Sunday, June 28, 2009

Australia pics up

  G'day! I have finished editing down the Australia pics, and you can find them by clicking HERE.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Underwater adventures

  Here you go, loyal readers- a look at my dive on the Great Barrier Reef! (photo credits: Michelle Philbin)




  Best of all, here's a link to a little 90 second video I cut together of some of the dive's highlights. Enjoy!


Thursday, June 18, 2009


  I’m choosing now to blog things a little out of order, mostly because the full account of my trip to Australia is going to take some time. I haven’t even written it all down in my personal journal yet, and I want to make sure I have all the details settled before I give you the condensed public version.

  That brings us to this entry, which I’ve chosen for its sheer entertainment value. This is the story of the day I came back.

  On Saturday, June 13th, I woke up at about 7:00 am in Sydney, Australia, and began a very, very long day. Some of the details may seem a little mundane at first blush, but they’re necessary to illustrate just how much was crammed into “one” day. You’ll never expect how it all ended, either. Here’s an account of the 38 hours that passed until my head hit another pillow.


  After a few hours’ sleep on Michelle’s moderately comfortable floor, I woke up, showered, and prepared for my last day in Australia. Since we weren’t coming back to her place before going to the airport, we’d have to schlep my luggage around Sydney all day.
  The walk from Michelle’s place to a nearby bus stop wasn’t quite as nearby as I’d hoped. By the time we got there, my elbow was screaming for some rest from pulling the gargantuan weight of my suitcase along. I had so much gear with me that I actually bought a second suitcase in Cairns to divide the load.
  A short time later, the bus arrived and took us to the train station. Once we were there, we ate some delicious “Sweet Chile and Sour Cream” potato chips on the platform while we waited for our train. (Note to USA: get these chips. Now.)


  After the train dumped us in downtown Sydney, we hauled the suitcases down to the harbor where they were setting up for an art vendor type of deal. Michelle was on the lookout for a particular vendor, but when we found him, he was still setting up, so we decided to go have breakfast.
  “Pancakes on the Rocks” is a place I would highly recommend if you ever find yourself in downtown Sydney for breakfast. Michelle had been raving about it since I arrived in country, and I was about to find out why.
  After a tremendously difficult decision-making process, I settled on a menu item called “Devils Delight,” which consisted of chocolate pancakes with a scoop of chocolate ice cream on top, surrounded by fresh strawberries drizzled with fudge sauce. Healthy, right? I ordered a side of hashed browns and bacon to add a little bit of fuel to my day.


  Bloated with breakfast, we then tracked down Michelle’s art vendor again before heading out on a picture taking excursion around Sydney Harbor. We had been there the night before (see future blogs) but things were a lot different in daylight.
  We strolled past the famous Opera House, then made our way into a sprawling park. There were massive trees, sculptures, and bats. Yes, bats- all of which were the size of large housecats. It was incredible to see huge flocks of them hanging upside down in the tops of trees, wrapped in their leathery wings.
  After the park, we continued on foot, luggage trailing awkwardly behind, further into downtown. We saw famous buildings, tree lined walkways, fountains, and a war memorial that I was dying to go into, but it was closed.
A few blocks later, we were at another train station, where we hopped a double-decker car to the airport.
  Once checked in, Michelle and I said our goodbyes, and about an hour later, I was airborne. The plane flew out right over the sun-sparkled harbor, giving me one last look at the Opera House, the bridge, and the beautiful city of Sydney, Australia.


  After the plane leveled off, I checked my watch. It was about 2:00. I had fourteen hours to go until I landed at LAX. I pulled a fresh copy of Cormack McCarthy’s “The Road” out of my bag and opened it to the first page.
  About thirty minutes before the captain began to make his final decent into Los Angeles, I read the last lines of the last page of the book and closed it up. Excellent novel, by the way, but I wouldn’t recommend it to those who are easily depressed.


  Getting through US Customs and Immigration was much faster than I expected. By the time I made my way out to the front of the airport, my friend Linda was waiting to pick me up.
  We drove across LA and into Linda’s neighborhood where we stopped at Mel’s for a burger. I was ravenous, having not eaten since my pancakes- some 19 hours before. Last time I flew internationally, I learned a valuable lesson about not eating a full meal on a plane. Full stomach plus turbulence equals extreme nausea. Anyway, not eating airplane food is doing your body a huge favor, believe me.
After we finished eating, we drove to Linda’s place, picked up her brother and drove him to work. I had been in LA for about four hours now. It was about two o’clock. Time for a nap? Nope. Time for Disneyland.


