The flight from Abu Dhabi to Perth went pretty much the same as the flight from Chicago to Abu Dhabi, only instead of spending twelve hours facing the front of the plane, I spent them facing the back. Oh, and about four hours into the flight I had to give up both reading and playing Scrabble in favor of watching movies because I was so tired that I could no longer comprehend the written word—much less devise one out of a set of seven letters.
By the time the third movie started—ten hours after we had boarded—I could no longer comprehend the SPOKEN word either, but that was partly because the actors were speaking Japanese and I didn’t have the wherewithal to read the subtitles. And so, by the time the captain announced that we were starting our descent into Perth, I was more than ready to deplane and eager for a change of scenery.
And a change of scenery is what we got….
For starters, there was the immigration and customs area of the airport, which basically looked the customs and immigration area of any other country I’ve visited except that it was practically deserted. I don’t know what happened to all the other passengers that were on the plane with us when we landed, but they most definitely were nowhere near us at that point. I’ll admit we hadn’t exactly sprinted there from the baggage claim, but it isn’t as if we had dawdled either. And even if jet lag and sleep deprivation had kept us from dashing through the airport like O.J. Simpson in a Hertz commercial, certainly SOME of the folks on our flight were just as worn out, so it’s unlikely that ALL of them were capable of walking faster than we were.
It felt kind of eerie to be the only people in the area. I kept wondering if we’d gone to the wrong place, or if the others had all gone to the wrong place. Or if instead of getting off the plane and walking through immigration and customs, I had fallen asleep and was only dreaming that I was walking through immigration and customs. Or if instead of dreaming that I was walking through immigration and customers, I was walking through a virtual immigration and customs deep within the Matrix.
“I doubt it,” the Jarhead reassured me, although I suspected he would not have minded if my brain had gone offline. “We probably just got here after the solitary, young, and childless people, and before the slow, older people, and the people traveling in groups and with children. Most of them will have brought a few more bags than we did, so it will take them longer to get their luggage off the carousel and wheel it over here.”
That sounded reasonable, I’ll admit. But if that was the case, it would have been the first time in our entire lives together that I had walked that far and that much faster than that many people without the promise of chocolate or pizza, or the threat of bodily harm as a motivator.
At any rate, we made it through the maze and soon were standing in front of a friendly red-haired agent at the rental car area. Her name was Gail—a fact which I remember only because it is also my dad’s name—and after discussing the details of the rental with the Jarhead, she took one look at me and asked if I had brought any sunblock. She then went on to tell us how easy it is to get a sunburn in Australia, especially for those of us from the northern tier of the United States.
Gail then cheerily asked the Jarhead if he’d ever driven in Australia or anywhere else where they drive on the opposite side of the road. When he admitted that he had not, she said “I see,” with a deliberate smile and more than a trace of gravity. “I’m sure you’d do just fine,” she added. “Just make sure to keep her in the gutter.”
Having assumed that the “her” in question was the car, I wondered why she thought driving it through the gutter was a good idea. Then I wondered if perhaps the word gutter meant something different in Australia than it did in every other English speaking country in the world. Then I realized that the “her” was me, and that by advising the Jarhead to keep ME in the gutter, she was trying to help him avoid drifting out of the left lane and into oncoming traffic.
It was good advice. Disturbingly delivered. But good just the same.
I pondered that advice all the way through the terminal and across the parking lots to our rental car. I was able to forget my concern long enough to take note of the pleasant breeze and snap a quick pic of the Jarhead behind the wheel, but it came flooding back again as we were fastening our seatbelts.
“You’re going to need to drive around the parking lot a while,” I informed my chauffeur. “You’re not ready to be on the road yet.”
“Sure, I am,” he replied.
“Okay, then I’M not ready for you to be on the road yet. All I can think about is you forgetting to stay on the left side of the road and driving head on into a semi.”
“Do they even have semis here?” he asked as he simultaneous ignored my request and missed my point. “Or do they call them something else?”
I couldn’t tell if his was a genuine inquiry designed to ignite a lively debate or just some sneaky attempt to distract me from my fears, but I wasn’t about to fall for it. I needed a shower more than I wanted to argue or assert my verbal superiority, after all, and our room at the Esplanade Resort in Fremantle was still about 45 minutes away. So, in the interest of time, and lacking another viable option, I slapped on my “sunnies” (“sunnies” as in protective summer eyewear—not the ubiquitous Midwestern lake fish) then closed my eyes and braced for impact.
Every few minutes I would tell myself I was being an idiot and scold myself for not opening my eyes and taking in the sights. You didn’t come all this way to see nothing but the inside of your eyelids, after all. So now and then I would open one of my eyes or cover them both with my hands and peek out through the gaps between my fingers—as if seeing only a sliver of the underside of a semi or witnessing a bloody murder with only one eye would make the whole experience less traumatizing—but that failed to quell my anxiety. If anything, these tactics made the situation worse because it seemed like every time I would venture a peek at the wonders to beyond my knuckles, the Jarhead was changing lanes and coming within a fraction of an inch of hitting a nearby bumper.
Same thing happens whenever I watch a scary movie, by the way. Just as I get brave enough to look out through the gaps between my fingers, I immediately find myself face to face with a slimy alien, a slobbering zombie, or an ax wielding lunatic. It’s uncanny how it’s never a basket of puppies, a litter of kittens, a bunch of baby goats or a bouquet of shiny balloons. And if it ever IS a collection of puppies, kittens or goats, you can bet they’ll be zombie puppies, kittens or goats, and the balloons will be shiny because they’re covered in blood.
At any rate, by the time I was comfortable enough with the Jarhead’s driving to keep my eyes open and uncovered long enough to get a good look at our surroundings, we had arrived at our destination. Not knowing our way around well enough to find a parking garage, and not wanting to run out to the street every two hours for the next 24 to drop more coins in the meter, we pulled up the valet, handed him the keys, removed our belongings from the vehicle, and trudged into the hotel.