in the back, and then spent the whole time leaning forward to talk with the driver, who was interested to find out what I was doing in Austin.

He turned out to be a poet! He was a Pakistani, writing in Urdu and published in his home country. He had been in America several years, to make money, but all his family was back home and he visited when he could. He said his adult son in Pakistan was a poet too. I was very excited. It seemed like a good omen.

I knocked on the door of Unit B. A big, cuddly man with a beaming smile opened it and greeted me with a hug. I felt absolutely welcomed! He ushered me into his living room for a drink and a chat. It was well after midnight and I assumed Dorsey was sleeping. I was soon ready for bed too; the last leg of the journey had started to seem long. Neil took me past the double carport to the front door of Unit A. I'd expected to be put up in a one-room office, but I discovered I would have a whole duplex to myself. Dorsey is a psychologist specialising in a technique called Voice Dialogue, which she also teaches. The upstairs (street level) of Unit A was where she ran her classes. There was a kitchen too, with fridge and pantry stocked — to my delight — with organic food. ('Americans live on junk food,' I had been told. Not in Texas they don't! Or not where I was.) Downstairs was Dorsey’s consulting room, and the guest bedroom and ensuite. There was even a laptop on the table in the bedroom, which Neil told me to help myself to — and it was a Macintosh. Perfect!

No comments:

Post a Comment