  Immediately after dropping Stan off, Linda and I made a beeline for Anaheim and the glorious gates of Mouseland. Parking there is absolutely ridiculous, and we didn’t know what we’d be in for showing up in the middle of the afternoon at Disney on a summer Saturday, but it wasn’t as bad as we expected. We got our tickets and headed into the park.
  We decided our first ride was to be “Space Mountain.” It’s arguably the fastest and most intense ride in the place, and I don’t think we were prepared for it. We laughed and screamed our way through the ride and came off shaking and hysterical. The requisite tourist-robbing photo they took of our faces was so hilarious that we bought a copy.
  So we spent the rest of the day doing the Disney thing. Indiana Jones. Pirates. Haunted Mansion. Matterhorn. Concession food.
  The big joke of the day, (and I’m not even sure how it started) was to yell out “Oh, shit, son! It’s Wayne Brady!” which is a line taken from an old Chappelle Show skit. More precisely, I suggested how funny it would be to yell that out during one of the rides, maybe when one of the Disney animatronic robots was doing something.
  So, you know how in the beginning of the Haunted Mansion ride they stick you in that elevator? At one point, the lights go out and then lightning flashes and you see a body hanging from the rafters high above you? That was the moment that Linda chose to yell out “Oh, shit, son! It’s Wayne Brady!” and point to the ceiling. I haven’t laughed that hard since I was a little girl.
  As the sun started to set, we figured we had time to wait in line for one more ride. We bookended our time by going on Space Mountain again. This time, we had a plan for our photo.
  Forty five minutes of wait time and 36 seconds of ride time later, we ran out to see our masterwork displayed on the video screen.
  In the photo, I’m staring at my watch, seemingly bored, and Linda is raising her hands in the air in celebration, only one of them is missing. She’s staring at her absent appendage in mock horror. Instant classic. Ring it up.
  After that, we stayed for Disney’s big fireworks show and then headed out.
  We fought the freeway traffic for something like 46 miles, getting off only once to hit the drive-thru of the In-N-Out Burger.
  During the latter half of our freeway nightmare, I made Linda laugh so hard, she almost wrecked the car when I suddenly went on an explosive and expletive laden rant about the other drivers. The more tired I am, the more creative I get, often with unpredictable results. Time for bed, finally? It was 11:30pm now, and I had been awake for upwards of 32 hours.
  Nope. Time to go to a party. LA style.


  After a quick shower and change at Linda’s, we were off to a party. We rolled into the place right around 12:30am, and it was a typical west coast scene. The well furnished house was full of food and drink, and people were enjoying a loud mix of music inside and out on the back patio.
  I’ll spare names to protect the innocent: the first person I met, a female rock star with wild hair and attire, shook my hand and said, “Nice to meet you. You wanna make out?” I smiled politely and before I could say another word, she laughed loudly and whisked me away to dance. Moments later, she flipped her skirt up in the back, revealing her thong. “What do you think of this?” she laughed. She was out to shock, plain and simple. She made sure I always had a drink in my hand.
  Other highlights of the evening included the host’s Marilyn Monroe-inspired stripper girlfriend (who couldn’t stop dancing) and his two confused dogs; who, like me, wandered about the party, seemingly in awe of the whole affair.
  There was a tall, well built guy who was "writing a script," an older guy in a suit who looked like he had no business being there, some cheese that smelled like feet, and a stuffed dead dog. The dog, I’d later come to find out, was a movie prop, as was the tremendously oversized prosthetic penis that was later hauled out of the closet and shown to me. Turns out the host was a makeup artist, and I found myself later admiring the Emmy on display in his living room. I won’t say what show it was for, but I was very impressed.
  Eventually, around 2:00, the cops arrived to break the noisy party up. My rock star friend asked the police officer if he was a stripper when he walked in. If I would’ve had any more of my wine left in my mouth, I’m sure I would have done a spit take.
  Time to go home now, surely.


