I was cleaning out some drawers this week and came across a map of Sydney, Australia with some receipts from my trip there earlier this year. It was only seven months ago that I was aboard a cruise ship entering New Zealand waters at Fjordlands. I remember sitting on the stern deck wrapped in my windbreaker watching dolphins playing in the wake of the ship. I remember how lovely and warm the sun felt that day. Little did I know that my trip of a lifetime would abruptly end just a week later, cut short by COVID.

That trip seems to be in my distant past now. I look at the pictures I took and, thanks to keepsakes like the map and notes I made during my trip, I can pull up details that bring me back to thrills and delights of being able to travel and see new places and meet new people.

I am remembering my flight to Australia. I had boarded early, taking advantage of my age and recent hip surgeries to ease myself into my assigned seat. If any of you travel, you may identify with my internal dialogue of “I hope my seatmates aren’t boorish” (actually, I don’t really talk that way, but in my head, I am a sophisticated international traveler), and “Maybe I’ll be lucky and no one will sit in the middle seat!”

Believe it or not, I am actually rather shy, and I don’t like having to make conversation with strangers. To counteract this deficit, I have urged myself to make small talk with people, but I find I use closed-ended questions that result in one-word answers and, unless the person seated next to me is an extreme extrovert, no further conversation ensues. I am just not skilled in this area.

As boarding continued, a couple sat in the row in front of me. I wasn’t truly aware of them until the male sat in his assigned middle seat, and I took note that his head was bigger than the headrest and his companion’s wasn’t much smaller. In sussing them out further, I noted that their shoulders were wider than the seats, and so both were negotiating limited space to find a comfortable position.

My inner observer, now unchecked because I was on vacation, commented that for once, beings larger than myself were occupying space, which if they were in my row, would render the three of us more like bratwurst tightly packed for sale.

At this point, the captain made an announcement in his delightful Aussie accent:

Lie-dees and Gintelmen, thank you for flying Quantas today. As sune as we ahr aloft, yew will be ible to chinge seats. Dew to rigulieshuns on tike-off, yew must remine seated in your assigned seats and retern to thim upon lending.”

True to his word, as soon as we reached cruising altitude where seat belts were no longer required and passengers could move about the cabin, an entire up-rooting of the plane took place, whereby almost all of the passengers who had been sitting next to someone scattered like roaches when the light is turned on.

This included the giant in front of me who stood up and moved to another seat. It was as if one of those Easter Island statues had come to life!  I am not exaggerating!  His neck was the size of a manhole cover, and Atlas would have envied his shoulders. He had to duck to make it under the overhead compartment because he was so tall!  He moved to the center five seats and occupied three of them easily for the rest of the trip.

I remained sequestered in my seat for the duration of the flight, surrounded by my carry-on that I re-organized at least five times to make sure I could reach whatever I needed as necessity dictated. At different times it was a headset, another it was a charging cord, yet another time it was a snack that I just had to have before landing, finally, it was my neck pillow. I watched several wonderful movies, napped here and there, ate airline food, such as it is these days in economy, and delighted when the flight attendant offered me a choice of hot chocolate or coffee for my morning meal.

Once on the ground in Sydney, I made my way off the plane to the nearest loo. I was anticipating long waits to get through customs, but was barely even given a glance (although I must have looked a sight after 10 hours on the plane), and then made my way to where I was going to pick up an Uber and drive to my digs.

I had been given written instructions to call the Air BnB host to make arrangements to pick up the keys. I punched in the number and was greeted with an electronic voice that told me I had mis-dialed. I re-dialed and got the same message. After 10 hours of flying across the great expanse of the Pacific Ocean, I had landed in Sydney, Australia, only to be foiled from getting to my digs because the number was wrong?

I madly scrambled through one disastrous scenario in my mind after another. “Lost American found wandering in Sydney Airport after weeks unable to connect with locals.”  “Helpless elderly woman found crying by airport authorities, given a return ticket to US.”

I sat myself down outside and started calling the various numbers I was provided with if such a problem occurred. A very nice customer service person informed me that they would take down my information and would reply in writing within three days. Equally politely, I informed her that such a solution was not to my liking and would she be so kind as to suggest an alternative. She offered to speak with her supervisor and put me on hold. After a 15-minute wait, and my blood pressure rising higher than the Himalayas, I disconnected in a huff and pouted.

After several moments of realizing I was betwixt and between, I calmed myself down and just paused. It then occurred to me that perhaps the fault did not lie with the instructions, rather dear Brutus, the fault lay in the stars. I accepted that I had been the source of my own distress. Turns out the number was correct, I had just forgotten to use the international area code in dialing. When I did that, my call went through immediately, and I made arrangements to pick up my keys. Feeling quite proud of myself, I made my way out of Sydney Airport to the Uber stand, and thence to Rushcutter’s Bay.

Part II next week!