Day -1: Sunday 28 July
I complete the "2 week" contract I have just been working on for P&C Micro's. It has taken only 16 days. This is closer to being on schedule than any other software project I have ever been involved with. I finish drying my laundry, which is challenging in the midst of a Melbourne winter, and involves turning the central heating up and hanging clothes over every vent. I finish packing, except for the last-minute stuff which will go in tomorrow.
Day 0: Monday 29 July
I wake early. I shower, dress, etc. I phone for a taxi. It takes 20 minutes to arrive, and while I'm waiting, there is nothing to do but watch the Olympics. Much of the coverage concerns some Australian lad, who apparently has a good chance in the high-jump. Australia is 5th in the overall medal tally, and when they show this on-screen, they coincidentally show the top 5.
The taxi eventually arrives, and takes me, slowly, to Tullamarine; through Melbourne drizzle, the taxi driver bitching about the traffic, and the radio telling us that the Australian lad has cleared another 2cm. This takes an hour and forty minutes, and costs A$40. This takes longer, and costs more, than will my flight from LAX to Las Vegas.
I arrive at the airport and check in without incident. We board the aeroplane. I am up the back, with two empty seats next to my window seat. It is obvious from the shape and appearance of fittings that this plane was designed in the late 60's or early 70's. We are conditioned by advertising agencies to regard this as a bad thing, but it's not. Using 20-year old technology means that the bugs have long since been worked out (or at least worked around), and when dealing with something as expensive as an airliner, "planned obsolescence" is a null concept.
Fairly close to our scheduled time of 10:40am, we take off, leaving Melbourne's grey winter behind. From thirty thousand feet, the clouds far below are in frozen turmoil, looking like a cross between pack ice and cotton wool.
We fly east toward our stopover in Auckland. As the sun sinks low in the sky behind us, I can see, in exactly the opposite direction to the sun, a small, faint, full circle double rainbow between me and the clouds below. As we descend towards the clouds for our landing in Auckland, our aeroplane's shadow becomes visible on the clouds below. As we get closer, and our shadow appears bigger, I can see that my double rainbow is centred on the point towards the rear of the plane where I am sitting.
We drop from above the clouds, an apparently endless sea of white, into the grey, and emerge only a couple of thousand feet above the outskirts of Auckland.
There is a forty minute wait in Auckland, while they load and unload baggage.
What can you do for forty minutes in an unfamiliar country, with no local currency, and on the wrong side of a customs barrier? Not much. Except watch the Olympics. The local TV station are using exactly the same computer paintbox animation as Channel 7 in Australia, with the local station logo cheaply superimposed. The coverage wanders from event to event; evidently there are no New Zealanders competing in anything just now. But New Zealand is 15th in the overall medal standings, and when they show us the tally, they coincidentally show the top 15.
We re-board, and take off again. The endless scenery of blue above white is fading; we are fleeing the sun, and only a few hours after leaving a Melbourne morning, the sun is setting.
The night contains some awful American sit-com, a kid's movie, and a small child crying. Nevertheless, I manage to catch some sleep.
Day 1: Monday 29 July
It's the next day, but the date hasn't moved forward, as I have crossed the international date line. Later, when I leave America, I will skip an entire day. (A friend used this trick to skip her birthday, thus avoiding getting older!)
Some people have trouble with jet lag, but I don't seem to suffer from that particular curse. I open the blind over the little aeroplane window, look out into the rising sun, and my internal clock goes "Resynchronise! It's morning!"
Through clear skies we descend into L.A. That is, up where we are, the skies are clear. Further down, the view into the distance is curtailed by smog. L.A. from the air is dry, brown and grey, and is full of freeways and dry storm water drains. You can easily spot the well-to-do suburbs from the air: every house has a spot of vivid cyan blue -- the swimming pool. We land slightly ahead of schedule at about 10:10am. According to the clock, this is about half an hour before we left Melbourne.
