“We spent two days in Auckland when we could have been here?”
Sherry nailed our reaction once we arrived Friday evening in Napier. We’ve spent the last two days at “home” with Alex and Grant’s family here in a city known for its art Deco appearance. In 1931, an earthquake hit Napier and the city rose several feet above sea level. Much of it was rebuilt in the current architectural style leaving behind a delightful town perched on the emerald green waters of Hawke’s Bay. The moment we saw the ocean, we knew we should have been here long ago. Don’t get me wrong. Auckland was exciting and bracing and something to be seen. But, in all of our travels, Sherry and I have always found the smaller towns more inviting than the busy, bustling cities. My one exception would be New York City and London. We loved both cities but they are creatures unto themselves.
Napier resides on the eastern coast of the North Island tucked into Hawke’s Bay. Just south of Napier is Hastings and surrounding this area are mountains and wine country. We passed through orchards and vineyards and more rolling hills dotted with sheep. As we drew closer to the east coast winding our way up and down through these wonderful mountains, the hills grew greener and more lush. The tall, waving fronds of the silver fern — the symbol of New Zealand — were soon replaced with tall pine trees. We instantly felt at home with my thoughts drawn back to the pines of our Louisiana. The only difference would be the lack of a thick film of yellow pollen we would hopefully miss out on this year. March is the autumn for New Zealand.
We met the family at a Kiwi barbecue on Saturday. The meal was sumptuous, delicious and capped off with several huge desserts ranging from trifle to banana cream and upside down chocolate pudding cake and cupcakes. Everyone here is so friendly and so open and accepting. As I mentioned in my last post, this is the culture we have lost in America. Grant assured me New Zealand was about 15 years behind America in adopting our ways. Let us hope and pray New Zealand does not catch up with us. Here, civility, manners, kindness, friendliness, hospitality are all a way of life. In our own country, we are in danger of forgetting these virtues.
Before I go on about our trip in Napier to the mountaintop of Te Mata or to the beach in downtown Napier I want to finish out our first week in New Zealand with a few photographs from the past seven days.
It is Saturday morning here in New Zealand, Friday America time and I just witnessed one of the most moving and beautiful sunrises I have ever seen. We are now in Napier at Alex and Grant’s house. I’ve gotten behind on my blogging so I wanted to catch up on the photographs.
Let’s see, on Tuesday we drove to Waitomo cave area and went through the cave with the glowworm grotto. The glow worm is a fascinating insect. The female lays an egg in the caves then dies since the adult male and female insects have no mouths! The egg hatches and the larva emerges as the glow worm. The worm has a bioluminescent tip that glows in the dark. The worm spins a long single thread. The thread is sticky and the light attracts moths and insects in the cave. When the insects fly toward the glowing light (and this also includes the aforementioned adult insects) they get stuck on the thread. The glow worm then pulls the thread up and feasts on the insects. This fat and happy life lasts for 9 months. But, eventually, every larva turns into an adult. The male adult is waiting patiently for the females to emerge from their cocoon and impregnates them immediately before they die from starvation. What a life!!!
I could not take an photos within the glow worm grotto. A river passes through the cave and at the bottom of the cave we loaded onto a boat in almost total darkness. Our hostess, Dorene then pulled us quietly through the grotto. In the hushed silence where only the occasionally tinkling of water drops from the stalactites broke the dark solace, we moved through the grotto like the Phantom of the Opera gliding his boat across the waters of Paris underground. Above us were thousands of tiny blue green glowing dots. To me it was a wondrous site. To the glowworm, it was just life. Just a passing through this world from egg to larva to pupae to adult. All on a 10 month cycle. The difference between the glowworm and me, of course, lay in my ability to appreciate the beauty of what I was seeing. More on that later.
Here are some pictures from our cave trip.
On Thursday and Friday, we traveled to Rotorua where the lake filled a huge extinct volcano crater. But, the volcanic activity was far from dormant. Below are numerous photos of the thermal “playground” around Rotorua. The air was cool and crisp but tainted with the odor of sulphur. Our room was situated overlooking the beautiful lake. By now, I was getting Sherry’s cold and I spent the first night in Rotorua shaking with a high fever. Alex, a more than capable nurse, watched over me as we sat on the patio overlooking the lake beneath a billion glowing stars. I was shocked to recognize Orion’s belt and Scorpio and there, above me was the Southern Cross ruling the southern hemisphere sky as our Big Dipper and Polaris, the north star, ruled the northern sky. Alex talked me through my fear of having some kind seizure due to my high fever. Here I was sick in a foreign country my mind filled with fears that most people would never think about (as a doctor, I know too much!) and yet, I was at ease with Alex just a few meters away. I was very thankful she was there to watch over me. I made it through that first night. Thursday and Friday were busy days visiting Rotorua and its many hot springs, geysers, and steam vents. Here are some photos from that visit.
I will pause now for a day or two. We are resting up here at home in Napier before tackling the South Island. Tomorrow (Sunday) we will go to church with Alex, Grant, and their boys and I’ll have more to say then. For now, I am resting and trying to heal.