  Incorrect, for it was time for party number two. I deliriously thought about waking up in Sydney so many hours ago. It seemed like days since that happened, but it was, in reality, the same day. The same endless day.
  On our way to the second venue, Linda, her rock-star friend and I stopped at a service station to buy some cigarettes. The middle-eastern guy behind the counter was enthralled by my companions as he rang them up. He asked if they were sisters and Linda's friend proclaimed loudly from behind her pink dreadlocks, "Yeah, and we have sex ALL the time!" They stalked out the front doors laughing as I purchased a bottle of Mountain Dew to give myself a much needed shot of caffeine. The guy behind the counter looked at me with either respect or sympathy. I couldn't tell which.
  Party two was at another house, and featured more entertaining LA stereotypes. First up were the hot, club-going lesbian twin sisters. I began to wonder if I’d been dropped into some kind of crazy sitcom.
  The host of this party was a striking blonde girl who, when we arrived, was wearing sunglasses, clutching a bottle of booze in one hand and was standing on top of a table. This was going to be interesting.
  Other guests included a sort of folksy-hippie girl who later brought out her guitar and dropped our jaws with her impressive playing and amazing singing of songs she wrote. Her album is forthcoming.
  The balance of the evening/morning was spent listening to the party guests play and sing (some quite horribly, some amazingly well) impromptu versions of songs from Oasis, Alice in Chains, and Creed, among others.
  Long about 4:00am, the party broke up, and we drove into the approaching dawn.


  After dropping the now completely hammered rock star off at her house, Linda and I returned to her place, where I promptly popped a sleeping pill (you’d think it would have been unnecessary). It was now nearly 6:00am.
  We had a short conversation, and then I felt the Lunesta begin to take hold. “If there’s anything you need to say to me,” I said, “you’d better say it within the next minute.” Darkness. The 40 hour day closed.
  In the blink of an eye, I heard Linda’s voice saying, “You awake? We’ve got an hour til we need to leave.” It was 11:00am.
  I quickly shook myself awake, showered, and we headed to the airport. Two flights later, I was back to Virginia, caught a cab home and strolled into my house just after midnight. Five hours later, I was up for work and started this crazy week.
  My life is fun.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Along the top of Uluru

  Man, I can't wait to get the rest of these pics out to you all.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Nobody gave me a Vegemite sandwich...

  ...but I had an amazing time. Yes, I'm back from Australia, and let me tell you- it was a jam-packed trip. There are many, many tales to tell, and they'll be coming at you in the next couple of weeks. There's video of diving on the reef, pictures of the outback and of tropical jungles and giant rocks that were climbed against local advice; 989 pictures to be exact. For now, enjoy this one I snapped of a hoppy little friend I ran into in King's Canyon.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Where women glow and men plunder

  Tomorrow, I'm on a plane to Australia!
  It'll be quite a full week, covering the country from top to bottom- I'm going diving on the Great Barrier Reef, camping in the outback, and ripping through Sydney. Joining me on this adventure is my friend Michelle, whose gracious and understanding boyfriend is stuck biding his time in Seattle. Michelle is currently living in Sydney, and was instrumental in putting this tour together. She has my eternal gratitude.
  Of course I'll take an enormous amount of pictures, and I'm going to shoot my dive again as well. Besides the normal abundance of life on the reef, it's whale migration season, so I might get to share the water with some of these giant beasts. Should make for an exciting time. See you all when I get back!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Something Real

  They just don't make 'em like they used to. This is a song I consider to be one of the most beautifully written and arranged peices ever. When I found this rare live performance of it recently, I had to share it.
  If you read up on Billy Preston, you'll find that he was a child piano prodigy, worked a lot with the Beatles, and wrote Joe Cocker's "You Are So Beautiful" among other things. Incredibly talented man. Syreeta Wright was no slouch either, teaming up with Stevie Wonder to write "Signed Sealed Delivered" and "If You Really Love Me."
  Here, their talents, backed by an arrangement of violins, harp, flute and percussion, are evident. They really bring the emotion of the lyrics out, and I think it's just an amazing and incredibly intimate live performance.
  Nobody does this kind of thing anymore. Shame.

  "Come bring me your softness, comfort me through all this madness." That line speaks volumes to me.