Back to the Future
Trip Start Sep 14, 2013
30Trip End Oct 21, 2013
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Five minutes past three and the cab hasn't arrived. I'm outside pacing the footpath next to our 7 pieces of luggage. Finally I call the cab company who tell me the driver's waiting on 3rd Street. How did 1st Street get transcribed to 3rd Street? Must be my Australian accent. I've noticed that Americans are always saying pardon when I speak. A colleague told me he adopted an American accent to ease communication when he was in the States. Our host Jacky has come out to say goodbye and wish us well. We've had such a good run with our accommodation choices everywhere we've stayed this trip - St Ives, North Finchley, Republique and now Park Slope in Brooklyn. We would happily stay at all our hosts apartments again. Our luggage fits into the mini cab and I step into the front passenger seat to the bewilderment of the driver. "Are you going to drive?" I apologise explaining we drive on the other side of the road in Australia. That's the second time I've done that now in New York. Embarrassing. Or at least, embarrassing for my family.
On the way to JFK Airport we pass through a long boulevard that stretches on for miles and miles. We were staying right near a Jewish sector judging by the devout men in black suits and hats with their beards and prayer shawls hanging out looking like urban cowboys walking back from their synagogues on the Sabbath. There are a lot of Eastern Europeans around this immediate area our cabbie tells us. This is also where the Jewish Australian was killed a few years back by a street gang. As we get closer to the airport the urban density starts to thin out a little and becomes a little more like some of Melbourne's inner suburbs around Collingwood. I even spotted a vacant block of land which looked totally out of place. It took us about a half hour drive to get to JFK airport. As we drove down a long entrance road, terminal signs listed what seemed like every airline on the planet. We flew in to Newark in New Jersey so this was our first time at JFK. It's a big airport but old and like so many American icons, different to my expectations. How many JFK airport scenes have I seen in movies and TV shows. When you get in past customs, the terminal lounges are smaller and pokier than what I had anticipated.
But first we had to check in. Qantas which is ubiquitous in Australia is just one of dozens of airlines here. There were just two desks open and a long queue even though we were early. The desks were manned by American Airway staff. I was watching the passengers ahead of us getting their luggage weighed. Quite a few were emptying their cases and repacking. Watching them was making me nervous. On our turn we hit two Black Americans - one man and woman who weren't taking any nonsense. My fat case that I had to sit on to zip up is 3 kilos over the limit. "That's going to be a problem sir. You'll need to take some things out." What! There are four of us and we only have three suitcases. We are way under our luggage allocated weight. But you are limited to a weight of 28 kilos for each case which is different to what they told us flying out in Melbourne. I got out my Silver Frequent Flyer Card which allocated me extra weight but to no avail. Im not going to unpack that. Jenny had secured every zipper with plastic security tags which needed scissors to cut which no one had. How much is the fine I asked. "$50 sir". America. Honestly. While I was making a fuss threatening to ring up Qantas and complain when I got back to Melbourne, Jenny was sweet talking the woman who shared the same birthday month with Jenny and Tamsin. I was being told to calm down. We walked away without the fine but a big fat "Extra Heavy" sticker on my suitcase with other people's shopping in it. Jenny took the credit for that one. Nice wins over grumpy. Well, sometimes.
After more duty free shopping which was okay because you were allowed the extra bags if you are spending money, we were ready to board QF94 to LA where we would pick up the last Melbourne leg of the flight. I was looking forward to sitting back not having to worry about anything for the next 26 hours and just eat, sleep, watch movies and catch up on my blog. It had been a frantic five weeks and as much as I love travel and road trips, it would be good to be back home again. That sentiment changed about half way into the second flight when I woke up thinking we were almost in Melbourne only to discover on looking at the flight path that we had another 7 hours to go. I cheered myself up by watching an episode from the third season of Idiot Abroad which is always good for a laugh.
LA airport was modern and inviting. We were in the transit lounge for a few hours where we could see our plane through big windows right next to where we sat. Qantas passengers were privileged as we didn't have to go through customs like the other airlines to change planes. Nice to have some privileges. When we boarded our second flight, the cabin felt like a fridge. They managed to rectify that after a while but it was still cool for the rest of the flight requiring a jumper and blanket to sleep. By now I was struggling to stay awake. It was around 3:00 am New York time and I was smashed. But I didn't want to miss out on my meal before going to sleep as I was also quite hungry. I watched a movie Now You See Me which was shot on location in New York and Paris. There was the lock bridge in Paris where lovers engrave their initials on padlocks locked to the bridge and throw the key into the river. And on the Hudson river one of the ferries where we sailed. Other scenes included the older Manhattan buildings with the fire escape stairs on the outside of the building. It felt a little surreal and somehow made me feel more connected to the movie. And the locations grew big again even though I was watching on a tiny 7 inch screen. The magic of movies. We all want to be famous even it might only be for fifteen minutes.