It is no bad thing to celebrate a simple life.
There are those among you who occasionally read my blog and, hopefully, are waiting for my daily reports regarding my trip to New Zealand. I realize I have missed two days but this was due to circumstances beyond my control. Namely being somewhat exhausted and having a limit on data transfer at our hotel, I was not able to sit down and sift through over 500 photos I have taken in the last two days.
On Day 3 we left the bustling metropolis of Auckland and set off bravely into the countryside. Or, I should say with great relief as our most excellent hosts assured us that the REAL New Zealand was NOT Auckland. How true that proved to be!
If you have seen any of the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit movies you might recall scenes of rolling, green hills covered with sheep and cows and, of course, hobbits. Or, you may recall rolling hills dotted with huge boulders as the wargs and the orcs and the goblins came after the fellowship of the ring or the company of dwarves. Well, for the next couple of hours we passed through dozens of these rolling hills undulating around us from the foot of majestic mountains. I was enthralled as we passed through these magnificent hills. Of course, the road became winding and hilly as we passed through these wondrous sites. Each town we moved through was so quaint and lovely with storefronts abounding and, of course, lots of small coffee shops. The Kiwis LOVE their coffee!
We stopped in Waitomo and toured two caves, one with the famous glow worm grotto. I’ll come back to that later because I want to move on to Wednesday (Tuesday American time) because I spent the most wonderful two hours with hobbits. Yes, with hobbits!
In the rolling hills between Waitomo and Hamilton New Zealand there is a sheep farm, a quite large sheep farm. And, hidden away in these rolling hills dotted with grazing sheep and large boulders that seemed poised to roll down the hill and tall, feather like trees pointing to heaven and tall, green hedges to block the nonstop wind there is a tiny village that is truly magical. It is Hobbiton.
After driving for almost an hour from Alex and Grant’s dear friends’ house, we paused on a lonely hillside so I could hop out and take a photograph. I just had to stop. Every turn brought new vistas of this quaint countryside. I stood on the side of the highway and took some photographs and imagined that idyllic scene in the very first Lord of the Rings movie, Fellowship of the Rings, when the camera shows just such a scene with rolling green hills and tall feathery trees and an early morning fog. Only that scene was ruined by the arrival of one of the Nine on his hideous black horse. I whirled around to see if a Morgal blade was poised to pierce my heart and saw only Alex smiling behind the wheel of our minivan. Right then, let’s get on to Hobbiton, I thought.
We arrived at the ticket center and gift shop and the surrounding scenery alone would have been worth the trip. I kept asking myself if Sherry and I were really here in New Zealand. Gone were the bustling streets and harbor of Auckland. Here was peace and contentment and I could easily see how someone could settle into a leather chair by the fire with some fine apple cider and just . . . BE!
Some facts about the set. There are 44 Hobbit holes in all, that is, houses built into the hillsides. Some are large enough to give the impression that a full grown human can be a small hobbit. Others were true to scale so that Gandalf could look tall next to the tiny houses. The center area is a real garden complete with vegetables and a scarecrow. And overlooking it all is Bilbo Baggin’s house at the very top of the hill. By the way, the tree you’ll see in the photos is not a real tree. The real tree from Lord of the Rings had to be moved (don’t worry, it was moved there in pieces to begin with and never survived) and replace with an artificial tree, hand made down to each leaf because the Hobbit takes place 60 years before LOTR and the tree had to look smaller and younger. Only two Hobbit holes had a door with a small inside. And, only Bilbo’s door had a small chamber that appeared to be the inside of his house. The house interior was shot on a set in Wellington.
But, the Green Dragon was a real standing building and was converted into a pub for visitors. We spent two hours wandering around Hobbiton arriving at the Green Dragon pub for some cider and a moment to rest before the fireplace since it was a bit windy and cool outside. Then, we boarded our bus to return to reality. Ah, the simple life!
Below are a few pictures of Hobbiton. The place was truly peaceful and calming. Much like our friends we have met in New Zealand. America is a fast paced, pedal to the metal juggernaut and I fear our culture has lost so much in the rush to be the best and the fastest and the richest and the greatest. Sometimes, it pays to simply slow down and watch the butterflies and sip some cider with good friends. Ah, this place could be my new home in a heart beat. Bilbo, pass me some of that bread and cheese!
DAY 2 — Auckland Sky Tower and Devonport
After finally sleeping through a New Zealand night, we woke up at 645 AM New Zealand Time on Monday morning (Sunday in the States as they say). It was 1145 AM Shreveport time. But, I slept for eight straight hours without waking up and I felt like it was truly early morning and not nearly noon! I was almost acclimated to being down under! I have to stop for a moment to digress. We are down under. I don’t recognize the stars. The water swirls the wrong way in the toilet. And, it gets warmer the further north you go, not south! Also, sitting in the front seat of the minivan whilst Grant or Alex bustle about this metropolis known as Auckland can be a bit disorienting. They drive on the other side of the street here and every time we turn, I panic because I think we are heading into traffic going the wrong way! Also, you have to train yourself to look to the right for oncoming traffic before crossing the street.
