Day 25 (December 3, 2017 – Los Angeles, California): “Ironies A Plenty”
Julie and I both awoke at 4:20am. It wasn’t a good sign that we could hear the rain outside. So it must be coming down hard.
We then spent the next hour eatin the rest of our consumable goods like the Greek yogurt, the bottle of kefir, strawberries, blueberries, leftover wannabe kimchee, and as much water as we could drink. We still wound up leaving behind a pretty solid 5L of water (so whatever savings we thought we were getting was more than offset by the waste) as well as some bottles of apple cider vinegar, olive oil, and pepper. We also left behind celeries that we knew couldn’t be consumed as they were meant for cooking with chicken soup when Julie wasn’t well.
By about 5:20am, we loaded up the car. I actually had to run out in the pouring rain then get the car and drive it right up to the sheltered tunnel right in front of the reception entrance. I then quickly loaded everything up except the GPS stuff, and when Julie was done checking out, we were out the door and into the dark.
By 5:30am, we made it to the Launceston Airport. I was concerned that the fuel gauge on the vehicle started to move away from the “F”. I thought I had topped up yesterday, but apparently the nozzle might have given me the all-full pop a little prematurely. I wondered how much Avis will charge me for that last bit of fuel?
Anyways, once we parked the car, we quickly emptied out the car and braved the rain for a couple of minutes before getting under the shelter. At that point, we both frequently used the toilets as we thought we had to drink up most of the water we brought with us (though I kept one of the two 1L bottles full on my pack).
I had recalled that domestic airlines in Australia seemed to be more laxed about getting through security with water. And sure enough by 6:15am, when we got through the security, the 1L bottle was still intact and with us. So I sacrificed my bladder for nothing.
With boarding passes in hand and baggages already checked through to LAX, we were told that our flight was still scheduled to be on time. The signs even said under the Gate column “RELAX” as we waited for the gate corresponding to our flight, which was eventually at gate 1.
The plane was there at the gate, and despite the foul weather outside (the same system that produced flash flooding throughout Central, Northeastern, and Eastern Victoria), apparently they saw no reason to delay.
The plane eventually took off at about 7:10am, which was just past the 7am scheduled departure. Julie conceded with me that it was wise to take the first flight out to at least avoid any contingency delays from flights that had to come before. The price paid for this however was the minimal sleep we had last night (on the order of four hours or less).
When the plane landed at the Melbourne International Airport at around 8:20am, my bladder was about to explode. So once we finally de-planed, we made a beeline for the restrooms. Then, we walked over to the International Terminal T2, where there were a lot more people (mostly Asians in large groups it appeared) where we were guided through to security, where we had to drink up the rest of our water (again) as this time we couldn’t get that through security.
Julie actually had 3 small bottles of water from the flight and they all went unconsumed, which security flagged. Aside from that, we then went through the passport control without too much of a hitch (Julie got through the electronic processing no problem, but I was routed to the manual line perhaps because my facial hair threw off the facial recognition algorithm).
At 9am, we then went to the TRS (Tourist Refund Service), which had a queue already. Since I had bought a replacement Canon lens in Melbourne for the one I broke in front of MacKenzie Falls, I was entitled to get back the GST I had already spent. If successful, then the lens I bought would actually be quite the discount compared to what was being charged on Amazon or B and H.
You see, they were charging $699 on Amazon for the 18-200mm lens. At Digicel in the Melbourne CBD, I bought it for $650 AUD. But I was entitled to $59.50 GST redemption, which would bring this down to roughly $600 AUD and with the exchange rates, it might knock off another 20% on top of that! So when all is said and done, this lens would be $500 USD!
Anyways, I was successful in getting through the queue and getting my refund in a couple of weeks time. When Julie and I left, the queue had grown considerably! Good thing we did this when we did.
Eventually at 9:50am, we finally made it through the duty free gauntlet. It seemed like every international airport was doing this now, but I swore I recalled times when this wasn’t the case on some of the international airports when we started traveling big time. We speculated that we started noticing the phenomenon when we were at London Heathrow Airport during our round-the-world trip back in 2008.
We managed to clean out the rest of our Australian cash (all $70 of it) buying Australian meat jerkies (mostly kangaroo jerkies and a combo jerky where there were emu, kangaroo, and crocs for ourselves) as gifts.
By 10:10am, we finally made it to our assigned gate, and now we were chilling out crossing our fingers for an on-time flight home. The weather looking out the window of our gate continued to look like it had calmed down considerably as apparently the worst of the major storm system appeared to have passed further east and south.
To our surprise, we boarded the plane at around 10:45am. It was a little chaotic as people were crowding towards the escalator down to the bridges. One Chinese lady was doing her thing trying to cut in front of everyone, but it turned out to not matter much anyways as we wound up beating her to our seat anyways. Regardless, we were seated towards the back of the plane so we were about to get our stuff onto the overhead locker and get comfy with a stranger getting the aisle seat while Julie and I got the two seats towards the window.
It turned out that we were making small talk with this lady from Virginia. She broke the ice by telling us she was worried about not making her connections as she had a tight 90-minute connection at LAX towards Chicago before connecting again to get to Virginia. Since we still had data on our Optus plan sim card on my iPhone, we let her try to check in on our phone to at least help her get expedited on her way to her next flights.
After that, we talked quite a bit about our respective visits to Australia. I was quite intrigued that she was in some 12-day workshop in Castlemaine, Victoria, regarding some kind of group rhythm dance thing. I kind of got the gist of this community rhythm dance thing as I knew full well the value of being part of a community.
Anyways, this conversation shifted all over the place from politics to spirituality (and how naturally-occuring hallucinogens might have created the evolutionary leap from hunter-gathering neaderthals and primitive ape-like species to more cerebral homo sapiens figured; where the whole spirituality and consciousness might have been a consequence), to Trump politics and how perverse economic incentives were the root cause of everything that was wrong with the world.
This small talk easily consumed the first two hours of the flight. Then, with her headphone difficulties as someone jammed something in her headphone socket so it wasn’t usable, she managed to find another seat while I was in and out of consciousness watching a couple of movies before watching all the season 1 episodes of the hilarious Ronny Chieng: International Student – a comedy show that I don’t think we could get at home.
The flight went along pretty smoothly and we’d eventually land at LAX at 6:15am (PST), which was right on time even though there was a bit of a 20-30 minutes of delay regarding a security hangup.
After going through the chaotic gauntlet of passport control and the initial customs check, we were at the carousel waiting for our luggages to arrive at 7:05am.
It seemed like forever before we finally collected our luggage pieces, then we had to go through the final queue, which was the customs. While this was a time I wish we could have had Global Entry, it didn’t seem all that bad in the grand scheme of things this time around, which was surprising considering how LAX never seems to get its act together when it comes to being organized and pro-active to issues that would arise when it came to processing passengers.
The supremely ironic thing about this whole trip was that today was the first time our flights with Qantas were pretty much on time, and it occurred on a day when Victoria was still getting battered by a substantial storm and it was getting in Launceston, where we were taking off on one of those twin prop planes.
Anyways, after catching the shuttle, then hoping the car started (which it did), we finally made it back home at 8:30am to an excited Tahia whom we missed so much (as she did us). So it was quite the reunion and while Julie was finally trying to get her shut eye, I was trying to tough it out by keeping Tahia occupied for as long as I could before I’d succumb to jetlag and the meager 2 total hours or so of shut-eye on the entire flight.
Tomorrow, I had to go back to work so it was back to life, back to reality in a manner that I wasn’t really looking forward to at all…