Sunday, March 28, 2010

Step 3 - Open a Bank Account

Mum and Teenager
Mum and Teenager
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
I believe I mentioned that there is a bit of an evil Catch 22 here: You can't open a bank account until you have a place to live. You can't get a place to live until you have a local bank account. So we lied.

This is what good cruisers do when asked questions for which there is no correct -- and perhaps more importantly -- useful answer.

What about pirates? -- There really aren't any in the seas we'll be sailing through.
What about socialization? -- We will seek out other kid boats and spend all our time ensuring our children have others to play with.
What about drug runners? -- We've never seen any.
What about big storms? -- Never seen any of those either.

Heh. After nearly four years routinely lying to our loved ones, the New Zealand banking system stands little chance.We told them we lived at our hotel. Technically, I suppose this isn't a lie so much as a stretching of the truth tantamount to fitting a 280 pound Samoan mama into a size 4 lycra jumpsuit. And it did the trick.

Who is going to be hurt in any case? We immediately moved a bunch of U.S. cash into our account. Then we promptly spent it all. It seems like the bank is winning from all this churn… they are certainly charging us for it. Seems like the New Zealand economy benefits since spending is the Engine of Commerce, or some such economic clap trap. And while our finances are reeling, the fast movement of dollars to dollars converts into a rental home, furniture, and school uniforms which we can actually use. So it's all good.

I love sophistry.

What's great is that with a bank account, suddenly a whole world of To Do's is now open. We can rent property. We can buy groceries. We can … we can buy ANYTHING. The starved crew of Congers are now sitting at a banquet of bourgeois delights ready to indulge in the biggest feast of our lives. We want… we want…

We WANT. Oh my god do we want.

So far we have bought a whole lot of bread and cheese. It appears that what we really want is toast. It is not an exaggeration to say that we have consumed roughly a loaf of toast a day since our arrival. One day we had toast for breakfast, toasted tuna melts for lunch, and toasted cheese with tomato soup for dinner. We toast bagels and english muffins, crumpets, and white bread. We slice up sour dough, crumple croissants into hot cocoa, and sip tea with our scones. I can't help but think we're going carbo crazy.

The New Conger Nests
The New Conger Nests
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
After toast, our biggest purchases have been personal care items. We got our hairs cut, picked up a few changes of clothing, and invested in some skin care products to protect us from the wildly insane U.V. down here. So far we have exercised restraint on furniture and other worldly goods, primarily because we have no place to put them.*

But just you wait, Hen-ree, Hig-ins. Just you wait.

BTW, they pronounce all those H's down here. Of all places to be teased about our accents, we had a matronly woman at the Auckland Botanical Gardens spend no small amount of effort and emotional energy trying to get us to say hhhhhirb, correctly. Hhhhhirb. Erb. Hrm.

Editor's Note: Hahaha! Okay, I love editing this article a few weeks later. We've now spent oodles on mattresses and bedding. After toast, our priority was to get a good night's sleep for the first time in four years.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Step 2 - Buy a Car

Say What?
Say What?
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Today, we bought a car. Actually, we bought a Toyota diesel minivan. We had to get something large enough for the family on a tramp as well as to shuttle around the visitors we anticipate. It's a six-seater, seven in a pinch, with room in the back for gear. Having said that, I've never seen such a small van. I think this van would fit in the corner of our old van. Welcome to Euro-world.

New Zealanders in general and Aucklanders in particular like to drive. Everything is very West Coast U.S.-ish with suburban sprawl, geographic water and mountain challenges, and very few, low quality and expensive public transit options. Folks have repeatedly told us that you can't live in Auckland without a car. Even our short time here supports this conclusion. While pavements (which is what they call sidewalks…no I don't understand it either…) are abundant, drivers are oblivious to pedestrians and downright hostile to cyclists. There are almost no dedicated bike and pedestrian corridors. With the widespread enthusiasm for the outdoors and sport, it is inevitable that this attitude while shift over time, but today it really sucks to be non-motorized in New Zealand.

So into our microdot of a minivan we wedge ourselves.

