Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Battle of New Zealand

I surprised myself by sleeping a lot on the plane ride. It was almost a full night’s sleep, interrupted by brief repositioning, but really I shouldn’t be too amazed because I do have the uncanny ability to fall asleep in almost any situation if I so choose...and sometimes when I don’t so choose. But I felt good and it seemed okay that I was waking up as the sun was rising, just as the flight attendants wanted, never mind time zones and all that. I’ve heard lots of people complain about transpacific flights, but overall it was a smooth ride and went by pretty quickly, so don’t let that stop you from going to China (or New Zealand, as the case may be).

Upon arrival, I still wasn’t sure what to expect about my visa, because I read that the immigration officials will most likely ask about all the requirements, one of them being either a plane ticket out or proof that you have a bankroll sufficient for a ticket and enough to live there for a year. I wondered how one would prove this. $4,000 in-pocket? Printout of internet banking statement? I didn’t have anything like this, but all the options I thought of as proof seemed impractical so I just let it go. It seemed okay, they were greeting me warmly already:
At the immigration checkpoint, the line was moving swiftly but was still fairly long, so I looked around at who else was joining me here. Based on looks, maybe a few Americans. Lots of Asians. Okay, some returning Kiwis (accent is a dead giveaway)...oh, some Maori! Maori are the indigenous New Zealanders whose culture is not just a tourist gimmick, they are really still around. In fact their culture and language is on the rebound...or so I read, but hey, here are some in my first half-hour.

Almost at the desk, I heard the familiarity of an American accent from the guy ahead of me. He looked young from the back of his shaggy head
. Maybe he was on an adventure too? But he was busy immigrating and I was up next. I wasn’t asked about the exit ticket or money at all when I told them I was there for a Working Holiday. I just had to show them a printout of my visa, which could have easily been forged with any word processing program (in case you are thinking of breaking in). This gave me my “work permit,” in the form of a stamp in the back of my passport. By the way, I did get funny looks and questions every time I showed my passport since the picture is from six years ago when I had dreadlocks.

After breaking into the country, I noticed that in the baggage claim area that they had a courtesy desk giving out free coffee and tea. They are nice here! The little old lady’s semi-British accent seemed appropriate for the spot of tea she was handing me. My giant backpack came out on the belt still encased in the oversized United see-thru plastic bag I put it in, but it looked like the airline workers’ gloves were replaced with cheese graters. I wondered when this TSA regulation came into effect. I opened it up like a little kid at Christmas so I could strap it on, since carrying it any other way didn’t make sense. New Zealand appeared to be surprisingly strict about bringing in plants, food products, etc. and had signs about equine influenza dangers prominently displayed. I remembered having some Trader Joe’s fruit snacks on me which were actually made in New Zealand. Despite the fact that I was just returning them, I declared to avoid the possible $200 fine for illicit pirate booty fruit snacks. I told the fruit police that it was packaged fruit snacks and they waved me through. Easy enough.

I sipped my tea while I tried to figure out what I was doing, in hopes that it would help some. There was a little area that looked like it was made just for lost backpackers and had an entire wall of brochures ranging from hostels to the Naked Bus to blackwater rafting. I barely spoke the words, “Kiwi International Airport Hotel” to the attendant before she politely told me to pick up one of the phones and dial 24. I didn’t know the phone system well, but this told me there were no more than 99 phones in the country. Simple yet elegant. Over at 24, someone at the hostel that I reserved in the last couple days said they would sent the (previously promised via website) free shuttle. It was supposed to be ambiguously “outside,” so I wandered out to find warm sunshine, tropical-looking trees, sweet-smelling air, and bearded men in turbans with idling taxis. I asked if they knew about my shuttle and one replied with a (Pakistani?) accent that it was at door eight. They must get asked this a lot.

