August 21
by Fred Shaw

What a vacation! Nancy and I are concluding three weeks in New Zealand and Australia with five days in Sydney. And damn the expense! Our hotel is the Regent Sydney and is advertised as one of the five best hotels in the world. All that tells you is someone thinks there are four better hotels somewhere else, but “Mr. Deep Pockets” (That’s me.) doesn’t care, he is overjoyed to spend $350 a night for a room that overlooks Sydney’s harbor and the Opera House, as long as Nancy is happy.


Our entire trip has been first class, including our air travel. Nancy saw a slight reversion to a more familiar, frugal me when I rented a small car on New Zealand’s South Island. She complained there wasn’t enough room for us and the luggage, but we managed….barely. Now I am deaf to her complaints and when we leave the Sydney airport, I follow my usual behavior and use the little blue jitney that cost sixteen dollars and goes right to our hotel with only three stops on the way. First class is okay but money should not be squandered on ground transportation!

The weather is outstanding and the two of us anticipate a great day. At the hotel desk, however, I get a touch of uneasiness when Nancy complains that our room-with-a-view on the twentieth floor is too high for a ladder to reach in case of a fire. She was watching television a week before, or a month before, or a year before, and saw a hotel fire in another foreign country, where dozens of people were leaping to their deaths. Their rooms were on floors that couldn’t be reached by ladders. Her fears are allayed when the clerk tells us we can have a room on the fifth floor for the same price as the one on the twentieth. It is reachable by fire ladders and overlooks the parking lot.

The next day if dawn broke it did so beyond the cover of the clouds. It is raining hard. I’m more than a little pleased about this because the clouds and mist are so thick and low we would not be able to see the Opera House from the twentieth floor anyway. I talk to the hotel concierge who finds seats, fifth row center, for an afternoon symphony at the Opera House so we spend the rainy afternoon inside. And the tickets are complimentary. What a classy hotel! We have dinner that night at an intimate little restaurant, with good jazz music. The place is so crowded they seat us at a table with an Australian couple. He is a lawyer, she a teacher and our conversation is the highlight of our day. I think, “Now this is what travel should be all about.”

The next day the torrential rains continue, so we take a Gray Line bus tour of the city. Not that we wouldn’t have done it anyway if the weather were good; it is a great way to get an overview of a big city. That night we take a ride to the top of Sydney’s space needle. We are in the ‘lift’ on the way to the top when I become suspicious of rivulets of water coursing down the sides of the elevator car and wetting the floor. As I turn to ask the elevator operator about it, we lose power and my question as to the cause, is posed in darkness. After a short period of time I try to organize a group singing session to ease tensions, we’re about half way to the top, but out of the darkness I hear, “Would you Sho’t up yank? It’s bad enough being stuck here ankle deep in water without havin’ to listen to your blatherin’.” It’s a polite but firm request and I sho’t up.

Ten minutes later the lights return and we continue. I look at Nancy, who in addition to having a fear of heights is claustrophobic, and decide not to ask any more questions. However, I have my own fears and visualize water being pumped out of electrical equipment and being replenished instantly by the heavy rain. Finally we reach the top. At the observation platform we peer through the rainy night much longer than the dark scene deserves. We delay the return to earth in the soggy elevator as long as we can, but eventually the weather forces us back into it. We return to the bottom without incident.

The next day it rains. We take a jazz cruise of the Sydney Harbor.! The only problem we have, other than not being able to see the sights on shore through the rain and the mist, is the boat bumps into a drowned cow that has floated into the bay from one of the city streets. Damage to the boat is slight.

The next day it rains, but again but we are undaunted and take a Gray Line tour of the “Gold Coast”, just north of the city. These tours are necessary on days like this because the driver has a family to feed. The rain stops the instant the bus returns to the hotel. Nancy reminds me that we are leaving in the morning and need transportation back to the airport. I remind her that the little blue jitney stops each morning at the hotel. She reminds me that we might need reservations. Now I understand we have a difference of opinion, so I go over to the concierge, and ask him if he can arrange for transportation to the airport at eight o’clock in the morning. He assures me it will be taken care of.

When I come back, Nancy says, “Well Mr.Cheapo, Did you tip him?” Now Nancy has several pet names for me. They are small terms of endearment…mostly. Besides, after four days of rain she is not quite the sweet Nancy I have known and loved.

I have forgotten the tip but I answer, “I will give him remuneration in the morning for all he’s done for us.” We then go to the fifth floor to our room, I look out of the window. Although the rain has stopped, down in the parking lot evidence remains that it has rained hard four straight days. Workers are trying to get the carcass of a drowned cow out from under a truck.

I say, “The sunny parts of our vacation will push this part from our memories.”

Then Nancy lies, “I had a wonderful time in spite of the weather. There will be something from our stay here in Sydney that we’ll laugh at for years to come. Mark my words, dear.”

Not realizing how prophetic her remark is, I merely reply, “Let’s pack.”
——————–
The next morning we are sitting in the lobby of the Regent Sydney hotel, still one of the five finest hotels in the world. Our luggage is stacked near the door, where the bellhop has left it. Nancy is sitting on a sofa sipping a cup of coffee. “Fred, why don’t you go and tip the concierge now and find out about the airport jitney.”

I walk across the lobby to the desk and hand him several bills. He looks at them but seems reluctant to touch them..

“That’s something for you.”

He withdraws them from my hand by his fingertips, “Thank you, sir.”

