Wednesday 19 September
I wake up with that excited Christmas-morning feeling. We leave for Auckland today, then Fiji tomorrow! Unfortunately, my fervor is offset with a nagging feeling of anxiety, as I’m convinced that I’ve forgotten to pack something vital, and check that my passport is in my bag at least six times before I’ve even left the house.
Work is a write-off. Mentally I’m already on board that plane, and end up turning my Out of Office Assistant on hours before I have to leave, so I can choose to surprise people with a response or not. This doesn’t go over well with my sister. Before I even open her email I see her text message – “You’ve GONE? I drew you a DIAGRAM!”
Turns out she’s had problems finding a post office, and got no help from the stranger she asked for directions from. She’s so incensed about how unhelpful the woman was that she has drawn me a map of the area in MS Paint, indicating landmarks with helpful labels. Obviously, the Post Office is not “around the corner” from the pub. Yes, my sister could have just explained this in writing, but it’s clearly one of those situations where it’s not enough to just tell someone “she got the directions wrong”. She needed me to FEEL just how wrong they were.
Deciphering my sister’s map is about the most productive part of my day.
In the afternoon there’s a farewell party on for two people who are leaving, with food provided. I read somewhere once that dogs eat quickly as a survival mechanism – other predators might be hanging around that squirrel carcass, and if you are going to get your fair share, you have to be speedy. I reflect on evolution as I wolf down the nachos and chips and wedges before my workmates can get near the plates.
After work I meet my travel buddy on the airport bus. She’s full of energy and excitement, bouncing on seats and taking photos, whereas I’m working overtime to digest the volume of fried food I’ve just packed in. I don’t want her to think I’m not excited about our trip, so I try to keep my eyes as wide open as possible with a grin plastered on. I realise I probably look like someone who’s just been to a cheap plastic surgeon, so spend the next ten minutes concentrating on what my face is doing as well as taking in what she’s saying. It’s exhausting. When we arrive at the airport it’s almost a surprise.
There is a Donut King in Wellington airport. We are the last two people to go through to the departure lounge. These two things are connected.
My caramel donut has filled me with sugar and twitchy excitement. I watch the flight attendants make their way down the plane at an agonisingly slow speed. Two rows ahead of us I start hearing “we are all out of the cheese snack ma’am, would you like some chilli twists?”
This is bad news.
I mean, sure. This flight is only an hour. It was only thirty minutes ago that I was eating a donut. But there is nothing to do on this plane other than sit still and think about how good that cheese is going to be. And now they say we have to eat chips? Alarm bells ring. My travel buddy is not impressed. A raised eyebrow later, we are given a handful of Whittaker’s slabs and another round of drinks.
From this, you could take the lesson to be that one should always complain, as the squeaky wheel gets the grease. However, the lesson I learnt was to always scrunch one’s nose up at one’s noisy friend, as she will do the complaining, she will get a handful of grease, and you will get the leftovers.
When we land and the bing-bong noise lets us know that seatbelts are no longer mandatory, everyone springs out of their seats and crowds the aisle. They’re all almost on their tiptoes, desperate to pour of the plane, so they can go wait at baggage claim. Hey, I get it, if you’re flying in at midnight. There are limited cabs and you don’t want to be out in the cold. But at 7pm? Come on. Let’s not kid ourselves. You’re not getting home in time for Shortland Street. Just commit now to watching it On Demand.
I find this practice incredibly annoying and always make a point to stay in my seat until there’s space in the aisle to get up. I hope people will see how relaxed and comfortable I am and will follow my example, but more likely, they’ve noticed that I’m scowling at everyone, possibly also shaking my head, maybe even muttering about aisles and cabs and Shortland Street … hardly a good poster child for the stay-seated-club.
My travel buddy – who we’ll call Annie – has arranged for a friend of hers in Auckland to pick us up, take us out to dinner, let us crash at his place, then drop us at the airport the following day. This deal sounds too good to be true, and so I assume it also includes getting robbed or roofied … but she assures me he’s just a nice guy. She’s right, he even shouts us dinner, and I feel like I need to go find someone to pay it forward to.
We go to the Mexican Cafe for dinner. The margaritas and the food are amazing. Don’t take my word for it though, as I’m not a good judge of Mexican food. As soon as something has cheese and sour cream on it, I’m transported to heaven and lose all impartiality. I fear that I would eat a coaster if it were topped with mozzarella. After our meals I float the idea of visiting Sky City and get a burst of excitement when everyone agrees.
A casino! Like where grownups go!
I go all loopy like a toddler being let loose in a playpen, and my excitement is only heightened when the security guards tell us off for trying to take photos. Eyes wide, Annie conspiratorially asks why. They inform us that many people are ashamed of their gambling habit, and don’t want photos taken that show them in a casino. I wonder if “our customers are all depressed about how terrible their lives are, but do please come in” is a strange angle to take with the public, but nevertheless, we put the camera away and go inside.
The flashing lights and ringing noises from the slot machines have me all giddy. Annie and our host trail behind me as I race from table to table, trying to guess who is a prostitute and who is wearing an adult diaper. I stare at the people on the electronic blackjack machines, trying to work out why they’d use a computer when they have the opportunity to talk to a man in a shiny waistcoat, and decide it’s probably like the self-service checkout at the supermarket – sometimes you just want all the power in your own hands.
Annie decides to play roulette and gives me a chip so I can play too. I look at the numbers, hoping desperately that one will start to faintly glow around the edges. I will say, “did you see that?”, Annie will say “see what?” and I will place my chip on the magic number. Moments later I will hit the jackpot and will finally be able to afford a pony.
I’m riding a wave of anticipation about what I’m going to name my new equine friend. When Annie buys me a Bacardi and coke it’s gone before she’s had a chance to taste her wine.
After two spins, no numbers are glowing, no magic genies have appeared to whisper ‘Red 22’ at me, and the numbers all just look the same. I pick one at random and put my little plastic disc on the piece of green felt. Spin spin, rattle rattle … then the man in the shiny waistcoat takes my chip away and I’m left with nothing. I’m indignant at this state of affairs, and am happy when we decide to go home.
I’ve eaten too much, drank too much, and have filled five pages of my travel journal with unintelligible scrawl.
We haven’t even left for Fiji yet.
This holiday is going to be a good one.