By door eight stood a young girl and guy. Hey, that was they guy from the immigration line! They were talking about Big Day Out. “Are you guys going to Big Day Out?” The guy was and the girl wasn’t. She was Australian, on a pit stop here from China before going home. He was indeed American and also confused about what he was doing. I like this guy’s style. I found out his name was Derick, and when the van showed up Derick headed for the shotgun position. Since they drive on the left side here, the wheel is flipped and the driver jokingly had to tell him he wasn’t driving and should get in the passenger side...the left side. The Kiwi International Airport Hotel, which is really more of a combination motel and hostel, stood true to its name, having a huge kiwi sculpture perched on top [didn’t bother with a picture; in retrospect, should have]. By the time we got there it was about 9 a.m. and they had a shuttle leaving for the concert festival soon. My room wasn’t ready yet, but I needed a shower. This being Friday, I think I hadn’t showered since Monday. It would be nice to blame that on sleeping in the airport from the cancellation, but I was definitely able to bathe at home Wednesday. I guess I was trying to work my way into the backpacker lifestyle. When I asked, they let me shower in a used room of the motel variety, but that was all I needed. I also made myself a cup of coffee with the instant packs that the previous residents hadn’t utilized. I quickly repacked my bag, stuck it in the storage room, and we were off. The stadium was several kilometers away, and based on the gate opening time it was best to take the hostel’s shuttle there, which was $10 each way. I could see transportation costs were going to add up.

It was sunny and warm by mid morning, so I could tell it was going to be a great festival day, and a terrible day for a pale boy coming from winter. I had realized a while back that sunscreen was something I forgot to pack, but figured I would buy some on arrival. I didn’t get the chance yet, but I was sure they would have some at the concert. So I rode along with my camera, wallet, sunglasses, and spanish leather water bag. Picking up my will call ticket was easy and I headed for the front gate. On the way, I talked with Derick and a young Kiwi couple that was also staying in our hostel. Someone posted along the path to the front gate asked us if we wanted “party pills.” The young couple explained that these were something like speed and actually legal in New Zealand. Apparently some kids had been dying recently from a little too much partying. None of us felt like partying, so we proceeded, saving more partying for others. At the front, children were ready to rock and un-something the world:
The Big Day Out website said no video cameras allowed and I was surprised it didn’t ban detachable lens SLR cameras, aka “professional cameras.” Of course at the gate they had a different sign which declared that no professional cameras were allowed. Now if a professional photographer was on hand, she could have told the front gate staff that she would never use my camera in a professional shoot, but we all know there is no arguing with a sign. And if I wasn’t being paid to take pictures, how could it be professional? I’m pretty sure you have to be paid to do something in order to be a professional at it. Reluctantly, I gave them my “professional camera,” bag, two extra lenses, etc., with the promise that it would be returned to me if I returned to them the equally valuable postage stamp sized numbered piece of paper. No pictures of the Big Day Out, but I was determined not to let that change the size of my day out.

Some band that I never heard of and that wasn’t very good was playing on a smaller stage. Recalling the back of my Lonely Planet book that said New Zealand has a very high UV index, I knew I needed to head for sunscreen. The first aid tent had some but required a donation of any amount. I didn’t have any canned food, so I gave them a kiwi dollar coin and got a nice-sized squeeze of the white cream. I applied liberally and even put it all over my head since I had extra and I just cut my hair as short as it’s
ever been. I really should have brought a hat. I took a good tour of the whole grounds using my new colorful booklet as a guide. It was a pretty typical festival setup with several smaller stages, two big ones in the stadium, a techno tent (the “Boiler Room”), and vendors everywhere. The attendees looked like a mixture of the Bonnaroo and Ozzfest crowds, except half ugly and mostly from New Zealand. A good number of mohawks, dreadlocks, and bad dye jobs. Ill fitting clothing, of the tight, baggy, long, and short varieties. The Tool shirts indicated to me that these people were here to see Rage Against the Machine, like I was. Except I wasn’t wearing a Tool shirt. Both because I don’t own one and if I did, it wouldn’t have been one of the five T-shirts I brought. I was highly temped to buy Rage shirts that they had in the fashion of The Battle of Los Angeles, except they had “The Battle of New Zealand” written on them. Something like this:

