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Friday, February 24, 2012

Sun, surf and sand in Sydney

My first job in radio was in Charleston, West Virginia.  I started on Labor Day 1982 at V100, WVAF-FM.  I got the job at the tender age of 21 after being an intern at 96 Rock in Hamilton, Ohio.  What started as a 90-day internship in January of ’82, grew into a fill-in job at Rock 96 well into the summer.  My news director there was Larry Davis, who now is a TV reporter at Local 12 in Cincinnati.  He was friends with Bob Schumann who did some consulting work for V100, and he heard they were looking for an afternoon news anchor.  He told Larry Davis, who told me, and I applied for and got the job, launching what I hoped would be an exciting radio career.  It was one of the most enjoyable times of my life.  There were about 4-5 newspeople, 6-8 disc jockeys and we were all about the same age and for most of us, it was our first job in the industry.  The station did very well in the ratings, ranked number one in most demographics, and we had some quite enjoyable evenings out on the town. 

Capitol Street in downtown Charleston had several nightspots and there would actually be something of a buzz when the V100 crew at whatever destination we happened to choose for the night.  The radio station also had a softball team, the Killer Vs, and we would get rock star attention when our caravan came to town to take on the locals.

We would hang out with other media types in town, including some TV reporters we got to know while covering stories.  One of them was a blonde who personified the reporter Don Henley mentions in the early 80s song Dirty Laundry: “there’s a bubble-headed bleach blonde who comes on at 5, she can tell you about the plane crash with a gleam in her eye…It’s interesting when people die, give them Dirty Laundry!”  On one night when were were out on the town, the aforementioned reporter and I were casually talking and she noticed the University of Florida golf shirt I had on.  I had gotten it earlier that year when I went to Florida on spring break.

It wasn’t your typical spring break trip for a 20-year old.  My parents, in a rare display of discretionary spending, took me (par-TAY with Hank and Marilyn!!) and my cousin from Columbus, Jeff, who is a year older than me.  The shirt purchase was one of those you make that is really satisfying.  It didn’t scream out that you had taken a trip somewhere, plus at that time, I kind of liked the U of F.  That was well before their ugly history with Ohio State in both football and basketball title games and before the whole Tim Tebow thing.    Blondie asked if I went to the University of Florida, and-just because she seemed like someone who would believe this sort of thing-I told her yes, that I had been on the surfing team there.  She seemed appropriately impressed and I got a good silent laugh at a harmless fib.  Had the story been true, and had I gone on to become an accomplished surfer, I probably would have heard of Manly Beach in New South Wales Australia before we arrived as part of our visit to Sydney and discovered the Australian Open of Surfing.

Traveling constantly can be a bit of a grind.  I mean, I’m thrilled to be on this trip, and the bonding going on with our family is priceless as are the incredible variety of experiences we are, well, experiencing.  But packing up every two or three days as we’ve done in Australia after a month in New Zealand where we had several one off stops can wear on you after a while.  On transition days, you spend a couple of hours just getting everything back in suitcases and backpacks and back in the boot of the car and hitting the road.  I was starting to question the entire process until we got to Sydney. 

We had gotten a wide variety of opinions on Sydney before we launched our trip and then, again, once we were in Australia.  More than one person had told us that Sydney was the best city they had ever been to, while others, especially some people in the Melbourne area said it was just another big city.  After spending a few days in Sydney, I couldn’t disagree with those people more. 

Only a handful of major cities are blessed with a setting such as the one surrounding Sydney.  Nature has provided a gorgeous harbor, that man (and woman I’m sure) has enhanced with a pair of iconic structures.  The Harbour Bridge connects Sydney with the shore to the north and does so in a classic Art Deco style.  The bridge opened in 1932 and is still the major thoroughfare for Sydneysiders to get to and from the northlands. 

An even more recognizable landmark sits gracefully on Bennelong Point, just to the east and south of the Harbour Bridge.  The Sydney Opera House is one of a handful of landmarks around the world where you immediately say, “I’m somewhere special!” 
We took the ferry in from the north, having found a two-bedroom apartment in the seaside village of Manly, where (completely unbeknownst to us when we booked the place) the Australian Open of Surfing was going on.  (More on that later)   The ferry route winds it’s way south from Manly through a picturesque bay, with houses lining the hills on each side, giving it a very Southern European feel.  The tops of the tallest buildings in Sydney are visible over the hills, but not the Opera House or Harbour Bridge.  The anticipation builds as the ferry cruises closer and closer until finally, it runs past the last land mass, and there they are in all their glory. 


