Saturday, June 25, 2011



Ever since I saw Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” in seventh grade, I have been uncomfortable around birds. When I was in high school, my personal trepidation towards birds was heightened one day when I was out jogging. It was summer in Arkansas, which meant it was extremely hot. In order to beat the heat, I decided to wake up and hit the pavement early. For years, I had been running the same route.

I would start at the trim gym in Jonesboro and run near the highway on an access road. During the run, there is a slight incline that leads to the crest of a hill. At this point in the run, there was brush with a few trees on each side of the access road. This particular run was an out and back, meaning you run to a certain point and then return along the same path to where the run initially started.  The entire run was just over three miles.

Anyway, on the morning I went for this run, I had a terrible run in with some birds. By the time I reached the point on the access road where the hill began, the sun was coming up and I could hear birds chirping all around me. Until that point, I had never had a bad experience with birds, so I didn’t think much of this.

As I continued up the hill, I noticed a few black birds flying around. These weren’t like any blackbirds I have ever seen before. They had bright red breasts and they were very aggressive. When I was about halfway up the hill, I noticed a shadow on the ground in front of me—it began to grow larger and larger. As soon as I realized what the shadow might be, I turned around to look.

The bird nearly took my head off. Luckily, I was able to dart out of the way. The bird continued to pursue me. For about another 100 yards, the birds would take turns taking swipes at my head. Finally, at the top of the hill, the birds retreated to the brush. I had survived. The only problem was that I knew I had to face the birds again when I ran back down the hill.

Sure enough, on my way back, the birds welcomed me with same ferociousness. By the time I returned to my car, I knew I could never look at birds the same way again. Later that afternoon, I had lunch with one my best friends. Wesley Suitt and I had grown up in the same neighborhood. We got into and caused our fair share of trouble.

At lunch, I told him the story. He didn’t believe me. I pleaded with him that we needed to take action to curb the imminent threat of the birds to our community. Finally, he agreed to go out there with me to take care of the birds. He didn’t come with me because he believed anything in the story, but because it was an Arkansas summer and we were board out of our minds. Regardless of why he came, I’m glad he did because I don’t think I could have made the trip alone.

So that afternoon Wes and I grabbed two baseball bats and jumped in my car. We decided to park at the top of the hill and walk down to where the birds were at earlier that morning. It was about a 300 yard walk. I will never forget how hot it was that day. It was one of those days where it seemed like soles of your shoes were sure to melt from walking on the asphalt.

As we walked down the hill, I tried to convey to Wes the dangers of what was ahead. He thought I was exaggerating. After much anticipation, we reached the spot where I was viciously attacked only hours before. Of course, there were no birds anywhere; not even the slightest chirping. We waited for about five minutes, but there were still no birds. Finally, the 100 degree heat was too much, and we decided to return to the car. About the time we turned around, we noticed a white car approaching us. I realized that the white car was a state trooper. Just down the road, there was a state troopers headquarters for the NEA region. I looked at Wes and said “this should be good.”

Right after I said that, the state trooper flew by us. We turned and looked over our shoulders and his car had come to a stop. His lights soon flicked on and he put the car in reverse. I guess two kids carrying baseball bats walking in the middle of nowhere seemed suspicious to him. I tried to explain the story to him about what happened previously that morning and why we were carrying baseball bats. Like Wes, the state trooper didn’t believe me. He suggested we head back to our car; we followed his instructions.

For the rest of the summer, I was terrorized by these birds. Up until that point, that route had been my favorite place to run; however, I now was afraid to run on it. Eventually, I realized that during the day, it was too hot for the birds to be out. As a result, I would only run that route during heat of the day. On a couple of occasions, I would start a bit too early or wait a little late in the afternoon, and on these trips, I would hear the ominous chirping coming from the brush. I shared my story with everyone about the birds. Not many believed me.

So, there are a lot of birds in Sydney. Since I have been here, I have had some bad experiences. The second weekend I was here, I decided to go to a coffee shop to access the internet. The coffee shop is located in the suburb of Crows Nest (That probably should have been my first hint). Right next to the coffee shop, there is a little park and places to sit for outside dining. When I was walking up to the coffee shop I noticed tons of crows around the place. They would wait until someone left a table with food on it and swoop in to grab what they could. Because I needed to use my computer and I noticed the crows, I decided to sit inside.

I sat near a glass window. Ever since, that first run in with birds in Jonesboro, I have always jump when I see shadows. Because I was sitting near the window, I was already slightly unnerved because I would see shadows racing by and would forget that the birds were outside. Right after I got my coffee and began working on my computer, I noticed another shadow coming towards me.

