When I awoke, I felt as if I had slept no more than 20 minutes. Mum said we had to be out the door in a half-hour. I guess the old fogies at the tennis club wore me out the night before after all! As I was a bit tired and grouchy, I was giving Mum no shortage of attitude as I slogged through my last- minute packing preparations. Shortly thereafter, I felt badly about my truculence toward her, and apologized after she ripped my ungrateful ass a new one. After all, she used her frequent flyer miles to put me on the nonstop Qantas flight instead of the 2-legged flight stopping in Seoul, South Korea. God bless her!
Gerry and Carol drove us through rush hour traffic to get to Sydney International Airport, and we arrived in plenty of time. A couple of toll roads were built here in Sydney that get drivers under Sydney Harbor and to the airport quite quickly, but at $4 AUS per trip coupled with the economic downturn, people predominantly prefer to simply sit in terrible traffic. Regardless, Uncle Gerry reached deep down into the coffers and took us through the futuristic-looking toll tunnel.
When we arrived at the airport, we had an hour-and-a-half to kill before boarding our 10:30am flight to Melbourne. I was craving "Mackers", as McDonalds is affectionately called in Oz (Aussie for "Mickey D's"). Unfortunately, the Sausage McMuffin I devoured tasted a bit off from the ones I'm used to having in the States, and was a bit disappointed. Then again, it's airport food.
After I finished my barely digestible breakfast, I discussed my current state of mind with Mum. I had told her that prior to my arrival in Australia, I wouldn't be certain if I was going to stay here for an extended period of time until I actually spent some time here first. Having already been here a week-and-a-half, I admitted that I still wasn't sure if I was ready to stay past my scheduled return date. All I knew at the time was that family and friends back home missed me, and would want me around for the holidays. On the other hand, my Aussie sources told me that it can take a while to secure a job in Oz due to the series of interviews an applicant is typically subject to over the course of several weeks during the hiring process. That said, chances are that I wouldn't land a position in the 17 days that I was scheduled to be here, especially in December. Mum told me that tickets to Australia cost roughly a thousand dollars, not a million. If the job situation in the US is indeed dire, and something opens up in Oz, then we'd figure something out as far as travel back down under is concerned. I felt relieved after this discussion, because I had felt some mounting pressure as to whether I would stay and cancel/postpone my return ticket, or simply stay the course and go back home for the holidays. It was then decided that I would return home on December 10 as planned, barring some miraculous encounter here in the next week.
The flight from Sydney to Melbourne takes roughly an hour. I drafted Day 9 of my journal during our brief stay at cruising elevation. Before I finished, I was interrupted by a younger-looking gentleman sitting next to me. Never one to turn away from a conversation with strangers, I chatted with him for a little while as our flight began its descent into Victoria. Turns out the guy works for Fox Interactive Media, and he and his colleagues were flying back home to Melbourne after the company's Christmas party took place in Sydney the night before. Some of their clients include Myspace.com and Rottentomatoes.com. We discussed these websites in length, as I have a Myspace account, and rely heavily on Rottentomatoes for a broad consensus on up-to-date film reviews. We seemed to hit it off, and before we departed the plane, I asked him for a business card or some contact info. Although he didn't have any cards on him, his cohort, who I assume overheard tidbits of our conversation, whipped out one of his cards, and the bloke that I spoke with wrote his email and telephone number on the back of the card. I'm not sure if it will materialize into a substantial job lead, but it felt productive to do a little unexpected networking.
When we landed, I immediately understood why Mum told me to pack some warm clothes. The weather wasn't chilly, but it was definitely cooler in Melbourne than Sydney. This is but one of the many comparisons I made between Sydney/Melbourne and Los Angeles/San Francisco during my trip.
My cousin Matthew was waiting for Mum and I outside the airport terminal. As a 38 year-old semi-pro footballer, he's physically fit with a certain youthful ebullience, although he has substantially less hair than when I saw him about ten years earlier. Matt is still single, and although he feels a bit of pressure to settle down from Marg, his mum, he doesn't seem to be in a rush to get hitched until he is certain he meets the right woman first.
We drove from the airport straight to a fancy-looking restaurant called The Stokehouse, located on the beach at St. Kilda, a coastal suburb of Melbourne. Aunt Marg was already there to meet us for lunch. The plan was for Marg and Mum to go off in Marg's car and spend time together while Matt and I hung out, and he would show me around Melbourne since I remember almost nothing from my childhood about this lovely city. In the meantime, though, Marg told us of a momentous conversation she had with Jenny, their estranged sister and an aunt I had never met, previously that morning.
Mum and Jenny had a falling out about thirty years ago, and although Jenny occasionally speaks with her Australian siblings, she is still regarded as a bit of a family recluse. Mum was a bit nervous about meeting her again after not having spoken for so long. Marg assured Mum that Jenny sounded upbeat on the phone, and that this reunion probably wouldn't be as awkward as Mum had feared. Mum shrugged and conceded that the meeting was probably necessary, and both parties might regret not having seen each other since Mum doesn't come to Oz very often.