Hours later (it feels like days) the pilot announces we have crossed the international date line and we can wind our clocks forward, back to the future. When we finally land in Melbourne we found the weather waiting for us, brooding and dark. A few days ago it was 30 degrees here. You were saving this up for us weren't you Melbourne. Well it doesn't matter. The holidays over. Frank was waiting to drive us home. "Five weeks went fast". For us it felt closer to five months. Travel warps time and space but it's not physics that does that, at least at the speed we travel at. Our brain favours new experiences and downgrades the repetitive and familiar routines. Our memory reads new experiences back in widescreen technicolor. We feel like we've spent more time on new things. The old repetitive routines are read back in faded black and white which our brain glitches over and we feel as if those experiences have taken no time at all out of our lives. That's what gives us the illusion of time speeding up as we grow older. Or at least that's what the new brain science is telling us from what I've read of it. If you want to live longer, keep trying new things, travelling to new places, meeting new people. You might not actually live longer but it will feel like you did. I think that's kind of cool. It's as if our design code is wired to encourage us to live extraordinary, challenging lives.
There were no sabbaths on our five week global crawl. Admittedly, the first two weeks in Cornwall felt more like a holiday with family and less rushed. But from London onwards each day was spent taking in the sights. We slowed the pace down on the first day of arrival in a new city to allow time to settle in and orientate but there was never a day off. As our schedule was not worked out in any great detail in advance, there was a lot of nightly planning and booking tickets. There were a lot of nights out catching up with family and friends, eating out, and walking across bridges and going to shows. We walked most days particularly once we got to Paris and New York. Jenny and I lost a few kilos each when we jumped on the scales back home. This blog, in case you're wondering, was written up in the gaps late at night or early in the morning, on trains, planes and waiting outside shops. Having the travel pod app in sync on iPad and iPhone was indispensable for this as was a SD card reader that plugged into my iPad allowing me to properly review and edit photos.
Apart from jet lag, time warp and travel fatigue, there is also soul fracturing to deal with. Or what William Gibson calls Damien's theory of jet lag in his novel Pattern Recognition. According to Damien, "the mortal soul is left leagues behind, being reeled in on some ghostly umbilical down the vanquished wake of the plane. Souls can't move that quickly, and are left behind, and must be awaited, upon arrival, like lost luggage." I call it soul fracturing. But you have to believe in ghosts for that to make any sense. A mate calls it the slow onset of melancholy as Sisyphus returns from the mountain top down into the valley of futile labor. But that's an observation of disengagement for reflection - when you don't follow through on insights received from disengagement away from work and routine life and you return from your time away and fall back into the same old ruts of life at work and home. Soul fracturing is different. It happens when the body is fractured temporarily allowing the soul to break free and float (not reflect) above life. In Gibsons's Pattern Recognition, Cayce Pollard had only lost five hours from New York to London. We flew backwards across the time line from 7pm New York time into the future of 9am the following day in Melbourne. That makes up a 9 hour time zone difference. And that's a lot of soul separation.
I'm writing this Thursday evening four days after arriving back in Melbourne and my soul is still on its way back from New York. Jenny woke me up from a nap to pick Ella up on the Monday afternoon and I woke up in Brooklyn. I drove 2 kilometres past the church where Ella has drama before realising I had gone too far. When I got back to work, I watched my team of Executives in bemusement as they briefed me on matters that might as well have been happening on Mars. And there is melancholy, not because I'm back in the rut - it's too early for that. Its because my soul has been displaced and is waiting for realignment. I've decided I don't want full realignment to occur. I'm using my current state of limbo to explore other possibilities that are not too late to enter the time-space continuum intersecting with my existence. I've transcended the Sisyphian revelation of grumpy Greek gods dealing out retribution and arrived at the more fundamental insight of Kieerkegardien angst. Life's too short to waste on pushing rocks up a hill to watch them roll down again ad infinitum. I can see a world of new possibilities that I want to capture before my soul finds its way back from New York and settles me back into the rut of complacency.
But first there's a list needing attention. At home the plum tree out back is uprooted from white ants. It looks like Tabby our cat has run amuck in the house and Poppy our Golden Retriever shoots into the house like a possessed demon trying to talk and bend herself double while skidding up and down the floorboards. Jenny's car won't start because the battery is dead and there's no food to eat in the house. A mountain of mail, half of it bills, has amassed on the kitchen bench. And the grass is overgrown and needs mowing. It's enough to make you want to turn back round and drive to the airport for another holiday.