Monday, October 22, 2018

Tasmania - Where Men are Men and Snakes are Sluggish

Now that I have arrived back in my beloved homeland blinking with fatigue and desperately clutching a fuzzy puffin toy I needed to do a little professional housekeeping.  I contacted my employers and told them I would be back in the office soon; they asked that next time I tell them I'm leaving.  I contacted my parents and told them I had returned; they asked who I was and why I kept calling them.  Finally I contacted my Tasmanian correspondent in the hopes something of staggering import or sensational excited had happened in my absence that I could mine for a cheap and nasty blog entry on my return.

"You're kidding right?" demanded my correspondent in what I thought were unnecessarily surly tones.  Well I wasn't exactly kidding but I had, shall we say, asked more in the hope than the expectation.  Apparently the most exciting thing to happen in Tasmania was my correspondent almost stepping on a snake.  Now I'm well aware that Tasmania has snakes.  My correspondent's parents live next door to about 97% of them.  Normally, however, the snakes do their best to keep out of people's way.  This is because snakes are brighter than most of the people who live in Tasmania.  Apparently something has changed.

My correspondent was understandably aggrieved.  She had been innocently bushwalking and she wasn't even hung over.  She made that point with sufficient vigour to make me realise that under normal circumstances she probably wouldn't notice if she stumbled into the snake pit from Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Yet despite her uncharacteristic sobriety there this snake was, sprawled in the path of her shoe and not even making a token attempt to get out of the way.

The problem was the weather, apparently it hadn't been cold enough over Winter.  Yes, while I was shivering underneath enough blankets to build a three story house snakes all over Tasmania had been flicking their tongues out in irritation at the uncharacteristic warmth.  This meant that they hadn't been able to hibernate which, to be fair, is pretty much the only way to get through Winter in Tasmania.  My correspondent swears by it.  The lack of a season's worth of restful sleep has made the snakes hungry and irritable but also very slow.  That seems to be a bad combination for the snake, they're terribly hungry but unless something actually walks into their open mouth and dies of heart failure they're unlikely to get a decent meal.  None of which would have stopped the snake from sluggishly biting my correspondent to death if she hadn't been somewhat more alert than usual.

Fortunately for my correspondent, and sobriety challenged bushwalkers all over the Apple Isle, things will improve.  As the sun returns and things get warmer the snakes will get quicker, find something to eat and then start taking more care to get out of the way of humans stumbling through the bush.  In the meantime bushwalkers are advised to wear gaiters, sturdy boots and, oh yes, look where they're damn well going.

Incidentally at the top of this blog entry I mentioned a fuzzy toy puffin.  This isn't a gift for a friend's child.  It will have to be prised from my cold dead hands.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Travelling Hopefully - WTFAISDH Edition Part 3

My reckless and downright foolish assumption of helpfulness at Dallas proved to be an idiotic delusion.  Meal voucher, don’t be silly.  Accommodation, we ain’t paying for that shit.  As for my luggage it’s somewhere between Toronto and Sydney.  They assured me it would turn up in Dallas and would be on my flight to Sydney but I’ve learnt to take their promises with a grain of salt.  I asked if they could book me into a hotel which I would pay for.  They said they would try, they failed.  I did it myself in ten minutes.  When in doubt give the job to someone who might possibly give a crap.

Despite this wretched litany of failure it is only fair to note that the American Airlines staff did succeed in the only part of the task that was genuinely important.  They got me on a flight to San Francisco in time to catch the evening flight to Sydney.  They assured me that Qantas staff at San Francisco would get me on the Sydney plane.  We both had a good laugh at that and then I wandered off to find my impromptu accommodation.

How to describe my hotel in Dallas?  Mix faded grandeur with one of those old Hammer horror movies starring Peter Cushing and you’ve got the general idea.  It wouldn’t surprise me if Vincent Price was carving late staying guests up in the basement.  The place was enormous, ill lit and with aging but impressive decorations lurking in the gloom.  It had big rooms, long corridors and despite the fact that it was fully booked managed to appear deserted.  A non specific air of creepiness permeated the whole place.  You really wouldn’t be surprised to find the place surrounded by police tape or a team of priests performing an exorcism.  The bed was comfortable though.

