The New Zealand Chronicles: Part 1 – Leaving Home

*** First written June 12, 2002***

There is something to be said for not accumulating “stuff” in your life. You never really know how much you have until you have to move it somewhere far away.  I think this goes worse for Jennifer and myself because we had to pack up not only a house, but also a business — and we had to prepare enough equipment to keep our business alive even though we are not physically in the country.  So — along with numerous heavy boxes and shipping crates that we shipped over two weeks ago (which should be arriving anyday), we had the joy of carrying around 10 heavy bags and 5 carry-ons.

Now, the rules of flying are:  2 bags per person to check, 1 carry-on, and 1 personal item.  What this personal item IS is not made clear in the states, but abroad, they consider this to be things like “reading material”.

So, here we are with 5 bags a piece to check (which — BTW, has to be under 32kg each — thats 70 lbs to you and I), and Jennifer with a computer bag and purse (which is NOT on the “personal item” list), and I, with a computer bag, another computer bag carrying miscellaneous reading material and a case with DVDs (just in case), AND a tripod (which is also NOT on the personal items list).  What the hell do we need a tripod for?  I have no idea, but we have it for when we spontaneously need to have a steady camera.  Jennifer goes to the check-in counter while I help the Skycap with the bags.  As a sidenote, I am no good at getting people to accomadate me when I am pushing the rules that they have set down.  Jennifer, on the other hand, generally balks at the rules and can convince people that pushing the rules is not only acceptable, but also will somehow be beneficial to them.  So, I let her deal with the negotiating and I handle the grunt work of moving 70lb bags from here to there.

At Sea-Tac Airport, they have made it policy after Sept 11 to hand check every bag that is going onto the plane — checked or carry-on.  Given that we only have 2 hours before the flight boards, I convince the Alaska Airlines counter boy that we should get on with this security check sooner than later.  He agrees and send the Skycap and myself to the security checkpoint to the wide-eyed security personnel who have never had to check 10 bags for two people. They open and poke and prod and wipe and jostle each bag to make sure that there is no contraband.  We get through without a hassle except for maybe the incessant questions and jokes about whether we are moving to live (this remains constant throughout the trip, regardless of the country — indicative of the fact that there is nothing unique in the world). Bags are on there way.

Security checkpoint #2 — pre-gate.  Jennifer is stopped because she forgot to remove her cellphone and place it in the gray Tupperware tray. So, she beeps  They have to do a full search.  I walked through without a second glance.

Security checkpoint #3 — pre-board.  We are randomly chosen for another security check.  They open each of our bags and rifle through them.  Still no contraband.  It interesting that no one has questioned that we have a seemingly substantial amount of carry-on luggage.

Takeoff and Landing.  2 hr 4 minute flight from Seattle to Los Angeles.  Flying back to the place that we just spent 20 hours driving away from.  Take a brief stroll from terminal 3 to the International terminal.  For those of you who haven’t been to LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal it can be equated to a suped-up strip mall with Daily Grill and Wolfgang Puck’s and a Sunglass Hut (just in case you forgot your sunglasses back home and needed to spend $380 for a new pair in sunny L.A.).  Basically, everything that you could possibly need before a security checkpoint.  After the checkpoint though (which we got through without a hitch BTW), its a desolate wasteland with very little food and an occasional bathroom.

Star-sighting (depending on your definition of “star”).  Actor Brad Dourif is spotted waiting for the same Qantas flight going to Auckland, New Zealand.  Dourif’s best screen work to date was Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. However, other may know him better as the “crazy guy” in films (Billy was told that he was crazy in Cuckoo, but all he really needed was to get laid). He was the “crazy” priest in The Exorcist III, the “crazy” gas station attendent in Urban Legend, but most importantly, he was the voice of the “crazy” Chucky Doll in Child’s Play.  With all of these credentials, it looked like the flight could be very unpredictable.

It wasn’t.  I mean, it could have been — but we would have had to have been in First Class to participate.  Actors, Directors, and Directors of Photograph fly FC — visual effect people fly coach.

It doesn’t hit me until we are at the Auckland airport that our “crazy” friend Brad is coming to Wellington for Lord of the Rings shoot pickups.  After all, he is playing Sauramon’s “crazy” sidekick, Grimer Wormtongue.  For non-industry folk, pickups happen when during the editorial process, the director says “Oh fuck, we forgot to shoot that!”  You gather a list of OhFucks, and you schedule a shoot.  On a film that took 18 months to shoot, the pickups are somewhere between 45 and 60 days of shooting.  Thats longer than an average film shoot.

The flight is a bearable 12 hours (much less than the 18 that we originally thought it was).  Lots of sleep involved.  Since we are flying west, we are outrunning the sun. We were basically in darkness for the entire duration of the flight.  May not sound weird, but it feels weird. You fall asleep and wake up and its still dark.  You watch a movie.  Still dark.  Go back to sleep.  Wake up.  Still dark.  Watch another movie.  The night doesn’t even think about ending.  Its not until two hours afer we’ve landed that the sun comes up.

Landing in Auckland we have to pickup our bags at Baggage Claim and bring them through immigration security where they have to X-Ray all the bags.  Not as bad as handchecking, but we have to endure the same jokes.  We are told that we can check our bags at Air New Zealand (located right after the security check point).  This is good news, because otherwise we have to take our 700lbs of luggage to the New Zealand domestic terminal.  I should rephrase that — it is now bad news because Air New Zealand needs 45 minutes prior to boarding to get the luggage over there.  So — its off to a completely different terminal with our two carts of luggage.  We ask a taxi to bring us over to the terminal.