Of course, then we run into the most obvious delta between our world and mirror world: right-hand drive. Driving on the wrong side of the road is tricky and confusing. DrC took to it immediately, of course. Remember, this is the man whose surgical environment is both backwards and bent. He drives in reverse by looking in the rear view mirror and stepping hard on the gas petal. And he does it really really well. So after a day or so, the good doc mastered mirror world. It's taking me longer.

Actually, it's not driving that give me fits. I can do that. Just think LEFT LEFT LEFT LEFT. That works. There are occasional moments of disorientation when I'm making wide right turns, and I still find parking strange. However, the real problem is the subtle influence our driving patterns have on the rest of our movements through the world. Yesterday, I almost slammed into a runner at the park. It was early in the morning with the sun only thinking about rising. There was almost no lighting under the trees, and I could just barely make out the trail. Head phones on, head down, I'm slogging out a couple of laps in an earnest attempt to keep off the nearly two stone (20 pounds?) I lost on the boat. Suddenly I hear a muffled shout and sense movement directly in front of me. Primed for a mugger, I leap to the side ready to chop and kick only to find an irate business man in togs, muftie, and trainers (shorts, t-shirt, and running shoes) glaring and gesticulating as he continued on the path. Silly me. I was on the right side of the track. Or the wrong side. Or some side where I didn't belong.

View of Mirror World
View of Mirror World
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Next time you are running on a trail, walking up a busy staircase, or pushing your trolley (shopping cart) down an aisle, pause for a moment to reflect on your position relative to those around you. More often than not, you'll find yourself automatically 'driving yourself' on the same side of the road as your native country's car. Even going in and out of doors at the broker, I find myself opening the wrong door and banging my nose on the glass. How many things are like that in our lives? We take for granted these patterns that are so ingrained we don't have rules about them. Why would you? You don't need a rule to tell you which side of the staircase to walk up. And then when we go to a new country, we're forced to reexamine these patterns, change existing ones and develop new ones, or face the consequences.

It's only taken us two weeks to stop putting our toilet tissue in the bathroom rubbish bin (trash can). I am certain the hotel housecleaning staff is grateful we're adapting.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Step 1 - Get a Phone

[Editor's Note] Better late than never... I'm finally going to post our "Moving to New Zealand" series. It's 8 or 9 steps which I'll publish more or less in sequence over the next month or two though the events that inspired them were smushed more like into three weeks. I'll probably intersperse these with more interesting and personal stuff since the series is rather drier and more practical than is truly my nature. If you want to read the series all together, I'll give them a single "moving" tag.

Lounging About
Lounging About
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
When we dismantled our lives in Seattle, we were forever astonished by how many strings we left trailing behind. It seemed that for months random charges, irate emails, and miscellaneous to do's appeared out of nowhere like urbanized black magic sprinkled through our days. For those considering dropping out, going for a walk about, or otherwise escaping the Real World, I'd like you to first adventure with me on a little thought exercise.

I want you to pretend for a moment that the companies with whom you routinely do business are actually toddlers -- strong willed, very healthy, robust toddlers dressed in company colors with appropriately logo'd baseball caps. Each company more or less only reaches to your waist. Since very few can jump high enough to grab you in a stranglehold, abandoning them to the wolves in the forest merely requires a hard heart and pair of ear plugs. Sometimes, it's easier if you leave a basket of food behind. For example, you could simply pay a small discontinuation fee on an account or forego getting your money back on a security deposit which distracts the toddler-company long enough for you to get offshore and out of reach.

A few of these toddlers have big brothers who can and will turn you upside and shake until the gold in your fillings drops out of your mouth. To escape, you need to identify these lien holders early on and get them paid off. Make sure you have their assurance in writing that your presence is no longer necessary for their happiness and well being. While we were bobbing on the hook in a wild anchorage of northern Vancouver Island, we had one bank chase us down and try to foreclose on a piece of commercial real estate for the sin of not being physically where they expected us. These people you do not want to screw with. Best to make them go away in advance.