After lunch, the four of us took some pictures on the beach, and soon thereafter, Mum and Marg hopped in Marg's Holden sedan (an Australian car manufactured by General Motors) while Matt and I rode in his sporty Audi A4. He showed me the lot where his future condo would be built. It was in a hodgepodge section of Melbourne reminiscent of Venice: rich meets poor by the beach. Afterward, he took me on a quick tour of the rest of the city as we began to re-establish our bond.
I hadn't seen Matt in years, but I felt fairly comfortable spilling my life story and drama to him while he listened, and gave me some advice, as well as details about his life and recent history. He's a successful executive who works in the garment industry in distribution of several popular clothing lines. He has an assistant back at the office who's busting her ass while he spends his day off hanging with me, only occasionally checking his Blackberry. After our scenic tour, we went back to his place and watched the end of Borat on Foxtel while we pounded a couple of beers. Shortly after 5pm, Gabe, his roommate, came home and we chatted about my stay in Oz, as well used the Borat movie to point out some not-so-subtle differences between the States and Australia. Matt had made plans with his mates to meet up for happy hour at a nearby pub. Already a bit buzzed by the stronger Aussie beer, I absentmindedly followed Matt and Gabe to the garage as we filed into Gabe's car to head to the bar. Even though the time was approaching 6pm, it was still so bright out that I failed to realize that I would be out for the duration of the evening, and probably should have brought one of the sweaters I packed. Melbourne is closer to the South Pole than Sydney, so as a result, the days seem like they're almost two hours longer here.
When we reached our destination of Williamstown, Victoria, Matt and I bid farewell to Gabe. It turns out there was some sort of street festival going on at the time, as traffic was closed off on the main drag where many pubs and restaurants stood. I saw many families with their kids blissfully running around as summer is still in its inception stages. Musicians and DJs performed a variety of relaxing yet upbeat music up and down the street while onlookers and music aficionados stood engaged in their respective performances.
Matt bumped into a couple of old friends on our way to the Blue Tongue, our destination to meet his mates. We chatted there for a bit, while I took in the festive atmosphere. We then walked a couple blocks to The Blue Tongue, which was already getting crowded from a combination of the street festival and happy hour patrons meeting for a drink. In spite of the heaps of humanity, we were able to secure a table for the eight of us.
Matt has an eclectic array of friends. Their ages range from early 30s to early 50s. Two remarkable things I noticed that they had in common: their extended history together and their attire.
Not to sound like a snarky LA snob (especially since all of Matt's friends were great guys/gals), but I couldn't help notice that four of his friends were wearing form-fitting Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirts (you know, the ones with "torn" numbers and holes in them that the store has the chutzpah to charge $30 for). Not only did this look go out of style in the States about five years ago, but the slacker-chic style is traditionally marketed toward teens/college students. However, I stifled my laughter upon observing their choice of wardrobe.
We imbibed as day transitioned into dusk. After closing out our tab at the Blue Tongue, we walked down the street to have dinner at a pizza place called Zanini's. I tried to offer to pay for Matt, but he insisted it was "his shout" (his turn to pay). At Zanini's, much of the conversation centered around football, and it was here that I learned of Matt's football prowess. After a few beers, his friends took me aside and asked if I could suggest to Matt that perhaps he's getting a bit long in the tooth to play footy. Finally, our pizzas arrived, and I then realized that I ordered two vegetarian dished in the same day. I love meat as much as the next omnivore, but on this rare day, the most appealing thing on the menu consistently happened to be a vegetarian dish. My pizza was topped with grilled eggplant, artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes and pesto sauce, and was awesome! Considering Australia's solid reputation for its fine meats, I found irony in ordering vegetarian meals twice in a row (I ordered pumpkin risotto at The Stokehouse earlier).The sky didn't get dark until 9:45pm, and I was thankful to be drunk – otherwise I would have been quite cold since I forgot to bring a sweater!
By 10:30pm, it was time to settle the tab and head home. While I was grateful to Matt for taking a personal day for little ol' me, I understood that he had to be in the office the next day to catch up on what he missed today. After we said goodbye to his friends, a cab magically appeared in front of Zanini's, and we were at Matt's flat in about five minutes.
When we arrived, Matt hooked me up with his laptop before he went to bed, and took his house key off his ring to give to me. Tomorrow, I would be on my own in Melbourne, but I would be able to use Matt's place as a home base in case I wanted to head back from the city to rest. I thanked Matt for spending the day with me, and for introducing me to his cool friends. He gave me a breakdown of what tram to take to which street in downtown, in case I slept through his departure for work. After switching my Facebook profile, and checking for injuries on my fantasy football squad, I turned off the lights and crashed.