There is a joke (which I shamelessly appropriated for a recent AAR) that a Finn’s definition of hell is sitting next to a stranger on the bus who insists on talking to you.  Having been ground zero for many tedious conversations over the years (and a couple of downright disturbing ones) this strikes me as being thoroughly sensible.  You can imagine my relief when the woman sitting next to me on the flight to San Francisco spent the entire time hiding under a blanket.  I have no problem with weird as long as it’s the sort of weird that doesn’t require input from me.

On an unrelated note I might have seen the Grand Canyon.  Or possibly not.  I definitely saw something canyonesque but we were flying over a rather lumpy bit of the United States at the time so it could have been a completely mundane canyon.  I’m finding it slightly ironic that I’m actually seeing more of the United States now that my holiday is supposed to be over than I did when it was happening.  And by mildly ironic I mean deeply annoying.

OK so it probably wasn’t the Grand Canyon after all.  Sorry.

Travelling Hopefully - WTFAISDH Part 2 Edition

An increasingly terse young man made repeated apologies for the delay of my replacement flight to Dallas and managed to sound slightly less apologetic each time.  It was a little difficult to hear him because he tended to make the apologies while the airport PA was announcing something else and another airport PA was translating a previous announcement into French.  As best I could work out the cause of the delay, or at least the latest cause of the latest delay was that another aircraft had elbowed aside our too gentle steed and taken its place at the loading gate.  There would be a brief pause while the planeherds wrestled it back to its stable.

Further delay was caused by the standard airline practice of gathering the feeble, the decrepit, the blind and the lame along with those quite clearly close to death and boarding them first thus causing a massive snarl up of other passengers.  I can’t help thinking that if they left these people until last there would always be a couple they wouldn’t have to worry about unless they had a refrigerated luggage space.

As we waited a woman next to me moaned that she had already been bumped off an earlier flight to Dallas.  I told her I felt her pain, then I told her to shut up, finally I told her to stop pestering me or I’d call the police.  Eventually all the human wreckage and coffin bait had been shovelled onto the plane and we were graciously permitted to occupy whatever space was left.

So I’ve finally done it; I’ve managed to leave Toronto.  My plane lumbered airward, destination Dallas.  Hopefully the helpful lady at the desk in Toronto has contacted someone equally helpful in Dallas who will provide me with food, accommodation and most importantly a boarding pass for the next leg of my journey.  If not I may have to take out Texan citizenship.

In anticipation of such an event I have used social media to contact the only friend I possess whose knowledge of Texas extends beyond the occasional passing reference in The Big Bang Theory.  She kindly sent me a list of things I could do in Dallas.  At least three of them were variants on the “escape from mortal danger” simulation.  Perhaps there should be a sign at the airport, “Welcome to Dallas, run for your life!”

The safety briefing was short to the point of being cursory and we were informed with a straight face that the seat cushions act as flotation devices.  If we go down over water we are apparently meant to disassemble the interior of the aircraft and then jump into the sea with a piece of furniture strapped to our back.  I wonder who will play me in the episode of Aircrash Investigations?  The phrase “death on impact” has never sounded so appealing.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Travelling Hopefully - What the Fuck am I Still Doing Here Edition

I signed off on my travel entries in the calm knowledge that all I had to do was get on a couple of planes, not prank the air marshalls and I would be home.  Technically this is still true.  The actual planes however have changed and as yet I haven’t got on any of them.  Instead I wander the corridors of Toronto airport like a slightly disheveled ghost doomed to haunt the spot where life finally seeped from my body.

It all started quite modestly, I padded obediently along to the remote outpost that my aircraft was to be launched into the sky from and sat down to wait.  Everything went well until about three quarters of an hour before we were due to depart.  Then it was announced that the flight would be delayed, not by much, just a little bit.  Still I thought I should just check our new arrival time with the lady at the desk to make sure there would be no problem making my connection.  At that point the Canadian version of all hell broke loose.  I guess all purgatory broke loose.