Some say that time seems to slow down when your body has to react quickly. Well in this instance, I felt like life was in slow motion. When I noticed the shadow, I immediately looked up and I saw a crow heading straight for me. I ducked and the crow bounced off of my left shoulder. I was terrified. The guy making the coffee asked if I was okay. I said yes, but there was still a problem. The bird remained in the coffee shop. The bird saw the window and couldn’t figure out how to escape. It was trapped, terrified, and fluttering all over the place. The coffee guy eventually went and picked the bird up. He was braver than me. He later told me he saw the whole thing and that the crow was definitely going straight for my jugular. I believed him: I felt lucky to be alive that day.

Last week, I went to the campus of the University of Sydney to meet with the dean of law school. After meeting with her, I took a walk around the campus. It is a beautiful campus. The campus is right outside the city and has a beautiful view of the downtown skyline. The campus is very unique, as it has a wonderful mix of stunning old buildings and innovative new designs. By the time I had walked around the campus, it was nearly noon, so I decided that I would just eat in an open area by the Main Quadrangle, the most historic building on campus. I found a bench and pulled out my peanut butter and jelly. I was excited about lunch. I love a good pb&j. I had a few apple cinnamon rice cakes to go with it.

When I was about halfway finished, I again saw the tell-tale sign. I turned around and I noticed a bird-like animal approaching me. This thing was scary. It was a type of hybrid mix between what looked to be a rooster and a velociraptor.

I quickly got up and faced my adversary. My actions did not break its gaze, which was locked onto my pb&j in my right hand. He plopped down on the bench and continued towards me. Beside the bird were my apple cinnamon rice cakes, but the bird had yet to notice the cakes. I had a choice to make. I could leave the cakes in hope that they might check the birds appetite or I could go after the cakes.

This was an easy choice. Despite the risk, I knew I had to grab the cakes. Because everything is so expensive in Sydney, you learn that you can’t afford to waste anything. I ran in and grabbed the cakes. Knowing that it missed some easy food, the bird became increasingly frustrated and determined to get what was left of my lunch.  After that, I began to retreat only to find two more birds approaching from my rear. Once I saw this, I knew additional action was needed.

As a group of Chinese exchange students looked on, I gave my best effort to take this additional action. I began to rapidly eat my sandwich and avoid the birds. The birds realized my plan and knew they needed to move more quickly. I wanted to run, but I had left my backpack on the bench. I had to get it, but I knew it wasn’t safe to return until the sandwich was finished.

The faster I ate the faster they approached. Here I was out in the middle of one of the most famous places in Sydney in a coat and tie trying to dodge these birds. I would take a bite and move a few feet, which would provide me enough time to take another bite. I felt like a bullfighter trying to dodge a Toro Bravo.

The birds would make a pass, and I would step away at just the last second to avoid it. Finally, I was able to finish the sandwich and the cakes. As soon as I finished, the birds gave up.

Throughout it all, the Chinese exchange students were pointing and laughing. I’m happy I had the chance to provide the afternoon entertainment for the University of Sydney.!BirdWebpageIndex/WhiteIbisJul10-02.jpg&imgrefurl=!BirdWebpageIndex/BirdWebpageIndex.html&usg=__U5HHPFIOcpGAlfVRcE5m9Mf2H4g=&h=600&w=739&sz=69&hl=en&start=0&zoom=1&tbnid=N2bPmuBtguybfM:&tbnh=127&tbnw=150&ei=GX8FTtGKLMXXmAXpt4HBDQ&prev=/search%3Fq%3DPhotos%2Bof%2BIbis%2Bbirds%26hl%3Den%26client%3Dfirefox-a%26hs%3DEY2%26sa%3DX%26rls%3Dorg.mozilla:en-US:official%26biw%3D1366%26bih%3D546%26tbm%3Disch%26prmd%3Divns&itbs=1&iact=rc&dur=459&page=1&ndsp=24&ved=1t:429,r:5,s:0&tx=38&ty=59&biw=1366&bih=546

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Memoirs, Meat pies, and Moving

Memoirs, Meat Pies, and Moving

Hello from Sydney—I sincerely hope everyone is doing great! The last week has been busy, but has been a great learning experience. For the most part, work for my project was fairly slow; however, the week was filled full of other things that needed to be done.

Over the last week, I stayed with one of my friends from NSWBC at his old place. In his old living situation, he roomed with another person in a three bedroom house. Because they had the room and knew I had few options, they offered me their extra room at a cheap rate.

