The elevator slowly rattled up to the ‘Admiral’s Club’ lounge at National Airport.
This was not my normal, but then again, I figured I’d embrace the luxury and ignore the raging voice of my 13 year-old, communist self.
The gentleman next to me shuffled and we made eye contact.
“Oh no,” I thought to myself, “I know this man.”
Eye contact lingering and awkwardness growing, I thought of the only thing I could say and do, “Mr. Stein?” I asked, as if there were a doubt.
“Indeed, and you are?”
I realized two things. Politics aside, it was extremely satisfying to hear Ben Stein say ‘Mr. McGowan’ in the same voice used to iconically repeat “Bueller,” and, second, this trip had a weird start — just how I liked it.
Six hours earlier, I was staring at my packed bags — thinking about the journey ahead was making me dizzy.
3 months in Melbourne for work followed by 2.5 weeks in Indonesia (?); I suddenly realized that this was different than most of my usual trips. I’m used to adventure in flashes, a sustained trip away was not something I had done since I trekked from Moscow to Delhi in 2007. Then, I was 22 and out of college without a care (job) in the world. I was also a startlingly different person. To spare the re-telling of a long story, at 32, my level of self-understanding and drive are incomparable.
I realized I was leaving a life behind. My girlfriend of 2+ years and cat of 4+ years, not for too long, but long enough. As the hours ticked closer to departure, I noticed a something strange. My chest started to hurt and a liquid, saline substance was falling from my eyes.
“This,” I thought as I looked in the mirror with red eyes and tear marks down my cheeks, “is not very Indiana Jones.”
As always, Ari came through with the pep talk and, as I stepped from the door, I did so with new excitement and positivity. I realized that I could carry sadness with a sense of purpose. My heartache will persist, but this time, for something I can come back to.
And I wasn’t even aware of my soon-to-be encounter with the former speech-writer for Richard Milhouse Nixon.
In real time, I’m sitting in my wonderful flat looking over the beautiful city of Melbourne.
My flights were extremely smooth* and Andrew wonderfully greeted me at the airport with a bag full of groceries to get me started. (Seriously can’t overstate how awesome this was)
In true fashion, the fist thing I did (and as I always do) is find my happy place. And did I ever. I strolled down the Yara River to the Royal Botanical Gardens.
I can honestly say that no city I have been in presents the amount of biodiversity as the Royal Botanical Gardens. In 30 minutes of silence, I was able to see wild cockatoo, black swans, lizards and a handful of other birds I can’t name. (unfortunately only phone quality photos this time, I can’t wait to get back with my telephoto lens!) Any time I need a deep breath, this is where I will be.
Minutes away, I strolled down bustling lanes of Melbourne CBD where giant vats of Paella simmer next to a company offering outback tours and a poet offering $4 poems on a typewriter.
Though my first jump into Australia was brief, I couldn’t help but smile all the way back to my place.