I’m shocked that I can’t find a picture of one online right now. Anyway I thought they were very cool, and apparently so did everyone else who was wearing one. I sat and looked at the lineup for the day and drew up a plan in my book. I stuck to it like clockwork:
Antagonist was hardcore from NZ and not that special. I liked Die! Die! Die! and Cut Off Your Hands, but COYH would have been better suited for a night show. Anti-Flag was some decent political punk from Pittsburgh. They talked about George Bush and told the mosh pit to love each other. The Bleeders didn’t have anything special to offer, the singer (screamer) wasn’t very good, and should have been skipped except there was nothing much else going on at that time. I took a sit during their set to get out of the sun. I got sunscreen 4 times throughout the day and was wishing I had coins to donate that were worth less than a dollar, but the price on the curry chicken from the Indian food vendor was (in)conveniently rounded. Very unfortunately, when I was slathering myself in anti-sun liquid the second or third time I inadvertently slathered my sunglasses away and didn’t notice until a few minutes later. I backtracked in hopes that I would at least find sunglasses that looked like they had been trampled by horses in a chariot race. No such luck. I liked those a lot. They were polarized, I think for fishing, and I found them an indeterminate amount of time ago. All good sunglasses are found, not bought. I could only hope that they went to someone less fortunate, like an underprivileged (squinting) child in Borneo.

The Spoon show was very good, especially since I got close. It felt like being a Keepon for almost an hour. Billy Bragg was good, in a more rare classic rock kind of way. It was just him and a guitar on stage, but he made it work. The Nightwatchman was also just a man and a guitar on stage, but Tom had a vendetta. Billy Bragg watched approvingly from backstage as Tom belted out tales of mistreated union workers and even did a cover of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (originally by AC/DC) but replacing the lyrics to make it about the Bush administration. He even brought out Serj Tankian, who happened to be around because he moved to New Zealand, for a song that is going to be on the new Nightwatchman album, due out in coming months. Rushing to catch Arcade Fire, I ran smack into a wall of disappointment and equally disappointed sweaty people. The main stages were setup with a European festival style front pit area, that funnels people in from further away to keep crowding down to a reasonable level. At this point they closed entry to the front area because it was already full. People up front needed to leave before they let more in, and the mob was not happy about this. I watched Arcade Fire from further than I would have liked, but they were still excellent. The eleven-tet brought the full album sound, complete with french horns, pipe organs and all.

I had never heard of Shihad, but they were local favorites and before they even played I was impressed by their position in the lineup. I think their sound was deserving of this. They have an almost U2 grandeur about them, but in a harder rock format. If you are playing in the torrent world and like rock, they are definitely worth checking out: http://thepiratebay.org/tor/3652998/Shihad_-_compilation. By this time, members of the mob were climbing the center pit entry gate structure and the crowd was chanting “LET US IN!” Shihad had to stop playing a few times so they could make announcements about them getting down off the gates. The stopping of the show prompted most of the crowd population to turn against the extremists. Yelling ensued and I heard things like, “Christ on a stick, get down ya bugger!” and “Good on ya, wank” as they threw bottles in an effort to get them down. I enjoyed the obscenities that were meaningless to me, but I think the bottles really drove down the troublemakers. Despite earlier indications that the gates might be broken down by angry, bloodthirsty New Zealand Rage fans, I knew all hope was lost for getting in the center pit at this point. I went to jockey for a positon for the Rage show, despite the fact that that gave me a bad angle for Bjork. She brought her usual wacked-out full stage type presentation with lots of colors and costume changes. It was excellent, but the Rage fans were restless and Icelandic electronica was not satisfying their appetite for being told to not do what they tell ya. I felt sorry for Bjork because she was actually getting booed by a large number of people who just wanted to see more of another band, but it didn’t affect her show at all. At the end of Bjork was a side show farther away from the main stages called Lords of Lightning, that involved two men fighting with lightning. Yes, real bolts of high voltage electricity. Apparently this fairly amazing stunt was the brainchild of an electrical engineer that couldn’t stop playing with capacitors in his garage. I could see that this was an attempt by the event planning people to thin out the crowd before anarchy and violence was about to start, but to no avail.