The house was nice—certainly a vast improvement over chili blue. I was very thankful to have the opportunity to do some much needed laundry and catch up on other things. It was nice to have a home base where I could work from. The best part was that the house was only a short ten minute walk to my work. It did rain the first few days, but it wasn’t anything my second Sydney umbrella couldn’t handle.

One lesson I learned: Never buy cheap umbrellas in a city where you will be walking a lot. During my first week in Australia, I saw the weather report and realized that we were in for a few days of rain. I decided it would be a good idea to purchase an umbrella; of course, I never quite got around to it. This was the first mistake.

One beautiful morning, I left from chili blue in an attempt to find some housing. I had my backpack ready to go. It was completely filled to the brim with everything I might need for my couple hour excursion: computer, cords, folder (filled with a variety of useless information), passport, and even some dirty clothes that managed to get stowed away there. All in all, it was massive. Had the DELTA lady weighed it prior to my departure, it would have been staying at chili blue. I was unmistakably a tourist. Despite this fact, I set out to find a place I could call home for ten weeks with all my important belongings. It was dangerous to leave them at chili blue.

A few hours after I left, I noticed it started clouding up; the clouds became an ominous sign of what the next few days would bring. Soon after this, it began to rain, so I ducked into a place where I might be able to stay dry. I was very surprised to find a convenient store, and I thought that it might have an umbrella I could buy. I walked into the store and asked the store clerk if they had any umbrellas. He said yes and pointed me to the stockpile of overpriced umbrellas. All I know is that he must have looked at the same weather report that I did that morning because the umbrellas were obviously marked up. For as much as these umbrellas were running, I should have owned a percentage of the company.

I thought about leaving and then I heard the all too familiar sound of a torrential downpour. He knew he had me. Reluctantly, I began searching the bin for a something reasonable. Finally, I found a small umbrella. It looked sturdy enough and it was only $15 dollars or so. I walked up to the man to purchase the umbrella— he smiled.

The man knew all along he was a winner that day and there was nothing I could do about that fact. He knew that I was going to walk out of his place with a new umbrella regardless of the price. Buying an umbrella isn’t like purchasing a car; there are no test drives, especially not inside a building. I had no chips to bluff with and my hand of cards I had been dealt no chance of winning.

After I got about 100 yards from the store, a big wind came and my umbrella turned inside out. I soon learned that it wasn’t a good day to be carrying all of your valuables. I began to run down the streets of a suburb in Sydney called Darlinghurst. I had no idea where I was going. Finally, I found a coffee shop, and I tried to wait out the weather. After an hour, I decided to get back on my horse and left. I still had to make another stop in town, so I headed downtown for my next appointment. Of course, it started raining again. The umbrella was absolutely useless. I might as well have been trying to block the rain with McDonald’s napkins on a toothpick.

Again, I ducked away to avoid getting completely soaked. I ran down some stairs, which I thought led to one of the train stops. I saw a trash can and tossed my umbrella. I found another convenient store. Of course, they had umbrellas and they were proudly displayed in their window; I’m positive a spot that was only reserved for days such as that one. I went in and there was a nice lady behind the counter. She could tell I was frustrated, and I went straight towards the umbrellas. I saw one like I first purchased. I decided I should consider an upgrade. I couldn’t afford a big upgrade: The Cadillac of umbrellas was over $50. Instead, I selected the moderately expensive umbrella.

After the purchase, I still had some reservations as to whether I made the right choice. I would soon have a chance to find out. When I emerged from the underground station, the rain was coming down hard. I opened up my umbrella and to my surprise it gently glided open to protect me from the elements. To this day, it has been the best purchase that I have made while being in Australia.

Most days, though, the walk to and from work is really nice. I will turn on my music and just enjoy the walk to the office. The house is in a neat neighborhood and really provided me with a place to get caught up on the many things that had been mounting over the previous week. I didn’t have internet there until the end of my stay, but it was still much better than our first lodging experience in Sydney.

One of the best features of the house is the shower; it gets really hot. Throughout the week, I would take my dress shirts in there and use the steam to get the wrinkles out. One morning, I woke up and began my normal routine. I hung up a few shirts and began getting ready to hop in the shower. By this point, I had turned on some hot water so I could shave; I went to put some water on my face. It was ice cold (remember it is winter in Sydney). I thought maybe it had just not had a chance to warm up yet, so I left it on and went to do some other things. When I got back, it was still cold. The shower water wasn’t any warmer. If the record books kept track of the world’s quickest shower, I think that my time would have been competitive. The next day the shower was fixed and everything was back on track.

