The Works

Magic is the word that I would use to describe Sunday, January 15, 2017. However, it wasn’t really magic, it was the kindness of strangers that guided Beth and I from Australia to New Zealand.
Our plan: To leave Port Douglas at 8AM and drive to Cairns for a 11:25AM flight to Sydney. With a three hour layover in Sydney we could plan an itinerary for New Zealand. From Sydney, we were to land in Wellington, the capital of NZ at 11:35PM. Beth and I prepared for a full travel day.
Upon our 9:05AM arrival in Cairns I opted for food. Beth was focused on getting to the airport. In the end, we went for breakfast in town. After returning the car hire, we were at the airport by 10AM. There was virtually no line at the Virgin Australia counter. A priority check-in agent encouraged us to her station. Susan welcomed us and started the check-in. Susan looked up from the computer screen, smiled and said, “I need your exit confirmation or your visa for New Zealand.”
Nearly in unison Beth and I said, “We don’t have one.” Part of this trip was to do things that felt good to us, to stay in places that appealed to us, and to leave those that did not. Prior to leaving we checked on visas and such. Both of us recalled that it wasn’t necessary for NZ.
Susan simply looked at us and stated, “Well then, I can’t allow you on this flight.” Beth and I were stunned. It was 12 minutes past 10.
I looked at Susan and said, “What do we do?”
She smiled at me and said, “Do you have a mobile phone?”
“Yes.”
“You need to book a flight to exit NZ now.”
I countered, “Can’t we get on the flight to Sydney? We have 3 hours there to figure this out.”
“Unfortunately, you are booked through to Wellington so I can’t let you on this flight without an exit confirmation. You have time, go book a flight.”
In the states I would say, “We’re doomed.” Without having entered security yet, and with only an hour to spare, having to book a return flight and check-in, all would be lost. But, this was Australia and things are very different here. After thanking Susan, we walked away. Slightly panicked, I threw my bag down, sat on it and opened my phone. Within minutes, I had flights to America lighting up my screen. Retrieving my glasses I told myself, “You can do this.” I quickly scanned our options. Beth and I had put things at home on hold until the end of February. When she returned from the WC I told here our options. “Book it,” was all she said. We returned to Susan’s station and completed our check-in.
As I approached security an elderly couple was filling bins. I stepped around them and went to the front of the line. Hesitantly, Beth followed. Once we were placing our items in bins the security officer asked, “Are you running late for a flight? Did you ask those people if you could get around them?”
“Yes and No.”
“Well, you should apologize to them.”
Beth and I turned to the woman and apologized. She smiled and we moved on. Beth felt like a third grader being reprimanded. I simply proceeded appreciating Australian customs. In Australia, domestic security is like going back in time. However, the elder couple approached it as if they were in the USA, stripping down to the bare essentials.
The gate agent told us they were not ready to board when we arrived and that we should have a seat. Beth and I looked at each other with a sigh of relief and laughed. We have no clue how that all worked out, but we were grateful. Beth said, “That was the fastest booking you’ve ever done.” True enough.
The three hour layover in Sydney flew past. The next thing we knew, we boarded Air New Zealand #842. When dinner was being served a male flight attendant asked, “Will you be having the chicken tonight?”

Beth and I both looked at each other and responded, “No, I don’t think we ordered food.”

He smiled and said, “Let’s have a look at your boarding pass.” Beth handed him our paperwork and he replied, “Yeah, you have the works. Even the bar is open to you,” and he pointed to the next cart filled with bottles of wine and drinks. “I’ll be back.” Well, what do you know, we were eligible for the works. When he returned with our food he asked, “Where you from?”