There was a large amount of buildup to Rage’s entrance, with giant red rebel star flag displayed prominently on stage. I was disappointed at how far away I was, despite earlier attempts at positioning. Crammed between sweaty rock fans, I decided I was happy to get to see Rage at all, considering I could be sitting in LAX still. I was just glad they were even back together and to think, I got to see the Battle of New Zealand! The crowd went wild when the band came out and they sounded explosive. It was like they had never broken up. Zack’s newly fashioned latino-fro bounced as he encouraged the crowd to turn their radios on and off. They played all the songs a little slower than usual, I think so that people could hear all the lyrics. Later in the show during “Wake Up,” Zack made a speech about...well about a lot of things. Among them, he refuted the negative coverage they got from Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News about their call for a war crimes trial against Bush. He told New Zealanders that the United States still thinks it’s the number one power in the world. He encouraged them to stop buying U.S. products and start protesting their wars. That was probably the pinnacle of the show, and it felt good to be around all the young people wanting to change the world, even though they would probably forget and not do much in the end. They took off after that, which started a huge wave of chanting to get them back on. At this time I realized I had moved about halfway closer to the stage than where I started because of all the acres of jostling and moshing pushes people around pretty easily. The view was actually not bad. If only I could breathe and there weren’t elbows constantly flying at me. Rage came back out for a good multi-song encore and finished it up with “Freedom.” Always a classic.

Supergroove was on afterwards, I suppose to let the crowd depressurize so as to minimize the amount of cars to be flipped and set on fire. I went to some of that but remembered the shuttle pickup was at around 11:30 and I needed to get back for that. Attempting to get my camera back at the front gate, I pulled out a mash of paper that could not be read. My precious return ticket had all but dissolved in my pocket after being soaked in kiwi sweat. I told them I had a black camera bag and described the contents to the staff. As they gave it to me I was glad nobody else came to them with no ticket describing something similar. Like finding a needle in a haystack, I bumped into Derick on the way out and we headed for the van pickup together, comparing shows we had seen throughout the day. I wish I got to see some other bands that were playing at the same time as what I did see, but such is the downfall of a multi-stage concert festival. Oh well, I saw who I came for. On the ride back to the Kiwi International Airport Hotel I thought about what I was going to do the next day, since I had no plan. Maybe start the 50km walk to my first farmstay, maybe hang around Auckland. Who knows. Either way it was a good first day in New Zealand.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Leonard Said Okay

Well hello! Fancy seeing you here. This is my first entry in the Trevor Kemp New Zealand Adventure Weblog©! Enjoy.

Sunday night before I “left” for New Zealand I was spending some pre-departure time with friends and realized I was supposed to leave the country in 19 hours for about a year (?) and hadn’t packed my bag yet. Hm, interesting. With this realization I got slightly panicked and decided that staying up all night was a pretty good idea, not just for packing but also because New Zealand is around 14 hours off from US Eastern Standard Time, depending on whether or not either country is on Daylight Savings Time (NZ currently is, since it’s summer). I figured if I turned my body clock upside down before I left, it would be spot-on down under. Well obviously I didn’t finish packing Sunday night, but got it pretty well done. On Monday I needed to be at BWI around 4pm to catch my flight and I spent most of the day gathering all the things I hadn’t thought of in the last 2 weeks and re-packing my bag, since the plan was to have only 1 big pack. Let’s take a look at the checklist:
  • 5 T-shirts, check
  • 2 pairs shorts, check
  • 1 pair pants. wearing them, check
  • tent, check
  • sleeping bag, check
  • camera, check
  • laptop, check
  • compass, check
  • binoculars, check
  • assorted carabiners, check
  • a copy of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, check
  • etc.
Okay, good to go. In doing all this I had no time to run out and do a couple things such as photocopy my passport so I figured I’d do that on the way to the airport. After a pretty panicked day of getting ready to leave for who knows how long, my dad showed up to take me to the airport. Surprisingly, neither Harris Teeter nor Rite-Aid had a photocopier (as well as helpful employees), so off to Staples it was. There I was elegantly guided through the labyrinth that is the color photocopying process by a nice young lad. I quickly had color photocopies of my passport and driver’s license. Let’s go! Riding up to the airport I felt anxious. Nervous. Do I have everything? Probably not. Did I do everything I needed to before leaving? No I don’t think so. Visa? Not the “It’s everywhere you want to be” kind, my New Zealand Visa. Yes, I had a printout of the email they sent me and that was all I needed as far as I knew. Passport? Passport. Passport! Passport where are you? Paaaassspoooooort! “Dad, I think we need to turn around.”

