I went on mega taxi tilt. The guidebook I read said that cabs from Auckland airport to Auckland were $20-$25. I knew that the guidebook was at least one year old and the price was more like $35-$40. But I was speechless when our cab driver said the total was close to $70. For that much, Nicky and I could have hired a car, sorry, rented a car. Hire is what Aussies and Kiwis say instead of rent.
The price didn't bother me as much as me attempting to meet my goal of staying under budget for the New Zealand leg of the trip. In 2007, I went under budget for every single trip... which more than paid for my trip to Las Vegas at the end of the year. I didn't want to start out 2008 with a bad habit of going over budget on my travels since that would set an ugly trend and I'd be trying to catch up the rest of the year. That's why I tilted a bit when I saw the metered fare for the taxi. I was close to coming in exactly on budget and that expensive cab ride set me back by a few bucks. I know, what's going over budget $40? But for me, it's the principle.
Our hotel in Auckland (the CityLife) was located in the CBD of Auckland. I was able to book a one-bedroom suite for an amazing price. The entire room was more like an apartment. It was slightly bigger than our rented place in Las Vegas from the summer, and much much bigger than the apartment in Barcelona. It was so comfortable, that I didn't want to leave. It wasn't as nice as some of the previous hotels that I've stayed, but the set up was amazing with a couch and two big chairs to sit in, with a coffee table.
We also had a small kitchen with a dining room table. We didn't cook anything, but we stumbled upon a jackpot... there was a free washer and dryer in the room. I have never stayed in a hotel with that combination. That was a sweet score. I had already done laundry twice since we originally left America (the last time was before we left Byron Bay). I hate having to travel with dirty clothes in the same bag as my clean clothes, but it's one of the crappy things about living out of your suitcase. That's why I get excited when I know I'm staying in a hotel with a "coin operated" laundry room. You could imagine how more pumped I was to find a washer/dryer combo in my room. That ensured that I would be flying back to Hollyweird with a backpack filled with clean clothes.
Our hotel was only a couple of blocks away from Sky City Casino. Nicky suggested we take a peek. We had nothing specific planned and my mood was slightly sour since we left Queenstown. I had fallen in love with the sleepy little ski town also known as the adventure capital of the world. After toiling for two and a half weeks covering the Aussie Millions inside the Crown Casino in Melbourne, I relished the last two weeks outdoors basking in the sun and enjoying the Southern Hemisphere's summer in the hippie/surf beachy resort town of Byron Bay, Australia and the bucolic enclave of Queenstown, New Zealand.
There was a casino (also called the Sky City Casino) in Queenstown and although we were tempted to go inside and find the poker room, we avoided it and opted to play Chinese Poker instead while sitting outside in front of the local bars (my favorite was one called Red Rock). We also got our gambling fix by prop betting on miniature golf, which we played every day (and twice one day on two instances) in Queenstown.
We reluctantly left Queenstown and the luscious south island of New Zealand and headed to the north island and Auckland to finish up our holiday before we flew back home. When we discovered that our hotel was so close to the casino, we decided to investigate the scene.
The Sky City casino reminded me of the Star City Casino in Sydney. Heck, I've been to casinos all over the planet and no matter where you go, you'll always find a geriatric zombie glued to a slot machine, pissing away the last of her spare change while she awaits her turn to dive into the unknown depths of the afterlife. I ignored the pits an the -EV games. There was no Pai Gow, so we headed for the poker room.
The poker room was located at the second floor and we found it completely empty. The poker room was closed and did not open until 5:30pm. We decided to eat dinner instead and come back to play.
When we returned, I played in the biggest game they had running... a 2/5 NL game. I ended up doubling up on the first hand when my Jacks beat out an old Kiwi's pocket tens. I was up 2.5 buyins at one point. Sure it was in Kiwi dollars, but that was still a decent amount.
"Did you win enough to get off taxi tilt?" wondered Nicky when I told her about how well I was running at the tables. I did win enough to cover the taxi and the swanky hotel room. In fact, the entire leg of my New Zealand trip was covered by gambling wins. I won a nice amount betting on the NY Giants and the money line against the Jessica Simpson-jinxed Cowboys. Add that to the other bets I won gambling on the NFL playoffs, and I won enough money to pay for our entire trip to New Zealand.
Since I had been talking at the poker table during one of the hands, the rest of the table knew I was American. It appeared that everyone else at the table were locals and knew each other.
The guy next to me said a phrase that I cringe whenever I hear it..."You're not that blogger are you?"
As I raked in a pot, I sighed. There I was in a random casino in New Zealand, and a fan of the Tao of Poker was sitting to my left. I told him that I was who he thought I was.
"You guys better not play like a retard," he announced to the rest of the table. "Otherwise Dr. Pauly will write about how bad you play on his blog."
Luckily no one else was a reader (or at least they didn't admit that). A couple of hand slater I busted a crazy Asian gambler and an androgynous person, who was a dead ringer for Pat from Saturday Night Live... you know that infamous recurring sketch, "A lot of people say, what's that? It's Pat!"
I decided to book the win and stopped playing after two hours. I went to the bar and drank a beer and waited for Nicky. She quit within an hour and we both walked away winners.
