Saturday, February 7, 2015

A Journey To Middle Earth

A Journey To Middle Earth

Now be honest with yourself – when was the last time you watched, and I mean really watched, an aircraft safety briefing? I have seen so many stewardesses stand up and recite the same litany until, if you are like me, you could probably do it yourself. Well, our 13 hour flight from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand, was onboard an Air New Zealand Boeing 777, and it was quite unlike any long-haul flight I have ever encountered. For one thing, everyone, and I really mean everyone, kept their eyes glued to their seat mounted monitors for every second of the safety briefing. It was presented as a hilarious parody of “The Lord of the Rings,” starring none other than the actual Harry Potter! Everyone on the aircraft was laughing so hard that they had tears in their eyes, and all over a “safety briefing.”

Our seats were also unlike I had ever encountered before. The aircraft had just recently undergone an upgrade to an all new interior. In business class, each seat was aligned at an angle to the aisle of about 45 degrees. I sat at a window seat, which was actually over my left shoulder; Lisa was seated across the aisle from me. We found ourselves seated in a capsule with every modern accessory imaginable. We had USB connections to the audio system which could be used to charge our electronic gear. I even had an electrical outlet where my breathing machine could be powered. The “tray table” came out of nowhere, and was the size of a small card table, and steady as a rock. While seated, there was actually a small seat in front of me where someone could sit and carry on a conversation, or where I could put my feet. But, there was more to come------

I opted for a “quick meal” consisting of soup and bread which was awesome. The main menu offered a very wide selection, and everything was actually freshly prepared in a real type galley. Who ever heard of that on a modern flight? After dinner, I headed for the lavatory, and on closing the door and being seated in a surprisingly spacious area, I looked up and in front of me was painted a window so that it appeared I was looking outside of the aircraft. Down in the left corner was the face of an old pilot complete with leather helmet and goggles peaking in the window – now, again who would have thought? It was the attention to details that that were so unusual.

Arriving back at my seat, I found that my seat was gone, literally. In its place the stewardess had converted it into a full bed complete with a foam mattress and pillows, and with the blanket on top just waiting for me to crawl in for the night. Now my experience with aircraft “beds” has been miserable, so imagine my surprise when I lay down and promptly nestled in. However, before crawling in, I asked the stewardess if I could have my tray table out so that I could put my breathing machine up for the night. She winked and said “Jim, that won’t be necessary, here let me show you.” Notice the use of my name – all of the staff had managed that feat within minutes of boarding. Anyway, she reaches to the head of the bed, and pushes some buttons and with a quick move, pushes my left armrest down into the depths, thus clearing a perfect flat area for my machine. Off she went and I tried to set things up¸ but not quite. Soon the stewardess arrives, sees the problem, and returns with a large and a small pillow and proceeds to tuck them in just the right spots, all the while saying, “Sleep tight, Jim, and call if you need anything at all.” The next thing I know is when they start to awaken everyone for breakfast; I had managed to sleep the entire night; absolutely unbelievable.

After a wonderful breakfast, the aircraft landed in Auckland at 8am local time, and Lisa and I got off the plane completely refreshed and ready for the day. We were only 2 hours off the time in Kansas City, but on a new day, having crossed the International Date Line. It was all in all a wonderful experience, at least until that point.