Right before I moved in with my friend from work, he let me know that he was about to be moving into a new flat the following weekend. He said it was two bedrooms, but I could come if I didn’t mind sleeping on the couch. He said the rent would only be $40 per week. The cheapest I had found prior to this offer was $260 per week. Someone upstairs was definitely looking out for me.

We spent this last weekend moving into a new flat only about a tenth of a mile away from his old flat. The flat is in a great area; one of the best in North Sydney. I can still walk to work and there are some great restaurants around. Because the new place is so close to the old house, we decided that we didn’t “need to hire a ute.” In English, we decided we didn’t need to rent a u-haul. He didn’t have a whole lot of stuff to move, so we thought we might be able to handle it. The only real problem is that we had to cross a major highway in North Sydney. The highway had crosswalks, which were very much out of the way. The highway was only four lanes across. If we moved quickly enough, then we thought we should be able to make it across okay. Thus, we believed we would be able to make the move ourselves.

In anticipation of the move, we began taking a few things over each day. Finally, on Saturday, the day came for us to move the heavy things. We only had seven pieces of big furniture: a desk; two mattresses; a chair; a small filing cabinet, an old heater, and chest of drawers. Before moving the first load, Mark, my friend’s old flatmate, suggested we ask his neighbor to borrow his dolly. We thought it was a good idea, so Nick went over to ask to see if we could use it for a bit.

He was gone for a long time. Nick came back smiling and said Harry was going to let us use his van. I was ecstatic. You see I was really worried about what might happen trying to lug that bed across the highway. I didn’t have a good feeling about it, but I was certainly willing to try. Fortunately, Harry came to the rescue.

When Harry appeared, I went over to introduce myself and thank him for offering to help. I said, “Hi, I’m Nate. Thank you for letting us use your truck.” He inaudibly mumbled something (it definitely wasn’t hello) and walked away. Harry is an interesting man. He’s about six feet tall and in his mid-eighties. When he spoke, it was very difficult to understand him. It sounded like he had a distinctive accent; one that certainly wasn’t Australian. But, I was afraid to ask where he was from in fear that he might say Sydney.

I have been around several older people that have been victims of strokes and, as a consequence, have lost the ability to do some things. When I was young, I can remember interacting with a man that lived beside my grandparent’s lake house. He was a very interesting man. One day, he had a stroke and it caused him to lose much of his mobility and speech. He did not let this keep him down though. The summer after it occurred we would often see him mowing his lawn. Still to this day he travels around his property on his riding lawnmower. He is still an incredible person, despite the fact that he can only speak a few words. As a result of his stroke, he became very good at expressing himself by writing more and by using different gestures. I hope I have a chance to visit with him soon.

As it turned out, ole Harry is German, and he immediately didn’t care much for me. He is an interesting man.

He was an engineer in his youth and still enjoys solving problems. At one point during the move, he was tying a mattress on top of the van. He looked at me and said “tick tock.” It didn’t know what he was saying so I asked him if he reminding repeating himself. “Tick tock. Tick tock.” Harry repeated. I obviously looked very confused. He said “that’s the sound of my brain at work.”

He used a rope and wrapped it around various points around the van. His design was quite brilliant. When he went to shut the door, the pressure from the door caused the rope to gently tighten, which eventually stabilized the mattress.

His van had an open passenger seat and some room in the back between the seats and the furniture. I began to get in the van; instead, Harry muttered something inaudible and Bundy, his dog of at least thirty years, jumped into my spot.

He had a peculiar relationship with Bundy. Bundy would be in the way and Harry would get frustrated. Then, he would scream something in German.—Bundy would act like he didn’t hear him. In response, Harry would count “one, two, three.” If Bundy was still there, then Harry would say “I’m going to get you.” After those words, Bundy would listen and quickly retreat from whatever he was doing wrong.

They rode to the flat, and I walked. Harry didn’t want to double park in front of the building, so we parked about a block away from the building. Harry was good at giving directions. He would say, “up up,” meaning something that still escapes me. For each piece of furniture, he would instruct us on how to place it correctly on the dolly so as to maximize our efficiency. After several bad instances of him shouting “up up” and us doing the wrong thing, I think he gave up on us.

On the next load, I remembered that the mattress had some handles built on it. I thought it might increase the stability of the load if we looped the rope under the handles. I approached Harry and told him my idea. His reply: “I’ve done this before.” I definitely understood those words.

Between loads, Harry mentioned to us that he was having some computer trouble. At that point, it became clear that Harry wasn’t helping us to earn some volunteer hours. In return for his help, he expected us to fix his computer. Whether we knew it or not at the time he said he would help, we had irrevocably bound ourselves into a contract with Harry: We would fix his computer and in return, we would get his truck and uninterrupted counsel.

