Landing in Phoenix was delightful. Got off the plane, got hugs from Raza and Marko, and then I high tailed it to my next gate. Amazingly, I got to the gate just as they were calling my boarding group to get onto the plane. Fantastic. The even better part, the plane wasn’t full. Nowhere even close. So I was able to climb into one of the last rows of the plane, grab the window seat and then stretch out. And it was then that I discovered something truly amazing, I didn’t need a seatbelt extender. I was actually able to get into the seat, sit comfortably and still have the belt buckled.
Hooray for Southwest airlines!
The flight from Phoenix to LA was short and mercifully so. But still enjoyable as I got to look out the window at all the scenery. It was really quite something, just how rugged the landscape was, how amazingly barren and beautiful everything appeared. And while flying overhead, recalling memories of old Earth Science courses, watching how the mountains and valleys had formed, the way the land had been cut and eroded and shaped into these magnificent shapes and colors. The waterways that came down from the snow covered tops, and fed through streams and rivers and winded twisted paths until it spilled into the causeways and aqueducts made by human design to keep the land livable. It was truly impressive.
And then, out of nowhere, civilization. It was nearly instantaneous, the land became less rough, less arid and then all of a sudden, there were houses. Thousands upon thousands of houses, in nice little rows and odd shaped neighborhoods. I picked the correct side of the plane, it appeared, because as we were flying low into LA, I looked out my window and just off into the distance, I was able to see the Hollywood Hills. Complete with the Hollywood sign. It was far away and there wasn’t much definition to the letters, but rest assured, there it was. The white letters that spell out Hollywood against the high green hill backdrop, welcoming everybody to the West Coast paragon of American Life.
I had made it to LA.
LAX was not a very friendly airport. It wasn’t necessarily bad or even evil, but it was not the most friendly of places. The brief ten minutes that I spent in Phoenix made me feel better, happier, than the three hours that I spent in LA. The airport was dark, cold, and old. Now, I know that not much can be done about the age of the airport, and they are working on upgrades and repairs, but there had obviously been no real change to the interior (including the seats) since the late 1960s.
But, I made my way from one terminal to the other, got my bags taken care of and made it to my gate. The Duty free shop was astounding, filled with alcohol and makeup. There were a few other shops, but nothing incredibly interesting. I was hungry, though, having not really eaten anything since getting up on Wednesday morning. So I stopped into the LaBrea bakery that was in the terminal, bought an Orange Juice, a Bottle of water, and a Mozzarella, sundried tomato, basil, and pesto sandwich. It was fantastic. I wasn’t able to completely finish it, but it did what it was supposed to do.
I then went and sat at the terminal, surrounded by a dozen or more college students, all heading to different universities in New Zealand from different Universities in the States, all going for a semester or a year for studying. We sat together and everything seemed well. I purchased some internet access and played around online for a bit, to help ease the stress and the waiting. I filled my iPod (thank you danny!) with more music for sleeping to, and then they were ready to start boarding. Now, they did things very interesting.
The business premier boarded first, and then the economy premier, and then people with children. And then, they boarded the back of the plane. So I was technically one of the first people on the plane. I chose my seat wisely, as I had picked the one all the way in the back of the plane where the row dropped from having three seats, to two. I chose the aisle seat on the first row of two, so I had all kinds of extra room for my carry on, and my feet. Brilliant.
I ended up sitting next to one of the college students and we had a great time being generally friendly and playing with the touch screen in front of us. Movies, television shows, music, all right there at our fingertips. We could order snacks and drinks on demand in the middle of the flight right from our screens. We could watch any movie from the list (I watched Red, it was quite delightful), listen to any music, and even watch our flight’s progress over a large map. They gave information with accurate altitude, temperature, speed, distance remaining, and time remaining. It was really fascinating.
Dinner was served shortly after takeoff, sadly I was in the back of the plane and dinner started being served in the front first. Unless you asked for a special meal like vegetarian, as the college girl did, and you got served first. I knew I should have chosen Kosher. But eventually, dinner did make its way to me. I picked the Braised Beef with roasted courgettes (zucchini) and parmesan mashed potato. It was, as airline food goes, quite delicious. Of course, I was starving. I did not, however, get a chance to have the dessert, as I fell asleep very quickly after eating. But the choices were a pineapple carrot cake or a plate of New Zealand cheeses and fruit. I’m a little bummed about not getting that. But I slept well. I slept through most of the time to order drinks and snacks on demand. But the sleep was good, and it was needed. Unfortunately, I was unable to get my seat to lean back, so I was uncomfortable, but I still slept.
I woke up shortly before breakfast, which since the rear was served dinner last, we got breakfast first. The choices were between a savory ham and cheese Danish, or a potato and spinach frittata. I chose the Frittata which also came with a single link of chicken and apple sausage, a bowl of fresh fruit, and a container of yogurt. The eggs were quite good, and I think I could manage to make something like that on my own quite easily. I didn’t eat the yogurt, I just couldn’t get it down. I knew how close I was to new Zealand and the excitement was starting to affect my stomach. I spent the rest of the flight watching the plane on the high detailed map flying closer and closer, and then altitude dropping. It was fascinating. Watching the plane on the screen indicate that we were flying in over the top of the islands, and then looking out of the window to see the first semblance of land appear for the first time in several hours.
As the plane got lower and lower, most of us were leaning towards the windows as much as possible, drinking in the pure green that met us. I’ve seen the pictures, you’ve all seen the pictures of the green land, the absolute lush earth that New Zealand has. None of the images do it Justice. You think you’ve seen green, but you really haven’t. The land here is so full of life, so very natural, its slightly overwhelming.
The plane touched down, and the deep breaths through the nose and out the mouth began. I had made it to New Zealand. I was in my new home. At least partially. I still had to get through Customs and Biosecurity. And that wasn’t very difficult. Queue up in al long line that moved fairly quickly until you got to the window. You hand the Customs official your paperwork, all of it, anything that you can think of that they might need. Your arrival card, your passport, and in my case, my Visa papers. There was a slight problem where my visa showed up and then disappeared, but it got fixed. I got stamped and entered into the country.
Next stop, baggage claim. Grab a trolley, toss the suitcases onto the trolley and then head to biosecurity. Another queue, another uniformed officer, asking the simple question of ‘do you have any food on you’. I had brought some packaged tea with me, so I answered yes. I got stamped through, and then your luggage comes off the trolley and onto the Xray belt. Your bags go through the xray machine, there’s a brief moment of panic when you think they’re going to make you open your bag and you realize that while there’s nothing contraband in the luggage, you freak out trying to figure out just how you’re going to get it closed once again.
Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about that, they xrayed my bag, didn’t see anything that gave them concern, and I was waved through. Luggage back on the trolley and you take a deep breath, following the signs that say ‘Way Out’. A large frosted glass wall separates the end of Biosecurity and the place where your family and friends are waiting for you. Turn the corner and you appear to all those gathered, one or maybe two people leaving the airport at once, so for that brief instant you have the eyes of a few dozen people on you, wondering if this trolley coming through is attached to their loved one.
It took only a few seconds for me to spot E as he was waving to me and then one leg over the fence and then another, he jumped (more like strode over) the barricade and wrapped me in his arms in a tight hug and a long kiss. Right there in front of everybody waiting for their own loved ones. He held me close and then, we headed to the car.
It was time to go home.