My Last Day in Sydney

In this post, I talked about my last night in Sydney on a trip I took there in 1989. As I wrote the piece, I just kept writing and writing and writing, going past the last night of my trip and well into the next day. So I decided to break the article in two. Enjoy!

I woke up the next morning some time just after 9:00 am, nary the worse for wear, despite my truly heroic intake of alcohol the night before and the scant four and a half hours of sleep I’d gotten (oh, to be 17 again!). I quickly showered and dressed, and mom told me to go down to the hotel restaurant and get something to eat while she got ready.

At the time, the hotel was known as the Sheraton Wentworth (it’s now the Sofitel Sydney Wentworth). I seem to recall some sort of breakfast buffet thing going on at the edge of the main lobby. It was jam-packed with folks, and while I didn’t feel hungover or anything, it all just seemed like a bit too much at the moment. I turned around to look for some stairs to the street and spied another restaurant in the hotel. Although empty of customers, there were wait staff milling about inside.

I walked over and asked someone if they were open. The man looked at me as if he was going to say no, but instead kind of shrugged his shoulders and told me to come on in. I was seated at a table and presented a menu, I chose the “Aussie Burger” because it had a fried egg on it… and eggs are for breakfast, right?

As I sat waiting for my food in this large, empty restaurant, I suddenly became aware of the elevator music coming through the speakers in the ceiling. If you’re under the age of 35 you might not have any idea of what “elevator music” was. Of course, today Muzak offers a wide variety of music to fit almost any location you can think of, from 80s to country to hip-hop to dance music. But back in the 70s and 80s, “Muzak” exclusively meant orchestras or jazz bands doing covers of contemporary hits. And for some damn reason, it always seemed like they had a flute doing the melody line. Remember the “jazz flute” scene from Anchorman?

Yeah, imagine that… only they’re playing “Call Me Maybe” or “We Are Young”… and they’re serious about it.

So a few minutes passed, and the waiter brought my burger. I picked off the slice of pickled beet (I don’t get it, either) and added the required mustard. I assembled the burger, and picked it up and brought it to my mouth. But just as I went to take a bite… I noticed the music that was playing… it was so familiar… what WAS that song? And then it hit me: it was the elevator music version of “Welcome to the Jungle”:

I damn near peed him pants from laughing so hard. Unless they too heard the song, the wait staff were no doubt wondering why the “crazy Seppo” was laughing so hard by himself.

Anyway, I ate the burger, and it was good. I went back upstairs, where mom was almost ready to leave. I quickly packed my bag and organized a couple of bags of souvenirs while mom packed her own things. A little while later, around 11:00 am I’d guess, we were packed and ready.

We went back down to the lobby and caught a taxi to The Rocks, a “fashionable and funky” area of Sydney. Mom was on a last minute run for various souvenirs. We went from stall to stall looking at the wares, slightly rushed because mom didn’t know exactly what she was looking for. But she eventually found gifts for everyone, and since she hadn’t eaten anything, we decided to stop at some Italian bistro for lunch. It was around 2:00 pm or so by this point.

We caught a taxi back to the hotel and ran up to our room. I put the luggage outside our door for the bellman to pick up, while mom grabbed shopping bags by the armload. I gave her a hand and we went back to the lobby where others from our tour group were gathered. We talked to various people from the group. I even remember one guy – an older, “slightly nerdy but in a cool way” kind of guy – being all aflutter. He’d gone to a bank to change his Aussie dollars back in to Yankee ones, and the tellers were excited because they’d just received their first shipment of polymer notes. This interested my new nerdy friend, so he got three crisp new $10 notes to take home. And he was showing them to everyone. Some were unmoved. Others, like me, the sometime coin collector, were excited. A lot of us saw the notes and said, Yakov Smirnoff-style: “Plastic banknotes? What a country!”

The busses arrived at 4:00 pm to take us to the airport. The bellmen loaded up the busses, we got aboard, and away we went for the half-hour or so it took to get to the airport. As I’ve hinted at before, the guy who owned the company that awarded us these trips was first-class. He didn’t do anything halfway: there was a check-in line reserved just for us, so we quickly got our boarding passes and headed to the gate. And here’s another trip down memory lane: none of us had to chain-smoke in a smoker’s lounge before the flight took off! This was 1989, and you could still smoke on international flights. I made damn sure I’d gotten a smoking seat, so rather than hunker down in a depressing “smoking area”, I just waited until we got on the plane.