But with persistence and a long knife, you can and will be able to cut nearly all strings that tie you to the daily world of bills, mortgages, payments, subscriptions, auto-transfers, annual fees and the lot. The rest you give to your mommy and say, "Take care of it."

Then you leave.

Great, but now we're trying to reenter the regular world and are finding it takes nearly as much work to get yourself reestablished as it did to cut the ties to begin with. First, while we have grown and matured during the intervening years, the companies with whom we do business are still whiney, spoiled toddlers. Those who actually remember us from the good ole days are whiney, spoiled, vengeful toddlers. The rest are merely annoying and petulant.

As we reengage with civilization, we discover the world is full of Catch 22 loops such as the following:
* At most New Zealand banks, you can not open a bank account unless you have a permanent address.
* Most New Zealand rental properties will only accept a draft on a New Zealand bank account for your bond and first week rental payment.

Like that? How about this one:
* You can't get a visa until you have a job.
* You can't apply for a job until you have a visa.

Okay, not good enough? Try this one:
In New Zealand, they assume you have -- at some point in your life -- purchased electricity. So when you wish to turn on the lights at your new home, the first question in the online form is your account number without which the form literally will not progress. And what happens when in desperation you call the company... because gee... you don't have an account number? The automated friendly phone voice also prompts you for this same account number without which she dooms you to a virtually unending purgatory of musak until one of the electrical company's three live customer representatives gets back from tea.

The trick is the work around. The work around inevitably costs more money. Budget for your reentry to the world on the assumption that it is going to take more time and cost more than you currently anticipate by at least 10% in both cases.

Hatching Jaime
Hatching Jaime
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
We discovered that when all is said and done, the first thing you must do to get reintegrated into the regular world is to buy a phone. Without a phone number, you can literally do nothing. There is something about those mystical audio digits that confers "realness" in a way that bank drafts, passports, and work contracts do not. It also turns out that getting a phone number these days is about as dramatic a process as picking up a pair of new shoes. Wander the mall, look at the various models, select one, buy a SIM card, load it up with some money. They don't ask for your phone number (don't laugh! … By the time we arrived at the "buy phone" conclusion, we fully expected the store to require a phone number for us to get a phone number…). They don't even require that you give them your name. Drug dealers must love this.

So in addition to our preference for fast boats, sunny climates, and the avoidance of real work, cruisers have another thing in common with drug dealers… we like unregistered phones. It took us 72 hours to come to the Buy Phone conclusion during which we were quite literally unable to get anything useful done. Now we have a really dodgy piece of Sony Ericsson crap and a cellular phone number with a weird number of digits that make no sense.

Moving on…

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Memory Project

Family Outing at the Gardens
Family Outing at the Gardens
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
The theft knocked the wind out of the New Zealand Conger sails, but the family is gradually putting ourselves back together. Fortunately, we still own property in the United States for which we maintain rather pricey property insurance. As a result, it appears that monetarily we are going to be able to fund a shopping spree to replace our valuables. The emotional hit is harder to take. My rational mind recognizes that on the scale of things, this isn't that tremendous. We have a 'net friend who had a car stolen recently, another who lost her house to a bank … which is just another form of theft... and a third who nearly lost everything in the economic downturn. One of DrC's new colleagues fled his home country with a few bills in his pocket and the clothes on his back. By this measure, we are doing well with an embarrassment of riches and things.

Yet, it hurts to lose those precious items that we'd gathered over the years of our cruising. Arguably, Mera and Aeron lost the most irreplaceable items. Mera lost three years of diaries, and Aeron lost her keepsake box. Yesterday, the girls hit on ideas for how to make their hearts whole again and recovery their valuables. I'm ashamed to admit that in the interest of distraction, I've been letting them watch the tele (bad mommy). They got the idea from the Jonas Brothers. In a recent episode, the brothers accidentally destroyed their parents' home videos. While they couldn't replace the videos, they lit on the idea to recreate the key moments. The Jonas brothers reenacted scenes from their childhood at 3, 5, 7, 14, and then clipped the scenes together into a video. The new video wasn't the same as the old one, but their mother said that somehow, someway it was better.