“Arizona.”
“Ah, a long way from home. Why are you going to Wellington? I wouldn’t go to Wellington except my wife lives there.” Before we had a chance to answer the bar was being rolled in our direction. NZ wine was in the air and our flight attendant was gone.
After food and drink service the gentleman returned. He sat in the empty seat next to Beth. Before him was a plain white bag. On it he started noting a small map of Wellington and things to see and do. He asked, “How are you getting to your hotel?”
“A taxi.”
“I’d be happy to give you a lift. I live up in the hills. I go right past your hotel. If you’re ok with that, meet me at the front of the plane when we land. I’m Andre.” Written in the corner of the white bag was Andre C.
Andre walked away. Beth and I looked at each other and laughed. What in the world was going on? A flight attendant just offered us a ride after serving us a meal AND wine. Of course we took him up on it. My sister Kathy told me how friendly Kiwis were, but this was incredible.
As we were disembarking Andre said, “Ok?” Meaning do you want the lift?
Beth said, “Yes, please.”
“Just step off to the side and we’ll go after we close things here.” Beth and I did as instructed. Andre repeated, “Kia Ora” which means “be well” and “Have a good night,” as our fellow passengers departed. A few things were completed and the plane was to put to sleep. Andre said, “Follow me.” Obediently, Beth and I did as requested.
The line of passengers going through Customs was to the left. Andre guided us to the right with the crew. We stopped at the red line. Again we waited. The rest of the crew was trying to get past us. I moved aside for the pilot wondering what “Twilight Zone” episode I had just entered. Andre waved us forward to a private Customs agent. After he inspected our exit, he stamped our passports and welcomed us to New Zealand. Andre thanked him and we moved on. At immigration, the officer talked to us about our declaration as Andre stood by. Once we were through that, we were officially a part of Kiwi-land.
At the baggage carousel Andre stepped away. Beth went for our bags. I stood and watched Andre retrieve a cart. When he returned I was dumbfounded. What stumbled out of my mouth was, “You’re a very kind man.”
Andre replied, “A Vietnamese woman once said to me, good things happen to good people. I must have done good things in my life because I have a good life. When my wife and I were lost on the streets in Los Angeles a man drove us to our hotel. I believe most people are kind.” I couldn’t agree more.
Bags in hand, Andre said, “Follow me,” so we did. Andre took us outside where we boarded a van filled with the entire flight crew. I was beside myself. A female flight attendant, coiffed in a pillbox hat with a navy shoulder jacket complimenting her purple and navy dress, asked about our trip; what I liked best in Australia, how long we were staying in NZ, if we were going to the South Island? I could hear Andre yucking it up with the crew in the back of the van where he squeezed in so Beth and I could have a seat. The van arrived at an old hangar where the crew’s vehicles were parked. Once again, Andre had us follow him; inside the hangar we went. Andre’s bright red shiny Mazda 6 was parked in the first space. A N D R E C license plate displayed. Filling his trunk, Andre placed his bag on the backseat. The crew commented on how light we traveled, but we have several small bags which take space. Engine ON and we were OFF.
Beth commented, “You seem to have a lot of fun with your crew.”
Andre said, “Most people see us smiling and serving them but we do a lot of safety training together. It’s a small group so we know each other very well. We just came off three days away from home so everyone is happy. They call me Papa Smurf.” Andre did resemble the character minus the blue skin and red hat. He was handsomely dressed in a suit, vest, and tie with spit polished shoes. But, from that moment on, he was Papa Smurf.
On the drive to our hotel Andre took the scenic route. At midnight, we toured Wellington as Andre drove the waterfront. Pointing out specific sights, Andre certainly provided The Works.
Andre C was correct, the world is full of kind people. Beth and I are still amazed at our exit from Australia and our entry into New Zealand. It taught us once again to be kind to a stranger. Kia Ora… Nancy T