We loaded up the luggage and left one hotel and drove downtown toward Auckland on the “motorway” to our final hotel our last day in this city. Our room overlooked the harbor but we set out toward downtwon for Victoria Market. Little did I realize that what was to be a simple walk to the bank to exchange US dollars for NZ dollars and then on to the marketplace would be such a challenge. Why? It was uphill. Both ways!
Seriously, we walked about a mile up a steep incline through downtown Auckland surrounded by tall buildings and bustling citizens. We paused at the foot of the Sky Tower and were relieved to see that the next mile to the marketplace was downhill. But, when we arrived at what was once a busy, bustling marketplace filled with small shops, we discovered that the economic downturn (global it seems) had forced most of the shops to close. It was still a nice experience shopping but now we had to walk back uphill to the Sky Tower.
By the time we reached the base of the Sky Tower, both Sherry and I were exhausted. In spite of getting plenty of sleep, it seemed our bodies were lagging behind our relatively rested minds. Alex refused to take the elevator to the top of the tower (at least she admitted a fear of heights) but Sherry, Grant, and I bravely soldiered on. I pause for a moment to comment on what I can only assume is a prelude to insanity. We passed a gift shop on the way down an escalator to the ticket counter. Hanging from the ceiling of the gift shop was a mannequin dressed in blue overalls, arms outstretched, hanging from a cord. Grant pointed it out to me and told me there was a free fall from the tower on a vertical sort of zip line if I was interested. I have never jumped out of a perfectly good airplane or off of a perfectly good building! I did not plan on changing that record!
So, here is a picture of the Sky Tower from street level. Next is the platform at the base. A person is clipped into this vertical wire assembly and quickly pulled up to the top of the tower. Then, the person is released and plummets to the ground. All very controlled, of course. The third picture shows the harness on its way back up without a person clipped in. I watched one young man land on the platform and the way in which he was walking, hunched over and stiff legged led me to believe he should have been wearing Depends. It would seem he had, shall we say, “soiled himself” as Alex commented. Not a reliable cure for constipation, I would conclude!
Here are some pictures from the top of the Sky Tower of Auckland and the harbor area. The many hills you see not covered by buildings including the largest across the harbor are relatively young volcanoes that shaped Auckland. Also, there were glass panels in the floor allowing one to look downward at the ground and to contemplate the overwhelming mastery that gravity has over our lives. Sherry was brave enough to monkey around on the panels. I refused to even look down them! Grant was as reluctant as I was but did stand on one of the panels. Sherry promptly grabbed him and he latched onto a nearby handrail as if he were about to plunge through the glass lending credibility to my strong belief that Sherry would have done the same thing to me if I had agreed to stand on a panel. I can assure you someone would have been performing CPR on me! We almost had to do so to Grant. But, the view was breathtaking as the photos reveal and well worth my trepidation. Sherry did comment once during our time at the top of the tower that I seemed a “little pale”. You think!
Let me pause for a moment and acquaint you with some Kiwi phrases. You go to the “loo”, not the bathroom. You throw trash in the “rubbish” can. Vanilla ice cream with caramel and toffee is called “hokey pokey” ice cream. While still thinking of the Sky Tower, a funeral parlor here is known as a funeral “cottage”. An expresso with a little less milk than a latte is known as a “flat white”. I had two of these today and I am now convinced Starbucks should add this to their menu. New Zealand loves coffee shops. There must be a thousand little niche coffee shops all over the city each with their own unique brand of coffee. The young man on the Sky Tower Free Fall must have soiled his “nickers”. Don’t call your belted travel pack a “fanny” pack. Fanny refers to something to do with anatomy that I cannot speak of in mixed company. You don’t tip in New Zealand. Rather, you say “Thank you very much for your service.” and that is sufficient. Also, the check isn’t brought to your table. You must go to the “registration desk” and pay for the check. Grant had what we would call a chicken fried steak only with pork known as a “pork schnitzel” with “chips” meaning french fries. Carbonated water is “moving” water and non carbonated is “still” water. There is no such thing as ice tea in New Zealand we discovered and is sorely missed by this Southern couple. Enough for now. I’m sure I will share more of these words in the future.
We set off downhill after the Sky Tower, thank you Jesus and I mean that reverently, back toward the harbor. We bought a ticket for the ferry to take us across the harbor to the far peninsula to an exclusive area known as Devonport. Built during the Victorian era, the village has retained its architecture and is now filled with small, exclusive shops and restaurants and, yes, dozens of coffee shops. To finish off today’s post, here are some photos from Devonport including one area of a small beach overlooking Auckland downtown and, of course, the Sky Tower.
