16
Jun
17

Road Trippin’ Down Under: Shopping & Dropping

Day Four of our vacation to Fremantle started about the same as Day Three had, but slightly later. Despite having absolutely nowhere to go and not even a hint of a schedule to keep or an agenda to pursue, we were out of bed, in the shower, and out the door like Amy Schumer ditching a hookup in the movie, Trainwreck.

It seemed insane—if not a little sad—for two healthy, red-blooded vacationing American’s to be up and around at 5am on a Saturday morning in Australia, but there we were. And we couldn’t even blame the time zone issue at this point since we’d been there for nearly 3 days—and it was 7pm back home.

Still, we tried—I mean we really, really tried—to relax and take it easy but it was a futile effort. There are only so many things one can do in a hotel room, after all—and only so many times one fifty-year-old couple can do them, if you catch my drift.

Even the television offered little in terms of distraction. Although the Jarhead normally can (a) lapse into and (b) sustain a TV coma—faster, longer, and with less effort than literally any man, woman or child on the face of planet earth—his superpowers are apparently weaker outside of North America. Seriously.

It doesn’t happen every day, but I and a handful of other witnesses have seen this man sit through twelve straight cycles of the Local on the Eights and three consecutive airings of Dune, and four solid hours of The Big Bang Theory—without blinking. And just when you’re ready to call someone with an electroencephalogram to check for evidence of brain activity, he’ll suddenly, casually, and quite coherently remark on some subtle difference between the most recent forecast and the one that had been issued for our area precisely one hour and eight minutes earlier—or preemptively blurt out Leonard Hofstadter’s response to one of Sheldon Cooper’s crazy complaints before Johnny Galecki can deliver the line himself. It’s uncanny.

But again, TV failed to hold the same attraction for him in Australia that it does in the States. My guess it has something to do with the language barrier.

I know. I know. The Aussies speak English just like we do. But DO they?

Sure, they speak many of the same words and use basically the same sentence structure that we do, but that accent of theirs can be tricky for people for whom language—and talking in general—doesn’t come easily. And this is the guy who spent three years in Naples and yet managed to learn enough Italian to request thirty liters of fuel from gas station attendants (trenta litri per favore) and to thank them afterwards (grazie.)

At any rate, the Jarhead wasn’t drawn to Australian TV like a moth to a flame as he is to American TV. Which was fine with me. Apart from a couple of programs I watch when I’m working out (which isn’t exactly often, obviously, or I wouldn’t be two seasons behind everyone else in the free world with Orange is the New Black) I mainly use our TV for background noise. And when the Jarhead is in a TV coma, he may as well be in a regular coma because he acknowledges and remembers very little—sort of like Jeff Sessions, except when the Jarhead doesn’t answer it’s because he hasn’t heard you and not because he’s trying like hell not to incriminate himself.

And so, as we had before, we walked out of the hotel with no idea how we were going to spend our day. The options were limitless and I’ll admit to having been somewhat paralyzed by the plethora of choices.

The one and only thing I truly wanted to accomplish that day was to purchase a new curling iron. Scratch that. The only thing I truly NEEDED to accomplish that day was to purchase a new curling iron. It’s an important distinction because, although I needed a curling iron, I most definitely did not WANT to buy a new curling. What I WANTED was for MY curling iron to work just as it had when we left the states.

But that was not going to happen. Because although one can power an American curling iron by plugging it into a US/Australia adaptor and then plugging the adaptor into an Australian outlet, one can only plug said curling iron into a US/Australia adaptor and then plug it into an Australian outlet so many times and for so long before you overheat and fry the bloody thing.

So…I needed a new curling iron. We needed sunscreen, too—not because of any mishaps involving electricity, thank goodness. Fortunately, I had remembered to pack my industrial-sized claw clamps and, therefore, was fully prepared to weather this and just about any other hair emergency, or the Jarhead would have been forced to set off for breakfast on his own and then pick up a curling iron and sunscreen on his way back.