So Mera and Aeron are undertaking The Memory Project. For Mera, we are going to select and print between thirty to fifty pictures from the past four years. Mera intends to paste these into a journal and write everything she remembers about the time and events that took place around that photograph. If this were any eleven year old other than our Marvelous Mysterious one, I'd say the project was doomed. Those who know Mera well, however, no doubt agree with me that all this one requires is that I get her the photos, the pens and the journal before her desire cools.

Aeron's version of The Memory Project, however, requires your help. She decided to harness all the offers of help and good will and support sent over the past few days. Aeron's keepsake box contained small, monetarily insignificant bits gathered from the top end of Vancouver Island to Zihautenejo. There were painted shells and smooth worry stones, tourist town maps, postcards and event tickets, hand made crafts and pictures from boat kids everywhere, and little touristy items from Mexican markets. The most monetarily valuable item in the box was probably a 50 ($4USD) peso painted turtle from a market in Mazatlan, the most personal a polished shell from Skylar of Ocean Blue. Each item reminded her of a place or a person.

Aeron is asking everyone to send her replacements. They don't have to be the same… they don't even have to be similar. The point is that the new items, letters, postcards, bits of kid work… well they will all represent places and loved ones. Nothing should really cost anything… a bookmark from a local bookshop or a map of the marina your boat is in, a postcard, or a cheap knockoff Huichol key chain, a bracelet wound of Spectra or a stray plastic Mexican train marker, a little fan or a bead bracelet made by the kids on your boat. Anything really that comes from the heart, arrives with a note to Aeron from the sender, and reminds us all of our trip and the wonderful people we met.

And mind you, this is everyone... not just our cruising friends in Mexico. Aeron collected stuff in La Connor, Nanaimo, Seattle, and San Francisco. She went to every national park in the Southwest gathering detritus the whole way. My little magpie knows a 1,000 people; It seems every one of them touched her heart somehow, and she memorialized it with something that would all together fit in a space smaller than a bread box.

You can send these letters and bits to one of the following three addresses:

United States
Suellen Jost
The Memory Project
224 East Ranch Road
Seattle, WA 95825

Club Cruceros de La Paz A.C.
APDO Postal 366
La Paz, B.C.S.   Mexico
ATTN: Don Quixote (Dean Conger)

New Zealand
Manukau SuperClinic™
PO Box 98743
Manukau City
Manukau 2241
New Zealand
ATTN: Module 6 - Ophthalmology, Dr. Dean M. Conger

Our Magpie
Our Magpie
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Those sent to Mexico or the United States will be gathered into a bundle which I'll pick up in late May. For those in the cruising world, please pass on this request to our friends who do not get online very often.

I want to thank everyone again for the outpouring of support. Combined with carbo and retail therapy, the messages have helped us enormously. When all is said an done, we are a very lucky family.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Ultimate Purge

Okay, most of you know that usually I write, let the content percolate, edit, and then after much editing release. But today something really really bad happened and enough of you are "need to know" that it's easier to post it here. My apologies for the lack of professionalism and the time shifting.

To bring you up to date, we found a house we really like in a town we really like south of DrC's work. We've done most of the work to get the kids into school, and we were all set to move in this weekend.

The problem is that the house -- which we call Chicken House because chickens were browsing in the front yard the first time we saw it -- smells like cat piss. In fact, I think the former tenant locked about a dozen cats in the front half of the house for several months without a litter box. It smelled a bit when we visited it, but we thought we could take care of it with cleaning.

Strike One. Cleaning didn't get rid of the smell. Removing the carpets in the affected rooms didn't get rid of the smell. In fact, the hardwood beneath the carpets is so seriously damaged, I'm at a loss what can be done to fix it. So we opened up the windows, left them with their little security latches, and fled the house yesterday.

Strike Two. Today we got back to the house and the smell was worse. This wasn't the terrible part. The terrible part was that the suitcases we had left in the dining room were gone. And the two boxes, my sewing machine, DrC's backpack, Mera's new school back pack, and my sewing kit. Gone. Investigation revealed that someone had broken in through a back window, opened a side door, and rolled off with everything we own.

