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Abs and abstinence: Lessons in travel from Gatsby

Surely there are easier (though far less impressive) ways to strip, I think as The Gentleman spins and hangs mid-air from a coat rack, while simultaneously losing articles of clothing.

Surely there are easier (though far less impressive) ways to strip, I think as The Gentleman spins and hangs mid-air from a coat rack, while simultaneously losing articles of clothing.

But this is Gatsby At The Green Light (at the Sydney Opera House no less) and excess is on the menu. 

It’s almost 100 years since The Great Gatsby was first published. It was 1925 and the Jazz Age was in full swing. The war was over, the Great Depression not yet begun and hope and hedonism emerged from the darkness. There are clear parallels to our post-pandemic world. 

Two hours before the show, I get a message from my driver for the evening, care of rental car company, Avis Australia. He’s waiting downstairs in a white Tesla Y. I ask if it’s okay if I sit in the front and we’re soon in deep conversation about our perceptions of equality, electric vehicles and AI. 

Drivers are too often uncredited for their power in travel. For many, they are the first non-airport welcome we have when we arrive in a new place. And depending on traffic, a conversation with them affords us the chance to get to know someone, their stories, their hopes. Because that’s what good travel is: connection. A bridge from one person to another. 

He drops me off at the forecourt and I’m soon drinking gin martinis in Jay Gatsby’s club The Green Light. Here, the rules of Prohibition (or gravity) do not apply and Gatsby’s performers are the very definition of OTT and extravagance. 

Connection over consumption: A lesson for today’s travellers

For those who don’t know the story of The Great Gatsby beyond the much-used gif of Leonardo Dicaprio proffering a glass of champagne, the basic plot revolves around the newly monied Jay Gatsby and his literal reaching for his old love Daisy Buchanan (and all she represents). 

But it’s also a story about excess and carelessness and so-called freedom after the terror of a world war. 

There was a lot of talk of freedom when borders opened mid-pandemic. And then revenge travel became a thing. People wanted more. For some, that meant more amenities, but for most I think (I hope), it meant more connection. 

I don’t know what my driver would think of The Hostess in Gatsby At The Green Light. The famed queen of burlesque Bettie Bombshell somehow seduces and comforts at the same time. I think they would inspire each other in their own ways. 

Gatsby At The Green Light
Gatsby At The Green Light | Image: Sydney Opera House, Daniel Boud.

On the drive home, I tell him about the show and we talk of excess and acts of denial from Ramadan to Lent, vegetarianism and parenthood. And as I walk upstairs on a hot, dark night in a much too fancy dress, I wonder if I took more away from our conversations than I did from the show or if they were always just meant to go together.

Because travel and culture go hand in hand

Most people in the travel industry will have or will one day be treated to some little luxury thanks to a travel brand’s sponsoring of an event or affiliation with a cultural icon. 

And that’s because travel is all about experience.

As we leave the theatre, stepping across discarded 100 dollar bills of Gatsby money, I ask Justin Montgomery, Senior Director of Commercial, Network and Franchise for Avis Budget Group, Pacific, about the company’s connection to the Sydney Opera House. 

IMG 2024 02 23 123358
IMG 2024 02 23 123319
Rachael Hinkson, Justin Montgomery and Vanessa Wolczak from Avis in front of the bar/stage.

“It’s really around innovation,” he told Karryon

“We’re innovating in terms of evolving with EV technology, and the Opera House is a beacon of innovation around arts and culture. The two come together beautifully.”

Last year, Avis Australia announced a three year partnership with the Opera House which has seen the car rental company support an enhanced pick up and drop off service for visitors, designed to make the journey to and around the Opera House a seamless and accessible experience. The Avis Connect shuttle service includes a new accessible bus for travel between Circular Quay and the Opera House, as well as three buggies to transport visitors around the Opera House precinct.

We wait for our Teslas as the lights of Sydney reflect in our famous harbour’s waters. We look across at the cruise ship docked at the Overseas Passenger Terminal and I think of Gatsby and Daisy and how they would travel now. 

In the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.