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The Long Road Home


The flight back to L.A. was long, but after traveling for as long as we had it didn’t feel all that difficult. Despite how tired I was during the day, I didn’t feel too sleepy on the flight, and I managed to get through one movie and some more writing on the blog before I got tired. (For those that are interested, the movie was “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” which I found to be pretty funny and entertaining.) Dore watched “Avatar,” which apparently doesn’t need a forty foot screen and 3-D to continue being a good movie. What do you know?

A few hours into the flight, we were served a nice dinner of lamb and kumara (a root vegetable from New Zealand similar to a potato). The honey ice cream we had for desert was really nice. The flight attendants cleared our trays a while later and, contented and full, I turned in for a few hours sleep. It felt like I only dozed for a while, but when I woke up I was pleasantly surprised to find that about four hours had passed. Only three and a half hours left until we’d be on the ground. I realized that we’d crossed the International Date Line again. Instead of losing a day, however, this time we went back in time, and were now reliving April 13 all over again.

I tried to write a bit more, but by this time I my brain was basically in hibernation mode, and I was on autopilot. I took to playing with the in-flight entertainment remote, staring blankly at the “distance to destination” display, and sneaking glances at the movies that those around me were watching. For some reason I find it fascinating to watch three or four movies at once, all on mute. I’m not sure whether it’s a testament to the camera work and direction or a sad commentary about the level of writing in movies, but I never have any problem following pretty much exactly what is going on. There are actually a good number of movies I actually preferred watching without the audio. Romantic comedies are always a safe bet: they’re generally replete with lots of silly physical comedy and really, when you boil it down, the story is always about the same. The words don’t really matter.

With around two hours to go, we were served breakfast. I wasn’t that hungry, but I make it a firm policy to never turn down anything that is offered to me on an airplane. Food on an airplane is like the restrooms in Europe: you never know how long it will be until you’ll have another opportunity.

We touched down in L.A. a few minutes early, and made a quick taxi to the gate. Bleary-eyed, but on the whole not as tired as I had expected, we piled down the stairs and made our way to the baggage claim and customs area. We both sighed in relief as our bags came out. We pulled them up, then headed through to the passport checkpoint. I was expecting the usual long line, but by virtue of getting in during the middle of a weekday we actually managed to get a very small line. I think we only waited for about two or three minutes before shuffling up to the passport check. A few cursory questions, a look at our passports, and we were in. One last hurdle to go.

We walked in to the customs checkpoint. We had been on a farm (well, close enough), and had brought back some chocolates with fruit in them, so I expected a bit of grilling from the customs official. We walked up and handed over our customs form. The official looked it over briefly.

“You been on a farm?”


“Do you have muddy boots?”


“Okay. Any fresh fruit or meat?”

“No. Just chocolates with fruit centers.”

“Those are fine. Any seeds for planting?”


“Okay, you’re good to go.”

That was it. No search, no grilling. We were pleasantly surprised, and moved on quickly lest he change his mind.

We emerged from the terminal blinking and unsure where to go. We knew that we needed to get to the car parking company, but had no idea where their shuttle was. I pulled out the receipt, and dug around in my backpack for my cell phone. Meanwhile, we walked along the long strip of sidewalk where all of the shuttles congregate. Just as I was about to call the company, I spotted the right shuttle pulling up about fifty feet in front of us.

“There it is!” I called to Dore, and took off jogging toward it. She must have been just as happy as I was; I didn’t hear one grumbled word about “people with long legs running ahead.”

A short ride later, and we found ourselves at the car park, Dore’s Subaru pulled right up to the front and waiting for us. I paid for the parking and retrieved the key, we threw our packs in the back seat, and took off on the very last leg of our journey.

I have to say, the first couple of minutes in the car were a bit disorienting. After driving from the right side of the van for three weeks, being on the left felt… odd. When I tried to turn on the car I instinctively put my foot down to put in the clutch, and had a miniature “walking up the stairs and trying to take one too many steps” moment when my foot encountered nothing.

“Oh, right… automatic transmission,” I said sheepishly. Dore laughed.

Not surprisingly the odd feeling dissipated quickly, and I really didn’t have any trouble readjusting. Surprisingly, though, the one thing that I found both most difficult to adjust to in New Zealand — and reverting now that I’m back home — is the position of the blinkers and windshield wipers. The two levers are switched in the two locations so that the blinker is always on the outside. For some reason that just didn’t want to sink into my head, so that in New Zealand I was constantly turning on the wipers before a turn. I finally did get used to it, but now it seems that my brain doesn’t want to go back to home-mode. So if anyone happens to be riding with me and sees me do that, there’s the reason. I’m not crazy; I’m just hemispherically challenged.

Happily, the traffic heading North was pretty much nonexistent, and we made the drive in record time. We stopped once for gas and to grab burgers at In-and-Out, but otherwise had a straight shot to Santa Barbara. By the time we made it back, I was really starting to drag. I think another hour driving and I would have been in real trouble. Needless to say I was really happy to be home.

We parked near the apartment, flopped out of the car, and carried our luggage inside, dropping it in the middle of the living room floor. It was three in the afternoon, about twenty-five and a half hours after we’d woken up in Auckland. We flopped down into bed and fell asleep almost instantly. As I fell into the depths of exhaustion-induced sleep, images of our great trip swam through my thoughts. It’s hard to say, but I’m pretty sure I fell asleep with a smile on my face.

Our great New Zealand adventure was at an end.

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  1. Mom
    April 18th, 2010 at 16:44 | #1

    OK. I’m pleased with the ending. I can go to bed tonight “with a smile on my face” and wake up to my everyday life knowing I’ve just had an adventure of a life time ! Thanks for the wonderful ride. Glad you’re safe and sound at home. Until next time,

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