The nice police man Chris told us that it would have helped if we'd dogged all the windows, but that the job was done by someone watching the house. It was probably a neighbor or the former tenant, we believe.

The nice Victim Support counselor said she could find us some kit, some clothes, some furniture. She also said the house was unlivable with the smell. Good it's not just my opinion.

The nice woman at the broker said she'd get the landlord over there to figure out what to do about the smell and to investigate whether additional locks on the windows or an alarm system might make sense.

All these nice people just made me cry. Of the 10 cases of personal and household goods we so arduously packed and shlepped from La Paz to New Zealand, we have two left. We have a few items of clothing, the kids most precious dolls and blankies, my laptop, and DrC's iTouch. We don't have hard drives, boat gear, or business clothes. We don't have our Rapid Chef cookware or my collapsible measuring cups, the sewing machine or sewing kit my mother put together for Christmas. We don't have Mera's diaries or the collection of bits and bobs Aeron stowed in the wooden painted chest that we also no longer have. We don't have the files I did for my client last month -- or the backup I put on the hard drives -- or the software disks I use to create the files I build for my clients. We're missing three computers, three external hard drives, a handheld GPS that kept us from running aground countless times, our captain's log for Don Quixote, and all our paperwork for the boat.

A couple things on the positive side. First, all of DrC's credentialing papers and his disks with his grandparents videos are all here at the hotel for no reason we can understand. Also, when we were in Sacramento in August, we made a copy of those external hard drives so all we've potentially lost is Sep 09 to Jan 10 when I got my new laptop. Frankly, the best of it is on this blog or on Flickr. We still have the kids' most precious items they can't live without as well as our guest book from Don Quixote. Finally, the mysterious gremlins of fate tossed my ziplock baggie of precious jewelry on the floor where it lay... completely obvious to anyone looking. There it is... my wedding ring, the jewels DrC gave me when the girls were born, the jade from my grandmother and the fake silver charm bracelet Mera gave me for Christmas this year.

Perhaps the biggest thing on the positive column, however, is my daughters. We all cried at first. Mera lost the most and cried the most. Initially. But after a few hours and on the drive home, they all sort of reluctantly admitted to me that they weren't terribly upset. In fact, the girls are almost over it. Jaime said, "Compared to leaving Isabel and Sam or Don Quixote or Dulci, this doesn't feel so bad." Aeron and Mera agreed pointing out that it was much more upsetting saying good bye to Uncle Glenn or Heather or Pamela or Noey or Carolyn... before the list got us all sobbing again I cut them off.

My girls are so resilient. Isn't that one of the major reasons we decided to do all this? They are so equipped to handle disaster. They are better equipped than their mother who fell apart in front of the nice policy man, the nice victim lady, the broker, my husband, the grocer, my blog audience. They are so strong, so capable, and so unattached to things.

Jaime remarked, "At least I didn't lose my birthday gift... I still remember the sea lion biting my foot."

To which Mera agreed wholeheartedly, "I think that proves we should just keep giving experiences for presents, don't you?"

"Okay, Mom, for my next birthday, I want to go to the Rainbow Park!" chimes in Aeron.

Okay, well, this was one hell of an experience. Whoever gave it to us, I'd like to know the return policy.

First Impressions

Our Apartment Building
Our Apartment Building
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
So Toast… what are your first impressions of New Zealand?" - Steve of OceanBlue

We arrived in New Zealand two weeks ago. So now is probably the best time to just blurt out those first impressions without the influences that will filter in after a few weeks, months, or years to digest. We'll touch base in another six months or so to see if these initial impressions play out.

Green -- DrC describes it this way, "Wet Southern California -- palm trees and eucalyptus with lichen. Weird." Lush. Summer warm, sunny, and beautiful. Strong winds, vigorous gardens, and a whole lot of grass. The Kiwis -- to their eternal credit -- are park, sport, and recreation mad.

