Spontaneity, Sydney And The City2Surf Race

If you rummage through the section on this blog called “What Did I Miss?”, you will find a post entitled A Life Lesson Learned In London.  If you imagine for one moment that this was a singular pedagogical event in my travels, you couldn’t be more misguided.  Give the globe a little 180 degree spin and you will find that Sydney, Australia can be every bit as instructive in dispensing life lessons as London ever was.  What I am about to describe falls into the category of “I wouldn’t take a million bucks for the experience and wouldn’t repeat it for twice that!”

Sheraton on the Park Sydney AustraliaTo think it all started innocently enough over a hearty breakfast on the executive floor of the Sheraton On The Park in Sydney, Australia.  For a period of about fifteen years I escorted groups to Australia at least once a year.  On this occasion, I had brought along one my employees, Carey Rector, to assist.  We had just pushed aside the Vegemite in favor of the strawberry jam (I never did acquire a taste for that particular Aussie delicacy although I am pretty sure it would make a great axle grease.)  Carey and I were chatting amicably and gazing out the window at the park some thirty floors below.

“Why are all those people starting to gather and mill about in the park?” I asked the waiter.  “Oh, they are getting ready for the annual City2Surf race,” he replied.  “Can anyone participate?” I asked.  “Anyone with $10.00 Australian,”  he said.  “What time does it start?”  “10:00 am, I believe.”

At that moment we were only halfway through breakfast and it was just shy of 9 o’clock in the morning.  I looked across the table at Carey and asked (only an omniscient God knows why), “Would you like to run in it?”  To which Carey responded, “Sure, we aren’t doing anything else today.”  After reading this post, you can be the judge as to whether this impetuous decision should fairly be labeled inspiring spontaneity or temporary insanity.

City2Surf race in Sydney AustraliaIf you are not familiar, as I was not, the Sun-Herald City2Surf presented by Westpac has grown to be the world’s largest run with over 80,000 registered participants each year.  It is actually larger than the London and New York Marathons combined!

It began way back in 1971 with a mere 2,000 entrants.   It draws a combination of locals, affectionately known as Sydneysiders, and participants from all over the world.  Some are elite and others are dweebs like me who obviously could use a full-scale psychiatric analysis for taking such a rash and impetuous action.

I recall showing up in shorts, T-shirt and tennis shoes (not the least designed for running), paying my $10 Australian, pinning a number to my chest and finding a place toward the back of this mass of humanity.  It was only at this point that a rather important question occurred to me, heretofore overlooked.  Before I could even express the question to Carey, it was answered by an announcer on a loud speaker who welcomed us all to the annual City2Surf race where we would be running from Hyde Park in the central business district to Bondi Beach, a distance of 14 kilometers.  My mental acuity must have been heightened by the sudden rush of adrenalin because I was able to instantly calculate that 14 kilometers was 8.3 bleeping miles!

Another feature of the race which would become painfully apparent in just a few moments is that the entire first half of the race is pretty much uphill to the “Heads”, the towering cliffs The Heads, Sydney Harborthat bookend the two-kilometer-wide entrance to the harbor.   The route then mercifully starts the descent to Bondi Beach, which not too surprisingly I suppose, is at sea level.

I am going to spare you an agonizing play by play description of the race partly because it still stirs painful memories long since relegated to the recesses of my mind (and, trust me, my mind has lots of recesses).   When I finally staggered across the finish line . . . I would tell you my elapsed time but I wasn’t carrying a sundial at the moment . . . I was only thinking about limping on to one the motorcoaches provided to carry us back to the city.

One of the most disconcerting moments of my life came when I asked where the coaches were parked and a race official pointed a long, bony index finger to a car park a half-mile away up a steep hill.  We didn’t overuse the term “Really?” in a sardonic fashion back then as we do now but if we had, it would have been extremely appropriate.  What I did say though, while it may have lacked gentility, that was more than made up for in clarity.

Travel Hopscotch: Name That Destination

I am writing today to assuage the concerns and quiet the fears that surely must be roiling cyber space over my brief hiatus.  I have not published a new post in a couple of weeks which is quite unusual for me.  I can only imagine how sick with worry you must be.

What’s that you say?  You hadn’t noticed?  That’s not very charitable.  It’s not that difficult to feign a little heartfelt concern, you know.  I do it all the time and in one of my finer moments even manufactured a tear once.   If not grave concern, is there at least any idle curiosity out there as to why I have not posted recently?   The short answer is “I’ve been busy!”