For a change, it didn’t take us long to decide where to eat that morning, and soon we were sipping coffee and chatting with a staffer named Christine at a place called Salted Board. Salted Board has a funky yet cozy atmosphere with a décor that blends rustic and industrial elements and features bold earth tones and black accents to create a modern vibe that looked so positively chic that I started taking notes and making plans to remodel my home (again.)

And the food looked just as awesome as the décor, as you can see from the photos below.

Salted Board 1Salted Board 2

My ‘brekkie’ consisted of eggs Benedict, minus the bread, with salmon, smashed avocado, and a side of bacon. The Jarhead had sausage, ham, and eggs with crusty bread.

This was by far the best breakfast we had enjoyed so far. In fact, it was so good, that we ate breakfast there again on Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and each time it was just as good as the last.

After breakfast, we began our quest to find a new curling iron. I say ‘a’ new curling iron because I knew better than to become attached to something I did not plan to keep. I would be leaving Australia in four days, after all, and it would be of no use to me back in the states—that is, unless I wanted to pick up an Australia/US electrical adapter and see how long it would last plugged in to a US outlet.

Turns out it’s fairly hard to find a large barreled, ceramic coated, variable setting curling iron in Fremantle, Western Australia. In fact, the only place we found that even carried curling irons, was Target. Not one of the three other stores we were advised to check had them, which I suppose is why we paid twice as much for that one than I had paid for the one that had died.

In the hunt for the new curling iron, we got to take in some more of the local scenery, wandered through a market, visited a shopping mall, and bought a few souvenirs. We also found the public library, and got up close and personal with some colorful parrots as well as a woman in the park whom I suspect was not dealing with a full deck because she kept shouting and swearing at the air above the bench beside her.

Dinner that night included cocktails and hanging kebabs which you have to see to believe, so here is the evidence:

Hanging Kebabs 1

We had put it off eating as long as we could by walking around for a while before heading back to the hotel restaurant. Our goal, again, was to stay out as late as we could in the hope of finally resetting our body clocks to local time.

The effort was valiant but, like our attempt to stay in bed that morning, was ultimately futile. The loud music and lights around the area kept us from falling asleep at our table, this time, but all that fresh air, food, and drink had left us sedated.

Fortunately, there was only one short elevator ride between us and our bed. So upstairs and of to bed we went. We had made it to 11pm!

 

15
May
17

Road Trippin’ Down Under: Rocking it (or not) in Rockingham

It came as no surprise when we awoke at 4am on Friday morning. Since we had gone to bed so early the night before, I would have been more surprised—and probably a bit concerned—if we had slept any later.

By now it was quite clear that we were taking the Forrest Gump approach to our vacation: When we were hungry, we ate. When we were tired, we slept. And when we had to go…you know. We went.

I knew we wouldn’t win any races or set any records at that pace, but neither would we suffer any stress or strain. With any luck, the reward for this outlook—so eloquently expressed by the Spanish as “que sera, sera” and by the Italians as “va bene”—would be the extension of our beauty, vitality, and longevity. And if not, at least I’d have plenty of material for future posts. (You’re welcome.)

And so, with little in terms of a plan other than to grab some coffee and a bite to eat and head south for the day, we hopped on the elevator and made our way down to the dining area to take advantage of the hotel’s breakfast buffet.

It looked pretty much like any other breakfast buffet we had seen with a few notable exceptions. The most obvious of these was the sheer variety of items, which included not only standard breakfast fare like bacon, eggs, sausage, ham, hot and cold cereals, pastries, pancakes, waffles, omelets, and fresh fruit, but also non-standard breakfast food like roasted tomatoes, hot beans, and mushrooms.

Among the more puzzling aspects of this buffet was the table of raw vegetables that were so fresh that they still had their skins and ends intact, and yet were so clean, colorful, and perfect that I assumed they were fake. In fact, I wasn’t until I saw one of our fellow guests eagerly gnawing on a giant carrot like Bugs Bunny that I realized they were not only real but tasty.