Multicultural -- American hubris strikes again. When you live in the U.S., you think we're multicultural. These folks put even Berkeley to shame. I've never seen so many nationalities and races rubbing cheek by jowl on a regular basis. It's incredible.

Immigrations R Us -- This goes with the prior thought, but it feels like native folks -- both Maori and Pakeha (or NZ European as they like to call themselves on all the paperwork) -- are by far the minority here in the Auckland area. Everywhere we go, we're interacting with people who arrived like us without furniture. As a result, this is a very sympathetic environment to the newly arrived immigrant. However, we Yanks are by far the minority; The majority are from the Pacific Islands, India, and China.

Expensive -- Distorted dollar perception or simply post-Mexican culture shock, it feels heinous. Looked at analytically, it's about the same as Seattle. So, I'll say it again, Auckland is expensive.

80's Flashback -- No insult to the Kiwis, please, but the culture feels like we've taken a step back in time to high school… both the positive and the negative bits of that era.

Small -- Again, without dissing the Kiwis or their country, this place is so small compared to Mexico or the U.S. The entire population is roughly that of Washington State. National news feels local. The upside? If New Zealanders want to do something, they just do it. The downside… no neighboring states or federal presence to fall back on when problems are big and intractable. This WA State to NZ comparison, btw, keeps popping up. DrC is attending a conference in a few weeks of all the ophthalmologists in the country. The meeting anticipates roughly the same number of attendees as the annual WAEPS conference (WA's eye doctors).

Seattle Echo -- There can be no Aucklander or Seattlite who would feel displaced swapping places. They should be sister cities. Size, economics, neighborhoods, traffic patterns, social ills, social benefits. I'm not saying this because Seattle was our homeport and familiar. DrC and I have lived in six major metropolitan areas during our lives and visited many others. Tick for tick, we've never seen two cities more similar in character.

Weird Light -- So we'd read about the high levels of U.V. down here. The articles do not do it justice. You can fry your neck and arm sitting in a car on the 10 minute drive home from work from the sun glancing in at an angle through the window. The UV is extreme and dangerous. There is a national campaign to Slip, Slop, Slap: Slip on sun glasses, slop on some sun screen, slap on a hat. Cruising Puddle Jumpers, take this VERY seriously. The Congers have the deep tan only cruisers of many years in the mid-latitudes can boast, and we've all five seen our skin redden in very short exposures to the full sun here. But where I'm going with this is that you actually notice a difference in the light. Everything feels slightly too bright to me… as if I'm looking at it through clear glass.

Too Much.

And with that I'll finish my first impressions because it's not fair to New Zealand or Auckland to say it's too fast, too commercial, too modern, too stressful, too urbanized. It's a beautiful city, and three years ago I'm certain DrC and I would have mortgaged our souls to the devil to buy a house in Ponsonby and settled in with verve and contentment. After spending years progressively shedding our middle-class, type A personalities -- during which we let our stress levels leak out our toe nails over successively more beautiful sunsets in nearly silent anchorages -- it's absolutely impossible to be happy living in Auckland. Every time we drive north towards the city, I can feel my shoulders bunch and a low grade headache start. All those beautiful little mirror-world pocket neighborhoods, so like our familiar haunts in Ballard and Fremont and Bellevue, are just too full of loud noise, fast moving people, and pressure.

Pondering Our Options
Pondering Our Options
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Pressure. The pressure is intense. To get into the right neighborhood so you can get into the right school. To get the right job to afford the right neighborhood. To buy the right things to fill the right house in the right neighborhood with the right schools. Two weeks and we're already running screaming for the hills. Fortunately for us, Auckland is (again like her mirror sister Seattle) surrounded in stunningly beautiful farmland a mere 20 to 40 minutes outside the city boundaries. DrC's job is 20 minutes south of the city, so we found a neighborhood 20 minutes south of that in the middle of rolling hills, lush green farmland, and miles of trees.

Kilometers of trees.

Metric. *shudder*

Monday, March 01, 2010

A Long Way Down the Road

Waiting It Out
Waiting It Out
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
"Are we there yet?"