By 530 PM Kiwi time (add 5 for hours plus one day) Sherry was exhausted and we headed back to have “tea” meaning supper at an Irish Pub, O’Hagan’s. This is where Grant had his pork schnitzel and Alex had steak and eggs — a huge slab of steak topped off with two poached eggs and chips (remember, these are french fries. Remember this so I won’t have to keep reminding you!) I had a hamburger with cheese and bacon. But, their bacon is more like our thick cut bacon with lots more meat than fat only not at all fried crispy. But, it was quite tasty as you can imagine. By this point I was pushing six miles of walking and had only eaten a scone with my flat white since breakfast so I indulged. We had nachos with rich New Zealand beef chili, cheddar cheese, salsa, sour cream, and guacamole on top of corn “crisps” (this would be what we recognize as chips) in a skillet. It was MOST yummy! Sherry had chicken quesadillas. Let me just say that I have eaten in Canada, Mexico, France, and England. The food was most bland in the United Kingdom followed closely by Canada. Mexico’s food for me has had the same effect on my body as the Sky Tower Freefall had on the aforementioned young man! France’s food was very buttery and very winey?!?, if that is a word. Sherry packed a can of Tony’s spice in case New Zealand food was similar to the UK. So far, we have had some of the most delicious food! Far too much of it, in fact.
Finally, here are the two girls sitting on the bench waiting for our ferry to take us back to Auckland and the end of a very exciting, but tiring day. Tomorrow, it is off to the cave of the glowworms! Good on you, Mate!
Day 1 New Zealand
The departure time on the monitor changed abruptly. I sighed. Sherry and I sat in the terminal of the Shreveport airport waiting to board our flight to Houston. We had a narrow window to transfer to our flight from Houston to Los Angeles and then from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand. Someone had just tipped over the first domino! Soon, all of our plans could be wrecked.
But, I remained calm. We had wisely planned a seven hour layover in Los Angeles before boarding the flight to down under. Our flight from Shreveport left an hour late at 1141 A. M. and we landed in Houston with ten minutes to journey across the airport to the Los Angeles flight gate. If you’ve never been to the Houston airport, I would say Frodo had a much easier journey getting the ring to Mount Doom than Sherry and I had getting from B14 to C45. We arrived one minute before the flight was scheduled to leave and, of course, they had “closed the door”. But, our agent in Shreveport had been kind enough to schedule us on the next LA flight just 30 minutes after this one. So, we hurried from C45 to C29 which was about three football fields in length!
Our flight to LA was uneventful, if not long — 4 hours. Now, we faced a new hurdle. When we made our flight reservations, we were assured our luggage could be checked into Shreveport and transferred all the way to New Zealand. But, alas, our small airport in Shreveport didn’t “have the app” that would allow them to send our luggage on to Auckland! So, we had to with an hour and a half to pick up our luggage in LA then make it across LAX airport to another terminal where we finally checked in for our flight to New Zealand. Frodo, give ME the ring!
We boarded our flight to New Zealand at 915 P.M. Pacific time, 1115 PM our time. By then, we had been in airports or on an airplane for 12 hours. And, we were facing a 13 hour flight to Auckland. Do the math. More than 24 hours of travel time. The only positive development would be our seats. We had purchased “economy premium” and we had the new “spaceseats”. You couldn’t lay down flat like the seats in business class. But, the price was far more reasonable and the spaceseats were extremely comfortable like being enclosed in a cocoon of comfort and seclusion. Sherry slept for 10 hours of the 13. I watched “The Hobbit — The Desolation of Smaug” in preparation for our arrival in Middle Earth.
The flight was, as they say down here, lovely. As we were descending into Auckland, the sun rose over the high clouds and filled the sky with a fiery display of beauty unlike any had long seen. I couldn’t take a picture because all “electronic devices must be stowed and placed in the off position”. Oh for a simply instamatic again.
We made it safely and quickly through immigration and customs and our friends, Alex and Grant were waiting with a hot pick banner with a Kiwi on it. And, we were off on our first day in New Zealand. It was early, around 830 AM by the time we climbed into their mini-van. We headed to downtown Auckland for a busy and windy cool day. My mistake was not changing out of my work shoes into my running shoes. We covered 5 miles in walking and by 3 P.M. New Zealand time (8 P.M. Shreveport time) my four hours of sleep had long left me weak and tired. But, here are some pictures from our first day. Just check out the captions for details.
I don’t have a time machine. I don’t fly around in the TARDIS. For those of you who are not Whovians, the TARDIS stands for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space and is the space ship of the Doctor. It is an innocuous blue London Police box from the 1950’s — appearing that way because of a “chameleon” circuit that disguises the ship as a contemporary structure of the place and time it is visiting. Only, the circuit got stuck in the early 1960’s.
The Doctor has been flying around the cosmos since 1963 and has been portrayed by eleven different actors — the twelfth debuting this coming fall as the “12th” Doctor. My daughter began watching “Doctor Who” about five years ago after the series was “rebooted” in 2005. She got me interested. I watched Doctor Who way back in the 1970’s when Tom Baker was the Doctor (and he is still the most popular and well known of the ‘classic’ Doctors). Soon, my entire family, with the notable exception of my wife who relies on the “Cliff Notes” version of the show, are dedicated Whovians. If you’ve followed my blog, you’ve seen and read posts in the past on this fascination.
