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October 10th, 2007

50th Birthday Vacation in Australia—Day 1

My friend Amelia allowed us to park at her place in Morrisville, and graciously dropped us off at the United area in Terminal C. Thanks, Amelia!

Flight Plan of Record

Raleigh-DurhamDenver3 Hours, 51 Minutes
LayoverDenver56 Minutes
DenverSan Francisco2 Hours, 26 Minutes
LayoverSan Francisco1 Hour, 56 Minutes
San FranciscoSydney14 Hours, 30 Minutes



OMFG. "Visas? We need visas?" I'm saying incredulously to the check-in agent at United.

"Yes, you need a visa to get into Australia. You didn't get one?"

"No," I said, my heart sinking well below my knees, already thinking about the domino effect of lost money on reservations that can't be changed, and an unimaginable start to my birthday trip of a lifetime that's been carefully planned since late June.

"You'll have to purchase them here, then," he said next. "Jed, you remember how to purchase visas through this thing?" he asked his colleague.

"No, sure don't," Jed said. "We don't do it often enough."

I thought, "Please &deity let it be easy. Let technology be the blessing that it actually can be when it takes care of things that would have been virtually impossible to take care of without them."

Flights to/from Australia on United
and in and about Australia on Qantas
   $5355.41
Resort Reservations at Lilianfels,
Seven Spirit Bay, and Heron Island
   $4472.39
Purchasing two visas for Australia
at the airport check-in for $25 each
   Priceless


Okay, I'm now praying that I'm going to live to see my 50th birthday. Just before landing in Denver, the list of connecting gates was read: "Those of you going on to San Francisco, you'll be leaving out of Gate 42."

On the way to Gate 42, we passed the departure board. "Let's make sure there hasn't been a gate change before we walk all the way down there," I said.

Flight

Destination

Departure Time

Status

761

San Francisco

7:35

***Canceled***

In the customer service line, which was staffed by three people, we waited an interminable amount of time while one of the agents spent, literally, 15 minutes with one couple who was being re-booked to Hong Kong, but the lady of the couple wouldn't leave until her frequent flier points were ensured.

We heard more than one time that the 8:37 flight to San Francisco was sold out, and that people were being put up overnight. Needless to say, I was approaching what I believe the professionals call a mild cardioinfraction.

When we finally got to an agent, whom I greeted with, "We have got to get to San Francisco in time to make the 11PM flight to Sydney," she said, "Let me see what we've got here." I had to bite my tongue from saying, "I'll tell you what you've got here. You've got one stressed out Mary."

"Oh, you were automatically rebooked on the 8:37 flight before it sold out. You're all set. You'll be departing out of gate B26. You'll have to get your seat assignments there.

Deep breaths. Deep breaths.



After swapping with the person next to me, Robert and I were able to sit together on this flight, which made decent timing, and was uneventful. We landed in San Francisco at 10:15, and taxied to the gate by about 10:25.

They announced that they had a contingency of folk, some toward the back of the plane (of which we were two), who had a very tight connection to the Sydney flight, so if people wouldn't mind letting them deplane first, it would be very much appreciated. A lot more people let us through than I thought would.

There were about 14-16 of us and we walked at incredible pace to a gate at which we all boarded a shuttle bus to take us to our waiting flight, which had started boarding at 10:05, and essentially was waiting for our arrival to depart.

By then, it was 2:00 in the morning EST, almost 12 hours to the time we'd gotten to the airport in Raleigh. Only 14.5 hours to go now.



At take-off time, the lady in front of me had her seat reclined, all the way back, and she totally ignored the safety directions to have all seats and tray tables in the upright position.

Finally, after taxiing for about 10 minutes, I leaned forward and said, "Would you please pull your seat up?"

She huffed and said, "For how long?"

I hadn't yet had my Bloody Mary, but I went right into Mary mode: "At least until we take off. You're right up in my face, and it's supposed to be upright while we're taking off."  Bitch.

Needless to say, she reclined as soon as we left the ground, and totally ignored the part of the flight attendant's spiel about, "It is common courtesy to the passenger behind you to pull your seat into the upright position during our dinner service."

When I eventually used my laptop, I had to put it half on Robert's tray, as, between her backrest in my face and my fat stomach, it was impossible to position it such that the keyboard was level. Did I say, "Bitch"?

Well, the good news was that I only had to put up with her for 14.5 hours. She has to live with herself for a lifetime.



With dinner, which wasn't very good (dried out chicken), I finally ordered the Bloody Mary I'd been waiting to have until I was sure we made this flight. As she was bringing it down the aisle to me, it occurred to me that my American dollars might not be good on this flight.

"Do you take US dollars?" I asked.

"It's complimentary on the South Pacific route," she replied. To which, besides being stunned, I thought, "Thank &deity I didn't spend $10,000 for a Business Class seat or $12,500 for that First Class seat, just to get free booze! Those are the actual prices they wanted for those seats.

When I got my drink, Robert presented me with the sweet card that had a picture of lady in a party hat, with a drink in her hand, and winking, saying, "Alcohol..."

On the inside it said, "Nature's preservative." And he had written, "To one of the most beautiful people I know. May this adventure be a real milestone. Cheers and Happy Birthday!! All my love, Robert & 'Mary'" (with an arrow pointing to another picture of the woman who's on the front of the card down in the bottom right of the inside of the card).

Totally sweet. Thanks, my love.



To be continued in tomorrow's entry...

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