After a few trips of me walking and Bundy riding, we finally got everything unloaded. After we finally pulled the last load from his van, he immediately drove off. When Nick and I returned to his old flat, we noticed that his garage was down. He obviously had lost faith in us and did not want us coming anywhere near his computer. He didn’t even let us return the dolly.

Finally, on Sunday afternoon, I was able to unpack my bag for the first time. Exactly three weeks ago Sunday, I arrived in Sydney. It felt great to finally get my bags unpacked. All in all, the new flat looks really great, and I am very fortunate to be here. Our other flatmate seems to be a wonderful person.

One of the highlights of last week was going to the Rag and Famish. “The Rag,” as it is known to Australians, is one of the oldest pubs in Sydney. After people discovered that I have never had a meat pie, they said I had to go to this place. Honestly, I wasn’t really looking forward to it. When I thought of a meat pie, I had visions of chicken pot pies, which I just can’t bring myself to eat. I reluctantly agreed to go to “the Rag.”

When we got there, the place was packed. I went to the counter and saw that they had fish and chips: I had a way out, which I was happy to take! When I said I thought I was going to order the fish and chips, everyone was disappointed. After seeing this disappointment, I asked the person at the bar who taking our order what was in it. His response: meat. I thought well at least there are no peas, and I ordered my first meat pie.

After ordering my food, I saw a beautiful brunette that worked at the restaurant. She was gorgeous and I immediately thought about how great it would be to meet her. Another thing I have learned is that my accent makes it difficult for people to understand me. During one our first nights in town, Marc and I entered a poker game in order to escape chili blue for a couple hours.

For part of the game, I was placed next to a girl who was working in Sydney that was from Germany. She spoke perfect English, and I thought we were having a good conversation (at least as much as you can while playing poker). Later on, however, I realized that she had no idea what I was saying. At one point, she leaned over to Marc—who she was able to understand perfectly—and admitted that she had understood about three words of what I said the entire evening. Marc hasn’t let me live that down.

When I went to pick up my meat pie the beautiful brunette was working the counter. This was my chance. While I was approaching, I tried to think of something witty to say. Unfortunately, I underestimated the time it would take to get to the counter. When I got to the counter, I still had nothing to say. After at about a five second pause—which I’m sure impressed her—I asked her for some Ketchup. She said “the tomato sauce is behind you.” There was nothing else left to be said. I turned, picked up the “tomato sauce,” and returned to my chair. Not only had I completely blown an opportunity, I didn’t even use the correct words.

The meat pie was great. For those that have never had a meat pie, they come in a variety of forms. That night, ours had chunks of meat and dark gravy that was made from Guinness beer. Around the entire pie is a pastry-like covering. It was served with fries and a salad. The meat reminded me of my grandma’s Sunday lunch pot roast—it was a great meal. Nick mentioned to me that there are better meat pies in town. Despite this, I will be returning once a week to “the Rag.” Hopefully, future conversations might be a little more substantive than getting directions to the condiments.

One of the best things about the IPSP has been the time I have had to reflect on a variety of different things. When you have no internet, phone, e-mail, or place to live, you end up doing a lot of thinking. Another thing I have had the chance to do is read for fun. Since entering law school, I haven’t done this much. I always do my best to read for class. Even though I give it my best effort, I often don’t succeed in finishing everything for the week. Because of this, it just doesn’t seem right to take time and read stuff for fun when it would put me even further behind in my reading for class.  Since I have been on this trip, though, I have had a lot of time so I’ve been trying to catch up on some reading.

Already, I have had a chance to read two books: “Stay on Message” and “Best Lawyer in a One Lawyer Town.” “Stay on Message” was written by Paul Ritchie. Paul is my supervisor on the trip and is a good person. He is the media relations specialist for NSW Business Chamber. The book is also really insightful. Paul has accrued an abundance of experience in media relations from working in a variety of roles that have dealt with the media.

After returning to Australia from completing a degree from the Kennedy School, he decided to write a book on communications. “Stay on Message” discusses the important factors of effective communication. The book highlights how strong relationships and trust play important roles in working with the media and creating a message that resonates with the public. It is a really good book that makes use of several recent examples both from Australia and the US. I would definitely recommend it for anyone interested the field of communication.