Another difference between this buffet and others was the presence of dogs. And I mean a LOT of dogs. All of them sitting or lying on the floor next to one table or another. Not barking. Not begging. Not running around. Just chilling and being dogs.

“What’s with all the dogs?” I asked as the Jarhead and I assembled our coffee, plates, and silverware at our table. “I counted at least nine dogs in his area alone.”

My companion shrugged. “At least they’re being quiet.”

I seconded that, realizing only then how quiet the place was. Although I have no empirical or statistical data to prove it, it was about the quietest breakfast experience I’d ever had. And quite possibly the most pleasant. Especially compared to certain buffets in the US—not saying which ones—where you can hardly carry on a conversation for all the screaming, crying, fighting and whining kids and their parents who are too busy shouting over them or into their cell phones to actually do something about it.

Compared to all that, this place was Valhalla.

And yet, odd. How could a room be literally teeming with people and yet almost totally quiet?

It must be the acoustics, I decided. Because, as I looked around the room, it was clear that people were moving their lips. You just couldn’t hear them.

Then I looked more closely, and realized that most of those people were also moving their hands. And their arms.

That’s when it dawned on me: these people are signing.

“No wonder it’s so quiet in here,” I said. “At least half of the people in here are hearing impaired.”

“Quite a few visually impaired folks around, too,” the Jarhead observed, indicating with a nod toward tables comprised of people with dogs and wearing dark glasses.

“What a coincidence,” I marveled aloud.

“Or is it?” the Jarhead asked with a chuckle.

“What do you mean?” I followed his gaze a sign on the doors at the rear of the dining room.

Turns out we were sitting in amidst a convention for professionals who work with or on behalf of people with hearing and visual impairments—many of whom are hearing or visually impaired themselves.

Boy, did I feel like an idiot—especially when I looked around again and found almost every single one of our breakfast companions wearing a t-shirt with the organization’s logo on it.

In my defense, the t-shirts came in about four different colors. And they were paired with bottoms of about every color, shape, and fabric under the sun, so it’s not as if the conventioneers were all dressed alike. Still. I felt pretty stupid.

Fortunately, no one was paying any attention to me so no one besides the Jarhead knew what an idiot I was. At least not until now.

Anyway, from there we popped back up to the room to grab a few things for the day’s trip south. We were almost to the elevator again when I realized something was missing.

My splints!

By which I mean the custom fitted, nylon devices that I wear on the outer fingers of my arthritic left hand to keep them bent and out of the way. The very same items that keep me from collapsing in pain any time said digits come in contact with anything firmer than water, and without which I could barely function.

Thus began a frantic search for two tiny, light peach, infinity-shaped pieces of plastic, which I wear nearly 24/7 but usually remove before using the bathroom, putting on lotion, or doing the dishes. Since I hadn’t seen a kitchen in days, I reasoned, the only place I could have left them was on a stand next to a bed or next to a sink in a bathroom. That didn’t bode well considering I had slept in about five different beds and used over a dozen different restrooms in the last seven days. On the upside, the last place I remembered taking them off to apply lotion was in our room right there in lovely Fremantle, Australia—which meant I hadn’t left them back home, in Chicago, or in Abu Dhabi. And because I hadn’t left the hotel since the last time I took them off to use the bathroom that morning, I knew they had to be nearby.

Unfortunately, after turning our entire room inside out and upside down, the splints were still missing, so we decided to check the dining room. Although I didn’t remember washing any dishes, putting on lotion, or using the bathroom during breakfast, because the only place I’d been all morning–other than our room and the elevator–was the dining room, it seemed the only logical place to look.

A few minutes later, after checking our table (which had been cleared and was now unoccupied) and asking the hostess, the servers, and the cashier if anyone had turned in a set of small, light peach, infinity shaped pieces of plastic, I concluded that they’d been thrown away.

