The Biggest Day Ever
There aren’t too many destinations much farther from Washington, DC than Sydney. There’s a lot of land and a lot more water to pass over between here and there, and even at 600 miles an hour it takes a while. We lock up the house at 4:30AM and are on the runway at 6; I’ve never taken off before dawn – usually the sun is just up over the horizon but all I get at Dulles this morning is the sea of little blue airport field beacons. We head west away from the dawn, and it’s a half hour before I sense the sky lightening at all and another forty-five minutes before the sun catches up and peeks over the cloud layer.
Descending into Dallas/Fort Worth I see a dot on the clouds following the plane; as we drop it grows into a blurry target shape and I realize I’m seeing a rainbow from above. BONUS: the plane’s shadow is dead-center in the target. The little digital camera’s already paid for itself.
Once in LA we push our luggage from the bland dusty domestic terminal to the glitzy bustling international terminal, with its highbrow duty-free shops and giant departures board – QF101 shows up on time bound for Sydney. It’s been a while since I’ve been on an ocean-going 747 and I’m actually a little excited about the twelve-and-a-half-hour flight. I’ve recorded about a dozen minidiscs to play on the road in Australia and I like to label the tracks on long flights, plus I’ve got a few books… I’m set. MAJOR BONUS: The plane isn’t quite full and the third seat in our row is empty – Melanie and I can stretch out. This will be a piece of cake.
Well, it takes a looong time to taxi for a takeoff spot. I see 747s crossing the sky out beyond the airfield – now I know they’re going hundreds of miles an hour but they’re so big they don’t appear to be moving very fast, and each one is visible in the sky for what seems like forever. I get the feeling I’m gonna be in this seat for a while.
- Watch every lousy in-flight movie and tv show, because there’s no way you can entertain yourself for thirteen hours in one seat.
I can only label minidiscs for so long. Eventually the two cups of red wine wear off and I find myself drumming my fingers and wondering why the sun won’t set. I watch the wingtips twist in the slipstream and wonder how long it’ll be before the engines decide to make a wish and snap off in different directions.
The 1pm flight out of LA is a Good Thing. It gets you into Sydney at about 10:30PM Whatever Standard Time, which means you can go right to bed and start the next day fresh. The strange thing about the flight is that it heads west at a good clip, slowly losing a long race with the sun, and that means East Coasters like ourselves get probably 22 hours of daylight on the way over. This is doubly disconcerting when it comes in February, not known for its long days. I can’t sleep on airplanes, and the sun and clouds and water mock me every time I raise the window shade. This is really irritating.
All good thing must come to an end, and the sun and clouds and water go to bed and stop hounding me. Not long after Rest Room Break #15 we begin our descent into Sydney. We approach from the south, and the neighborhoods are laid out in flowing grids of soft white lights below our side of the plane. I see the blue and red corporate logos on the clusters of buildings that make up downtown, and the ghostly frame of the Sydney Harbour Bridge linking the clusters. There’s a Paul Kelly song that asks, “have you ever seen Sydney from a 747 at night?” – I’m happy I can now say “Yeah.”
It’s taken us 27 hours to get to our hotel. The air is soft, a little bit humid – it’s the end of summer here. Our cab driver is baffled by the $5 tip I hand him. Plenty of time to learn about gratuities down under. I need some sleep.