Semaphore

International signal for “Dos cervezas, por favor”.

I know most of you think this travel thing is all foo-foo drinks and tiny umbrellas.  You assume all we do is drag our deck chairs from one shade-drenched palapa to the next but you would be so wrong.  In the first place, we would never drag it ourselves if there were a beach waiter within semaphore range.  I got a very nasty splinter doing that once.

Secondly, I will have you know this industry ranks right up there with thinning trees in the pacific northwest and roughnecking in a west Texas oil field for sheer back-breaking exhaustion.  OK, I might be embellishing a tad but the pace, nonetheless, can be quite frenetic.

Here is a bit of good news for those who live for the next installment of these posts.  I am soon to embark upon a rather exotic spate of travel that should provide loads (or would it be bales, or perhaps stacks?) of fodder for future riveting posts.  So where are my travels about to take me?  Are you up for a little cyber parlor game?

Below are pictures of six stops on my itinerary presented in chronological order.  They are labeled, not illogically, Stop One to Stop Six.  I invite you to write a comment with your best guess for each one.  In some cases I have intentionally avoided the more iconic images of the destination.  You won’t see any Sydney opera houses or Eiffel Towers.

Dubai AirportSTOP ONE

Ladispoli, ItalySTOP TWO

Messina, Sicily Athens, Greece

                      STOP THREE                                                  STOP FOUR

Goddess Nike at Ephesus STOP FIVE

Chania, Crete, GreeceSTOP SIX

Give it your best shot.  I am looking not just for the country but the city.  If anyone gets all six correct, I have an immediate opening for you in our vacation travel department!!!

Memories Are Made Of This

We have a little adage we share with our customers around our place that goes like this, “Lend us your dreams and we will repay you with memories.”  Undoubtedly, one reason I like the phrase so much is that, in a rare moment of clarity, I penned it.  We are all partial to our own progeny, are we not?

Anyway, it turns out that dreams are fungible.  Most people, if they lend you their dreams are quite happy to be repaid in unforgettable memories. In this regard, my heart beats asgold-coin-wooden-box one with our clients.  When describing the travel business to the uninitiated I often say, “No doubt I will die as poor as a church mouse but I shall pass the autumn of my life, like Midas with his golden coins, running the fingers of my mind through a personal trove of indelible memories.” 

In my more reflective moments, and you must forgive me as I am feeling a little pensive today, I marvel at the all the places I have visited and experiences I have garnered over the past couple of decades.  I am reminded of the words of the brilliant Benjamin Disraeli, the erstwhile British prime minister, “Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.”

There are any number of sound reasons to travel:

to realize our aspirations – “We wander for distraction but we travel for fulfillment.”   Hillaire Belloc

to broaden our perspective – “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”   Henry Miller

to cure our parochialism – “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”  Mark Twain

If these aren’t reason enough, my friend Kate over at Trip Logic has written a great post called 100 Reasons To Travel Inspired By Bloggers From Across The Globe not diminished in the least by the fact that one of this humble blogger’s posts somehow slipped into the list!

Train ConductorWhat I am suggesting here is that one of the very best rationales for travel is to make a lifetime of deposits into your memory bank so that you can live off the interest of fond recollections up to the very day the Great Conductor shouts “Last stop!” 

One of these days . . . not today so don’t panic . . . I will perhaps tell you about the gypsy girl who literally threw herself under the tour bus I was guiding (OK, perhaps not under but certainly into) and the near riot that ensued.  Some day I will tell you about flying DFW to Miami to Rio de Janiero to Belo Horizonte, staying for only one night and flying the same route back home not once but twice within a ten-day window!  If you are truly blessed, I will tell you about running in the famous annual Sydney “City To Surf” race with literally ten minutes forethought and zero training or preparation.  That is, if I can do so without instinctively clutching my calves and whimpering like a small puppy.

Travel is a get rich slow scheme, of sorts.  Do as I have done and you won’t have two nickles to rub together but you will have the widest irrepressible grin of any 90-year-old Walmart greeter in the entire chain. 

The Qantas Queen Of Brand Redemption

For this post, I am going to reach back in time just a bit.  When you read the final denouement (don’t dare skip to the end), you will understand that for rather obvious reasons this event had to have taken place before 9/11.  I tell the story, however, because it is such a beautiful example of brand redemption.