“Best Lawyer in a One Lawyer Town” is one of the best books I have ever read. Senator Dale Bumpers does a great job of capturing the essence of Arkansas politics. It offers a unique description of historical events in Arkansas and beyond. His wit and story-telling ability makes the book a fast read. In the past, I have had an opportunity to read the memoirs of Senator David Pryor and President Bill Clinton. It is fascinating to see all of the common themes in each book and see many of the same historical events viewed from different perspectives. Senator Bumpers book is very similar in this way and provides additional insights into Arkansas history and politics. Add any book from Barth or Parry to the mix, and I think any out-of-state person would be interested in moving to Arkansas. Any student of Arkansas politics must read “Best Lawyer in a One Lawyer Town.”

Honestly, I feel terrible and am embarrassed to say that I have just now read this book. When I graduated high school, one of my former teachers and one of my dear friends gave me this book. Bonnie Smith (Ms. Smith) was also one of my sponsors for student council. While working with her in that capacity, she discovered my passion for public service and for politics. It is a signed copy, and the book must have been terribly difficult to get. I have always cherished the gift and have been waiting for the “right time” to read it. Unfortunately, it kept getting put on the back burner, and I never got around to it.

I missed out. In the book, Senator Bumpers details the challenges and triumphs that almost every politician encounters. He shares many of the difficulties of being a progressive politician in the South. He emphasizes the importance in standing up for what is right, regardless of whether or not it might be politically popular to do so. Above this, however, he tells a story of the resiliency of the American people and particularly Arkansans. This book is both educational and inspirational, and I would definitely encourage anyone with an interest in Arkansas politics to read it.

It has been a good week from here in Sydney. As always, I miss everyone in Arkansas and look forward to coming home. I will be in touch soon.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