Not only would there not be enough time to make my connection but there wouldn’t have been even if the plane had been on time and even if there was there definitely wouldn’t have been enough time to make my connection in Dallas.  It was suggested that whoever arranged the booking was an idiot and may indeed have broken the law.  For the next twenty minutes the nice lady at the desk worked her keyboard like a concert pianist with ADHD.  Apparently loads of people are going to Australia at the moment.  The implication was that one of them wouldn’t be me.

After looking at options involving both Los Angeles and Philadelphia the best that could be arranged was an overnight stay in Dallas and a flight to San Francisco the next evening to pick up a night flight to Sydney.  Which would get me home a day late.  That’s all very well but now that flight has been delayed and I’m starting to wonder if Toronto airport is the punishment for all of the sins of my life.  Honestly I haven’t been that bad.

Travelling Hopefully - Training Edition

My train was due to leave Halifax at 1pm.  Some time after that it actually departed.  I was escorted to my cabin by a helpful attendant.  A little later the same attendant escorted me to another cabin with a working toilet.  For that relief much thanks.

Our long metal beast slid out of Halifax in the grey of the afternoon.  I made my way to the observation car and peered out at the gloom that was serving to conceal the countryside.  A helpful guide cheerfully announced what we would be able to see if we could see anything.  Somewhat more helpfully she also gave us wine and cheese.  There was a professional singer on the train and he entertained passengers in the lounge car that evening.  Fortunately I managed to avoid that.

We pounded down the tracks and into, then out of, Quebec City but I was asleep.  If you ask me what the place looked like I would have to say “the inside of my eyelids” which seems a silly design for a city.

I had to change trains in Montreal.  As we came in I saw my new conveyance sitting at the next platform.  Grabbing my bags I trotted hopefully across but before I could board an elite team of Canadian train guards crash tackled me.  This being Canada they managed to do it politely.  One of them took his foot off my head and, after apologising for the scuff marks, informed me that I couldn’t just get on the train, oh dearie me no.  I had to go upstairs, stand in a queue, display my ticket and wait for three quarters of an hour.  Then and only then, if I was deemed worthy might I be permitted to proceed back down the stairs and cross the hallowed portals of my economy class carriage.  Those travelling first class had to make a blood sacrifice and commit the soul of their first born to a life of servitude (seriously this is how Via Rail recruits it’s staff).

I saw a little of the Quebec countryside as we travelled, partly because it was now daylight and partly because it had stopped raining.  There seemed to be rolling fields, cute villages and the occasional clump of forest.  It was the countryside, what the hell do you expect me to say?  Eventually we got to a massive lake which was a sign we were getting close.  We made such good time that in order to maintain a reputation for tardiness the driver had to pull over for ten minutes to ensure we weren’t early.

The last time I left Cleveland I wanted to take the train but a late taxi driver coupled with the fact that he didn’t know where the Amtrak station was forced me to take a plane instead.  This time I was taking no chances.  I rose ridiculously early having ordered my cab for an equally early time and got to the station with forty five minutes to spare only to discover that in an attempt to be helpful Amtrak had contrived to make the train an hour late.  Thanks guys but we really need to coordinate in future.

I had to change trains in Buffalo or rather Buffalo–Depew.  The train doesn’t go all the way into Buffalo.  Depew is a village that is part of the greater Buffalo.  The train station is in what appears to be an industrial estate.  It’s a fascinating place to spend six hours waiting for a connecting train to Toronto.  Fortunately that one wasn’t late.

I definitely like rail border crossings though.  We piled off the train, got sniffed by dogs asked a couple of mildly personal questions by the border guards and we were through.  Niagara Falls railway  station looks somewhat nicer by daylight but not so much that you’d be encouraged to spend any time there.

And that’s it,  my trip is completed and all that’s left is to survive the flight home which is leaving in a few hours.