The in-laws drop us off at the Air New Zealand door, we wait in line only long enough to fill out our new address on our luggage tags, and before we know it we’re saying goodbye to Grandma and Grandpa. Up the escalator, passport check, through security, and there we are at the gate. Who would’ve thought LAX would be so easy to get around in? Why do you have to walk a mile to catch a flight in the outback hamlet of Minneapolis and fifty yards in cosmopolitan California?
We’re still three hours early, and our flight is delayed an hour, so I find myself with four hours to kill and two young kids to preoccupy. The usual way to do that is by spending money, so we have a long, slow supper, and I send them to the store across the hall while I watched the Vikings/Raiders preaseason game on TV. Capitalist lust keeps them busy for a good hour and a half, and there’s still time for another treat and a phone call to mom before boarding. Somehow we’re able to call half way around the world with a basic prepaid ATT phone card, and it sounds like she’s in the same room. A far cry from 1972, when my family went to Thailand and didn’t talk to the US for a year.
Back then Western Airlines was “the only way to fly.” Now it’s Air New Zealand (pronounced Ear New Zillun). We ride on a 747 with lots of legroom and our own personal video screen, with hundreds of shows to choose from, and kindly women calling us “love” and “dear,” and free “lollies” (hard candies) and two hot meals. Watch a movie, fall asleep, watch another movie, and voila! You’re in another hemisphere — southern and eastern rather than northern and western. It seems way too easy.
One of the movies I watch is “The World’s Fastest Indian,” about a guy from Invercargill, where we’re going, who travels to Utah to set a speed record on his modified “motorsickle.” For Burt Munro (played by Anthony Hopkins), it was weeks on a freighter to cross the Pacific. But that was the 1960s, and he had a motorcycle to bring.
When you’re traveling that slowly, the time change isn’t much of an issue, but it’s hard to get your head around when you travel by jet. You leave at 10:30 p.m. and get to Auckland 13 hours later, at 11:30 a.m. California time, but it’s still dark and 5:30 a.m., a day later. So you leave Monday night, fly 13 hours, and get there Wednesday morning. I guess we’ll get that day back in a year or so.
In Auckland, we check our e-mail, send off a few, call Diane, take our bags through customs, get sniffed by beagles looking for food products. “Do you have any sammies in there?” the dog handler wonders. “No.” “Do you ever carry sammies in there? Take your lunch to work?” “Yeah, sometimes.” “Righty-ho, good as gold then.”
The plane to Christchurch, a 727 or the equivalent, gives us a feel for the country. It’s a lot bigger than it looks on the globe, with snow-capped peaks, volcanoes, rivers, and miles and miles of coastline. Again, we’re treated like royalty. Cedar grins when they call her “love,” and Leif takes a huge handful of lollies.
As the towns get smaller, so do the planes. From Christchurch to Invercargill we fly in a propeller-driven model that seats about 50 people. Again, we see coastline out the left side of the plane and snow-capped peaks out the right side. As we come in for a landing, we see sheep grazing in square pastures framed by tall hedges, and rugby fields, and horse-racing tracks, and cars driven on the wrong side of the road. And there at the gate, after three weeks of waiting for her family, stands Diane, or Mum, as her children will call her here.