After a thorough pat-down and subsequent rummage through all pockets had been done, I saw it. Just sitting there. Sitting there on the glass of the color copier at Staples...in Alexandria...as we were at cruising speed up to BWI. This is not good. This is the thing that does not, is supposed to not happen to real people. It felt like Home Alone and I had left Kevin McCallister there all by himself. How could I have done that? Really it didn’t matter and we just needed to go get it. With great skill (i.e. several wrong exits taken and illegal U-turns made) my Dad maneuvered us back to Staples. Just as I walk through the automatic-open doors I hear “Trevor, I have something for you.” It was the same guy that helped me make the copies and I knew he was probably laughing inside. No time!

The traffic wasn’t bad for a late Monday afternoon up to BWI and I made it with a solid hour to check in and do the security hokey-pokey. Amazing. I said goodbye to my Dad and the airport process was flawless. There was all kinds of time to spare. I ate a big plate of oily Manchu Wok chinese food to tide me over for LA (and so that I was doing something besides thinking about how nervous I was). Then I decided to start off on the right jounal-writing foot by pulling out the empty journal Mark and Lisa gave me. After a couple pages, a man at the United counter came on the microphone with a normal, muffled, barely discernible, “Ladies and gentlemen,” and I thought, “Yes, boarding time.” But he spoke in a very awkward way. He continued with a slow, confused sounding, “There appears to be something wrong with the plane...aaaand we don’t know what it is...”

Hm, that’s not the normal thing you hear before boarding a plane. This got all the anxious passengers in a stir but we were at the mercy of United Airlines. Back to the journal (which is not this, by the way). Sometime later the same all-knowing employee came back on and said something to the effect of, “We’re going to be doing a standard repair and checkout process that will take at least an hour and fifteen minutes, so the plane won’t leave any earlier than that. Take the opportunity to go walk around or eat and we’ll keep you updated as we can.” Thanks. Actually that did help me, since earlier when I was already on a roll with the passport thing, I had another “goof-up” (for lack of a better four-letter word to precede “-up”). In dumping out my pocket contents for them to be medically X-rayed, I realized with slight horror that I was putting my full set of keys into the grey plastic bin. I was fairly certain that these keys did not open or start anything in the South Pacific and wasn’t sure why I had them in my pocket. This would have been okay with the exception of a BMW key belonging to someone named “T” (hence the TSBMW plate). My dad was supposed to sell it for me (another thing I failed to do before leaving) and that would be hard to do if it couldn’t be opened or driven. I took this hour and fifteen minute golden opportunity to go back out to the main terminal and try to mail it, rather than sending it from LA or Fiji or New Zealand. I found a FedEx box that I could use. I had never used one of these magic boxes that only requires you to fill out an envelope with which you soon part. Feeling a little suspect about the whole thing, I did the deed and left. Upon return to the gate, I had enough time to settle into my seat when I heard those awful words. “Ladies and gentlemen, United Airlines will be canceling flight 307 to LA.” Fantastic.