Well, I finally bit the big one and signed up for a real, live comic-con, SciFi Expo in Dallas, Texas the weekend of February 8th. My wife politely dropped me and my daughter, Casey off at the Irving Convention Center for the day. It was extremely cold and drizzling rain when Casey and I stepped into the parking garage and joined thousands of science fiction and fantasy fans. Casey was “cos playing” the eleventh doctor wearing eleven’s purple coat and topped off her wig with a red fez. I went for the War Doctor from the recent 50th anniversary special. That “Doctor” played by John Hurt was closer in age and appearance to this old f**t so I figured I could pull him off better than any of the young actors playing recent Doctors with “big hair”.
I had no idea what to expect. Casey has been to a dozen or so Anime Conventions but this thing put them all to shame. It was like comparing the Death Star to the Millennium Falcon. As we rounded the corner of the Convention Hall and headed into the windy, freezing parking garage we were assaulted with the sound of a thousand souls crying out in anguish. Total, complete, chaotic bedlam followed and did not relent for the next six hours. I managed to find a convention security person in a bright orange shirt and asked him where to go to pick up our pre-ordered arm bands. His wild eyed, confused countenance did not instill great confidence. He whirled in confusion and finally pointed to a line of people snaking their way across the entire first level of the parking garage. “Get in that line.” We did. And we waited in the freezing cold for almost an hour.
Just waited and stood and walked a few feet at a time. The only consolation was the gasps of surprise and wonder as fellow conventioneers recognized Casey’s purple coat (turns out she was one of only two Doctor cos-players wearing the new purple coat) and recognized me as the War Doctor. I was the ONLY War Doctor that day. And, as I learned throughout the day, many of the attendees dressed as their favorite science fiction character. But, the vast majority of those who dressed up paid homage to Doctor Who. In all, we saw two first Doctors, several female versions of the fourth Doctor, one Fifth Doctor, one Seventh Doctor, a plethora of the Tenth Doctor and the Eleventh Doctor, but only one War Doctor. I must have been asked to pose for a hundred pictures with various characters from Doctor Who from the other Doctors to River Song to Martha Jones to K9 to girls dressed as Daleks and one young girl dressed as the TARDIS.
This was the only activity we engaged in except for waiting in lines. We finally made it into the building to receive our arm bands only to exit once more to stand in the huge line on the second level of the garage — this line to enter the convention hall proper!
Once inside, we were ushered into the massive merchandising portion of the convention where every conceivable product existed proudly proclaiming any one of hundreds of science fiction and fantasy story lines. It was here, we faced our second wave of picture takers. I had come for one reason only — to meet Karen Gillan, the actress who portrayed Amy Pond throughout Matt Smith’s tenure as the Eleventh Doctor. She was one of a dozen guests including Sylvester McCoy, who portrayed the Seventh Doctor and the wizard Radagast in the recent Hobbit movie. Also, Karl Urban, who portrayed one of my favorite characters, Dr. “Bones” McCoy in the Star Trek movies was there as well as Stephen Amell, the actor portraying Green Arrow on the current CW show, Arrow. I would have been happy to meet any of these people as well as Karen. However, as we soon learned, we were to have only one experience at our disposal. For, you had to wait in line to buy/pick up a ticket for a photo op with one of these celebrities. And, if you got in line for a ticket, forget making it to the Q&A sessions featuring the celebrities or getting in line to buy/pick up a ticket for an autograph from one of them. You had to choose and choose wisely.
Casey also wanted to get her picture made with Vic Mignogna, a voice actor and star of “Star Trek Continues” a web based continuation of the original Star Trek. And so, after passing through the merchandise on our own for about 20 minutes we headed up the escalator to the third floor to get in line to purchase a ticket for the photo ops. Once again, we found ourselves surrounded by total complete chaos and thousands of souls wandering about this confusing universe of imagination. I sighted an Orange Shirt and he tentatively pointed at one of a half dozen lines snaking around the interior halls of the third floor. “That line. I think.” We followed the line around the maze of rooms and hallways to the end and got in line. I was immediately behind a man dressed as the First Doctor. We spent two hours with him and our fellow line waiters. During the process, we were the subject of dozens of photo ops as hapless conventioneers wandered by looking for their particular line to wait in. I glanced at my watch a dozen times. We missed the Karl Urban Q&A. And, we were about to miss the Vic Mignogna photo op. When suddenly, while waiting in a nondescript line quadrupled on itself in a room, an Orange Shirt asked if any of us wanted Vic tickets. He assured us that the line for Karen Gillan was another two hours of waiting (which overlapped with the actually op session itself). So, we resigned ourselves to getting only a picture with Vic and I raised my hand. Casey and I were ushered to the very front of this eternal line and within five minutes we had purchased her photo op. The cashier asked if I wanted another photo op. Karen Gillan? I asked. Sure! If the others waiting in line had heard us, we would have been lynched!
Casey was rushed off to the Vic photo op and I held in my hand the golden ticket (actually a slightly faded cash register printout with a bar code and a pixelly picture of Karen Gillan). Casey was done in five minutes and she was the last person to get her picture with Vic.
