Day 14 – Sydney / Avalon
This morning, I found myself preoccupied with all the football I'd miss back home. Today is Sunday, which means yesterday, er, today…well, you get the point - anyways, my alma mater USC was/is scheduled to play crosstown rival UCLA. There were also many other rivalry matchups taking place across the States in college football that day. But my mind was primarily focused on my first fantasy football game of the postseason, which wouldn't take place until the following day.
Unfortunately, I don't have a Slingbox, so I was ill-equipped to watch any of the games on the Internet. Only one or two American college football games are broadcast a year on TV in Australia, but none today. I packed two days worth of clothes as we were about to leave for Avalon soon.
As I had mentioned in previous entries, Avalon is a beachside community located about 40 minutes north of Sydney. The plan was for us to stay at the condos in Avalon with Gerry and Carol for a night, and then drive up to see Uncle Len in the Central Coast the following day. I had developed a curiosity about Avalon since before I arrived in Australia. My cousin Jacob moved up there with his fiancée Gabby, and Uncle Gerry had recently purchased a second unit adjacent to the condo he already owns. I detected Avalon has a special quaint quality, and was eager to discover it for myself.
Since we would go our separate ways after Avalon, Gerry and Mum each took their cars. Mum and I were following Gerry's car, but had to stop for gas. We were fortunate to still have the assistance of our GPS navigator when we lost him, Carol, Ethan and Cooper on the expressway.
About an hour after we left Sydney, we arrived at the condos in Avalon. Sally and her husband Mike, who spent the last couple days there, greeted us at the older unit. Since the two units were next to each other, Gerry had a vision of knocking down the wall between the units, adding an extra story, and creating a 6-bedroom super-condo someday. For the interim, Gerry was aggressively trying to rent one or both units before the summer holidays like Christmas and New Year's Day got underway. My uncle had been in the process of furnishing the new condo so he could rent it as is. In the back of his Lexus, he brought a new table, chair and oscillating fan he was going to assemble. I could tell he was eager to put them together immediately, but Aunt Carol mandated that construction wouldn't take place until after the family got together for lunch first.
Ethan and Cooper were delighted to see their parents after being away from them for a couple of days. Sally and Mike celebrated their anniversary alone on Friday and Saturday. Based on their body language, I got the impression that the parents might not have minded one extra day without the kids around. Don't get me wrong; Cooper and Ethan are adorable, but they can be exhausting!
The eight of us were to meet Gabby and Jacob at the Retired Servicemen's League club to eat ("RSL's" are fairly common in Australia – they each have a bar, restaurant, Foxtel and pokies). First, we hit a playground on the way so Ethan and Cooper could exert some pent-up energy after being cooped up (no pun intended) in the car since Gladesville. Otherwise, they would be difficult to control during lunch. I pushed the boys on the swings for a couple minutes. I had to watch my level of force when I pushed, as I almost sent them soaring over the crossbar!
Mike thanked me for playing with Ethan and Cooper, and mentioned they really seem to like me. His tone then changed a bit, and he seemed a almost melancholy that I wasn't staying in Australia longer. Mike said that if I were seriously considering landing a job in Australia, it would take closer to a couple months than a couple weeks. The hiring process is a bit different in Oz. You might take six weeks to get hired, but by the same token, job security is such that you can get 3-4 warnings before you're fired! I think Mike liked the idea of having a fellow Yankee around for a while.
Now that it was about 12:30pm, it was time for lunch. I got carded at the RSL (everyone does), and afterward, my Mum took me aside and told me not to order the most expensive thing on the menu. I bowed my head in shame and told her how emasculating that was to hear given that I'm 31 years old! After a rare apology, she said her mothering instincts took over. We reconvened with the rest of the party, and Carol recommended the special of the day, which was roast pork. I took her advice. Such a good Jew I am.
It was fun hanging out with Jacob and Gabby. Jacob seems like he gets away with more boisterous behaviour than Luke. They have their respective roles/personalities: Luke is a bit more refined, but more responsible. Jacob maintains a blue-collar mentality, but since he lives farther away from Gladesville, he can get away with acting more aloof. Jacob also needs to be dragged into the information age kicking and screaming. He just set up his first email address, and Foxtel in his house.
I chatted a bit with the future newlyweds. They said the wedding is scheduled for November 2009, so I told them I would love to come if I happen to be down under then. Jacob's phone rang. After he hung up, Jake grumbled that he had to leave. Appareantly, the Foxtel repairman called a day late to say he had arrived at Jake's house to install his cable. We said goodbye to Jacob and Gabby, and then I talked with Mike about American football for a good portion of lunch. Once we paid for the meal, Ethan and Cooper were itching to go swimming. Unfortunately, the weather had clouded up, and it was too chilly for swim trunks. I wanted to check email and football news, so I asked Gerry if I could use his computer back at the condo. He said sure, but the Internet connection is dial-up (gasp!). He suggested I go to the public library, located three blocks from the condo. I thought this would be a good opportunity for me to check out the idyllic seaside community that is Avalon.
