journeys, people watching, society, travel, wanderlust

observations on oz

“A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.” – Moslih Eddin Saadi

Every journey begins with one small step. In this case, it began with one very long flight. Fifteen and a half hours from LAX to Sydney. (I think I slept for part of it but that’s still up for debate). I’ve had a few weeks back in my real life to process everything I did and saw during my two week stay in Sydney. I originally thought that the trip would inspire an entire series of blog posts (and likely will still) but for now I’ve decided to take the easy way out and  to compile a list of the things that stand out the most. So, in no particular order and without bias, here goes:

  • When opening the drain of a sink or flushing the toilet, the water really does circle the drain in the opposite direction. Watching it do so is not, however, as exciting as my mind had built it up to be.
  • When planned and executed correctly, public transportation can be as, if not more, effective than personal transport. It took me a few days to figure out the buses and the transfers, but by the middle of the first week I was commuting like a local. Busses, trains and ferries criss-crossing the Sydney metropolitan area are clean, always on time and easy to navigate. I was starting to feel like a pro by the end of my stay and it was actually kind of weird to have to drive myself to work when I got home instead of catching a bus down the street from the house.
  • Only pretty people live in Sydney. No, seriously. I stood out with the rest of the tourists. The locals are easy on the eyes and in great shape- all of them. I was starting to get really self conscious walking around town. 
  • There is no free parking. Anywhere.
  • Fish & Chips taste better on Bondi Beach paired with a cold beer and good company. 
  • Apparently there are people who think Bruce Lee was in The Karate Kid. WTF?
  • Whilst Australia might be home to more creatures that can kill you than anywhere else on the planet, they are surprisingly  hard to find. I still checked my shoes before putting them on though. 
  • Despite all of the jokes I’ve heard about it, national healthcare isn’t bad. Two companion trips to the hospital for tests and imaging and I found the staff to be friendly and the process to be rather efficient. The main waiting room did have a slight “people of Wal-Mart” vibe going. 
  • I’m ashamed it took me well over 40 years to go to a professional rugby match. I’m hooked.
  • Meat pies. Thanks for teaching me, Shay. They aren’t as sketchy as Sweeney Todd sings about them being. I was a bit concerned, though, over what was meant by “Australian meat.”
  • Australia’s politics don’t lean quite as far to the left as I has assumed. While I was there, there was heating debate among politicians and citizens about marriage equality. I had assumed it has passed in Australia along with the rest of the Commonwealth well before it did here in the States. 
  • After several days of being driven around town, an American can almost get used to riding as a passenger in the seat they are use to driving in. The left turns still feel like they are taking you head on into oncoming traffic.
  • Higher Education bureaucracy may be the one constant in the universe. 
  • The coffee is the best I’ve ever had. I think I may be swearing off of Starbucks (except in drastic airport and convention center circumstances).
  • Kangaroos (especially joeys) are much cuter in real life and koalas are so fucking over you and your photo op.

Sydney. Sydney. Sydney. You have won me over. You are far more beautiful and welcoming than I ever imagined. You are full of life and damn fine coffee. In the end,  it wasn’t really about the tours, the opera house or the amazing climb to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  The most meaningful thing I took away was the importance of, and the respite found in, being so far away from all that can drag you down (like office politics, Facebook bullies and partisan politics).  It’s about spending unhurried time in the company of one of your best friends and being made to feel like part of the family- so much so, in fact, it was a jolting reality the last night to realize you actually live somewhere else. 

Time to put the pennies in the piggy bank and figure out how to do it all again.

“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” – Dagobert D. Runes

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rant, service, travel, wanderlust

holding the reservation

I was in the gate area waiting  to board a flight from Tampa to Dallas in late February. The Tampa airport, like so many airports, has the absolute worst acoustics. Background music, crowd noise and competing announcements from several gates all echo and mingle together into audio chaos. This made it near impossible to hear the assortment of “more-special-than-me” groups being called out by the gate agent. We were all huddled under one speaker asking each other who was called and what was going on.

By happenstance, I received an email later that day from American Airlines outlining their new boarding process. It’s so simple that it’s brilliant. First class becomes Group One, Executive Platinum becomes Group 2 and so on. The first four groups are considered priority boarding and get to board through the lane marked, surprisingly, “priority.” General boarding is Group 5 and onward. I told you, so simple it’s genius.

The next day I received an email from Citibank explaining how my boarding group and status would be affected by the changes at American. I have the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive Mastercard. [There are several Citi AAdvantage cards and this particular card has the benefits and perks I find the most valuable (we can discuss those in another post). It comes with some great perks and one of them is priority boarding. I covet priority boarding, not because it makes me feel special to use the boarding lane that’s separated from the inches to the left of the general boarding line by a station, but because it usually guarantees I’ll get space in an overhead bin and not have to check my bag.] As an Executive cardholder I will be boarding in Group 4, remember this is the final group classified as Priority. Boo-Ya!

I get to DFW Airport later the next week for another trip and check-in in at the kiosk. As I headed to the TSA Pre-Check line I noticed I was assigned to Group 5. Huh.

Jerry: I don’t understand, I made a reservation, do you have my reservation?

Agent: Yes, we do, unfortunately we ran out of cars.

Jerry: But the reservation keeps the car here. That’s why you have the reservation.

Agent: I know why we have reservations.

Jerry: I don’t think you do. If you did, I’d have a car. See, you know how to take the reservation, you just don’t know how to *hold* the reservation and that’s really the most important part of the reservation, the holding. Anybody can just take them.

From the Seinfeld episode, The Alternate Side

I waited for the line to die down and approached the gate agent to ask. I told the agent how much I loved the new boarding process and explained that I understood I would board in Group 4 but was assigned to Group 5 and asked if there had been a change to the new process. She said no and told me that credit cardholders were in Group 5. She pulled her cheat sheet out of the drawer to show me. I pointed to the Group 4 box that clearly said Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive Mastercard. She looked baffled. She wrote Group 4 on my boarding pass and suggested I talk to customer service.

I called customer service later that day and was told, ” credit cardholders were in Group 5.” I referenced the boarding process page on their website. She had no response and suggested I fill out the form on the AAdvantage website. I completed the form and included a link to the boarding policy and a screenshot of the emails I had received. Customer Service replied a couple of days later to thank me for my inquiry and letting me know they would get back to me. It’s now mid-April. They never did.

I had two more business trips where the same thing happened only with the gate agents upgrading their response to eye rolls and, in the case of the guy at the gate at  DFW two weeks ago, yelling at me.  After he yelled I did what any sensible person would do- I called out @AmericanAir on Twitter. Boy do they respond quickly. They asked me to DM them and give them all of the details. I did . Explanation, screen shots etc. The whole thing. Two weeks later there’s no definitive answer from American Airlines other than I should check in for my next flight, see what happiness and then let them know if I’m not in the correct boarding group.

RANT:

I don’t understand. You send me emails and post things on your website and then not only don’t follow through with them but don’t seem to care and don’t have a way to fix it. You can send tubes of metal at 500 miles per our whilst 40,000 feet in the air but you can’t manage the relational database behind your passenger profiles?

I don’t need to feel special, I just want you to do what you said you were going to do. I just want you to “hold the reservation.”

photo is my own taken at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

 

 

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