Birds in the Airport and Star Wars Over Breakfast: Traveling and the First Day in New Zealand (Part One)

It’s rainy, and looks to be that all day, so I’m spending the time organizing pictures and my living space. I will eventually need to go out in the rain (it’s good I brought my umbrella), but for now, I’m just cozy in my Auckland hobbit hole.

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About to go through security. Photo source: me mum.

At the Indianapolis International Airport, my suitcase weighed in at 42.5 pounds, and my backpack weighed somewhere around 15 pounds. These two pieces of luggage are my life for this year.

As I finalized my packing the morning I left, I went every which way, trying to figure out where to start. I kept saying, “This is insane. I am crazy,” and variations of that. The whole thing didn’t seem real. (I ended up pinching myself about three hours into the Indy to L.A. plane ride. I was awake.)

Mom and Dad saw me off at the airport. Dad took the entire day off. I didn’t even have to ask if he was going to be there, I just knew he would. And he was.

Mom didn’t have to take the day off, but there still was no question of if she was coming. Again, I just knew.

Sometimes, I wonder if I’m just really lucky.

As we traveled up the escalator into the main lobby of the Indy airport, the Coldplay song “Up and Up” burst into my head and stayed there for the next two or three hours. Then, as the plane jetted down the runway, “Adventure of a Lifetime,” entered.

So, in that fashion, I said good-bye to Indiana.

Los Angeles was the next stop. The airport, LAX, is massive, like the city. Luckily, the smog was only outside. I could see it through the window as we landed, and it was thick when we took off for New Zealand, too.

I had to ask for directions three times, and I still became turned around once. At one point, I walked down a massive stretch of hallway and heard “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” playing over the speakers, the first song I’d listened to in around five hours (I would have had to pay $14.50 for WiFi to access my music on the plane, so didn’t listen to anything).

It was a relief to arrive at the international terminal after weaving through what seemed like miles of hallway containing almost no doors. This terminal was relaxed and upscale with stores and restaurants such as Porsche Design and Lucky Frog. People of all nationalities talked together. It was a great improvement over the hectic American Airlines terminal I had just left.

The plane that took us to Auckland. Sometimes, I’d look out the window in wonder and think, “The Pacific Ocean is somewhere down there.”

Flying Air New Zealand was wonderful. There was an uplifting spirit aboard from the moment I first stepped foot on the plane. One flight attendant wore gray pinstripe pants, a light striped shirt and a black vest with squares of penguins, sheep, a kiwi bird and New Zealander words like “Gidday.” They all were friendly, and announcements over the P.A. system showed excellent communication. The way they worded sentences and phrases were confident and in-charge, yet kind. For example, in waking us for breakfast, the attendant said, “We’re waking you with a gentle sunrise,” and the lights transitioned from red to orange.

She then continued, “The seat belt sign is still on, which I know must be frustrating for you, as you’d like to get up and stretch your legs, but please remain seated.” She was delivering a message that may have not been favorable, but doing it in a gentle way. She then went on to describe our breakfast choices, using terms such as “delicious” and reminding me of a server in a restaurant.

The plane was massive, much bigger on the inside than it looked on the outside. It had four sections, front to back, and in the economy section, the rows were separated into three parts with two aisles and a total of ten seats in each row. Walking past the premium economy section, I thought it wouldn’t be possible for my economy seats to be as comfortable, but I had been extremely lucky, obtaining a window seat (I hadn’t been able to pick where I sat) in a row with no middle person. This meant real estate opened up a lot.

