[Aerial View of Wellsford]
“Calling all remaining passengers yet to board flight NZ534 to Blenheim. This is your final call. Please make your way to Gate 12 immediately. The plane is waiting for you.”
A couple of startled passengers, obviously far too interested in their below-average airport food to have noticed their plane should’ve left the terminal six minutes ago and will leave without them in the next 30 seconds if they don’t start running pronto, suddenly drop their plastic forks, hastily push back their chairs, grab their bags, only to double-take and return for their bottles of water, and race towards the gate, spurred on by the invisible woman talking over the loud speaker. The plane is waiting for you. The invisible woman invisibly points at them. If there were neon lights available I bet they’d be hauled out and the dial turned to HARD-OUT NEON in honour of these guys. Ha. Shame. That’s not going to be me. I will be prepared for my flight.
“Calling all passengers boarding flight NZ476 to Auckland. All passengers seated in rows 11 to 23 are now invited to board the aircraft. Please make your way to Gate 17.”
I look around the departure lounge. No one’s moving. I look at my boarding pass. Row 9. I sigh. I look around again. Still no one moves. The departure lounge is pretty full, but no one looks like they’re in much of a hurry to board the plane. They must all be in the first 10 rows of the plane or beyond Row 23. How many rows are there on the average plane anyway? Not too many more than 23, surely. I shrug. Oh well, I may as well get to my seat before the mad rush. I stand up. Walk towards the gate. Pass my boarding pass to the smiling attendant.
“Sorry, ma’am, we’re only accepting passengers from rows 11 to 23 at this stage.”
I look around. Still nothing. No one. There are a couple of middle-aged ladies slowly and sedately heading in my general direction, but they hardly constitute a mad rush. An entire hockey team congregates just beyond the departure lounge, and I decide that I will safely make it to my seat before they push through the crowds to theirs if it’s the last thing I do on this fair earth. Having to compete with 13 giggly overly-excited and probably over-achieving girls in the narrow plane aisle is not exactly my idea of fun, thank you very much. And I was doing so well at beating them until I was denied entry. Other passengers sit in small groups, heads bowed over newspapers and magazines, either completely oblivious to the boarding call and the gaggle of giggling girls or just stone deaf.
“But no one else is boarding, sir.”
“Sorry, ma’am, I’m afraid that’s the protocol. Your boarding call won’t be too long.” Cue wide beaming smile. It’s a cover. Beneath that unnaturally white smile he’s really thinking, “HAH, I’ll make her wait unnecessarily longer, because I’ve had a crap week and I hate my life.” What a guy.
I sigh, turn around, return to my seat. What a waste of time. And do I really look like a ma’am? Oh dear God. I’m 26 in 19 days and I’m already being called “ma’am.” My life is over. To make matters worse, the hockey team prances past me, giggling and hair flicking, through the gate and onto the plane. Bitches. They were the types of girls I hated when I was at school.
I sit. Wait. Look around. Still no one boards. I open my bag. Reach for my magazine. Flick to the first page. “Calling all remaining passengers yet to board flight NZ476 to Auckland. This is your final call. Please make your way to Gate 17 immediately. The plane is waiting for you.”
I slap my magazine down. Glare at the still smiling attendant. You’ve got to be kidding.
Aboard the squishy 737 I sit in the middle seat, jacket hugged over my arms because the air conditioning is typically arctic, and prepare myself for the awfully tedious but mostly hilarious this-is-what-you-should-do-if-our-plane-suddenly-falls-into-a-downward-spiral-and-we-all-crash-and-burn routine. I am pleasantly surprised. Air New Zealand has made a video presentation that is actually mildly entertaining. I even silently chuckle. Particularly at the bit when the man says “in the unlikely event of us crashing, brace yourself against the seat in front of you like this (cue leaning over and holding head and seat in front of him). Also, while you’re down here, this is the perfect place to find your life jacket.” How convenient. Cut to a woman with a life jacket around her neck, saying, “And make sure you wait until you’re outside the plane before inflating your life jacket, ha ha hardy ha.” Lady pulls cord. Life jacket inflates with a big ppphhhhhht around her neck. Not exactly a good example for us dumb passengers. It’s not until the end of the clip that I realise that all the flight attendants in the video are naked, covered only by strategically-brushed body paint. “Air New Zealand. We’ve got nothing to hide.” My 4D flight attendants must have plenty to hide because they’re fully clothed. Thank goodness.