I was met at the gate with a wheel chair because of my leg injury which I’ll elaborate on a little later, and whisked through immigration and customs. At this point, Lisa and I were to be met by a private car and taken to our hotel, but alas after waiting for over 45 minutes no one showed up so we hired a taxi to make the hour long journey. Because we were arriving so early in the morning, I had anticipated that our room would not be ready until normal check-in at 3pm. With my leg the last thing I needed was to sit in a lobby for hours waiting to get to a room, so our travel agent had made arrangements for us to pay for a room the night before so that it would be ready when we arrived, and the room was to have a view of the harbor. All well and good, however, the hotel acted as if they had never heard of such a thing, and that we would have to wait until normal check-in. After a little pleading about my injury, they managed in the goodness of their heart to “find” a small room on the back side of the hotel which we could move in immediately so we snapped it up. The room was small, but the best part was that from our window we could look at the people in the hotel across the street looking into our rooms – and waving I might add. At check-in, realizing it was a Saturday night, we asked if the hotel would make us a dinner reservation at the steak house restaurant for when they opened. No problem, of course, and they would send a confirmation to our room. At 4pm a note is slipped under our door, “Sorry, but the steakhouse is full.” No offer was made to help with an alternative. Now think about trying to find a dinner reservation on a Saturday night at the last minute in a busy big city, especially when I really can’t travel very well. My hat is off to Lisa because she really got her ire up and after going after the manager as if by magic a place was found for us at the steakhouse. We had a wonderful dinner in a room that was at best half full. However, they had people standing outside waiting to get into the partially empty room.

So at this point, we are awaiting our journey to the ship around noon, and who knows what will happen from there. As promised, if I have a good internet, I’ll try to keep everyone up to date.

Now before closing, allow me to bring everyone up to date on two issues. I was less than honest in my first blog on this trip in that I failed to mention that I had just suffered a small accident which threatened to derail our trip altogether. It seems so silly, but I was climbing up into my friends’ small airplane to go up flying together, when my left foot slipped off the step and threw me sideways into the wing. I hit full force with my left knee and slowly slid all with way down my leg until I finally hit the ground. I had been in the plane hundreds of times, but for whatever reason, this time was my unlucky one. I actually finally managed to climb aboard and make the flight in spite of the pain, but when we returned to the airport, I realized that my left knee was very swollen already. My friend Ed got some ice from the airport, and while he drove us home, I started icing it down. Two days later, in spite of constant icing, I ended up in the Emergency Room with a leg that was swollen to almost three times normal size and hard as a rock. The injury had allowed my leg to fill with blood so that I had a large hematoma. After determining that I did not have a clot and that nothing, I was sent home for rest, ice and elevation. Unfortunately a week later the leg had not improved and with only four days until our trip, I was really starting to doubt that I could go. Monday before this trip I woke up to find significant improvement in the leg, and during the next two days I got to see both my cardiologist and my internist, both of whom cleared me for the trip. I was told that it will take a long time for the blood to be cleared from the leg and that I am going to be limited in what I can do, but as one of my doctors said, “I would rather you take the trip where you’ll be active which is good for the leg, as opposed to staying home and sitting around!” So here I go on yet another adventure with only partial equipment, but at least I am going.

My second issue concerns our journey to Los Angeles. Our flight on Air New Zealand was at 10pm; however, we arrived into LAX at 8am in the morning. It just so happens that our good friends Chris and LaVerne Kilgore live in Los Angeles and they kindly offered to meet us at the airport and spend some time with us. This was a good thing since we had to check our bags just to LAX for several reasons which means that we had to claim our luggage and transport ourselves over to the International Terminal – and no, porters are not allowed to go between terminals; go figure! Well, not only did they meet us at the baggage claim, but Chris had gone out and rented a wheel chair for the day so that he could help me get around. In the middle of this madness, I had scheduled an interview with Customs and Border Protection for the renewal of my Global Entry membership. Little did I think I would be disabled when I arrived, nor was I counting on an early morning flight being late due to fog in LAX, so by the time we hit baggage claim, I was right up against my appointment. Talk about friends – Chris, who is older than I am, just grabbed that wheel chair and took off at a fast clip wheeling me all the way to the International Terminal and made my appointment in record time. Not only that, after my 10 minute interview, he wheeled me back to where the girls were just then getting our bags. My hat is off to Chris. He and LaVerne then gave us a beautiful drive down the peninsula to Palos Verdes where they live and treated us to a wonderful lunch at the magnificent Terranea Resort. Our thanks to them both for a marvelous time together! I might mention that LaVerne has been our travel agent for many years, and you simply cannot find anyone better! I hope you’ll take my hint.

Take care, and I’ll try to keep everyone informed.


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