Everyone out there who owns a business and is striving, brick by bloody brick, to build a powerful brand is painfully aware how much damage can be done to their efforts by one careless employee.  This is a personal story of how one callow employee sold a brand short and how another seasoned employee ransomed it from the bazaar of brazen behavior.

Qantas Airlines Sydney

For better than fifteen years, I escorted tour groups to Australia most of the time placing the groups on Qantas Airways.  Because of the volume of business we were producing, whenever I traveled I usually was provided a space-available upgrade to business or first class.  On the long-haul, international segments, this was truly a godsend.  It was a professional courtesy which I never expected but always appreciated.

On one particular occasion I was flying alone from Sydney to Melbourne, about a four-hour flight.  As was my custom, I waited for the check in counter to clear, walked up and handed my boarding pass and business card to the young gate agent and explained that if he would check the record, he would see I was listed for a standby upgrade.  As always, I said something to the effect that if there happened to be room, it would be much appreciated.  He asked me to leave the boarding card with him and check back after everyone else had boarded.

As instructed, when the last passenger entered the jetway, I returned to the gate toQantas boarding pass reclaim my boarding pass.  A quick glance at the new boarding card revealed I was having a good day and would be flying down to Melbourne in business class.  I boarded the plane, stuck the boarding card in my coat pocket, handed my coat to the flight attendant to stow and settled into my comfy business class seat.

A few minutes later the young gate agent, the peach fuzz on his bright red cheeks quivering,  stormed onto the plane, found where I was sitting and in the most bellicose and accusatory tone said, “You are sitting in the wrong seat!”  Taken aback, I replied, “I suppose that is possible but I am pretty sure I am sitting in the seat that matches the boarding pass you handed me.”  “Where is your boarding pass?’, he demanded.  “In my coat pocket.”, I explained.  He immediately retrieved it, pulled out the boarding pass and in a celebratory tone trumpeted to the entire section, “See, this is not your name on the card.”

I muttered something about it being the card which he had handed me five minutes earlier, gathered my belongings and sulked back to economy amidst the hostile glares of other business class passengers who were obviously aghast that their inner sanctum had somehow been breached by this unwashed Visigoth.

Picture from Nautical Cottage Blog

Picture from Nautical Cottage Blog

I took my coach seat and tried to look as inconspicuous as possible.  After take off, I managed to lose myself in a golf magazine for the next twenty minutes or so.  We had just leveled off and the seat belt light had been extinguished when I realized someone was kneeling next to me with a tropical drink of some sort in her hand.  This angel of aviation introduced herself (and here the ravages of time and, no doubt, too many similar tropical libations over the intervening years have robbed my memory of her name), explained that she was the chief steward, placed the drink on my tray and began to apologize profusely.  “I want you know, I gave that young man a tongue lashing he won’t soon forget.”

While she was attractive and quite feminine, there was yet a commanding presence about her that left me little doubt that she could administer a proper berating when the occasion warranted that would make the crustiest DI (drill instructor) proud.  She went on to say that such rudeness was not the way Qantas treats customers and hoped that I would forgive such an indefensible breach of etiquette.  I told her not to give it another thought and that I appreciated her efforts to mitigate the damage to my fragile psyche.

She left and I returned to my reading only this time pleasantly augmenting the turning of the pages with occasional sips of my complementary libation.  About ten minutes later she returned.  “Mr. Denton, I have shared this incident with the Captain and he was equally appalled.  He asked me to invite you to join him and the copilot in the cockpit for the remainder of the flight.  Just gather your belongings and we will drop them off in First Class.”

Qantas cockpitI would like to say I was mature enough not to gloat uncontrollably as I slowly made my way through the business class cabin but alas, that is not the case.  The next couple of hours were spent in convivial conversation with the cockpit crew.  They let me remain there all the way through landing giving me a perspective on final approach I had never before enjoyed on a commercial airliner.

So the moral of this little tale should be self-evident.  My estimation of Qantas, already high, only skyrocketed.  I have told this story to anyone who would listen dozens of times over the years and now it has found its way on to my blog.  Random acts of stupidity can not only be countered but can be redeemed and ultimately crowned by acts of brilliant thoughtfulness, especially when rendered by a Queen!

Do you have any stories of brand redemption you would like to share?