Not knowing what this meant for me I did as I was told and went to the main ticketing/check-in desk in the main terminal to get a new replacement flight. But, like an old dog that has died, the replacement is somehow never really as good as the original. The man “helping” me said he was having trouble confirming the new trans-Pacific flights, but in the end had just moved all my flights just one day. That’s okay, I will still get in in time for the Big Day Out Festival on Friday. Instead of the 2-day buffer I had originally planned, it was just one. This was fine. I got a $135 taxi voucher to take me to Dulles, since I got an earlier flight to LA from there and it’s closer, fully knowing I was going home, not to Dulles. My major problem at the moment was that I was going home to a BMW whose key was now in an impenetrable FedEx fortress just a few hundred feet away. After speaking with official airport personnel (old lady at an Info Desk) and a sympathetic yet helpless FedEx employee on the phone, I determined it was impossible to retrieve the key unless I stood guard at the box until the next day’s pickup. Whatever, I’ll just pay for the delivery and the key will go where it needs to (hopefully).

It just seemed like a security flaw that no one at the airport could open this box. What if there were a bomb in there? I feel fairly comfortable mentioning “bomb” and “airport” in the same sentence, knowing the Department of Homeland Security is probably scanning this blog, because they can’t get me in New Zealand. Anyway, I’m sure they would be able to open the box. I suppose that ruins the plot a bit, mentioning that I am in New Zealand (for all you know). But I guess that is okay since you’ve been wondering that the whole time and this entry is getting pretty out of control in terms of length and detail. But it’s entertainment for me since I’m sitting in my hostel next to the kitchen where an older lady with some kind of unidentified leg sores is playing an out of tune piano while a young Japanese girl wearing a faded and authentic-looking “Michael Jackson Japan Tour ’88” T-shirt is singing along in an equally out of tune fashion to a song I don’t know. So I listen to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot with my Icelandic Secret Service style headphones on my Macbook Pro and continue writing a blog that will later be posted at an internet cafe for three New Zealand dollars per hour. If nothing else, it should be good entertainment for my friends who are paid to play on the internet half the day because they have no other tasks at hand. If you think this is you and you are being singled out, sadly that is not the case, this refers to quite a few people I know. Why don’t you just move to New Zealand?

On the cab ride to Alexandria (thanks United), I try to chat it up with the driver. I guessed he was from Kenya and this turned out to be correct. Guessing nationalities of cabbies and chatting it up with them is a skill I learned from my friend Mohammed and which I am still perfecting. Apparently the election violence in Kenya is really not as bad as the media makes it out to be, and is mostly just in Nairobi (he knows, he was just there). Also I was informed that the man who lost the election had actually been telling people to strike out in violence. Good thing he lost. When I asked him about the upcoming US election, he said he favored Hilary but wasn’t eligible to vote. I told him I would vote for Ron Paul if he was by some chance the Republican candidate. He had never heard of Dr. Paul.

Back at home, my Dad was pretty surprised to see me, since I should have been halfway to LA by that time. Turns out AT&T hadn’t suspended my phone service yet, so I took the rare opportunity to non-prank prank text some friends about the fact that I was available to hang out. I got some confused half-angry texts back about the fact that that wasn’t funny. Ashley came over and invited me to dinner with her and Ben the next night just in time for me to realize I had voicemail...“This is Kathy from United Airlines in Chicago. You were booked for some flights tomorrow due to a mechanical failure of your plane, but I am calling to tell you you should NOT get on your plane at Dulles Airport tomorrow. It appears Air Pacific can’t get you a flight out of LAX until the 20th...” Air Pacific, if you are reading this: you are the bane of my existence. I will attempt to avoid too much detail on what actually happened with the entire airline situation, as it was very painful and confusing and that generally reduces entertainment value, as you can see below.

