Day 1 – Getting the hell to the other side of the planet – the (technically) three day journey.
The awkward wrestle of transporting our chimeric towers of luggage has become a familiar choreography. A cantankerous jig of squeaking wheels, clanks, clunks, and the occasional profane outburst.
Checking in to our flight, we are surprise ambushed by a monster so common it needs be in no Dungeons & Dragons manual. Perhaps the most sinister of their genus, the red-tape viper, (technically an elemental,) has many natural nesting grounds, preferring dreary cubicles, but has also become an invasive species of the wilds of the internet as well. It paralyses its prey with a long tail of paperwork, and has two sets of venomous fangs, colloquially referred to as their fees, and their more poisonous penalties.
This particular species we had not encountered previously, despite the great deal of time we’ve spent navigating through its preferred territory. But we should have known. We were, after all, travelling through Australia, land of everything-here-kills-anything. The Temporary Visa Even Though You’re Just On A Connecting Flight Sidewinding Red-Tape Viper struck as soon as we presented our passports at check in, and though the bite was a small $40, the paralysis a brief forty five minutes, we started our journey with the lesson we needed to be wary in this new land.
I have no idea how people survived long-haul flights before there were prolific electronic devices, and video players in the back of every seat. I can only assume that every single passenger on every single long-haul flight in those dark ages would stop by the duty-free store before their flight. Selecting a bottle of their preferred 80-proof way to wash down the fistful of pills they’d talked their doctor into prescribing for “nerves” and/or “back pain.”
Personally, I use the time to watch bad movies that I secretly wanted to see, but had to wait for the excuse of “Well, I ran out of everything in their ‘Critically Acclaimed’ section. Therefore ‘the Hangover’ trilogy was all that stood between an uneventful flight, and an emergency landing to expel and probably arrest me after what happens when I get bored!”
Even so, I will echo the cries of countless airline nomads. The seats are apparently designed by devious chiropractors who have turned to the dark-side; sinisterly engineered to turn the human spine into an aching bramble of tangled vertebrae.
Upon arrival in Sydney airport, we begin our forage for snacks, and survey for a lounge for our eight-hour layover. (Which became a ten-hour layover. Thanks, cyclone Pam.) Kat, for the umpteenth time of the day, uses her mutant power to Cerebro-style detect every person from the Phillipines within a two-mile radius, finding some very helpful lounge gatekeepers. Phillipinos are always incredibly friendly and open, marveling at Kat’s proficiency in a very uncommon second language. At least I think that’s what happens. They’re speaking Tagalog, so for all I know, it’s a cultural thing to argue with bright smiles, and they were actually in a vicious verbal duel. If that’s the case, Kat is deadly. And victorious once again, we find ourselves in the American Express Lounge, surrounded by snacks. And for many hours, solitude and serenity.
I semi-industriously scrawl sticky paintmarker across the tiny, but remarkably expensive canvases of Magic cards. The rare interruptions are pleasant folks asking what I was doing, or hovering ever closer until I offer for them to take a look. I’m reminded how few adults engage in creating art every time I’m in a public place doing just that. People orbit around me, their eyes tethered with a quiet curiosity as though I was practicing a craft they’d only heard of in legends. Long before anything interesting is on the page, mind you. And when they finally decide to swoop in for a brief conversation, it does not matter how far along the drawing is: I am seven years old to them. I can have four wobbly lines, and they will exclaim “Oh my gosh! You’re such a good drawer! That’s so amazing that you can do that! Boy, I wish I could do that. I bet your parents are very proud!” And if they happen to have an actual seven year old along with them, I get introduced to the children as though I am the Avatar-god of Dreams Fulfilled. Steeped in myth, with the power to inspire a young mind with but a few words, gifting everlasting keys to forge destinies, conquer all obstacles, and live every hope one will ever have. This, of course, always ends in disappointment when I offer up something like “Yeah, it just takes practice. Art is no different than anything else. Put the work in, and you can do whatever.” It’s like they expected my words to call a rainbow on a bolt of lightning, revealing the gift of a talking pegasus, hand them an amulet that fulfills desires; and what they got instead was a grunt of “meh,” and mildly farty dog wanders in from somewhere and won’t go away.
Our oasis paradise of free snacks and power strips was not to be entirely blissful, however. There is another sort of family, with another sort of child, that you’ll occasionally encounter out in the wild. The family that advertises vasectomies far better than any pharmaceutical company ever could. The family of gremlin children born to zombie parents. This will be how we spend our final hours in the airport lounge. Peace broken by a dozen adults, trailed by what seemed like a thousand grabbing hands and slobbering mouths. A rising tsunami of smelly bodies, screeches and howls, leaving everything in their wake sticky, gross, and somehow violated beyond the realm of physicality. The “adults” scavenge the free bar like starving, shell-shocked survivors of the apocalypse, drenching and drowning what was left of the awareness of the multitudinous horrors they’ve unleashed, with whatever bottom-shelf liquors they could find. In the meantime, those tiny humanish-shaped horrors descended upon the lounge as slimy pink locusts suddenly let loose from their 12-hour imprisonment on a plane.
These people and children are… less than pleasant. I had to save several Liliana of the Veil from literally being eaten.
Arriving at the hotel after midnight, the instructions for getting in included getting our room key from a safe in the lounge. We arrived along with a handful of players, who opened the safe and rifled through a handful of envelopes exclaiming “Steve Argyle!” Silly me, I thought they had recognized me, and wandered up to claim my envelope. “I’ve got a ton of stuff to get signed. We should totally wait in his room and ambush him.”
“Hi guys! Hope to see you tomorrow at the show! Have a good night!” And gestured for my envelope. They looked at me with an inquiring scan, suspecting I was a crazy person. While not wrong, I clarified “that one’s for me.”
“Nice try. There’s just ours, another group we know, and Steve Argyle’s”
“Yep. Steve Argyle. … Um, that’s me.”
They then delightfully lost it for exactly seventeen seconds. A frantic whirlwind of questions and compliments later, we parted ways to hibernate in our remarkably large suite. We were in Auckland. The GP was about to begin…
I think the producers slightly oversold this place. Not that I expected any of the ‘girls clawing each others hair out over the boy they both slept with’ or ‘a morning after scene that looks straight out of the hangover trilogy’ bullshit they told me but it does seem rather… quiet. Here’s to hoping everyone is off nursing a hangover on the beach or something. But please tell me they didn’t lie about the bar and it’s impressive collection of alcohol.