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Sailing in Sydney

When Beth and I were planning our trip down under she asked, “Would you like to sail on an America Cup boat?” 
“What? YES,” I replied. 
“Well, there are America Cup boats from the 90s that take people out on Sydney harbor. You can be part of the crew.”
That intrigued me. Years ago, I sailed in Chicago on Lake Michigan. Although merely a lake, Lake Michigan has the reputation of being fierce. One Sunday, I witnessed water spouts jetting from the horizon. As I pointed to the stream of water lifted skyward, I said, “How cool.” My captain said, “Yeah, unless you are in them.” Water spouts are mini-tornadoes on the water. Cool from a distance, not so much up close and personal. 
The racing I did in Chicago was tame compared to the hours I spent in Sydney harbor aboard Spirit, a 1992 America Cup sailing boat. Money for Spirit was raised from T-shirt and poster sales, in addition to other fund-raisers. A local sail club in Sydney gathered $50 million to enter the race. Spirit of Australia came in 6th. The winning team, led by Captain Dennis Conner from the USA, invested $150 mill. Although Mouse, our informant aboard Spirit said, “It’s not all about the money, but it certainly helps. 
Spirit was adapted to accommodate passengers. One addition that I was grateful to see was safety rails. With two large blue wheels at the stern, the captain was able to maneuver Spirit from port or starboard, left or right. Mouse went over the safety features and how Spirit was to be handled by the crew as well as the passengers. “Zoe (the only female crew) will be telling people on the rig in front what needs to be done. I will be letting those in the back know what we need. Listen to the crew at all times. We have never lost anyone in all the years we have sailed. However, we do practice drills every two weeks. If you do go overboard it will feel like the boat is sailing away from you. Your perception would be correct. We don’t have a brake onboard. Therefore, you will be in the water 5-10 minutes before we can circle the boat around and pick you up.” With that, Mouse walked away. 
With Kevin by the rigging, Mouse talked about what Grinders do. Kevin placed one hand on a handle and left the other free. “If you are going to be working the boat always listen to the crew. One person will have a hand on an inside handle while the other is on the outside.” Kevin demonstrated. “This offsets your heads so they don’t bounce off each other. If one of your hands slips off the handle, take the other hand off immediately or your shoulder won’t feel very good and may get ripped apart. Now that I have told you all of this and you have forgotten most of it, let’s get started.” As a visual person, Kevin going through the routine helped me to absorb what was about to take place.
Spirit motored from Darling Harbor under the Harbor Bridge, beyond the Opera House. When we were within 100 feet or so of the unobstructed icon, I took it in. Still in disbelief that the Opera House was physically in my view from the water, being absorbed by my eyes, I gathered it in. Snapping a few photos to remind me of the experience, I smiled. 
As Spirit moved into the wind, the crew prepared to raise the sails. Mouse and Zoe went to engage the mainsail winch, the only electrical piece of equipment aboard. Nothing. Kevin arrived and Mouse disappeared below deck. Craig held the wheel and shouted, “Ready?” Zoe responded, “No, the winch won’t engage.” Mouse appeared and Kevin disappeared. Zoe came over and said to the woman next to us, “Well, you asked if there was any electrical parts on this vessel. We are about to see if the winch works. If not, the answer is no.” Kevin found a way to activate the mainsail winch. I leaned back and watched as it unfolded, nearly 34.5 m or 113ft. It was as if the white sail went on forever as I looked skyward and captured its debut. After seeing the length of the mainsail, I’d guess the crew was happy for an electric winch.  
The skipper had to use reverse in order to keep us from invading other vessels as it took some time to get under sail. Once we were sailing, the sound of the engine quieted and I remembered why I like sailing so much. Zoe yelled out, “I need four people on the rigging.” The next thing I knew I had my hands on the grinding gear. Zoe yelled, “Forward.” The thin, young Asian man who stood opposite me pumped and so did I. We weren’t getting too far. Zoe bellowed, “Harder. Forward. Reverse.” My companion and I followed orders. I found reverse was too easy and it was hard to maintain an easy rhythm without falling over. But, as Spirit took to the wind I maintained my position. With mainsail and jib fully engaged, we were sailing Sydney Harbor. 
There was a steady wind. People who hung their feet over the rail, rail-meat in sailing terms, were getting a foot bath as the cresting waves graced them. I laughed as a young woman brought her wet foot over the rail. Thankfully, she laughed too. 
Round two: Grinding. With no one stepping up to grind, I continued the job, This time a strong young guy was my partner. Well, that round was easier. Zoe continued instructing, “Forward, Reverse, Hold.” We did as instructed. I thanked the guy opposite me. He made grinding easy. 
As we made our way toward Manly I noticed other passengers at the helm. They intently watched the sails and the tails, keeping the sails filled. Grinding continued. At one point, Mouse spoke about racing. He said, “Well, once it’s over we go to the pub and the Grinders go to the gym.” After my experience aboard Spirit I had a deeper respect for the crew on an America Cup sailboat. But quite honestly, it was one of the funnest things I’d ever done. 
When we came about, flipped Spirit around, and began our return, the wind caught the sails and we were flying. The port side of the boat came out of the water. Everyone not participating in an activity became rail meat. Left in a precarious position, I dug my shoe into the carpet to keep me from flying across the deck and hitting the water. The woman next to me was having a similar issue. She said, “I wish they’d stop doing that.” I laughed, “You mean keeling over? That’s all part of it. They would rather have the boat even, it goes faster, but this is it.” I pointed out the grinder area and told her that she could brace a foot there. She did so immediately. When I had the chance, I stood and grabbed hold of the grinder stand. It was fun flying through the water. To feel the wind grab us and drag us across the water felt incredible. The blonde next to me incited my attention. I asked, “Are you okay?” Again she replied, “I wish they’d stop doing that.” She was pointing to the water directly in our view at an unnatural angle. Later, she would grind and then get stuck on the other side of the boat. Stretched out with one leg behind and the other forward, arms in a similar fashion, she yelled out, “I’m okay.” Her positioning and her spunk made us all laugh. A memory burned in our minds.
Spirit continued on the path to Darling Harbor. Under full sail we passed under the bridge. It was wild, knowing how high Spirit’s mainsail extended, yet we easily cleared the bridge whose base stood 49m or 160 ft above the sea. What an amazing sight, especially knowing we would be on top of the bridge the next day. The crew dropped and gathered the sails. Our day aboard Spirit, an America Cup sailing vessel was nearing an end. 
The experience was invigorating, stimulating, iconic, fantastic, and truly memorable. Spirit touched me on many levels. I have no idea how the crew aboard an America Cup boat do what they do, but to feel a smidgeon of it was something that I will never forget. Sailing is something that reaches my senses and turns them all ON. It was full tilt boogie on Spirit. And, I was a Grinder to be sure. Be well… Nancy T

Climbing

All my life I have been climbing. With an addition added to my childhood home, I climbed stairs. 