It turns out the guy at the airport who booked my flights to all be bumped one day was not allowed to do that because the second two flights were Air Pacific, not United. Calling them back, I was told there was not a single flight I could take before the 20th, thereby missing the Big Day Out, around which I had planned my flight and for which I already bought a ticket. It turns out I was eligible for a full refund from CheapTickets.com since my initial outbound flight had a mechanical failure and I hadn’t been on a plane yet. I could buy a new ticket for later in February and save about $300, more than making up for the price of the concert ticket. But I wasn’t obligated to do anything, and I could go at anytime (just not before the 20th). I could wait awhile. I didn’t even have to go to New Zealand. Why was I going again? I don’t need to go, I can just stay. And do what? No I have to go, my friends threw a surprise going away party for me. That means I have to go. I’ll sleep on it.

Tuesday I was very useless and woke up late. After all, I wasn’t even planning on the being in the country and had idea what I was doing, so no big deal. Plus my body clock was supposed to be 14 hours ahead...right. I spent a good portion of the day explaining over Gmail chat to friends at work that I was indeed still in the country and in fact not a Gmail ghost. I still didn’t know what I was doing about the situation until I talked to Ben. Ben was excited for me to go because he knew I really wanted to, plus he wants to quit Bechtel and move to New Zealand too. At least he can live vicariously through me. Also Ben felt that a great injustice had been dealt from somewhere in the direction of the airline industry. Let me tell you a couple things about Ben: 1) he has a burning passion for justice and b) he can do amazing things with customer service, dealing with companies, shopping around, policies, etc. Please get ahold of him if you ever need to:
  • buy a camera
  • do anything on eBay
  • handle relationship problems
  • get paid more by the same people to do the same thing because you are somehow living in many places at the same time
  • get free breakfast at a hotel because there was a fire while you were eating and the staff told you not to leave
  • be in another country on the other side of the world in less than 36 hours
(All real examples, by the way). Upon further encouragement, I called United back and was told there was 100% absolutely no chance I was able to get on another flight besides one that matched what I originally booked. I told this to Ben and he went to action. Even though still at work, he called United telling them that he (Trevor Kemp) very much needed to be in New Zealand no later than Friday morning local time. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but within less than an hour I was told I had the appropriate flights the next day. Wow. Now there is something to celebrate over dinner at D’Acqua during D.C.’s Restaurant Week. Dinner was great and I was all set to go the next day. Didn’t even need to pack my bags! Just put the passport in my pocket...

Wednesday morning I showed up extra early to Dulles to avoid any problems and get my new paper tickets printed out. Condensing further desk-front airline problems, it turns out that Jackie, the United employee who I (Ben) talked to the previous day, was not allowed to do what she did, which was put me on an Air New Zealand flight that was direct from LA to Auckland that day. This incorrectness was confirmed by the Dulles United manager who called Jackie and told her this. Whoops, sorry Jackie. I did lots of haggling and finally told them to just send me to LA, I’ll figure it out there. The original woman I was working with felt sorry for me by this point and decided she could do something to help. “OK here is what I’m going to do: I will print you a boarding pass for the Air New Zealand flight, and staple it to the back of your original ticket. I can’t print you a ticket for that flight because Air Pacific hasn’t paid us for it. They won’t look at the ticket when you go in, especially if it’s busy. So go fast! They will scan the boarding pass and not look at the ticket until the plane takes off.” “Is that illegal?” “No.” Not really caring whether it was or not, I asked some clarification questions then thanked her profusely. I headed for my LA flight, not sure if I was really going to New Zealand in the next 24 hours, or if I’d spend a few nights in Hotel California.

