Day 0: Feeling gravity’s pull

Thursday and Friday of last week, I enjoyed the honour of addressing the Web Essentials ’04 conference in Sydney.


The flight down had two highlights. First, business class makes even 19 hours in the air tolerable. It is true that it took me the entire 14½-hour leg from L.A. to Sydney to discover all the features of my reclining seat. Of more interest was the pre-takeoff announcement by the head flight attendant (a suspiciously young black guy with fascinating teased dreads) that we could expect thunderstorms of an hour’s duration four and nine hours in.

Now, I’m not a nervous flier. Even after reading The Tombstone Imperative, I know these things are overengineered. I’ve also done the Sydney flight in worst-case-scenario steerage (at the very back of a 747) and know well the effects of turbulence when seated that far back from the fulcrum of the wings. But, for gosh sakes, don’t be telling us about thunderstorms hours before we even hit them! We’re so far in away from them that they could dissipate before we get there, and we could run into other storms that materialized since we took off.

Hence, every goddamned wobble and jolt of the flight and I was like, “This is it!”

I kept thinking of lying down within an airplane, the plane and me mostly orthogonal to the gravity we were fighting against, as I mentally mapped the really quite astounding distance covered in a single flight. I imagined, in essence, levitating, feeling gravity’s pull. (Though that was not the song running through my mind at the time. For some reason, that was “Limelight” by Rush: “Those who wish to be must put aside the alienation, get on with the fascination, the real relation, the underlying the-e-eme.”)

It was amusing to note that the lovely and talented Doug Bowman was on the same flight, but I only talked to him before takeoff and landing. Lad needs his space.

Ingress and egress

Customs was fun, what with a gorgeous black dog of some apparent pure breed jumping up and sniffing each and every one of us. (She was happy and pleasant, but her handler looked like one of those nutbars you see wearing genuine British military sweaters somewhere other than leather bars.) Because I was declaring the various energy bars and Tetra-Brik®s I had on me, I got streamed hither and yon and eventually ended up in the North Arrivals, and there my adventure began.

(Quickie aside, though: I was thinking of a suitably but not stereotypically Canadian gift to bring my hosts, and en route to the store to buy some genuine organic Canadian maple syrup, I suddenly remembered that the Aussies are unyielding in their regulation of foreign foodstuffs entering the country. So I ixnayed the plan. Good thing, too, as the inspectrix later specifically asked me if I had any beef jerky [!], trail mix, or… maple syrup.)

Right. Conference organizer John Allsopp had been tasked to pick up Doug and me. But what did John look like? And where was Doug? And would they recognize me in my signature hat? After a half-hour of fruitlessly piloting my luggage cart past Japanese tour operators and Lebanese limo drivers, I talked to the two senior citizens in livid yellow jerseys who seemed to be shepherding the arrivals. In Canada we’d call them commissionaires. One of them came up with $1.40 in coins that allowed me to call Russ Weakley and have him call John, who, as it turns out, had been waiting with Doug in another arrivals section.

Are we having fun yet?

Oh, but yes, we are: While walking to John’s bronze Mitsubishi rental, I was reassured I had arrived in a civilised country by noting Citroën and even Peugeot nameplates on cars. Then began the odyssey of driving on the wrong side of the road. My antidote was to strap myself into the centre rear and let Doug deal with the weirdness of the left front seat.

Doug Bowman, recommitting mutual digicamatio

We enjoyed a pit stop at John’s attractive Bondi home (with original mosaic tiles and stained glass); we met the third organizer, Maxine Sherrin; and I enjoyed a soy-porridge breakfast and double espresso right handy Bondi Beach. I’m sorry, but visiting the Beaches four times a week as I do, I couldn’t get excited about having coffee a city block away from the shoreline, though Doug was thrilled. In fact, visiting Oz is a dream come true for Doug, who can’t believe his luck that he’s actually here.


I was dropped off at the superfabulous official hotel and, exactly according to plan, the very first thing I did was to turn on the television to look at teletext captions. (Can you believe that I even visited the Australian Caption Centre in 1995 and they didn’t show me nothin’?) You have to tune a channel, hit the teletext key (if you can find it), dial channel 801, and hope it all works. Their fonts are dreadful, but boy, do their pop-on captions in newscasts ever work well. (Too bad the switch from pop-ons to real-time scrollup captions always misses one or two sentences. I’ll take verbatim, please.) I think they use colour adequately well and make only a few serious and incontrovertible errors. I’ll be dropping by Auscap this week; more on them shortly.

And by the way, Australian TV is provincial and backward. The local discount stores’ commercials hew so close to the Tex & Edna Boyle/Bad Boy archetype that, with my back turned, I thought on two separate occasions that they’d imported commercials from upstate New York and simply redubbed them in Australian.

What passes for Icebergs in Oz

John, Russ, Maxine, and various spousal equivalents and offspring brought us down to the Bondi Icebergs club for the first of many piss-ups – and the genesis of a running joke about cranberry juice as the only suitable beverage for me (surely Slurm?!) that grew old plenty fast.

Bondi Icebergs is a modern structure stuck on a peninsula at Bondi whose upper-deck balcony overlooks a saltwater swimming pool, the ocean, and, that night, nearly a full moon and a handful of alien stars. You have to believe we are magic. It’s the converse of standing at Cape Spear: You’re manifestly at the edge of the world and can immediately geolocate yourself, feeling gravity’s pull.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2004.10.05 07:41. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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