LAX is huge. At Tullamarine, our flight was at gate 14; at Auckland, gate 6. At LAX, I arrive at gate 75, and my connecting flight leaves from gate 68B. The airport is a twisty-turny three-dimensional maze, and is short on signs and maps. However, there is a volunteer information service, who tell me where the appropriate terminal is: it's right next door.
I go to the gate, but it's two hours until my flight's scheduled departure, and the lounge is crowded, presumably with people departing on a flight prior to mine. I wander off to another, less crowded, lounge; sit down, and start reading my book. Somebody sits down next to me, and says "Good book?"
I look up: it is Dave Sampson, my boss-to-be, who I was expecting to meet in Las Vegas, and who has, against all probability, managed to find me in LAX. He has had business in L.A. earlier today, and has juggled his flight times so he can meet me here. In the time remaining before our departure, we go for Pizza Hut.
Pizza is different here: there's no implicit assumption that a pizza needs to have anything on it. Pizza Hut do three different "personal" size pizzas: supreme, pepperoni, and cheese. The cheese pizza, as its name implies, is a pizza base with tomato paste and cheese, and nothing else. I find this somewhat bizarre.
Dave explains that he is jinxed with respect to air travel. We return to gate 68B, and sure enough, our flight, despite the fact that we can see the plane already docked at the gate, is delayed, We wait for a bit, and they eventually announce that the flight will be delayed three hours, while they find a new plane.
We wander off to the Admiral's Club (like Qantas' Flight Deck), of which Dave is a member. They give him coffee. ("I've figured it out, and it's worth it, in the cost of coffee alone." -- Dave)
We slouch for a while, phone the office in Vegas, tell them how late we're going to be, and eventually wander back to gate 68B. Dave fends off people from odd religions who want to give us books, and asks me if I feel a long way from home. I look out of the windows of the hall we are walking through, and see a row of trees planted as a wind-break. They are eucalypts.
The plane we were to be flying on is sufficiently broken that it is still docked at the gate. We are ushered out a door, and down onto the tarmac, where we walk out to our new plane.
From LAX to Las Vegas I listen to air traffic control on the plane's entertainment system. We land at Las Vegas, and as we turn to taxi towards the terminal, I can see planes lined up in the sky behind us, taking their turn at coming in to land.
We board the monorail, which takes us to the baggage claim area, pick up my suitcase, and walk out into the Las Vegas heat: about 45 degrees C. Las Vegans are inordinately proud of their weather, and I will be asked several times over the coming days whether it gets this hot back where I come from. (The questioners are all assuming that the answer will be "no".)
We go to Dave's car in the parking lot. I make a fool of myself by walking around to the left side of the car, and expecting Dave to get in the right.
We go to the office. The foyer consists of a bridge over a fish pond. I meet a whole bunch of people, and I am struck by how young they all are.
Temple (yes, that's her actual name) gives me the keys to my apartment, and explains that my furniture won't arrive until tomorrow. We go shopping at Wal-Mart for plates, soap, laundry basket, etc.
The apartment has a fluorescent light in the kitchen, and four incandescent bulbs above the mirror in the bathroom, but no lights in the living room or bedroom. Odd.
Dave invites me to dinner at Sam's. (Sam is the big boss.) Although I am uncertain as to what my mental condition will be like by dinnertime, I agree.
"I know what I've forgotten to do," says Dave: "buy laser printers!"
We go to CompUSA, a computer supermarket, complete with supermarket trolleys. We look at laptop prices, and buy a couple of laser printers. We put them in Dave's car, and take them down to the site, where I meet more people. I'm actually doing quite well at remembering people's names; I got a lot of practice, memorising regular players' names while I was working at Darkzone Flinders Lane.
We go to Sam's. There are about 10 people there. I get the shakes once or twice from fatigue, but everything is mostly OK.
Dinner proceeds much as dinner usually does. Dave drives me home; I make a pillow out of some clothes, and go to sleep. My first day in Vegas is over; I have arrived.