Now, here is where it was worth it all for Casey. Vic asked to hold her fez and her picture shows this incredible man hugging my daughter for the camera. He actually spoke to her for a minute and gave her his email! More on that later.
We found a bench and sat down to eat some snacks I was smart enough to bring in my massive leather coat. We rested for about ten minutes and then is was time to get in line to have our picture made with Karen Gillan. We made our way back into the hallways and found the end of the line of those waiting for the photo op. Here is where it was very interesting. The photo ops had sold out shortly after Casey and I got our ticket and it made no difference if you had purchased your tickets online ahead of time or at the convention. We were all in the same line! It didn’t seem that the VIP tickets made that much of a difference!
An hour later, we made it into the photo op room. Soon, we were standing outside the purple curtains and just inside was the actress Karen Gillan, Amy Pond. “You’re on!” the Orange Shirt said and we rushed into the booth. Karen was standing before us and my first impression was how tall she was. In the show, she seemed short or of average height next to the very tall Matt Smith. I was surprised to have to look UP at her. Flash, our photo had been taken and we were ushered out of the booth. We spent a total of 3 seconds with Karen Gillan. I barely recall being next to her!
Now, we had officially met two of the Doctor’s companions. On a train from Cardiff, Wales back to London in 2009, we met Elizabeth Sladen who played the most celebrated and best known companion of the Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith. Sadly, she passed away two years later from a sudden illness but my daughter had the opportunity to do more than just have a photo op. We spoke with Elizabeth Sladen for almost ten minutes. She was so gracious and kind. I wrote about that post in the past.
At this point, we were done. I was done. No more Q&A sessions were left. No more autograph tickets were left. We cruised through the merchandise one last time and bought a few small things and then went outside to wait for my wife to return in the TARDIS, I mean, the car to take us on to Shreveport. While sitting in the warm sunshine on the steps of the convention center, we were serenaded by a very thin, slightly inebriated knock off of Elsa from “Frozen”. She was slurring “Let it glow, Let it glow . . .”
My take away from this?
Celebrity pays well if you want to pose for pictures and sign autographs. At $55 a picture and $50 an autograph, I’m sure the celebrities did very well. But, to stand there and smile and sign for hours on end? To have to hug thousands of rabid fans dressed as all kinds of strange creatures? To answer sometimes inane questions from those same fans? Maybe they deserve every penny they can earn.
Then, my daughter showed me an email she had sent to Vic. Vic is a professing Christian and Casey has met him once before at an Anime convention. She shared her life story with Vic in her email about her struggle with seizures and epilepsy and how 2013 was a horrific, but pivotal year in her life when she finally came out of the darkness into the light. She told him he was an inspiration to her.
Vic could have ignored her email. Or, at best, sent a canned reply. Casey told me he read every personal email he received and he responded to Casey. He remembered her as the last person in the photo op and he recalled holding her fez. He said he was encouraged by her life story and he was grateful he had inspired her, but in reality, her story inspired him! What a class act!
I know it was hard standing for hours. I know it was strange seeing so many obsessed fans, myself included, looking for something to give their lives meaning and purpose. I know it was hard to have to choose between so many good options and to fork over good, hard earned money for a single picture. But, to see the smile on my daughter’s face. To read her heart felt email and read Vic’s equally moving reply was worth every moment, every minute, every pain, every cent we spent.
Thanks, Vic. And, thanks, Karen.
I noticed the decrease in the noise coming from outside our airplane. We were about 45 minutes into a 2 hour flight. It was far too early for the airplane to be slowing down for its descent. Along with the change in sound level, I noticed a queasiness in my stomach. I glanced out the window at the cloud level beneath us. Perhaps it was just turbulence. We were supposed to fly over a cold front moving through Alabama toward our departure city, Atlanta. I continued to read my book and noticed the persistence of the queasiness. I am prone to motion sickness and after ten or fifteen minutes I decided there was something not quite right about the motion of our airplane. I glanced across the aisle at my wife. She was asleep as usual. I could never sleep on a flight. I don’t like flying at all. I never have.
“When it’s your time to go, it doesn’t matter if you are in an airplane or not.” I’ve been told. But what if it’s the pilot’s “time to go”? My father passed away in October, 2012 at the age of 98 and he steadfastly refused to fly. Why? Because in the event of a crash he didn’t want “to wake up dead.” Hmmm!
The intercom crackled and this is what the pilot said. “Well, we are on descent for a landing in Birmingham.” Our destination was Shreveport, Louisiana — not Birmingham! “Just to let you know we have lost one of our two engines and we cannot get it restarted. There is no need for alarm because we can fly perfectly well with only one engine. But, we are making an unscheduled landing in Birmingham for safety’s sake and to check out the engine. We’ll be on the ground in ten minutes.”
On the ground in ten minutes. Not necessarily the best choice of words! My heart skipped a few beats and I reached across the aisle and grabbed my wife’s hand. She was wide awake now having heard the entire message. We looked at each other wordlessly. What can you say? We could very well die. If the other engine failed, we became a flying brick — very little chance of gliding to a safe landing. So, we prayed. It was all I could think to do.
