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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Thanks, Mum

Well, my mum* has just wrapped up a 19-day trip here Down Under to visit me in New Zealand. As I type, she is probably seated on her Air New Zealand flight, the first of many such flights on her way home. The plane may just now be taxiing down the runway, and very soon she'll be in Auckland where she'll begin the next part of a very long day for her.

I've done this trip myself, going from Welly to Virginia all in one go, and it ain't easy. It'll be even harder for her, as I know she absolutely loved the countryside and people here in NZ (how could you not?). The grueling length of her trip - it amounts to 36 straight hours of traveling - can be quite punishing. The worst part for me is what happens from California onwards.

Once you touch down on the west coast of the USA, you've already been going for a good 24 hours already, unless you started out in Auckland itself. But like me she took a morning flight from Welly to Auckland, where she'll spend a good 6-7 hours waiting in the airport for the flight to the States. That then takes 12-14 hours, so when you arrive in sunny California (at the beginning of the same day all over again!), you have now gone a whole day and night without a shower. You have also been sitting in an enclosed metal tube breathing the same air as hundreds of other people.

So, there you are, in balmy SoCal, emerging from your plane looking just like... well, someone who's slept sitting upright after traveling all day on a plane. You've also spent much of that time schlepping your many heavy bags all over the show. You now commingle with the freshly-bathed and laundered masses infiltrating LAX, and they are all just at the start of their day's journey. You've had a 24-hour head start and it shows - in all the wrong ways.


You long for a shower in one of the airline clubs' facilities, but unless you are a very frequent traveler, it is too steep an annual price tag to join. So you are stuck taking the 'poor man's shower' as you purchase a pungent stick-type roll-on deodorant from the pricey store inside the airport, slap that on along with a quick finger-brush of the teeth and perhaps a half-hearted attempt to part your greasy hair and then you re-enter the teeming, squeaky clean masses thronging the airport.

I'm not saying at all that there is anything bad about flying Qantas. Quite the contrary - I absolutely love their flights and look forward to that portion of my trip. Their seats and amenities (movies and TV shows at your seat - even stuff that's still in the theater!) are outstanding, not to mention their impeccable customer service. Their flight attendants are highly professional and go out of their way to make you feel right at home. They all exude a carefree and relaxed confidence that seems to rub off on you, making your stressful travel day much less so. They are the best airline I've ever flown with, and for me that's saying a lot because I am also quite partial to Southwest.

So I know how mum might feel, getting into LAX and having to go through Customs and then re-check all of her bags and juggle her carry-ons all while craving a shower and facing yet another day filled with nothing but airline travel.

Also, unexpectedly mum got some very bad news from home while we were in Dunedin: her and dad's beloved housecat, Dyna, had just been diagnosed with kidney failure. In a four-year old purebred cat who is predisposed to an awful set of kidney problems, this is pretty much a terminal diagnosis. The fact that she was just at the start of her trip and to now have to face the real possibility that the last time she saw Dyna before she left would in fact be the very last time she actually saw her is something that I know was extraordinarily difficult to face. I wouldn't wish that set of circumstances on anyone, and I know that it worried her every day. I feel equally as bad for my dad, as he was home alone with poor Dyna during all of this and had to go through the awful tasks of not only taking her to an emergency vet, but then to the vet school the very next day.
In this way I am sure the unbeatable beauty of New Zealand's outdoors and its people served as the most soothing of balms for mum's pains regarding Dyna. A couple of days later there was some relatively good news as Dyna was more comfortable after some treatment, and at the very least mum would likely have a chance to see Dyna again when she got home. That had to lift a little of the burden and to mum's credit however much Dyna's condition wore on her, she never let it show and she bore it with the utmost dignity and strength.
Also, I hope her ankles don't swell up again on the plane! I forgot to remind her to get up and stretch her legs every hour on the Qantas flight, but she will have an aisle seat so that should make that feat potentially much easier to accomplish.
HA! Get it? "Feat"? "Ankles"?
Yeah, I know, I know ...

Anyways, I hope mum had a great time while she was here. I know for sure I took her on a good tour of NZ's south island, as I had done most of this myself on a scouting tour I took of the south right after I had first moved to New Zealand. She first graciously spent a week with me in Wellington while I finished up work, living at the flat and having a chance to see a good bit of Wellington itself, not to mention Upper Hutt. She improved living conditions at my flat immensely by upgrading several things around the house including the garden, a new bird feeder, this cool rope thingy for hanging towels to dry in the bathroom, a new DVD player, a wallet (and cash!), and cooking great meals every night.

My friends Dave and Denise formed the Greatest Welcoming Party Ever by first picking mum up at the airport while I was at work (thanks again Dave - you're a legend!), then taking her on a lovely driving tour around Wellington's bays before bringing her by work to see me. On her last day in Wellington, they also invited us both over for Denise's birthday bash and toasted mum's trip to New Zealand. It was all heartfelt and deeply appreciated by both of us.

After a brief d├ębacle involving mum locking herself out of the flat (thank God for locking screen doors and separate keys to those!), mum made herself right at home and got quickly to work doing what I think she looked forward to most about this trip - befriending my cats. Two of the three are quite shy with other people but before long they seemed to prefer her company to mine!

Well I sincerely hope mum enjoyed herself while here in New Zealand, and I know she was as overwhelmed by it as I was when I first came here. Honestly, to this day I continue to be impressed with New Zealand both by its stunning geography as well as its people. Taking this trip with mum was a great way to see her again and it helped me to realize all over again how fortunate I am to be able to live in this awesome country.

So, thanks for that, mum, and thanks for coming. I know you're on a plane home right now but I truly hope that one day soon you are able to come back and visit New Zealand again. Even more, I hope you can make the trip with dad as all that plane travel is something that would be very difficult for him. I like the options of you guys either taking a series of shorter flights over time to get here, visiting my sister in L.A. along the way, or taking a nice long cruise, putting in at ports all over the south Pacific. Life would be hard, wouldn't it?

Anyways, I miss you already, mum. (And so do the cats!) I miss you, too, dad and I hope that Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon helped you pass the time with more great episodes of Pardon the Interruption.

Love, Bran

* Now that my mother has officially set foot on New Zealand soil, she has earned the honourary Kiwi title for mothers: Mum!