And so, with little else to do but get up close and personal with six garbage cans full of discarded food, drink, and god-only-knows-what-else (which was not going to happen in this lifetime, thanks very much. I had enough of that kind of fun thanks to all the happy hours I spent digging though the cafeteria trash in pursuit of my missing retainer back in middle school) we gave up the search and went on our slightly-less than merry way. At least they weren’t expensive.

Trying to hold on to that silver lining while clutching the seat and door handle of the rental car as we cruised down the highway that morning proved no harder than clutching the seat and door handle of any other vehicle on any other day of my life, and in time I forgot about my defeat. There was so much to see outside that car window that I even forgot to be scared every now and then.

The first place we stopped was at a oceanfront park, where we snapped a few photos and made a note to come back when it was warmer and less windy.

Ocean Front 3

Ocean Front 1Ocean Front 4

Continuing down the coast from there, we stopped in at Bell Park in the City of Rockingham.

Bell Park - Rockingham 2Bell Park - Rockingham 3Bell Park - Rockingham 4Bell Park - Rockingham 6

Continuing down the shore past the park, we came to a little sailboat harbor and boardwalk.

Rockingham 3Rockingham 6Rockingham 7

Although the views were lovely, my enjoyment of them was hampered somewhat by the fact that I had developed an itch in the general vicinity of my cleavage, which was mercifully not constant but still fairly irksome, and which became progressively more annoying as time wore on. Not wanting to attract attention by addressing the situation out in the open, I had resolved to find a restroom or other appropriate setting in which to take action while discreetly adjusting my position and that of a certain article of clothing in the hope of maintaining my sanity.

At a certain point—and with no restroom in sight—I couldn’t stand it anymore. Although the itching itself hadn’t gotten any more intense, something—perspiration perhaps—had caused it to increase in frequency. By then I was roughly as curious as to the cause of the itch as I was annoyed by it, and convinced that knowing the cause was the key to making it go away.

With that in mind—and with the Jarhead having stopped off to buy a soda from by a local concessioner—I gave up and gave in. Expecting to find a bite, or a rash, or bits of sand or salt stuck to my skin, I pulled the neck of my shirt away from my body and looked down to find two small, light peach infinity-shaped plastic rings nestled between my—well, you know.

Suddenly, it all came rushing back to me: where I’d put them; when I’d put them there; even WHY I’d put them there.

I immediately started laughing, recalling a video I had once seen and shared with the Jarhead entitled “Titties are NOT Pockets.”

You can see it by clicking here:

I was still laughing when the Jarhead returned from the concession stand with his beverage. He looked at me as I held up my splints. “Where were they?” he asked with a chuckle.

I pointed toward my chest, and then he was laughing, too.

“Now, Billie,” he admonished. “You should know that titties are NOT pockets.”

From there we made our way back to the car. Along the way, I came across this bizarre sight:

TP Boobies

I’m not going to tell you what it is. But feel free to take a guess and leave it as a comment. I’ll give you a couple of hints: They glow in the dark. And they are not pockets.

After leaving the park, we went for a short drive down the coast to admire the architecture and then stopped off to admire the beach and other sights—which included magpies, sand dunes, and about a hundred signs warning visitors to watch for snakes. Apparently, they were just waking up from hibernation and should be expected to be a bit cranky.

After speaking to a ranger, I also learned to watch out for other small animals that might be sitting in the grasses. It seems they will stay perfectly still to avoid detection when they sense a snake is nearby, so if you see one that’s not moving, you should assume a snake is not far away. Of course, they may also sit perfectly still just because you’re nearby, so you never know.

Eventually, we made it back to Fremantle. Not wanting to delay dinner an hour or more by debating what and where to eat, we simply went back to the Monk. This time we ordered burgers, which came with fried polenta. Although I had asked to forego the polenta in favor of a salad, the Jarhead decided to give it a try.

Recognizing right off the bat that we weren’t Aussies, the server, Trevor, asked our names and where we were from. No one had really expressed an interest in us up to that point, and it made a nice change.

