in the world of drag racing
The latest update as of May 7, 1999
5:00 am: While "enjoying" our third meal since leaving Vancouver, the captain interrupts the "festivities" with an announcement. "Ladies and gentlemen; We have been informed that Sydney airport is closed at this time due to heavy fog. Therefore we are diverting to Brisbane. We will land there and as soon as we are able to, continue onward to Sydney." Great news, eh? We're going to Brisbane anyway, so we've just cut three hours and another change of planes off the trip. Well the news has an upside... and a downside. We can get off ther plane in Brisbane; our luggage can't. Welcome to air travel hell.
7:00 am: We're off the plane and heading to Customs and Immigration. Tom breezes through with no problems as he has nothing to declare, while I have to declare all the race car parts in our luggage. A long chat with a friendly Customs chap, much shuffling of invoices and finally the all-clear (for now) is received. Welcome to Australia, mate!
Next stop is the Baggage Claim centre. We fill out the "lost/mis-directed" luggage forms and are told to wait patiently at our hotel for further information. Next stop is the car rental desk. After trying to get a Hertz car at the Thrifty counter (what can I say?... jet lag?... or just typical Wilson move?) we finally get the keys to our Ford Falcon and are out the door into glorious..... rain??
After raving to anyone who would listen for the past two years about how great the weather is in "Sunny Queensland" it's somewhat of a shock to see the rain. And it's bloody pouring. Combine the jet lag, the rain, the roadwork on the highway, weekday morning traffic and a year of driving on the "wrong" (right) side of the road... and it should be a real "fun" trip down to Surfers Paradise and our hotel.
9:00 am: A smooth, uneventful trip down to the Gold Coast, discounting a slight muck-up on the highway exit, has us pulling into Ken Lowe's shop two hours ahead of schedule. The rain stopped an hour ago, the sun is shining and the roads are dry already. "G'Day Ken. G'Day Tracey. G'Day Dippy-Dog." After nearly a year away, it's great to see them all again. A short visit (Ken's off to do some work at the theme park down the road) and we're back on the road south to our hotel at Surfers.
Noon: We've checked in at the FOCUS Holiday Inns & Apartments; a beautiful, large suite with two balconies, on the eighth floor, with a fantastic view of the ocean. Plus, we're only a hundred feet from the beach. Showered and shaved, we're feeling somewhat refreshed, but without a change of clothes we're rather anxious to re-connect with our luggage. (Not to mention all the irreplaceable - at this point - race car parts in them.) It's also been nearly 36 hours since I woke up on Wednesday morning in Vancouver. Despite a few hours sleep on the plane we're starting to slip into sleep deprivation mode.
6:00 pm: With 90 minutes to go until our dinner party with Ken & Tracey, Rolf & Sue Eitz and the Harvey family from Adelaide... and still no news about our luggage.... we switch to plan "B" and use the washer/dryer unit in our apartment to clean the clothes we've been wearing since Vancouver.
7:00 pm: As we're heading to the door, and dinner, the phone rings and the Qantas agent gives us the good news. "All your bags have (finally) arrived." My three bags came up on three separate flights, while Tom's came up on yet another flight. "They've cleared Customs in Sydney and are available for pickup anytime. The claim centre closes at 10 pm... or maybe 11 pm." I'm still wondering about the duty and taxes on the race car parts, but decide it's best not to ask too many... read: ANY, questions about that for now.
8:00 pm: Cav's Steak House, Southport. As we pull in to the car park, I can't help but reflect on another difference between Aussie and (North) American culture. Standing in front of the restaurant are several fibreglass cows, still intact after many years on duty. Back home they'd barely be standing anymore; either shot full of holes, attacked with axes, chainsaws, etc. or just outright stolen. Australia is far from perfect, but there is still some respect for other people's property and less senseless crime and vandalism in general.
Entering Cav's, we join Rolf and Sue Eitz at the bar and introductions made, enter into a wonderfully spirited conversation with them, interrupted unfortunately, on a regular basis by some bloke nearby with a very deep circular dent in his forehead (beer bottle shaped) and a blood-alcohol level that must have been approaching the Twilight Zone.
(With Rolf's muscular build and no-nonsense attitude we fully expected the chap to be leaving the premises very soon, in a horizontal position). Doing our best to ignore the distraction of the drunk, we quickly discover that Rolf is a true Aussie character. Loud, brash, quick talking and very friendly. The twenty minutes spent waiting for the late-arriving Lowe's and Harvey's flash by at warp speed.
9:00 pm: As the car lurches on to the Gold Coast Highway, it's ten past nine and we're already looking very marginal for a 10 pm arrival at the terminal. We'd been given estimated travel times of between 45 minutes and an hour-and-a-half at the restaurant and as the traffic (seemingly) crawled through the interminable "Roadwork" zones at 80 kph, even the most pessimistic estimate seemed generous.
Just to compound our anxiety, I completely missed the exit from the Pacific Highway to the Gateway Motorway (and the airport). Suddenly we found ourselves in the heart of Brisbane and even with the miracle of finding signs indicating the direction to the airport, watched the clock move well past 10 pm as we poked along through the city.
10:30 pm: Brisbane Airport. Literally running into the almost-deserted terminal we readied ourselves for major disappointment as we approached the Baggage Claim Centre. Nobody seemed to be on duty, but a short wait saw a woman eventually emerge from the back room. "Oh, you're the ones with all those heavy bags down at the end of the ramp. Follow me; I'm not carrying those things out to the front."
Passing through the "Employees Only" door, we saw, way, way down at the far end of the terminal a heap of familiar luggage. Can we use your forklift to carry them out to the concourse? "Well, it's definitely not allowed... but since everyone else has gone home... I guess it'll be all right." Setting a land-speed record for an electric lift truck in an airport terminal saw us out to the car park and loaded up and gone in a matter of minutes.
Oh yeah, what about the duty and sales tax (totalling 37%) on auto parts imported into Australia?... Well nobody mentioned anything about it, we definitely didn't ask and that's the end of that story. (Thanks heaps, mates!)
1:00 am: Back in our apartment in Surfers, absolutely exhausted (it's now been 43 hours since my head hit a real pillow) and we've got an early, waaayyy too early, wake-up call in just six hours. Gee, isn't long distance travel fun? Sitting outside on the balcony having a last cigarette of the day, in a light t-shirt and underwear in 15 degree (Celsius) temperatures, with a light breeze coming off the ocean and watching the waves breaking on the beach across the street (illuminated by the streetlights) and seeing all the stars in the southern sky....
NOW I remember one of the reasons why I love this place. In no time at all, I'm asleep and dreaming the dreams of someone truly at peace with themselves. All the dramas and the whirlwind of activity of the last few days quickly evaporate as I enter my own personal dreamtime.