So the time came, and around 5:45 pm on January 31, 1989, the flight took off and we left Australia.

I keep mentioning the time (and now, the date) because of one little thing: the International Date Line. We all know of it from geography class in school, and most of us remember that you gain or lose a day when crossing it. But knowing that is one thing; living through it is another.

They fed us dinner, and I watched a movie. Oddly, I don’t remember what the movie was, but I remember watching Mystic Pizza on the way in; such is the fallible human memory. And it says a lot about that other movie that I can remember a movie as mediocre as Mystic Pizza but not the one I watched on the way home.

The flight to Australia was jam-packed, but the flight home was nearly empty. After the film I asked one of the flight attendants for a pillow and blanket and proceeded to set myself up in my seat. The flight attendant stopped me and pointed to an empty row of seats. She told me I could just lift the armrests and lie down across the row if I wanted to, as long as I strapped myself in with a seat belt. SCORE! (Before this trip, the longest flight I’d ever taken was from Atlanta to Chicago, so sleeping on a plane wasn’t much of an issue.)

So I took a couple of Nytol tablets and went to sleep. And I mean real, actual sleep. Between all the drinking the night before, the short sleep I’d had after that, and the gentle magic of diphenhydramine hydrochloride, I was soon fast asleep… and completely and totally confused when we landed in Honolulu several hours later. Sure, the Nytol played a big part of that. But the main thing was that we landed at 6:20 am… January 31, 1989. Which was, of course, three hours before I’d woken up that day.

I was in a diphenhydramine hydrochloride haze (which I’m still prone to, by the way). I was new to OTC sleep aids at the time, and I just couldn’t make sense of anything. I kept pestering my mom: “Wait… you mean it’s like… 6:30 in the morning? On January 31? Didn’t we already live through January 31? How can that be? I was asleep in a hotel room in Sydney at 6:30 am on January 31!” Rather than explain the whole thing – which seemed to me like something out of The Matrix – Mom just kept giving me water and talking to me and making me walk around… as much as you could in a customs line.

And how’s this for pre-9/11 memories: the guy with U.S. Immigration (Asian, naturally, since this was Hawai’I and all) seemed far more concerned about me missing school than my mother and I being possible terrorists. There were no full body scans, no silly questions, no going through our bags to make sure we weren’t being lawbreaking bastards trying to smuggle 4 ounces of shampoo into the country. Just a lot of questions about where I went to school, where I planned to go to college and why I took two weeks off in the middle of the school year to go to a foreign country. Looking back on it today, it’s almost quaint.

As I recall, there wasn’t much of a layover. Although the airport was pretty empty at 6:30 am, we had to clear customs and book it to the gate to make our connecting flight at 7:25 or so. And it left pretty much on time… where we landed in Los Angeles… at 5:00 pm on January 31, 1989. Busses were provided to take us to one last hotel… where we arrived at around 6:00 pm… on January 31, 1989.

By this point, Mom was hopelessly confused, too. We tried figuring out what time it was back in Atlanta, which was like trying to count change on LSD. We both just giggled like two stoned teenagers trying to do simple math. Mom picked up the phone and paid the $90 or whatever it was to call dad and let him know we’d arrived OK.

And the sun… oh, the sun was a cruel bastard! Thankfully, the room had some really thick sun-blocking curtains. We drew them shut just to spite the bastard! When we landed I’d wanted to maybe hit an In N Out Burger or something, but we both agreed that it probably wasn’t a good idea to be out in public acting like people “in the depths of an ether binge”, as Hunter S. Thompson would say. We ordered some room service and watched another movie – so help me, it was Jumpin’ Jack Flash. Mom and I thought it was hilarious. Of course, we were both so slap-happy at that point Sophie’s Choice probably would have been a non-stop laugh riot, too,

I have no idea when we finally got to sleep that night – January 31, 1989. It could have been 9:00 pm, it could have been midnight. I’ve had several “longest days of my life”, but this was truly – in the total number of hours – the longest day ever.

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