The town was pretty dead for a Sunday afternoon. Stores were mostly open, but I didn't notice much foot traffic except for a few surfers. I saw a movie theatre that was playing Rock n' Rolla. I happen to be a fan of Guy Ritchie's work, so I made a mental note to return later tonight if I was bored with little to no Internet access. As I walked to the library, I noticed a collection of surf shops, moderately busy cafes, and a tanning salon that was closing early. I liked hanging out in Avalon for a couple days, but I think I would go crazy from boredom if I were to live here permanently
The library was empty except for a couple mischievous boys running around and the librarian trying to keep the boys in line. Since I didn't have a library card, I had to pay $4 AUS to use the computer for an hour. I was finally able to see that USC beat UCLA 28-7 earlier. I also joined a group on Facebook that links me with my classmates from Horace Mann, my old elementary school in Beverly Hills. I looked outside, and the weather had cleared up. I figured Ethan and Cooper were itching to go swimming, so I returned to the condo.
Both units were empty when I got back. I didn't feel like changing into swim shorts, so I walked toward the shore. In front of the beach is a tide pool that collects seawater, but enables kids to swim without getting swept away by the undertow. Mike, Cooper and Ethan were frolicking in the pool, but were about to hop out and dry off. The boys were invited to a kid's 6:30pm birthday party at the Australian equivalent of Chuck E. Cheese. Since the time was almost 5pm, it was time to shower and get ready. Given that this was a Sunday, I found the timing of the party curious for a bunch of 4-6 year olds. Sally agreed, but said the restaurant was rented out all other times that weekend.
When the boys were dressed and all strapped into Sally's SUV, she asked her Mum if she was sure Carol didn't want the boys for another couple days. Carol laughed while shaking her head, but to this day, I'm not sure if Sally was joking. Sally's humour is very dark, dry, and deadpan; it also takes a beat or two to get used to. Once I understood her, I came to appreciate this edgy side of Sally.
No sooner than three seconds after the SUV pulled away, we breathed a collective sigh of relief. Gerry went back upstairs to assemble the table, chair, and fan for the rental unit, and I followed him. I put together the fan while he worked on the table and chair. Gerry had become a bit frustrated, as one of the drawers wasn't closing properly. I noticed a screw that was installed back-to-front, and pointed it out to him. He was thrilled I made the observation, and helped him solve the problem. We celebrated the completion of the projects by cracking open a couple of cold Carlton Draughts. I flipped on the telly, and watched an episode of The Simpsons I hadn't seen in 15 years while he assembled the chair.
It was almost dinnertime, so Mum, Carol, Gerry and I decided to hop in the car to do a little sightseeing before we found a place to eat. I would get a chance to visit some of the affluent neighborhoods that are adjacent to Avalon.
We entered a mansion-laden community called Palm Beach, located about ten minutes north of Avalon. It seemed like for every house that was being renovated, another house had a for sale sign posted in the front yard. The waves in Palm Beach are more surfer-friendly, and even at dusk I could see a few surfers out on heir boards in the water trying to catch one last ride in before nightfall. Gerry said there was a nice selection of restaurants in nearby Newport.
We headed to Newport, and started with a fancy hilltop restaurant called The Arms that had amazing panoramic views of the surrounding shore. I saw that this swank indoor/outdoor eatery was fairly busy, and had many young professionals sharing animated conversations over cocktails. We browsed the chalkboard menu, balked at the lofty prices and the noisy environment, and decided to have an inexpensive dinner indoors since the ominous clouds above were moving towards us.
Aunt Carol recommended a roasted chicken place on the main drag in Newport. I forget the name of it, but it was similar to El Pollo Loco. The four of us ordered our dinner to go, and ate back at the condo. We feasted on delicious chicken, three side dishes, and salad for $23, which was less expensive than one entrée at The Arms!
When we finished eating, Mum said she was awaiting an email she would need to forward to a client of hers back in Los Angeles. Gerry plugged his computer into the phone jack, and got Mum online. She wasn't used to the sloth-like bandwidth, and forgot how long it takes to send a 2 MB attachment over a phone line. When she started to show concern that the computer wasn't responding, I told her to relax and give it a couple minutes after she tried to resend the email. Sure enough, the email popped up in her "Sent" file twice shortly thereafter.
When she finished her work, she thanked me for helping her stay calm. I then kicked her off Gerry's computer, conducted some fantasy football research, and made a last-minute move to my starting lineup by starting a different quarterback. I finished making preparations for my postseason matchup that would be underway by the time I awoke the next morning. Everyone else had gone to bed, so I took advantage of the quiet time and typed Day 6 on Mum's laptop (not set up for dial-up) – I'm sooo behind on my journal! When I finally finished, I lay down to christen a brand new bed in this brand new unit, and slept very comfortably.