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Melbourne - December 2008

Now that all the Christmas formalities are done, I am packed and ready to head back to Australia where it is warm and there isn’t any SNOW! My buddy drives me and another friend down to the Amtrak station that’s about a half hour from my place and we promptly jump on and stuff our luggage on the shelf. We were running a bit late due to the lovely snowy weather in Michigan so we got there just as the train was pulling up. It is a 4 hour ride to Union Station in Chicago and goes without a hitch. It is so nice to not have to worry about traffic or anything, just a warm, chill ride to downtown to Chicago.

We make it to Chicago in normal time with no delays and get off and into Union Station only to wander around aimlessly trying to find the food court. After asking a couple people that work there and fighting with the only elevator that goes to the food court, we end up taking the one escalator that we can find up to the food court level and get some food waiting for another friend to meet us there. After a good “home-cooked” Pizza Hut lunch we catch a cab to the James Hotel where we are gonna crash for the night.

This hotel rocks! I had stayed there once before and really liked it. We waited in the lobby and had a couple drinks waiting for the fourth member of the crew to show up and then headed up to the room to off load our luggage for the night. Teyo, our bartender friend there, was really cool at the bar and was on top of things serving us loiterers.

After dropping off the bags and getting a short nap in we head back downstairs to the David Burke’s Primehouse right there in the hotel for dinner. After a bunch of pomp and circumstance from the waiter about the quality of the beef we ordered and ate. Good food for sure! I just didn’t really need to know the bull’s name that I was eating.

We meet up with a fifth partner in crime and head out to the Park Hyatt Hotel and up to the NoMI Wine Cellar for a few drinks and some good conversation. This is a really classy place. Nice and quiet with a great selection of wines and liquors. I was in a beer mood, so a good stout was on the menu for me. Ok, a COUPLE different stouts were “sampled”.

I bowed out early as the die hards kept the midnight oil burning. I wandered my way back to the hotel room and crawled in my bed/nook area of the hotel room. My favorite feature is the makeshift bed tucked away in a den-like corner of the room that was really only big enough for a full-size bed. It has cushions against 2 of the walls, making it a sort of over-sized couch. As I lay down for the night I look up and see a projector and immediately begin to play with the remotes, trying to figure this thing out. With a Bose 321 system and a DVD from Jim’s library I have found a great new toy! I guess I won’t be getting to sleep just yet..

The rest of the room consists of a huge, main king-size bed and another living room area off to the far side with a decent size bathroom… As long as you are strong enough to open the sliding door to get in. My little sectioned off area was cozy enough for me. That is all I need.

The next morning we pack up and divide on our separate ways. Jim orders a limo to fit his and my stuff. Now, I know I packed a lot for this trip but there was no need for the “P. Diddy” limo that arrived to bring us to O’Hare. This thing was monstrous and all we asked for was a large SUV. And Tony, the driver, rocked!

On arrival at the airport we are greeted by an obnoxious and rude sky cap, who apparently had control over ALL the cart in the entire airport and wasn’t going to let us partake in the use of any of them. Well, Tony and Jim sorted him out for sure! Check in was easy, which is more than I can say for the security check. All I have to say is “TIME M-A-N-A-G-E-M-E-N-T”. Most security checks take a normal bit of time and some are super quick. This one took FOREVER. Seriously, people.. I am not a terrorist. I am a cripple. There is a big difference!

After an exaggerated stay in the security line, we get to our gate and the flight is delayed to Los Angeles by a couple hours. Thank goodness! The travel gods are looking out for us. Once in Los Angeles we get another larger SUV to haul our abundance of luggage. This time is just what the doctor ordered; A nice black Suburban and a killer driver to take us to the Chateau Marmont in Beverly Hills-- known by TV watchers from the show Entourage. The hotel was a bit dusty, dimly lit and old-school, but very nice. We get booked into yet another giant room with separate bedroom, kitchen, dining, and living rooms. It also has a balcony that spanned the whole side of the room with a view out over the city to the ocean. I can see why the celebrities like this place.

We had dinner at the Bar Marmont and they even set a special table just for us right before we had arrived, knowing I wouldn’t be too keen on going down the 2 stairs to the dining area. These guys are on top of things. We enjoyed a very swanky meal and headed back to the room to pass out during a movie.

Today, I just sat around and enjoyed the enormous, fancy room. I was able to get some work done from the couch and took full advantage of room service. I really need to get out more..

Today, another Suburban takes us to Los Angeles Airport (LAX) from the hotel. At LAX the ease of experienced travel was slowed to a halt by and inexperienced ticket agent and a compulsory need to check and double check if it was ok for me to bring my sports chair and wheel bag on to the gate with me. After two phone calls, the answer was still the same as I had given in the very beginning. I wasn’t upset, just glad she checked to make sure before I trekked all the way to the gate with everything. I also had her make sure there was a note in my record that I would need an isle chair, which she did.. in the wrong place.. In the lounge the girls said there would be an isle chair waiting for me and that they would come get me early to pre-board, which they didn’t on either account. As the last one on the plane, I was ready for the long haul on an Airbus A380. Even coach was huge and had an impressive entertainment system. These new planes add a whole different level to the flying experience.

We landed the next morning in Melbourne with two cars now waiting to fit all our stuff. The drivers get us to St. Kilda in good time and I start to bring all my myriad of stuff up to my buddy’s condo and pretty much pass out on the couch. That 14 hour flight from Los Angeles is a tough one still.

I am so cool that I actually slept pretty much thru the whole New Year’s Eve celebration..

After a spur of the moment idea to go visit a good buddy in Tasmania, we hopped a plane from Tulemarine to Devonport on Qantas Airlines. We spent the night at my buddy Matty’s parent’s place and then headed off on a beautiful drive to the Cradle Mountain Lodge, getting there in the nick of time for a couple seats on a killer quad ride with tour-guide Ray ( thru the mud and horse trails near the famed Cradle Mountain. Now this is what I consider a fun trip. Matty and I got all muddy tromping around on quads in the middle of absolutely nowhere—not to be confused with the actual town Nowhere, that is. The ride was well needed and the views were spectacular!

We have dinner at the lodge restaurant and back to our cabin for the night. We sat out on the deck and fed the not-so-wild opossums on the deck of our King Billy Suite. And after the apples were all gone, it was time to get some shut eye so we stoked the awesome, centrally-located island fireplace and slept like bears in the winter. This cabin was very rustic on the outside and rather modern on the interior with a nice living space and big bathroom with enormous double shower! Unfortunately, there wasn’t a shower chair in sight so we had to improvise. It pays to have an alloy wheelchair that doesn’t rust. Just replace your cushion with a folded towel and afterwards, wipe everything nice and dry.

We spend a chill day on the deck enjoying the sun for a while and decide to make the drive back down the mountain and hop a plane back to Melbourne on our friends at Qantas again. We landed on the tarmac again in Melbourne and waited forever to get the high-lift so that we may exit the plane. The ground crew feeds me some lie about not having enough staff to get everything together and when I finally am let off the plane there are 5 people just standing around “supervising”. Just be straight with me and tell me you messed up. I appreciate the honesty way more.

Well, that is it for now. This trip is gonna be a long one so just check back later and I will have all new adventures for you.