Trevor didn’t look like any server we’d ever had—in Australia or anywhere else. With his close-cropped hair, his stern expression, the fitted shirt, and his compact but well-muscled physique, he looked more like Jason Statham in “The Mechanic” than someone whom you’d expect to bring you a burger–never mind the salad or fried polenta. Although to be fair, I probably wouldn’t have noticed the fitted shirt or his muscles had it not been for the fitted shirt and his muscles. (Pretty sure he didn’t get THOSE delivering plates of burgers and polenta—unless he carries a dozen or so plates at a time.)

As I expected, the Jarhead was not enamored with his choice of sides, and asked Trevor to take it away.

Eager to turn things around, Trevor offered to replace the fried polenta with something else.

“Like what?” the Jarhead asked doubtfully.

“How about a salad?”

The Jarhead was less than thrilled by this suggestion—and made no effort to conceal it. “No thanks,” he said.

“He’s not really a fan of salad,” I explained.

“Is that so?” Trevor asked me, before turning to the Jarhead. “What’s wrong with salad?”

It sounded like a challenge, but Trevor was clearly amused, so the Jarhead answered:

“Salad isn’t food,” he declared. “Salad is my food’s food.”

Trevor crossed his arms. “Is that right?”

The Jarhead nodded. “In fact, salad is not only my food’s food; it’s also what my food s***s on,” he clarified with no small amount of satisfaction.

He was being deliberately provocative, and that clearly made him feel better.

“I’m not sure I like you,” Trevor admitted before turning to me again. “Now Billie—she’s delightful—but you…I don’t know. You’re a bit of a pain in the ass.”

I thought I would die laughing.

“He’s really not,” I said, trying not to snort.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. And we’ve been married 31 years, so I would know. The man is just hangry.”

“Hangry?”

“Yeah. You know. When you get so hungry you’re angry?”

“Right.” Trevor nodded and turned back toward the Jarhead. “I guess I’ll have to take her word for it. Meanwhile, since you don’t want a salad, can I bring you anything else to replace the polenta?”

“How about another beer?’ he replied, smiling.

“You got it.”

That did the trick. Well, that and the big juicy bacon cheeseburger once it finally made its way into his stomach.

We followed that up with brief walk around an area of downtown we hadn’t seen before, and then headed back to our room.

For a change, we managed to stay up until 8pm that night! At that rate, I figured we stood a pretty good chance of acclimating to the new time zone just in time to head back home.

30
Apr
17

Road Trippin’ Down Under: Life in the Slow Lane

Despite having been up half the night, I was unable to stay in bed much past sunrise. Although I was physically tired enough to go back to sleep, mentally I was wide awake. Between the sunlight dancing on my eyelids, the sounds of the city waking up outside, and the knowledge that mere miles separated us from the beaches, the kangaroos, and all the other things we hoped to encounter in the coming days, I just couldn’t get my mind to shut back down.

The Jarhead, too, had woken up by then—as I discovered only after trying to get out of bed without disturbing him. Evidently he had been awake for a while, too, and had been killing time checking his email and playing solitaire on his phone while waiting for me to wake up. Little had he known that I was lying there with my eyes closed desperately hoping I would fall back to sleep while trying my damnedest not to move a muscle and—for a change—not wake him.

It was all pretty ridiculous, but not exactly out of character for either of us.

At any rate, once we each realized that the other was awake, we got up, got some coffee, and got moving. Although we had nothing specific to do that day and no prescribed time frame in which to do it, we both wanted to see as much of Australia as we could over the seven days we would be there, and that required some thought.

I know, I know. Most people would have decided how to spend a week in Australia before they actually get to Australia. And most of them would have arrived there knowing not only what they’re going to do, but also when, and what it was going to cost. And thanks to websites like yelp and tripadvisor.com, they also might have had a pretty good idea of how much they would enjoy it.