48 Hours in America

Okay, I have two disclaimers I have to offer before you read beyond this point. First, the title of the blog is “Wizard of Oz.” At first, I thought that was a pretty decent name—I was actually pretty excited for this rare instance of creativity.
After having a conversation with Marc Peters in an LA airport (more to come on that later) and several hours on a plane to think about this, I realized that wizard and Arkansas connection might not have the best associations (i.e. see Harrison, AR.). Unfortunately, I don't know how to change the blog title, so this explanation will have to suffice.
As such, it is important to note that the name for the blog came from the word association with Australia, not “Pastor Robb” from Harrison. When I was doing my housing research, I kept seeing the word “Oz” popping up. After seeing this several times, I realized that the word “Oz” actually was a play on “Aus” for Australia( I know it takes me a bit longer than others sometimes... )So, please note that the name of the blog came from this association rather than the other.
So, the second disclaimer: the title of this first post on the blog relates to a West Wing episode.  For those of you who aren’t West Wing fans, this post will not make as much sense; however, for those who followed the series like I did, you will know exactly how I felt getting to “Oz.”
In 48-hours in America, Josh, Tobby, and Donna miss the presidential motorcade outside a rural town in Indiana. The episode centers around these characters attempt to catch up with the motorcade before Air Force One left to return DC. Along the way, these DC insiders ran into several problems; ultimately, it took them 48 hours to get back home.
During this episode, they had about everything bad happen to them that possibly could; they ran out of gas; they failed to consider an hour time change; and they even got soaking wet from a torrential rain storm. In the end, however, all of these terrible circumstances led them to having a conversation in a hotel bar. This conversation changed everything.
The man was hoping to send his daughter to Notre Dame. Unfortunately, the man was having trouble finding the extra money to pay for her expensive college tuition: He was worried that he would not be able to send his daughter to college.
From this conversation, one of the central pieces of the President’s re-election campaign was discovered. So, in the end, the 48-hours were well spent, but during all the difficult times, it was hard for that group to see it.  I think that is almost always true for life as well.
My trip all started about 9:30am Arkansas time when I got a phone call from Marc Peters. Several months before this call, Marc, who is in Western Australia for the next three months, and I decided to travel to Australia together. The morning of our scheduled departure, however, all of those plans changed with a phone call from him.
Marc told me that ALL of the flights from BWI to Dallas were canceled. Because of this, we no longer were going to be on the same flight. He was able to find another flight that left an airport about an hour away from him to take him to LA and then from LA he was going to Sydney.  Even though it wasn’t our original plan, this slight audible was going to work out in the end—Marc was actually going to get to the Sydney airport an hour before my flight from Dallas. Despite the fact that neither of us had cell phones or really anyway of finding each other once in Sydney, we decided to move forward with this new plan, which we believed was our only course of action. Well, we were wrong about one thing: there were definitely several other paths to make it to Sydney. I think both of us about experienced all of those ways during the next few hours.
When I got to Memphis to check into my flight, life was good. I had spoken to American Airlines earlier that day, and the airlines said it would contact me if anything changed about the status of my flights. I got a chance to spend time with my brother, his wife, and their little baby boy Cooper (who just started walking). And, after making a brief pit stop at the Rendezvous, my mom and grandma took me to the airport. Life was good. When I walked up to the airport counter, I learned that there was a slight problem with my flights. The good day rapidly began to deteriorate—the first leg of my flight had been pushed back nearly an hour.
Originally, I was only going to have a couple of hours in Dallas, so this short delay in Memphis was concerning. I walked up to the AA counter to find a frumpy-looking woman who didn’t seem like she particularly cared to be working that day. I couldn’t help but think to myself that I was never going to get out of Memphis dealing with her. To my surprise, she was great and very helpful.
After speaking to Ms. Danna at the AA counter, she assured me that I would have 50 minutes from when I landed in Dallas to when the next flight was to be boarded. She told me not to worry, so I didn’t. I could live with this news. After this conversation, my mom, grandma, and I went for a starbucks coffee and visited a bit more.
About 5:00pm I decided that I should get ready for my flight and go ahead and try to get through security. Before going into security, my grandma pointed out that my flight had been pushed back another hour: This was a game changer. Because of this delay, we all knew that I would definitely not make my connecting flight in Dallas. So the fun began.
As I approached Ms. Danna she was dealing with another customer, and she broke aside from talking with him and told me that she had me covered. I was skeptical. You see, she also said that to the other customer before me. She took care of him by giving him a flight out the next morning. I thought I was toast.
After dealing with the other customer, she said she had a couple choices for me. I thought this should be good. Again, she surprised me.  She went on to tell me that she could get me on a flight with DELTA that left Memphis in the next hour that would go to LA. From there, there were two flights from LA to Sydney.
At this point, I immediately sent a message to Marc who was boarding his plane on this East coast (barely caught him in time) to figure out what flight he was on from LA to Sydney.  As it turned out there was room on the late flight, so I took it. It really was kind of crazy; Marc and I would be on the same flight, despite the fact that we were both leaving from different parts of America and on different flights than we originally booked. Of course, that would be the case if I was able to catch the first leg of my flight.
After Ms. Danna got all my flight information situated I had to get my bags and get make it through security. I also had to get a boarding pass from the DELTA people. This turned into a fiasco. After having little help from the DELTA people, I finally secured my boarding pass and was ready to check my luggage for the second time that afternoon. Checking luggage should be easy right? After putting my first bag on the belt (which weighed approximately 30 lbs), the DELTA representative asked me to place my second bag on the scale. I did as she asked:  It weighed 54 lbs. This was a problem for her. Evidently, DELTA doesn’t allow for bags to weigh more than 50lbs (A change in policy from AA where I had successfully checked my bags only minutes before). I had a choice to make. I could try to transfer stuff to another bag or pay $200 extra dollars for my extra 4 lbs. I opted for the first choice.
The following still makes me upset. First, my bags by this time had already been cleared one time. During that first time, AA never had any problems with my bag being 4lbs overweight. Yet, DELTA wanted me to pay an extra $200. Ridiculous. The second thing that makes me mad is the fact that I was allowed to check two bags, which could both weigh 50 lbs. Given the fact, that one bag was 20lbs underweight, I think the lady should have overlooked that my other bag that was 4lbs overweight. The way I see it still is that DELTA owed me 16lbs. Instead, I had to pull out all my clothes—which were nicely folded I should add— and jam the stuff into the other bag in front of the entire airport. Lastly, the lady wasn’t very nice, and I was sure to let her know that I felt that way about her.

After rushing through security (hoping that I wasn’t going to miss my flight), I found out that my flight had been delayed an hour. This meant that once again that I might miss my connecting flight to Sydney. Luckily, I somehow made my connection. Upon arriving to LAX, I had to rush through the airport—which was conveniently under renovation—to try to board my flight to Sydney.
 It wasn’t until I arrived to LAX that I was told that I had to change terminals, which ultimately meant going through security again. I had one hour until my flight boarded, and I knew it was going to be a close call. By this point, my phone was about to die, and I was just hoping that Marc had made it. At some point, I made a quick phone call to him and he offered me some great advice on how to navigate that airport. I finally made it to the gate as the plane was boarding—it was definitely a close call. The moral of this story is never fly DELTA. If there are no other options, then take a bus.
By the time that I made it on the flight, I was pretty worn out. I hadn’t had dinner and had nearly missed four flights. All I wanted to do was rest. Instead, I met a lovely flight attendant who had a bit of a problem with my carry-on bag. Evidently, it was too big (thank you DELTA). Instead of allowing me to place under my seat—where it would clearly fit— she placed it about a half-mile away or at least on the opposite side of our 747 airplane. I didn’t expect to see that bag again.