“I hope we get turbulence.”
I look to my left. Youngish guy. Mid-20s, mousy-brown hair, wearing a tidy blue polo. Interesting-looking fellow, I think to myself. Not bad looking either. I wonder if he’s rich.
“I don’t enjoy turbulence,” I respond. “The last time I was caught in a spot of turbulence I almost cut the circulation off my poor neighbour’s hand, I was clutching so hard. I always pray for smooth flights. In fact, my favourite part of the flight is when we land.”
“Because you’ve haven’t crashed and burned?” he asks.
Turns out he’s from Whangarei. Flew down to Wellington for a uni contact course. Arrived in town and realised he’d mixed up the locations, and the course was actually in Palmerston North. Bugger. So he thought he’d take the opportunity to mingle with the locals instead, and quite probably fail his paper.
I’m from Wellsford originally. Most people stop at McDonalds in Wellsford on their way to Whangarei. I comment that there’s nothing else in Wellsford worth stopping for. He agrees. We connect.
Whangarei, like Wellsford, is a small country town. Well, in comparison to Auckland, at least. Talk to anyone who says they’re from a country town, small or not, and you immediately develop a sort of camaraderie. Folks from country communities always make their home town sound like the tiniest and worst hick place in the whole wide world. It almost becomes a bit of a competition. Wellsford normally wins. No one ever actually goes to Wellsford, they only ever pass through on the way to somewhere far more exciting. It’s never, “Hey, what are you up to this weekend?” – “Dude, I’m going up to Wellsford! Wanna come? It’s gonna be wicked” – “Awesome, I’m in!” No. It’s more like, “Hey, what are you up to this weekend?” – “Oh, I’m heading up north for a spot of fishing, and God forbid I’ll probably stop in Wellsford for some Maccas on the way. Wanna come?” – “Nah bro, I’d rather watch Coro Street. Be careful in Wellsford, you might catch something.” The only reason they ever stop is for food. Have you ever counted how many food outlets there are on Rodney Street? Have a look next time you drive through. You’ll need all your fingers and toes.
I also have a flatmate originally from Whangarei. Blue Polo Boy asks who he is. I tell him he’s unlikely to know him. He reckons he might. That’s another thing about hailing from a country town: you think you know pretty much every other soul from your town, dead or alive. I give him the name of my flatmate. He doesn’t know him. I told you so. We laugh. Sit in pleasant silence.
“Huh?” he asks.
“53. How long is the Milford Track? 18, 53 or 81 kilometres? I guess 53.” I’m watching the Great Air New Zealand quiz on the monitors above, which has replaced the nudity from earlier.
“Oh. 81 then.”
We gaze at the screen, waiting for the answer to appear. “Hah. 53 it is. I win.”
“Bring it,” he says.
What modern city is comprised of the ancient cities of Constantinople and Byzantine? The answer is Istanbul. I guessed somewhere in Turkey. I’ll take that. Two points to me. What book by James Joyce does this quote come from [insert totally forgotten quote here]? Ullysees. He had never heard of James Joyce. That was the only book by James Joyce I could name. Three points to me. What does the Maori word [insert an obscure Maori place name here] mean in English? He didn’t have the foggiest idea. I have a somewhat limited but fairly accurate knowledge of the Maori language. Te. Wai. Whare. That sort of thing. I split the place name into bits and guess. Four points to me. Gee, this guy might be good-looking but he sure ain’t that smart ...
What team caused a major upset in the 1983 Cricket World Cup final?