The Hourihan family apple tree across the alley was one of my favorite stomping grounds. Mrs. Hourihan would watch me from the kitchen window as I stretched to reach the perfect red apple. I vividly remember being outstretched, inching my way to the edge as the branch bent under my weight. Glancing down to see cement below which covered the alleyway beneath me, I hoped the branch would hold. I finally grabbed the shiny red orb, disappointed to find the birds had beaten me to it. 

Going up has always drawn me in. Nature has elevated me many times to take in a bird’s eye view. If you know me at all, you know falling has been a part of my life as well. If you want to learn more about that, visit http://www.naturalmassagetherapy.com. 
I can’t say I am a thrill seeker because many surpass me in that category. What I will say is, I am curious. 
For the past several weeks, I have been living in the land down under. Australia has always interested me. Curious about the land, the people, the culture, I finally made it here, to check it out for myself. Many touristy things have intrigued me, the Bridge Climb being one of them. 
My brother T was the first to tell me about the climb. Describing the climb from the perspective of a girl he knew, T was stoked. As they say, it is on his “bucket-list.” My sister Kathy’s family did the climb when her son Keith was on a year and a half journey in this part of the world. “Wow” was there response, minus those with height-freight. Of course, my curiosity peaked. 
A local told me to do the pedestrian walk across the bridge because the Bridge Climb was a rip-off. I admit, the cost was way outside my comfort zone. But, T and Kathy came to mind… And, a once in a lifetime experience. So, I bit the bullet and registered for the Bridge Climb. 
While Beth and I waited below deck, at 6:35pm the wind gusted and rain fell on the building. The sideward water hit the large glass window. Minutes prior, I had invited Beth outside to eat our pre-bridge snacks; a nut bar and a Snickers bar. As I stood in the doorway, Beth said, “Why are you out here?” Rain was slanting toward me as trees blew more droplets my way. All I could say was, “I’m glad we are not on the bridge NOW!” Rolling her eyes, I knew she agreed. Inside, I overheard an employee say, “It’s a short storm burst.” It was then I noticed two people on computers, tracking the weather. Humidity 85.4%, Air Temp 20.1C, Wind Chill 20.1C, Average Wind Speed 27.9 km/h.
On the 3rd of January, 2017 at 7:20pm I entered the pre-check area. The company is very clear that alcohol and bridge climbing is not a great combo. In fact, every person takes a breathalyzer before suiting up. Gear and safety instructions are in place. Introductions are made. The climb is ON.
Once we walked the catwalk in our new fashionable jumpsuits, over the crowd waiting their turn, I knew we were clear for take off. Lexi, our tour guide, came over the headset wrapped around my ears and said, “Give me a thumbs up if you can hear me.” The group did as instructed. Walking past other climbers who were slightly wet on their return, another “Thank You” passed through my mind. 