One thing I’ve embraced recently is this: As bad as some circumstances might be, things could always be worse. Because of this, I realized I needed to be content in the moment and appreciate the opportunities around me. Soon after having this realization, I ended up striking up a conversation with the person next to me on the plane. It was about 5:15 am at this point, and I noticed he was having a few small issues.
If you have ever flown Qantas, then you will remember that the controls for your personal light, the in-flight entertainment, the flight attendant button, etc. has a cord on it that only allows the remote to be pulled out a certain length. I guess this feature was in place to stop people from tripping over loose cords or getting controllers mixed up. Regardless of the reason, these things were very ineffective. I spent probably 15 minutes of intense concentration trying to just figure out how to get mine out of the holster. As such, I could definitely empathize with another person who might be struggling with his/her remote.
Later in the flight, I noticed that the person next to me kept yanking his controller up in the air. He was obviously frustrated, and I felt his pain. I later realized his cabin light was on and he was trying to turn it off. The problem was that his cord wouldn’t go far enough to allow him to turn his light off. He was out of range and out of luck.
 So he did what just about any normal person would do at 5:15 am: He gave it a good yank. Well, the yank did the trick, but it ended up ripping the entire bottom half of the control off. Honestly, I couldn’t help but laugh, so I had to say something, and I introduced myself.
After that point, we ended up talking the remainder of the flight into Sydney. It turned out that he was a professor that was returning to the University of Sydney from a 2-month trip in the US where he was doing some work with the Kennedy School. Given his background, we had a lot in common and he offered several pieces of great information on Sydney, my project, and a variety of other topics.
Since that time, we have e-mailed back and forth and he is helping connect me with faculty members at a few universities around the area. All in all, it turned out to be a good flight and by the time I arrived to Sydney, I was feeling much better.
Once I got off the plane, the real fun began. After spending about 30 minutes watching everyone around me get my bags, I realized that no matter how long I waited or how long I gazed at that conveyor belt, my bags were  never going to appear. So, after consulting with Marc, we thought we better approach the notorious Qantas help desk. Just by looking at the faces of people around me I knew I was in trouble.
After waiting about 20 minutes, I finally approached the desk only to realize that I was in the wrong place. Like my friend from the plane, I did the only thing I could think of doing— I acted oblivious to being in the wrong line. I handed her my passport and my ticket. She quickly uncovered my elaborate plot. In my best Arkansan, I said “looks like I’m in da wrooong placcce. Wuld yaaa minddd to helppp me?” She felt sorry for me so she did what she could.
They informed us that this stuff happens all the time and not to worry, but that is easy for them say. At that point, Marc and I didn’t have a phone, didn’t know where we were staying, and had no idea how to get around the city. Fortunately, we were able to arrange with the Qantas representatives to drop the bags off at the hostel we were staying at.
We then left for the hostel. Seedy doesn’t begin to describe the Chili Blue Hostel. I don’t know which should have been the first to raise a red flag; the name (good ole Chili Blue) or the fact that the internet priced the room for only $11 a night. Unfortunately, I missed the warning signs.
 Once we arrived at Chili Blue, our home for two very long nights, they showed us to our beautiful room, which had a gorgeous view of a storage closet. The bars on the windows were a very nice touch. We put our stuff down and Marc hopped on the bed only to realize that the sheets were wet. Needless to say, we didn’t spend too much time in good ole chili blue.
Later, we found out that Kings Cross, where Chili Blue is located, was the old red light district of Sydney. There are several stories that surround that topic that will have to be noted down the road. It goes without saying, though, that I quickly realized that we weren’t in Arkansas anymore.
Over the next several days, we spent our time seeing the sights, watching NBA basketball games, and trying to get situated. We visited the Olympic Park and journeyed across the city trying to find a place to live. Finally, on late Tuesday afternoon my bags came in; I was a new man! Once again, it was nice reminder of the importance of always appreciating the simple things in life. It was amazing how nice a clean shirt felt after three days. Marc appreciated my bags arriving too.
Today, I am writing from a coffee shop in North Sydney and my circumstances are much better. I just found a place to live and even have cell phone. It is hard to believe that I will start work in only a few days. I am really excited about meeting the office and getting started on the project.  Sydney is a great city; the people are wonderful. Of course, I miss Arkansas, but I’m very excited about the next few months and the adventure that will take place.