"I have never had a losing session in the Southern Hemisphere," she remarked as we walked out of the casino and headed across the street to a liquor store. We decided to celebrate our nice run in New Zealand, as she bought a nice bottle of wine.
We drank in the room and watched Californication. I had never seen that program before.
I was up early and writing. I would take large gaps of time and gaze out the large window overlooking downtown Auckland.
I guess you can say that I was daydreaming. My thoughts drifted all over the spectrum... from my time in Australia and New Zealand to my time in other big cities like New York, London, Tokyo, Atlanta, Amsterdam, and San Francisco. I thought about all the work that I had piled up, waiting for me when I got back to Hollywierd. I counted all of my impending deadlines and all the little basic life things that get set aside when I'm on the road, like answering emails and phone calls or paying bills. I made a list of birthdays that I forgot in the previous month and I made of list of impending birthdays, including my mother's which I could not afford to miss.
That's when Rachel Ray magically appeared on the TV. Her talk show is syndicated in New Zealand. I screamed out Nicky's name and woke her up, even though the bedroom door was closed. She didn't get out of bed, but answered back.
"Dude, Rachel Ray is on TV. And she's got Jenna Bush on. They're making guacamole."
Nicky turned on the TV in the bedroom and watched along. The show was a few months old because Rachel Ray kept saying stuff about the upcoming Halloween holiday. I'm not much for Jenna Bush these days, but to think that all her partying back in the early days of the Bush Junta, was very tame compared to the recent Keith Moon-type binges of fucked up celebrity chicks like Spears, Lohan, and Winehouse. Say what you want about the younger Bush twin, bust she can hold her liquor unlike her counterparts.
We had to check out of the hotel at 10am, but had six hours to kill. I suggested a flick at the movie theatre down the street. We caught No Country for Old Men. It was better than expected. I forgot that the Coen brothers had directed it. There were random instances in the film, where in the back of my mind I thought, "Hmmm, they framed that like something you'd see in a Coen Brothers film." When the end credits rolled and the Coen Brothers name appeared, I had one of those "No duh!" moments.
We walked around Albert Park and sat for a bit, before I dragged Nicky to Wendy's. I told her that if Wendy's had a spicy chicken sandwich, then we were going to eat there. Sure enough, the Kiwi version had the spicy chicken sandwich... and it was also the #6. God bless globalization. Thomas Friedman would have been proud. That could be an entire NY Times Op-Ed piece for Friedman... how the #6 extra value meal at Wendy's will save the world economy and makes Jews, Arabs, and Christians finally live in harmony.
The last thing I had to do was change some money. I had almost $1,100 Kiwi bucks (including Nicky's remaining cash) and shopped around the CBD looking for the best exchange rate. One place offered no commission if I swapped more than $500 NZ, and I went with them. I got 78 cents on the dollar, which was much better than what I would have gotten from Travelex at the airport. They rape you there, because they can.
I arranged a car service to take us to the airport. And the cost was $35 and half the price of what I paid originally. Although we were in the middle of rush hour, our Samoan cab driver was entertaining. He loved talking about drinking Jack Daniels and Australian beers.
Check-in went smoothly. We were not seated together, but we both had aisle seats, which for a transoceanic flight is important since you don't want to get stuck riding bitch in the middle.
I got flagged by security. It was a secondary checkpoint, right at the gate. My row was called and I was picked out of the line. A chubby security guard searched my entire carry-on bag and asked me to turn on my laptop. He also asked me to empty all of my pockets. I pulled out a wad of US bills out of my pocket and that made me look even more suspicious. But after five minutes, all was safe and he let me go.
There was no one seated in my row. Nicky wandered over and I told her that we might get lucky and she can swap seats once we got airborne. And that's what happened.
The flight from Auckland to LAX is less than twelve hours. At this point, I can handle anything less than that with relative ease. I wrote for an hour (and worked on three outlines for my impending deadlines) and waited for the meal service. After dinner, I popped an Ambien and watched The Bourne Ultimatum. Again. I passed out during the Morocco rooftop chase scene and woke up five hours later.
I could not fall back asleep and I watched The Nanny Diaries with Scarlet Johansson. I did not get to see her tits once and was disappointed that I watched that entire flick. I should be shot.
Nicky woke up just as breakfast was being served. It was disgusting and I barely touched mine. I couldn't wait to get off the plane and get American food... like crisp bacon and proper iced tea.
Immigration and customs was a breeze. One of the agents said, "Welcome home."
Nicky's mother picked us up at the airport and we were back in the apartment in less than twenty minutes. We fired up the bong and then walked down the street for lunch at Nick's Coffeeshop. I ordered the 2/3 pound bacon Swiss cheeseburger (with hash browns instead of fries). Delicious. I missed that so much. I drank three glasses of tea and was in heaven.
We returned to the apartment and I opened up one of my email accounts. There were over 450 pieces of unread mail. I took a deep breath, fired up one of the infamous Justin85 Mega mixes that I downloaded from Phish blog, and started the tiring process of reading all of my email.
Two hours later, I had over 300 remaining...