Curiously, I was not panicky. I should have been. I was a bit nervous, but that sickening feeling of impending doom never settled in. There was nothing I could do. I was at the mercy of the pilots and their skill level. The flight attendant merely smiled at us. It was a forced smile hiding her own nervousness. As she bustled down the aisle to make sure we were all belted in, the smile never broke. She had made a connection with my wife who is always gregarious and reaching out to other people to know more about them. She put a hand on my wife’s shoulder. “I knew something happened a few minutes ago. But, we are going to be fine.”
We landed without difficulty just like any ordinary landing except for the firetrucks racing down the runway keeping pace with our airplane. We all applauded at the landing and then fell silent at the sight of men clad in silver hazmat suits waiting at the gate. We pulled up to the exit ramp and the flight attendant immediately opened the door. But, the jetway stayed retracted.
“We will sit right here for a few minutes.” The pilot assured us over the intercom. “While the mechanics check out the engine. We’ll let you know in a few moments whether you will be deplaned or if we can get the engine fixed and take off again.”
Take off again? No way! I wanted OFF that airplane. It only took about 5 minutes and the jetway pulled up to the doorway. In the meantime, the flight attendant said over the intercom, “Don’t be alarmed at the fire trucks and the fire men. This is standard procedure whenever there is a engine, uh, engine, uh, malfunction.” The unspoken word was ‘fire’. She kept her cool and never uttered it.
We left the airplane and hurried into the Birmingham terminal. I glanced out the window at our aircraft. The right engine looked perfectly normal — no smoke or fire. My wife and I settled into some seats to await our fate.
Here is where things got very interesting. I am a people watcher. I love to see how people respond in unusual situations. What transpired over the next 4 hours did not disappoint me. The lady sitting next to me settled in beside my wife and they instantly struck up a conversation. I wandered down to the restroom to relieve myself and wash my face.
It took about an hour but the decision was made that a new airplane was being flown from Atlanta to take us on to Shreveport. We landed at 130 PM and we were told the airplane would land about 320 PM. A short, dumpy man sitting next to me began to mumble. “They are liars. Consummate liars. All of them. Don’t believe a word they say. If they are breathing they’re lying!” These comments returned every time there was an announcement. Mr. Grumpy continued to spew forth his vile pessimism endlessly for four hours. Over and over, he called everyone in earshot a liar. As time passed, he added curse words to his mantra. He called up the airline on his cell phone while announcements were being made overhead to chew out some hapless airline employee on the other end of the line. I finally had to get up and walk away.
Eventually we had a departure time of 4 o’clock and my wife and I and her new friend walked down the terminal to find some lunch. We settled down for an hour and my wife and her friend soon exchanged life stories.
Here is my first observation.
Women have an unlimited capacity for bonding together, even between total strangers. My wife and Vicky took only about 5 minutes to establish a level of friendly intimacy it would take a man and his friend to discover in a life time. Meanwhile, the men in the waiting room were either cursing or talking to their business destination about being late, or in one case, talking to a wife to make sure their life insurance was up to date. Business as usual for us, guys. No mawkish emotionalizing on our part UNLESS it was to ream out the airline for delaying our arrival at our destination. Men, we could learn a thing or two from our wives.
After returning to the gate area, I was amazed as I watched three men come to the desk and request some kind of refund or remuneration for the inconvenience of our our delay. Each time, the person was told that giving out cash or vouchers was not the policy of the airline when there was an equipment malfunction. All of these men went away angry and soon our waiting area was host to “twelve angry men”. However, Mr. Grumpy still took the prize. Our new airplane landed at 4 o’clock and we had a new departure time of 4:20 PM. We would be arriving in Shreveport about 5:30 PM four hours later than our scheduled arrival time. I went to the restroom and while standing at the urinal noticed that Mr. Grumpy had arrived at the urinal next to mine. He was still complaining and cursing as he emptied his bladder. I felt sorry for his body parts — they could not walk away from his complaining. But, at least he had one inseparable friend he could complain to who would never talk back!
Here is my second observation.
My wife and I were on a flight from Atlanta to Shreveport when one of the two engines malfunctioned. We could have died. But, the two pilots managed to land us safely in Birmingham. Our inconvenience ended up being a four hour delay. I would say that is more than adequate payment in exchange for our lives! Instead of being grateful we were alive, some of us were demanding money in exchange for inconvenience and others were calling the people who saved our lives “liars” and other names I shall not repeat in mixed company. I leaned over to my wife and said, “Instead of complaining we should all be grateful we arrived safely without incident and we have a flight home on the same day!” Funny how things can change if you have the right attitude!
We loaded up on the new airplane and settled into the same seats. My wife’s new friend sat beside me and asked if I had heard the complaints of “Mr. Grumpy”. Seemed everyone had. He was way back behind us safely belted into his seat and I felt sorry for those who were around him for the duration of our flight home. We had a new crew and the same flight attendant. Just before boarding, I had watched the senior pilot take his bags and walk down the terminal. I wanted to run up to him and thank him for landing us safely. In retrospect, I should have. Instead, all he heard were strident voices of complaining and cursing. The man saved our lives!