This isn't the first time I've been asked this question during our long journey from La Paz to Auckland. The journey started at 08:30 Wednesday and concludes 17:00 Friday somewhere south of New Zealand's capital. Even though this family has been able to literally travel 1,000s of nautical miles without getting bored, you can't expect everyone to display the same creative thought processes while sitting on their ass in an airplane.

"No," I reply. "We are not there yet."

It feels like we are never going to arrive. We left Casa Buena in La Paz with Dario of Ballena early after a quick breakfast. It was almost heartbreaking listening to the morning net for the last time. It was more wrenching to chase kitty down and stuff her into her box. Box life, however, didn't last long. We climbed into the truck and headed off jammed cheek by jowl by whisker for a four hour drive to Cabo San Lucas Airport. It should have taken just under three, but we got lost. DrC detoured us briefly to Bahia de Los Muertos.

"I'm bored."

The plane left almost immediately from Cabo… since obviously we were late. We only paid an extra $USD300 for the bags and the cat. All in all, a bit less than I had anticipated. The first flight was a three hour American Airlines cattle call during which we were provided with absolutely no amenities. AA now charges $3 for a bag of airplane peanuts. While everyone was friendly at the airport, our stewardess was a first class snippy bitch, and it really sucks to not even get a pretzel for our troubles.

"Of course you are bored. Read a book."

"I read my book."

LAX would have been a five hour exercise in twiddling our thumbs except we had to take care of Dulci. We gave her a chance to do her kitty business first. Don't let anyone tell you LA doesn't have any grass. There is a lovely patch of fake Dog Park grass next to the terminal. Dulci didn't particularly like it, however, and chose to cross her legs until we walked her over to the scrabbly bushes away from the dog smell. I then hustled her off in a cab to Alaska Airlines cargo where I said a tearful goodbye. Then it was back to the terminal… two miles on foot. The walking actually felt good, but as I was a bit pressed for time and starving, it made me more than a little bit cranky.

"Read another one."

"I don't have another one."

We had a really nice but absurdly expensive dinner at the airport in Los Angeles. The food was expensive… the beers were $9.40 each. What the pho? Unbelievable. Fortunately, we were paying in miscellaneous US change that we'd somehow accumulated over the years. Nearly 20 pounds and $70 of it. I'm sure the waitstaff were cursing us as we left, but there you go. It was time to climb on to our VAustralia Airbus where we were finally treated like customers rather than cargo. We were fed and watered… the first alcoholic beverage is free… and made as comfortable as possible for the 13 hour flight.

"Watch a movie."

"I've already watched three movies. I don't want to watch a movie."

This is a plausible claim. The international Airbus trips offer modern interactive entertainment systems which are really quite amazing. There were literally 100s of movies, TV shows and documentaries to choose from. I started with intellectually stimulating bits about the oceans, New Zealand, and international relations then moved on to a nicely acted chick flick. Then, as my brains leaked out my ears and my soul trailed increasingly far behind the plane, I switched to Harry Potter. This proved too intellectually challenging so I switched to the hopelessly nonsensical and plotless Transformers 2.

I take a deep breath, "Play a game."

"Will you play chess with me?"

DrC and Friend
DrC and Friend
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
We transferred in Sydney from VAustralia to Emirates. Emirates perks are even more pleasant and thorough than VAustralia. I can recommend without any reservation Emirates and will actively try to get booked on Virgin, Virgin affiliates and Emirates flights in the future. If at all possible, I will never take another US carrier anywhere in the world again. On our giganormous Airbus 380 Emirates, the food was outstanding, the service friendly and helpful, and the liquor altogether free. I know you are not supposed to drink, but we had a nice red wine with our chicken korma anyway. Screw it.

"I can't play chess. My brain is numb. Challenge Jaime to game of Pong, why don't you?" Having absolutely had it, I turn to look my seatmate directly in the eye and say in my most matronly, unequivocal mommy voice, "Now shut up. I mean it, Dean. Just shut up. Your boredom is not my problem."