The first flight was easy and went by surprisingly fast. My bag was supposed to automatically go through, but that just made me think it was going to New Zealand without me. LAX is a bit difficult to navigate, as they try to cope with ever increasing demand, so I had to shuttle to a totally different area. I had at least 5 hours to kill though, just more time to wonder whether or not I would make it with my counterfeit boarding pass. I did other things like reading and email to avoid sitting there thinking, “I am trying to get on a plane, and I don’t have a ticket for it.” When the time finally came around to board, it was very crowded. This was a 100% capacity 777 flight. I thought this was to my advantage, because they would check the boarding passes quickly. Surrounded by Kiwis and potential Kiwis, I anxiously approached the front. They were boarding through 4 desks. Which was the best? Could I even choose? Were they using magnifying glasses and X-rays and valid-ticket-sniffing-dogs on the person in front of me? I couldn’t see. My turn. Just the usual polite hellos and whatnot, and a brief look at the boarding pass. This will be fine. Oh no. Oh no! She’s turning it over! “Let’s see. Hmm...oh. Oh. We’re going to have a problem here.” Heart stops slightly. “Ahem, really? What seems to be the problem?” “This is an Air Pacific ticket for another flight.” “Oh yeah, my flight got cancelled and they put me on this one. They said it would be fine.” I could feel the long line of passengers behind me thinking, “C’mon man, what’s the holdup!?” or, “Oh great, this guy is taking forever.” The desk attendant flipped out a cell phone and made a call, eyes sweeping the crowd. “I’m going to have to call somebody on this one.” Pause. “Hi Leonard, I’ve got a guy here with an Air Pacific ticket that needs to be signed over. What are we going to do about that?” Long Pause. Head nodding. “Can we get them to endorse [pay for] it now?” I had been previously told Air Pacific will not, WILL NOT endorse it. “Can they do it later? Mh-hm. Okay. Okay? Okay.” Turning to me and looking surprised, she said, “They don’t usually do this, but Leonard said okay. You’re lucky.” Leonard said okay. Leonard said okay!!!

Leonard, I don’t know you, but if you are reading this, you are the coolest. Thank you, I will sing your praises. Let it be known that Leonard is the man in a box somewhere who will get you onto a plane for which you have no ticket. Yes! I grabbed my things, said thanks, and quickly went down the airplane boarding chute that reminds me of a tube in a fancy hamster cage. Except the hamster can go all over the place and see through the orange plastic. I can’t see through it and I can only go on the plane. But that’s okay, that’s where I want to go. I imagined the lady with my ticket coming to get me, because there was some mistake. “Leonard called back. You’re not getting on this plane.” Or armed guards. TSA officers with guns. “Sir you’re going to have to come with us.” I would tell them, “but Leonard said okay!” as they dragged me away. But that didn’t happen. I found my way to 44E and sat, trying to look nondescript, so they wouldn’t find the guy with no ticket who wasn’t supposed to be on the plane. I waited for an overhead announcement that the plane was overbooked and someone wasn’t supposed to be here. When they made the door closing announcement I knew I was set. FAA rules prohibited them from opening the door again. I was home free.

I made a polite “Hi” to the guy next to me. He was a Kiwi, but neither one of us were feeling chatty. Not like the lady across the aisle. But it wasn’t annoying, so I played along when she aimed her chatter at me. Laughing and making stupid comments about the blankets. I was entertained by the accent. The 777 back-of-seat-TVs were great, especially because of their programming. They had travel shows that guided you around major New Zealand cities and points of interest, movies, games, TV, etc. Somehow I didn’t feel like a movie even though they had good new ones I hadn’t seen. I wanted to dive into Kiwi culture, so I watched the tour shows, then the 2005 Rugby World Cup final. If you haven’t seen the synchronized dancing, yelling, and chest-beating that the All Blacks team does before a match, it’s really pretty amazing. It really says, “You’re not just going to lose to us, you’re going to die.” Then I switched over to some Flight of the Conchords. I had the first season DVDs that Noah gave me, but it was much easier to look at the back of the seat rather than break out my laptop. I had some good (also free) New Zealand white wine while I watched. Reading a book felt taboo, since they turned off the cabin lights and each person’s reading light spilled onto the passengers around them. So I decided I should get my sleep, tomorrow’s going to be a long day. I drifted off, thinking about the fact that when I wake up, I will be a lot closer to that little island called New Zealand.