“Nah, you can take the free shuttle”

????

So, basically, a cabride to the terminal is too much of a bother.  Fine I don’t want to give you our dirty American money anyway.  Jackass.

We wheel over to the bus stop.  Its now 6:15 — we board at 6:25.  The bus shows.

“Looks like it’d be easier to just walk over to the terminal for you.” the bus driver quips. “Otherwise you’ll have to load all those bags and then unload them again.  Its only a ten minute walk.”

Sigh.

Jennifer and I begin to walk.  In not too long we pass a sign. “Domestic Terminal. 900 metres”.  Mental calculation — thats just short of a kilometer.  U.S. Conversion — thats almost a mile!!!

25 minutes later…

We arrive at the Qantas terminal.  (10 minutes. Pfft!, if you’re a speedwalker without 700 lbs of luggage, 5 carryons and a tripod). We rush in, knowing that we’ve bound to have missed the flight.  But wait!!  They say it hasn’t left and they can get the luggage on.  Fantastic!  I heft the luggage to the counter attendants and they heft it onto the belt.  And we rush to the gate (pausing briefly for security).  And we wait.

and wait…

Brad sits in the corner and rehearses his lines.

and wait…

“Due to mechanical issues the Qantas flight to Wellington is cancelled.  Passengers please go to baggage claim and take your bags to the Air New Zealand terminal”

!!!!!!

After RE-loading baggage onto the carts and pushing it to the next terminal (which was much closer than a mile this time) we finally get our bags checked and get seats on the next flight out…. leaving in 2 hours.

A young, blonde woman approaches us and speaks to us in an American accent. “Don’t let this get you down.  Usually everything is very cool and laid back — even at the airport.  Today, everyone just seems to be cranky.  So, don’t let this taint your view of New Zealand.”  Stacy (as we found her name to be), is from San Fran, but has been living in Wellington for the last three years.  Email is exchanged — so we have an American friend in NZ.  Observing Stacy after our conversation, she appears to be able to speak to anyone and everyone that she is near.

Jennifer and I play Scrabble.  This time with no foreign words or proper names.

Flight uneventful — despite the presence of Brad Dourif — but very full.  Commuters, I’m guessing.  Exhausted from the trip, I get in a brief nap after watching the green, mountainous terrain below.  I wake at the plane banks to the left to come in for landing.  Due to extreme winds coming from Antartica, we get a ton of shearing and turbulence.  Lots of people bouncing around in their seats.

Wellington Airport runways, like San Francisco and JFK, are built on a spit of land next to a body of water.  This make for very exciting landings where you look down and all you see it water. 1000 ft — still, water.  500 ft — water.  250 ft — you can see the waves cresting. 100 ft — you can see the height of the waves.  50 ft — THERE’S land!  You can’t help but tense up…just a little.

Mike, the WETA runner, is waiting at the gate.  He doesn’t wear shoes.  When Jennifer notices, he claims that they are hobbit shoes.  I don’t laugh — probably because I’m tired.  Actually, I probably wouldn’t have laughed anyway.  I hope thats his personal preference and not some weird Lord of the Rings gimmick.  I should have asked him what a hobbit was.  Stacy knows him though (not surprisingly).

After getting our 10 bags, weighing in at 700lbs — which now actually weigh 320kg.  We load some into Mike’s station wagon and the rest into a cab.  I ride with the cabbie.  He’s from Figi and drives a Ford Falcon.  He is surprised that we have Fords in America.  I think I’m more surprised that he his surprised.  I’m thinking that that would be like asking a Frenchman if they also have crepes in France.

After the bellhop takes our bags in, I go out for a walk around the city.  Tarantino was right in Pulp Fiction that its the little things that are different in other countries.

There are no “exits”.  Its the “Way Out”

“Restrooms” are “toilets” (Which, in my mind, isn’t a substantial leap).

No ketchup (at least not in the first day).  Its straight tomato paste.  Now, after living for 33 years with ketchup (or catsup, if you prefer), tomato paste doesn’t really cut it.  I need that familiar sugar and vinegar to make me happy.

TV screens are measured in centimeters, but computer monitors are inches.

Lots of motorcycles.  But what’s weird is that I never saw anyone RIDING them. They always were just parked.

The biggest difference for me I will find out tonight — the starry sky is going to be completely different.  There won’t be a Polaris. or a Big and Little Dipper. or Orion.  It’ll be a subtle difference, but probably the most indicative of being somewhere that is not home, and not familiar. Alien.

————–

But some things don’t change.

People use crosswalk lights as more of a suggestion than a law.  So, thats not really much different.

Teenage girls are still catty about their classmates.  But here they can’t rag on each others clothes because they all wear the same uniform.

Activists stand outside of the government building picketing the development of new highways.

——–

So, to wrap up with my Doogie Hauser journal entry…  I found that packing light is the best way to travel.  I haven’t been here long enough to have deep insight into the psyche of the Kiwi, so you will have to wait for later journal entries to have anything more substantial and meaningful.  Tomorrow I go to WETA to get introduced to who I’m working with and what I’m doing.  Also talking with the housing coordinator to get an idea of whats out there to rent.  I don’t actually start work until next Wednesday.  WETA likes to give there incoming people a week to get acclimated and let the jetlag pass.

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