The three of us who were still in Melbourne were greeted once again by its infamous diabolical weather. This combined with a late departure meant the only solution was something located indoors. Our triumvirate answered the collective groans of our bellies – I convinced them to try the delights of The Red Mule Cafe after their disparaging recollection of a previous breakfast at Brown Sugar.
Whilst not the zenith of coffee in Melbourne it radiates a certain charm and the food is consistent. Don’t fail me now Little Red Mule and make me look like a Big White Ass. Thankfully the next hour or so lived up to my puffery. With options to add various components to your breakfast, it leaves you with more flexibility than a bikram yoga instructor. Baked Spanish eggs for myself which were piping hot and kept the cold at bay. For some reason it came with a side salad (I am assuming this is also how it appears in Barcelona?)
The others went for the “yoga teacher” option and mixed and matched. Fritters and haloumi found their way onto their respective plates as well as the usual suspects of scrambled eggs, spinach and bacon. All for the princely sum of $15.
With breakfast checked off, our dilemma was that we still had a few hours to kill before reuniting with our luggage and heading to the airport.
We meandered through some retail outlets but for some reason we ended up at Crown Casino for a return visit. The money that was won on the previous visit by my friends found its way back into James Packer’s coffers. My recollection of Grade 10 mathematics involving probabilities was no help to my companions on this occasion. We licked our wounds and cursed our luck over pizzas. One of these was garlic, so not only did we do our dough but the dough we shovelled into our faces meant we now reeked of garlic and parmesan cheese. Pray for the poor soul seated next to us on the plane.
We decided that it be best to leave for the airport, the lure of gambling would not be whispering sweet nothings into our ears and we would be guaranteed to stay warm and dry. It was that cold and wet even the seagulls didn’t want to brave the elements and tried to seek refuge on the tram.
Unfortunately for the seagull he didn’t have his Myki card so he flew away when the ticket inspectors made an appearance. Authorities are on the lookout for a bird, whiteish in appearance with orange legs.
The plane back to Toowoomba was thankfully a third full. Given this I was surprised to be seated next to somebody. We were the closest to the back with six vacant rows behind us and four vacant rows in front. On the other side there was a sole passenger, amongst twenty odd empty seats. This young lady I noticed was crying. Was it the garlic pizza she could smell that had reduced her to tears?
I overheard one of the two cabin staff trying to console our neighbour. It is her first time flying and the complimentary water and supply of tissues is not helping. The staff are doing their best, but with a timetable to honour they take their positions and trot out the well worn safety announcement. Once the young lady heard the words “crash”, “fire” and “life jackets” in quick succession this triggered a panic attack. I decided I would unbuckle and see if I could make myself useful across the aisle.
At this stage she was having trouble breathing so I tried to reassure her that it would be fine and to disregard the safety blurb. These things fly everyday with no safety problems. I attempted to tell her what to expect from the take off, reminding myself that most of us take the idea of airline travel for granted. It was dark outside so we couldn’t see much except for the control tower and the lights on the runway. I explained how the people in the tower have to give us the go-ahead to take off and then from there we would speed down the runway, go into the sky really steep for ten minutes, until we flatten out. From then on in it will be a bit like being in a car. Tried to give fair warning of the crunching noises of the retracting landing gear and the angle of our ascent but most of this would have sounded like a foreign language for the uninitiated.
The hostess had finished her spiel and came past asking the young lady if she had any issues with me sitting next to her – as if I was some kind of pest. Fortunately my new acquaintance made enough blubbering noises to convince the hostess that i could stay.
The young lady asked had I flown before and I told her “a couple of times” which she found marginally comforting. My plan was to keep talking or get her talking whilst trying to be educational and/or funny. As we turned the corner on the tarmac, ready for takeoff, I explained that we are now pointing in the direction of Toowoomba and in about ten seconds or so we will start to go real fast. The pilot must have heard because we start hurtling down the runway and the tears are flowing more than ever. I am whispering “we will get off the ground now, we will get off the ground now” and on cue we are in the air.
Disbelief takes over her face as we begin to defy gravity. Then the pinhole in the inner seat window (a design feature) catches her eye as she thought she might get sucked out of the plane due to a hole in the fuselage. The catalyst for more fear. If it wasn’t that it was the reading lights, an unexpected creak or the flashing lights on the tip of the wing that kept her on edge. All were unknown so all everything was to be feared.
Keeping with my plan, “What’s your name?”, “Why are you heading to Toowoomba?” were used to try to initiate some form of conversation. She was 17, going back to Toowoomba to see her family and dogs and wishing she had swapped the skies for the highways. I discover there are three dogs awaiting her arrival, with names that you would associate with henchmen from a bad action movie (“Killer”, “Rampage” and “Paulie”). My internal monologue is “A back and forwards conversation, we are making progress”. Before I have time to congratulate myself we start to bank to the right. She tries to cry but there are no tears left, now replaced by distilled fear. Had to convince her that this will get us lined up with Toowoomba (again) and this is what normally happens. For the next five minutes we talk dogs, their ages and out comes her phone with hundreds of pictures of them. All is well until the pilot comes on the PA, she assumes that something is wrong but it is a standard update about altitude, Toowoomba weather and estimated arrival times. Soon after we flatten out and she feels slightly more confident.
“The take off is the worst bit”, I say, knowing all too well that the landing is by far the scariest part of the journey. I forgot to mention the concept of turbulence but I quickly remembered when we experienced it about half an hour into the flight. Luckily it was a solitary episode. Time for the food. The food is delivered, dryish lasagne, a garlic bread roll and a small Cadbury chocolate. My scared friend turned down the food as she was too scared to chew. Lasagne was her favourite and she assures me she cooks the best. I didn’t believe her but I politely agreed, knowing her version would have the measure of Air North’s take on the Italian classic. The bread roll didn’t get unwrapped, my garlic quota for the day had already been exceeded. The saviour was the chocolate. I offered it to her and she decided that even amid a traumatic experience chocolate always helps. As the hostess came past I suggested that another ten chocolates were needed, some for now with the rest getting stuffed in her pockets for later. My biggest fear now wasn’t another panic attack, she had nearly exhausted her allocation of tissues and I wasn’t going to offer up my sleeve if called upon.
We talked about the landing process, the descent was going to be gradual, the loud noise of the landing gear, ears popping and that movement that you get in your tummy when we descend. We discussed how the first time you do anything it is scary. She mentioned she had her Learners licence.
Me: “Are you scared of driving?”
Me: “Were you scared the first time you drove?”
Her: “Yeah, I was 13 and drove my uncle home from the pub.”
The landing was incident free, both of us grateful that we made it back to the ground in one piece. As we were taxiing to the terminal she asked about her bags and how all that works. A lot of information to process all at once. As we disembarked there were a lot of congratulations and thankyous. I was hoping the hostess would tell me that this episode was the bravest thing she had seen and ask me to father her first child. I had to be content with a handshake and a smile from the young lady’s father who was relieved to have his girl back home.
It was 9.30pm and I had to be in Brisbane later tonight ready for an 8.00am meeting. By the time I rocked up on the doorstep of the Mantra in Brisbane I was spent. For some reason I was given the Wickham Room, a multi storey penthouse on the 25th floor. This thing was so expansive I actually was lost in the unit at one point.
Set four alarms and fell into bed by 1.00am. The Melbourne trip now in the books, some lasting memories, friendships strengthened/strained and many a laugh had. Here’s hoping I don’t sleep through every alarm.