I examine him intently, “Is he being sarcastic? That’s twice what I’d tip at a Holiday Inn, if they had a concierge there.”

I ask, “When will our transportation be here?” He turns and points with his head, “That’s him by the door.” There is a liveried chauffeur. I walk over to him.

Before I can speak he inquires, “Are you Mr. Shaw?”

“Are you my driver?”

He nods, “Where are your bags, sir?”

I point with my finger and say, “I’m going to get my wife. Meet you outside, okay?” He walks towards our luggage so I assume the answer is ‘yes’ and go to get Nancy. I grab my carry-on and explain, “The fellow’s here to take us to the airport. Gonna meet us outside. Looks more like an English butler than a jitney driver though.” I hook my finger through the handle of an imaginary teacup and in my best English accent say, “Please get us more tea, Jeeves, old boy.”

Nancy picks up her purse, “Come on, funny man, I want to get that book to read on the plane. It’ll just be a minute.” We walk over to the stand and she only takes a minute, but when we go outside our bags are nowhere to be seen and there is no little blue jitney.

I conclude, “The butler stole our bags”. But no, there he is standing next to a big, black, shiny Rolls Royce (Is there another color Rolls?) holding the door open for us. I’m surprised and shocked. I stop short. Nan looks at me and laughs, “We travel in style. Good move, Mr. Cheapo!” She starts to climb into the car.

“I do my own doors”, I say to the chauffer as I walk to the other side of the car. I try to open the door but it is locked. Jeeves smiles at me; he really is smiling at an entire class of people who are too low socially for him to serve. I look back at him with a smile I hope says, “You’re a horse’s ass.” His expression says, “I didn’t get your message not because I can’t understand but because I don’t care for you.

He reaches down and unlocks my door.

As soon as I am inside I fumble into my pocket and pull out the hotel bill. Sure enough there is a 100 dollar charge not for taxes but for a ‘taxi’. And the driver gets a tip too. I say to myself, “Self, your entire vacation strategy of contrasting opulence and penury is going down the drain.”

When I think about money, at least when I am reluctant to spend it, my hand finds its way into my pocket. As I fondle my change, I feel an Australian dollar coin. It is then I remember the machine at the airport with the little luggage carts in it, which can be rented by placing one single ‘Aussy’ dollar in the slot. It is better than paying a skycap ten bucks for handling our bags.

As I plot my strategy, because a strategy is needed, Nan looks at me and says, “What is going on inside of your head? You’re not the least bit comfortable in this nice car, are you?”

“I’m only looking for change to rent a baggage cart.” I know I need to act fast when we get to the airport. I will have to spot the luggage machine, get out of the car and get the cart, while our driver is emptying the trunk and the skycaps are moving in for the “mother load” of all tips. “There isn’t a slow, shuffling skycap in the world that can outrun me,” I think to myself, “But I must act with aplomb, or I’ll look like a cheapskate to a half-dozen total strangers, this condescending stuffed-shirt of a driver…. and Nancy.”

We pull into the airport unloading zone with me peering intently through the window looking for the baggage cart machine. I spot it as the Rolls eases up to the curb. It’s right in front of the main door going into the lobby and not more than ten feet from the front of the car. I have the door open and a foot on the pavement before the car has stopped, but that big, expensive Rolls Royce is like a magnet pulling the skycaps to it. I’m that rich pot at the end of today’s rainbow. I want to shout that I’m only renting this thing; I don’t own it. It is now apparent that I have not properly assessed the situation. The skycaps are “shuffling” towards me like the runners in a one-hundred-yard Olympic dash. I pause for just an instant and think, “What the hell; I’m going for it.” But in a flash my driver, Jeeves, opens the front door and I run into it. I turn to see my loyal wife doubled up with laughter.
I hiss, “Jezebel!” and turn back again to the salivating group of luggage handlers. I think the young man leading the group has his hand out for the tip, but one of the senior members, very wisely, goes straight to the trunk… Jeeves ‘pops’ it open and the senior skycap unloads my baggage.

“Have any Australian coins, Honey?” It’s a poor joke.

She is laughing too hard to answer, but close enough to see that Jeeves, a working man just like her father, gets his due for prompt, courteous service and a professional manner. I tip him generously, (Yes, I know that’s a relative term.) and whisper to him, “Buy lots of booze, get stinking and lose your job.” He has more class than I do; he thanks me.
Nancy and I, with our newly acquired skycap, take ten steps (I count them.) to reach the main door. Fifteen feet inside the door is the check-in station. I count, “One! Two! Three! Four! Five!” The sky cap deposits our luggage and another tip is required. I put a bill in his extended hand, “Here, pal, buy yourself a new truss.”
We make our way to the United Airlines lounge, and I fall into a chair. I say to myself, “This airport fiasco is the highlight of our trip…. for Nancy. How many times in the future will it be recounted for my friends and my family? (Nancy’s an orphan.) I look up and there is a steward. I say, “What time is it? Can I have a drink?”

“Eight twenty five and that is AM, sir.” (I thought I had left that guy with the Rolls.)

“As late as all that,” I pause for just an instant. “Good, I’ll have a double, bloody Mary or…… a bloody, double Mary.” I try to trip him as he leaves. I will be strong in these times of trial.

Fred Shaw 6/03
Read about Fred on the Writer’s Bios Page

email him: fshaw@bigcanoewriters.org