Standing at the granite pillars that support the bridge, Lexi asked, “How long do you suppose it took one worker to carve a section of granite?” Dan, an elderly man, yelled out, “One week.” Correct. Lexi asked, “What do the granite pillars above the bridge do for the structure?” Dan again, “Nothing, they are simply decorative.” Right again.
Continuing on, we encountered puddles in certain locations. I glancing over my shoulder at Beth, and I smiled. She knew what I was smiling about, that our twilight walk was not impinged by weather. 
Suddenly, we were outside, walking between lanes of traffic. Commuters were zipping past us in vehicles on both sides. An express lane to our right, several lanes to our left. Very surreal.
Eventually, we began our ascent. Lexi was filling us in on details of the bridge and the workers who spent eight years of their lives creating the structure that joined north and south. In her talk, Lexi invited me into the role of rivet catcher. They were the ones who gathered the hot rivets and drove them into the steel. Looking out to the middle of the bridge, to an area hanging high above the sea, Lexi added… “and they had no safety harness, no handrails, no special equipment, they just stood on the steel beams in all sorts of weather and they caught white-hot rivets coming out of the oven.” I turned to Beth and said,”That’s my job. Can you see me out there?” She laughed. In my youth, I could have been a rivet catcher, now I trip over my own feet.
To our right was the Opera House; so subdued and magnificent. The city lights started to twinkle behind us. On our left, glimmers of sunlight peaked through the thick clouds. We stopped to take in the view. Lexi said, “Take it all in because on our way back it is all going to look different. That’s the beauty of a twilight walk, you get to see the change.” 
The Opera House still amazes and dazzles me. In a sense, it is like standing at the Grand Canyon thinking, ‘it just doesn’t seem real.’ The latter is nature’s grandeur, the former is manmade. Both are impressive, but God still wins in the comparison. The lights on the patio of the Opera House were multicolored as if a party might be taking place. With the lighting, my eyes couldn’t detect any figures far below. I continued to turn my head, right and left to take in the Opera House and the setting sun in a dark cloud. Step by step, we climbed and absorbed the view.
On our first day downtown Sydney, from the harbor, Beth and I witnessed figures on top of the bridge. Beth looked at me with her mouth in a circle, “OOOoooHHHhhh… that’s going to be US!” Indeed. To see the Australian flag blowing and bodies moving along the edge of the bridge is one thing. To be the person moving about the “Iron Lung” is quite another. Lexi informed us of the name “Iron Lung,” because the bridge moves, it breathes, it brings life to Sydney, and it has always done so. 
Our group seemed to have done a good job on the climb. No one was panicked or expressing any trouble. Pausing for pictures was a good thing because that was our time to breathe in the sights without watching our step or gripping the handrails. As day faded and night expressed itself, the clouds separated a bit. At the top of the bridge, standing with the flag blown straight in our direction, a planet appeared. Just like the white stars that grace the Australian flag, our white star touched us in the night sky. With cameras snapping away as well as hand gestures flying through the air, (peace signs, thumbs up, hang loose and my favorite, I love you) a sliver of silver lit up in the sky. The small crest of the moon sat to our right with the planet to our left. A minute later, the clouds ate up the planet and the moon increased in size and illumination. And then, they were gone. The on and off light show in the sky accompanied us on our descent.
Lexi eventually took us to the middle of the deck, high above the city, a place called “The Sun Deck.” “This is one of my favorite spots on the bridge,” Lexi explained. “You are in the VIP section. Every star or famous person that has been up here has been on The Sun Deck. Not everyone gets to come out here so it is special. I want you to make some noise. I want the other groups up here to wonder what we are doing. Throw up some hand gestures and make yourselves known. On the count of three… one… two.. three.” Hooting and hollering, our group yelled, high above Sydney, closer to the clouds, we waved our hands and fists, giving a BIG shout out to spirit and those who built this structure.
On our descent, the city lights were bright and twinkling like stars upon the Earth. Perhaps a very small glimpse of what the astronauts might encounter from space. Wind blown and exhilarated, we climbed down the “Coat Hanger,” another name for the bridge. Prior to entering a gate Lexi turned back to say, “I was hoping this would happen.” With that, a train passed on our left. A second later, another passed one our right. Standing in the middle of the Sydney Harbor Bridge we waved to passengers as they zoomed past us on the commute home from work. Lexi added, “I always wave, but no one waves back. They are usually asleep or on their phones. But, how cool was that?” Very cool. Thankful a derailment did not occur at that moment.
When they moved people from “The Rock,” the original settlement and land beneath the bridge, the people who lived in this area had to leave. They were not compensated in any way. However, they did demand one of the buildings be rebuilt. 
Lexi’s voice came over the headset, “Can anyone tell me what they wanted replaced?” You guessed it, the pub. The new Harbor View Hotel sat off to our right, with no view of the harbor. The name lives on, but the view no longer suits the title. 
Mind your head… that was the saying returning to the Bridge Climb building. Many yellow foam cushions were placed over the steel beams. Lexi attested that she knew from personal experience that the yellow foam did little to protect the head if you come in contact with the steel frame.
Looking down at people on the pedestrian bridge snapping photos of the Opera House, I’d say that the Bridge Climb was not a rip off. To sense the experience of the workers, the elements, the sights, was not to be denied. I love to climb and now I can say that I climbed the Sydney Harbor Bridge. I merged with the Iron Lung. I hung like a Coat Hanger between north and south, connecting land high above the sea. 
I’ll end with a joke from Lexi. “The Sydney Harbor Bridge has six million rivets in it. That’s twice as many as the Golden Gate Bridge. We like to say, The Sydney Harbor Bridge is twice as riveting.” Riveting is a good word for it. Be well and be `safe… Nancy T