After we took off, the flight attendant was delivering drinks and paused to speak to my wife. She told us they had put her on another flight but without a flight attendant, we would not have been able to fly home, even with a new crew. She insisted on finishing out our flight to make us feel more comfortable. She shared all of this with my wife. My wife thanked her for smiling and trying her best to make us feel safe. It was then the flight attendant delivered the bomb shell. She told us she had been flying with the two pilots on our original flight for a long time. And, then she told my wife that those two pilots had just completed training the day before on a flight simulator in, guess what emergency? You got it! They had just trained in the emergent scenario of landing an airplane with only one engine! My wife glanced at me and I got all weepy and wiggly inside. God was in control! This wasn’t a random series of events at all. She smiled at the flight attendant and said “That was God.” The flight attendant nodded. “Yes, I agree.”
Here is my third observation.
And, here my foundational beliefs do bias my conclusions. I recently posted on Speculative Faith and I was not received kindly by some of the commenters. One commenter said that we place too much emphasis on sharing the Truth with a capital T as Christians. That sometimes creating something of beauty is just that. Just go with it! Another commenter said my devotion to defending the truthfulness of the Christian faith was tantamount to being a “talking head”. Hmmm. Maybe all this God talk is overdoing it. Why don’t we just sit back and enjoy the ride?
Let me state unequivocally that everything I believe, everything I cling to, every rational shred of intellect, every emotional feeling of pain or love comes from my absolutely unshakable conviction that there is a God who brought this universe into existence and has designed it and built it for His glory and that He has invited us to be a part of a grand and wondrous Story that is unfolding from the very beginning of time and space until the end of it all. And that God, the triune God of the Bible, can be known, can become a companion that dwells in our laughter and in our light and is always there in our darkest moments even when we choose to be Mr. Grumpy or seek some type of material compensation to salve our tortured souls. It is a sad commentary on our central pride and arrogance that it takes a terrible crisis to make us stop and examine what is real and what is truly meaningful in our lives and that is not hubris or things — rather it is people and souls and time spent in the glow of God’s created beings — our companions on this journey toward forever — that will last beyond this universe into eternity. And, when we arrive at that conclusion and we finally see dimly with God’s eyes this terrible and wonderful Plan that is unfolding around us then we find true joy and true peace. For ultimately God will show us always that He and He alone is in control. He is God and I am not. I’ve seen His job and I don’t want it! Like our stalwart pilot who walked away lonely but triumphant his ears filled with jeers and curses — God endures our grumpiness and our demands for the material and our arrogance and our ego and loves us still and continues to deliver us from the enemy. His amazing love is truly unconditional!
Someone once said that faith is walking to the edge of your circle of light and taking one more step into the darkness. I disagree. Faith is knowing that beyond the failing light of our lives there is more than living and dying in the darkness — for God is there also waiting for us with an open hand to take us safely through the darkness into the ultimate Light of His love and glory. And that step we take, that hand we reach out can only happen because we have seen the evidence of His power and His plan and His love. Faith is acting upon that knowledge and being willing to put aside our own selfish point of view and see the world, the universe, eternity from God’s perspective. When we do we realize that our darkness is His light!
Check out my recent guest post on Speculative Faith on the use of the concept of parallel universes in fiction:
I am stranded in Orlando, Florida.
I am stuck on Disney property.
Now, I love Disney. But, as my late father once said, “I may be thirsty but I don’t want to drink from a fire hydrant.” I’ve had a wonderful time here with my daughter, Casey (for her birthday) and my sister, Gwen and her daughter, Rhonda. But, my wife was supposed to fly down yesterday and my sister and daughter fly home and I will be lucky if flights resume tomorrow.
Which only goes to show that too much of a good time is just that. But, the cast members here are making the best of a bad situation — lots of rain and record low temperatures as wells as cancellations of flights necessitating extensions of room reservations. Today, for instance, it is drizzling rain and about 45 degrees. If you know Florida, you know that a cold rain in Florida is miserable!
On another note, I received a very nice email from a fan. Yes, a fan! I seem to have those. She loved “The 11th Demon” and wanted to know when “The 10th Demon” would be out! Those are wonderful words. But, let me clue you in on a little insight to the publishing industry. Books must sell. Publishing is a business. And, for number 10 to show up, I have to sell lots of number 11!
I will soon begin a marketing campaign, so hopefully more people will here about Jonathan Steel and his exploits. I have been asked to write a guest post for Speculative Faith, a website devoted to Christian Speculative Fiction and I will keep my readers posted. Maybe some word of mouth will boost my book sales. If not, then Jonathan Steel’s story may end with the 11th demon even though there are ten more books in the pipeline.
I’ll tell a sodden, shivering Micky Mouse you said hi!
Remember, you can order all three books at a discount at www.11thdemon.com .