The view is breath-taking and both landmarks are even more impressive in person than in photographs.  To the right is the bridge, to the left is the Opera House, presenting a challenging decision on which way to go once you’ve gotten off the ferry.  The Opera House was one of my top destinations for the entire trip, so we took a hard left and made our way toward the building that some describe as a series of turtles giving each other piggy back rides.  A stroll around the outside of the building gave me an appetite for paying to go inside, but first we all had appetites of another kind to quench, so we grabbed a surprisingly affordable lunch at one of the outdoor cafes nearby.  Annie and Ben were more interested in visiting the Sydney Aquarium, while Marley and I decided to book a guided tour of the Opera House. 

The hour-long tour had many highlights, as we went inside the various performance halls in the building.  We saw a performer rehearsing for La Soiree in the smallest theatre of the five that the tour took us to.  The guide led us up a series of stairs, pointing out architectural details along the way, stopping twice to play a video providing background information on the planning and construction of the Opera House.  No photos are allowed during the course of the tour, and that point was underlined more as we approached the Concert Hall.  Inside, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra was rehearsing and early the day before, someone in a tour group apparently snapped a picture, resulting in a day-long ban on tours sitting in for a few minutes on the orchestra’s rehearsal.  We all glanced around the group, eyeing one another and wondering who, if anyone, would be such an offender among us.  

The tour guide unlocked the door, and when he opened it, out came the most beautiful sound I had ever heard.  Rich notes cascaded from the floor below, as the musicians dressed in casual clothing worked their way through a section of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #4, which they would be performing the next night.  The beauty of the music brought tears to my eyes, but I’m admittedly the weepy sort.  I get misty-eyed during that goofy intro before Bengal games when the silhouette of Paul Brown walks across the scoreboard and there is that little beam of light that comes from his eyes.  I can’t watch the “wanna have a catch?” part of Field of Dreams without a box of Kleenex within reach.  A little bit of red wine and Dvorak’s Symphony #9 and I’m a complete mess.   But still, this was something that was very special, and it was even more so getting to experience it with Marley, who has shown some signs of musical talent.  It's one thing to just see one of the world's most iconic landmarks, it's even greater to do that with your daughter.  I know it’s something we’ll both remember for the rest of our lives. 


Another thing we will all remember for quite some time is the Australian Open of Surfing that was going on. When we were trying to find a place to stay while in Sydney, more than one person mentioned Manly.  Securing accommodation there was something of a challenge, but we managed to find a lodge with a two-bedroom unit that could put us up for three nights.  Once we made our first trip into Sydney, we extended that to four nights, knowing we would want to check out the beach scene at Manly as well as make another voyage on the ferry into Australia’s largest city.
Manly had an incredible buzz going on as surfers and their followers filled the outdoor and indoor spaces of the city.  A Surf Stadium had been erected along the beach, along with a Skate Bowl for the "sk8r boi" crowd.  The day we chose to hit the sand was another one drenched in sun, and we plopped ourselves down on the beach.  The surfers competed in heats of four, which lasted 20 minutes.  They would each wear a different colored jersey: one in red, another in yellow, a third in black and the other in white.  Some clearly had bigger followings than others, and one of the more popular ones was Matt Wilkinson.  Commentary from a pair of announcers broadcast over speakers toward the water let us know that Wilco, as he is called, was considered one of the more colorful characters surfing had seen in the last few years, so we decided he was one of our favorites.   
Another was Jordy Smith who was patient enough after competing to take the time to have his photo taken with many admirers of various ages, including a certain 12-year old girl from Ohio. 
The excitement from the beach transferred to the streets of Manly.  Restaurants and bars were overflowing with people, giving the scene the sense of something big happening.  There was talk of members of Pink Floyd being in attendance, and a local weekly newspaper ran a photo of four guys who were supposedly part of one of my favorite bands of all time, but I didn’t recognize any of them.  The guys in the photo definitely were not David Gilmour or Roger Waters,  and not even Nick Mason.  There was also talk that Tony Hawk, the skateboarding legend was around, but we saw no trace of him.  Still, it was fun to see the crowds pouring off the ferry from Sydney during the late-morning and early-afternoon hours.  The atmosphere was truly electric, and that just added to the buzz we felt from our time in the Sydney area.  Who knows, maybe someday, we’ll be Syndeysiders, if just for a while.

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