I also was able to recline the seat back a bit and pull up the foot rest to curl up with my shoes off (I had changed socks before boarding, so they were clean). I even played a movie (the screen in front of me had maps, movies, music stations and a whole lot more). The first one I watched was The Scorch Trials, part of The Maze Runner series. I’d seen The Maze Runner and liked it, but The Scorch Trials was a terrible movie. I started sleeping through it, partly because I was tired enough to do that, and partly to spare myself from the plot and dialogue (I thought about stopping it, but that felt like quitting). When the film was finally finished, I arranged myself to sleep for the night, pillow I brought from home against the window, gently cushioning my head. I slept well. There would be times I’d drift in and out, and once, I saw the Big Dipper. We were flying even with the bowl, no looking up. It was huge and bright. I was in awe.

I awoke feeling refreshed after dreaming about seeing snow in June (with all the rain now, I’m not sure if that’s going to happen or not). It was 9:30 a.m. Thursday Indiana time; 6:30 a.m. Thursday California time, which still showed on my phone; and around 1:30 a.m. Friday New Zealand time. (I am not sure that I even experienced June 23 at all.)

I was ready to watch another movie. It felt rebellious to start watching a movie at 1:30 in the morning. I had marked several as favorites, and I narrowed the options down to Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. I had watched The Fellowship of the Ring before I left and so needed to finish the trilogy, but I chose The Force Awakens, which made me smile. This was the fourth time I’d watched it but the first time I had seen it outside of the Ritz Theater back home.

Breakfast was served around 3:30 in the morning, and I ate fruit, yogurt, and a date and carrot muffin, which I didn’t expect to be as good as it was, while finishing Star Wars. The man with the sheep, penguin and kiwi bird vest made balloon swords for the two little boys across the aisle from me.

We landed shortly after that. I gathered up my stuff and prepared for going through customs, which was low key. They checked my passport and looked at the bottom of my shoes to see if they were clean of farm and state park soil. My bags went through the x-ray machine, and that was it.

I was to arrive at the flat I had rented for the next two weeks around 7:30 a.m. The plane had arrived early, so I sat at a table upstairs for a bit before calling for a taxi.

While I was sitting there, a bird flew over my head, coming from, it seemed, the McDonald’s behind me, and landed on the floor of the Down Under Bar and Grill across the the way. I had been watching the sports channel, trying to figure out rugby (I’m seeing advertisements with rugby players all over the place, including on YouTube NZ nowYouTube NZwithout the sound, watching a couple of local teams playing in a valley. At one point, they showed cows, who I guess had been watching the match. Anyhow, this bird flew in and starting walking around the floor, probably looking for crumbs. Then, he was joined by three friends. The girl working at the bar walked along the front of the counter, glanced down, and with no change in facial expression, kept walking. Then, something startled the birds, and they flew up into the rafters.

The sign says, “On loan from Middle-earth. Do not touch.”

After that, I found a statue of a Middle Earth warrior. I was trying to buy a New Zealand newspaper, but all I could find was the one on display. The headline was, “BRITAIN DECIDES,” talking about the vote to leave or remain in the European Union. By the date, the vote happened yesterday, but the paper couldn’t report on the results because they hadn’t happened yet (or, at least, the Brits would have been still voting by the time the paper was published).

So I was in a real time warp. Add to that the fact I didn’t truly experience June 23, and for me, that vote didn’t actually happen.

I finally hired a taxi to the Airbnb flat I had rented. As I tossed my backpack in the rear seat, I looked up to the front “passenger” side and saw the steering wheel. I said out loud, “Oh yeah…”

As we traveled, the driver and I chatted about the differences in driving between the U.S. and New Zealand. I marveled at the road rules and signs and the sight of cars on the motorway (highway) coming quickly at us on the right side of the car. At one point, I about jumped out of my skin when we made a left turn onto a busy road and were seemingly swimmingly into the wrong lane. “Whoa!” I thought, “we’re going into the wrong place!” We were done for.

But I had just forgotten where I was.

At one point, I looked out the window and up at the sky. “Oh, look, it’s the moon!” I said to myself. I felt silly being surprised at seeing its familiar face, but in all my wonderings about New Zealand, I hadn’t even thought about the moon being in this southern sky, too.

Read Part Two here.


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