I told my roommate a lame joke, neither worth retelling nor remembering, as a gratitude-filled farewell for taking me to the airport. It was around 3:40 in the afternoon and I was walking across the airport’s vaguely ocean-themed carpet to obtain my boarding pass so I could then catch the first of a series of flights to Sydney, Australia, in order to visit my friend, Scott, and go on adventures with him. After scanning my passport, the gentleman asked me for my Australian visa. I had a lot of papers with me regarding my travels, and like a child, I just handed them all to him.
“I don’t see it in here,” he said.
He said he needed a confirmation number—proof that I was allowed into Australia by the government. Apparently without it, I wouldn’t be going anywhere. I called my travel agent, and she sent me an email with any information she had regarding my Australian visa, which was electronically attached to my passport already. I showed him the email on my phone. It still didn’t contain the information I needed to earn my way into Australia, he said. He talked with my travel agent on my phone, and they debated the normalcy of needing a “confirmation code” to be able to enter Australia—for example, she visited last year and insisted she didn’t need one. The guy said he’d let me through because it seemed like I was good to go, except for the whole confirmation code thing, but that I’d probably need to get that figured out in Los Angeles before boarding to Sydney.
Spoiler: No one in LA cared.
The small airplane in Springfield took me to Memphis. I wasn’t hungry until I smelled barbeque in the Memphis airport. I ordered a too-expensive chopped pork sandwich, in line behind several pilots, which I thought was a good sign for the restaurant. I ate through about two thirds of sandwich before I started chewing on BONES. I pulled them out of my mouth, hoping no one was looking, and placed the small pieces on a napkin. I figured they were bones because I couldn’t chew through them, and I noticed they were about the size of baby teeth, which made eating the sandwich less appealing. Still, I took another bite. More baby teeth bone chunk things. I threw the remaining food in the brown bag it came in, then the bag in the trash barrel.
I spent the entirety of the three hour flight from Memphis to Los Angeles reading A Movable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, only stopping for one small nap. It wasn’t until the plane was landing that I learned that it had wifi. I was disappointed I missed out on the internet at first, and then pretty glad I didn’t spend the entire flight punning on twitter.
While waiting to load into the next airplane, which would fly to Sydney, I made friends with some college students who were studying abroad in New Zealand, because I saw a giant Norton Anthology of Literature resembling one I used to have to lug around in college. We boarded and agreed to say bye in fifteen hours when we landed.
In my row, there already sat an elderly woman next to the small pill-shaped window. I sat in the aisle seat and told her we were about to be friends for the next 15 hours. She laughed and we filled each other in our backgrounds and purposes—she was from Canada and was visiting a cousin in Australia for the first time; I’m from the States and I am looking for adventures with my friend. She was nervous and stoked to be traveling alone for such a distance, she was adorable. Right as I said how lucky we’d be if no one was sitting between us, a woman came and sat between us. She was an attractive 30-something with a humorless face and a beauty-enhancing accent—she was heading home.
As the passengers around me watched complimentary films or tried to sleep, I read more of Hemingway’s memoir, and marked some particular passages. I guess they really spoke to me while I was really tired, and I hope I’ll remember what I was thinking about them once I’ve actually had a night’s sleep again. I tried to nap. Failed. So I watched Captain America on the little TV built into the seat in front of me. I took a melatonin pill I had packed to accompany the “dinner” delivered by the flight staff (I had chicken, it was weird), and later I fell asleep to the sounds of fired guns, explosions, and grunts during some fight scene with Red Skull. I stayed asleep until after the movie was finished, but I probably was asleep for under an hour. I walked around to stretch my legs, and tried to find sleep once I returned to my seat. I wanted to sleep so badly. I even considered listening to Bon Iver or watching Tree of Life to help me sleep (boom—roasted!) but ended up taking more than the recommended amount of Tylenol PM instead. I succumbed to the Tylenol towards the end of Beginners, a movie I really like, and I think this time I slept for a few hours, though I really didn’t have a good sense of time as the plane was racing into a time zone in the future.
After many more attempts at sleeping, and after eating some weird airplane French toast, and after using the airplane bathroom even though I didn’t want to, the big flying machine landed. My brain became alert again as we started landing and I was really interested in seeing Australia from above. When the plane tilted to the left I could only see the ocean, its waves flowing with a gentleness that made it seem like a massive blue curtain in front of an open window. Islands and the coast showed up soon enough. The land was gorgeous—chocolate brown with a deep red color caused by the rising sun, like the color of gauze bled through many times.
All passengers had to fill out a form regarding their international travels—what kinds of drugs, animals, and food they were or were not bringing with them, how long they were staying, where they were staying, etc. At this moment I realized that I never knew Scott’s brother Rus’ address, which is where I’d be staying. Also, I didn’t know Scott’s phone number. Scott would tell me later that he had the same realization while I was on the plane, while there was no way of communicating with me. This lack of information would prove to be troubling.
I picked the wrong customs line. I somehow picked the slowest-moving one, run by some schmuck named Frank, who looked like Eugene Levi. All of the LA to Sydney passengers made it through customs before the dude behind me and myself did, and several Taiwan to Sydney passengers made it through before us, too. I approached Frank, frustrated at his slowness, but he became frustrated with me, too, because I had no idea where I was living. I wrote “Sydney” on the address line because that was the best information I had.
I wasn’t being difficult, I just didn’t know anything. Frank spoke to me as if I was keeping information from him for some suspicious reason. He tried to reason with me: “We need a way of reaching you in case someone sitting near you had tuberculosis, so we can warn you, for example.”
I wrote down a fake email address for them to reach Scott.
“You don’t know the area of Sydney it’s in?” Frank asked.
I thought about making up something like “the suburbs” but I was tired and just said, “an eapartment.”
“What happens if your friend doesn’t show up to pick you up?”
“Then I’m screwed,” I smiled.
Frank let me through, but before I was home free I had to be interrogated by an airport security officer. I was led in the opposite direction of everyone being picked up and a woman handed the security officer my card, which still lacked an address.
“So you don’t know where you’re going to be staying?” he murmured.
“No, my friend is picking me up, I’m staying with him.”
“What are you doing here? On winter holiday or something?”
“I’m a teacher and our summer break just started, yes.”
“And you don’t have an address or phone number? That’s pretty poor planning for a teacher.”
That was a pretty good burn, and I thought about telling him that, or making a joke about the American school system, but instead I just said nothing.
“What are you going to do if your friend doesn’t show up?” he added.
“He’s here, I’m sure of it.” I was a getting annoyed. What if I wanted to just travel around the whole time and not stay in one place? This guy was really killing my adventure buzz.
“So you really have no more information?”
“You can follow me and talk to my friend if you need to.”
I guess at some point the security officer decided that I wasn’t planning on selling drugs to children, poaching koalas, or raping the women of Australia, even though I didn’t have an address, and let me through. But not before adding, “If I was flying to America and I lacked information like this on my card, they would just send me back home.”
I stupidly said, “Yeah, we’re the worst,” but I don’t think he heard me. I probably could have said a few more intelligent things during my questioning, but I was pretty tired and already jet lagged, which is like a sky hangover, and I just wanted to escape.
I exchanged my money, was disappointed with the turn out, and walked through an exit to immediately see Scott, and gave him a bear hug. Not a koala bear hug, either, a good ol’ American black bear hug.