“Hah!” I sigh, lean back defeated in my seat and laugh. “How would I know the answer to that? I’d only just been born!”
“Well, I was born six years later.”
He’s been hitting on me. I’ve not been objecting to it. I’m virtually old enough to be his mother. I am a paedophile. Suddenly our conversation dries out.
I think the answer was Sri Lanka. I may be wrong. I’m still in shock. I am old. I am a ma’am and a paedophile all in one day. Not exactly the greatest finale to a great holiday.
You can’t hide a lot on a plane. There’s a woman in front of me reading a Cosmopolitan magazine. She doesn’t really look like the type of woman who’d regularly buy a Cosmo. In fact, she probably only bought the thing because that’s what you do when you fly on a plane – read trashy magazines. Whitcoulls stores in airports right around the country must make a killing from trashy magazines. A bold title screams at me from the front cover. WHY 80% OF ALL WOMEN CAN’T ORGASM. Fascinating stuff. The woman casually flicks through the pages, lingering briefly on the clothing and jewellery and beauty pages. But her flicking fingers have purpose. She knows what she is looking for. I know what she is looking for.
Suddenly her posture changes. No longer is she sitting comfortably upright in her seat, blissfully unaware that I’m reading her magazine over her shoulder. Now she sits in the corner of her seat, right shoulder turned away from me, huddled into the window of the plane, paranoid that her mother (who has that special motherly x-ray vision that really scary mothers have) has just boarded the plane and even though she is sitting at the front of the plane she has special reflective glasses that help her see what her deviant daughter is reading. Or maybe the nuns from her Catholic primary school are seated directly behind her, telepathically sending messages of right and wrong and good and evil and moral and incomprehensively disgusting to her conscience. Or her lesbian lover is secretly watching from three rows back, and suddenly realises why their sex life just doesn’t cut the mustard. But no. None of those people are on the plane. No one can see what she is reading. Except me. I glimpse ORGASM on the page as she strategically bends the magazine under, effectively hiding the first page and, by default, the content of the article. But I can still see the tell-tale words through the crack between her seat and her neighbour’s. SEX. PLEASURE. FOREPLAY. ORGASM. Interesting that the crucial words are always in capital letters. She is engrossed. It’s not until the seatbelt lights go on again and the voice from the ceiling requests that we prepare ourselves to land in Auckland and the temperature is a mild 14 degrees out there so wear a coat that she puts the magazine down and pretends that everything is normal. I give her a pious how-could-you-you-deviant look.
And then I promptly wonder if the Whitcoulls at Auckland Airport will be open at this time of night, or whether I’ll have to wait until the morning before I can buy my own copy of Cosmo. Or maybe I’m too old for Cosmo these days anyway.
Arrival lounges in airports are always heart-warming places. There are the newly-weds who’ve just returned from their honeymoons, all sexed up and ready to take on the world together; the married couples who’ve just spent their first weekends away from each other, wives launching themselves at their bouquet-bearing husbands; the kids who’ve missed their dads while they’ve been away on business trips, their little hands clutching pictures and handmade gifts; the entire families who thought Disneyland was a good idea until their children moaned and fought and vomited the entire journey home, and are now just relieved to have their normal lives back. Airports always make me happy. I enjoy people-watching in departure lounges because I know I’m flying away somewhere over the rainbow too, but the faces of people at the other end are so much more endearing. All that untamed excitement and anticipation and love. I could go to the arrivals lounge on any given day with no one to actually pick up, and never get bored.
“Nau mai, Haere mai, Tamaki Makaurau. Welcome to Auckland. Thank you for flying with Air New Zealand this evening – we hope you enjoyed your flight, and we’ll see you again next time.” City lights blink mischievously below us and the Sky Tower rises through the hazy atmosphere with a welcoming salute. Auckland is a beautiful city at night. As we touch down I breathe a sigh of relief. We didn’t crash and burn. Just as well, really. I can’t remember where my life jacket is.