But all of that takes effort, and we don’t like to work that hard—at least not in advance. Plus, we change our minds—a lot. So we like to keep our options open. And if some of the options no longer exist by the time we become aware of them, or if they happen to disappear while we’re locked in debate or gripped by indecision, well then we figure it just wasn’t meant to be.

So instead of heading out of our hotel armed with train schedules, museum hours, and tour tickets, we left with only our keys, our wallets, our sunglasses, and a thirst for adventure. By that I mean a middle-aged, moderately-active, Midwesterner thirst for adventure, just to be clear.

The first order of business involved a walk around the immediate area to see what fun there was to be had locally. We soon had a set of options to include the familiar and the not so familiar.

The familiar included several retail establishments, like those seen in the photos below. The first shows the exterior of a place called Hungry Jacks, which sounded to our American ears like a pancake or mashed potato shop, but is actually an Aussie version of Burger King. Like it’s US incarnation, it offers burgers, fries, shakes and chicken tenders in ketchup and mustard colored wrappers, only without the funky paper crowns and the creepy plastic faced mascot.

Aussie Burger King

Target

The second is an image of the front door of the local Target which bears little resemblance to the Target stores in the US (as we learned a few days later after the Jarhead realized he’d forgotten to pack undershirts.) Sure, they both sell clothing, shoes, and household goods, but the Target in downtown Fremantle differs from Target stores in the US in several ways.

For example, the layout is nothing like any US Target I had ever seen. It looked much more like an K-Mart circa 1976 than a Target circa 2016, with racks and racks of merchandise arranged in departments, but with no real theme or color scheme, and none of the gi-normous posters of happy, photogenic children, trend-setting teens, whole-grain hipsters and hot-moms hanging from the rafters like you’d find in its US counterparts.

It’s like the land that marketing forgot, I remember thinking as I followed the Jarhead to the men’s department that day. And yet I couldn’t decide if that was a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, it didn’t have that Target feel—you know the one that makes you want to buy their stuff so you, too, can be a happy, photogenic, trend-setter, hipster and/or hot-mom. On the other hand, it didn’t have that Target feel—in other words, I didn’t feel I had to buy their stuff or be a photogenic, trend-setter, hipster or hot-mom, and that made me happy. (Chew on that for a while. Or not. Your choice. After all, it’s a free country—for now.)

In case you missed it, the signage on the Aussie store is also different from the signage on US stores. Whereas the word ‘target’ is spelled out in red capital letters in the US, the word appears in black and only the first letter capitalized in Fremantle. There is also a period after the word ‘target’ on the Fremantle store that doesn’t appear after the word ‘target’ on US stores. I wondered about these differences but not enough to bother looking into it. If you happen to know the explanation for either (or both) of these idiosyncrasies, feel free to share it as a comment on this post.

Meanwhile, other familiar sites were to be seen on or near the main drag of Fremantle. One of these was a 7-11, which stood across the street from Target and was exactly the same as any 7-11 I’d seen on the outside, but as a Wawa and Kwik Trip devotee, I didn’t bother to check the inside.

Another familiar site was the Cold Rock Ice Creamery, which looked identical to a Cold Stone Creamery in the US but—as we discovered a few days later, did not measure up in terms of flavor or consistency. In fact, it was exactly what I imagine ice cream would have been like in Soviet-era Russia or Poland. Okay, maybe it wasn’t that bad. But it was darn close.

What downtown Fremantle lacked in terms of marketing and ice cream, it more than made up for in it other ways—including but not limited to the variety, authenticity, style, and even value of its cuisine. There were so many restaurants, it was hard to choose which ones to sample, but every single one we tried was awesome. And two of them were awesome enough to warrant an encore.

The first of these was the Monk Craft Brewery & Kitchen, where we had an early dinner after wandering around for hours trying to decide how to decide where to have dinner. We eventually settled on Monk for no other reason than it was a beautiful day and we could eat there alfresco.

There were several other places that offered an alfresco option, but their tables were all crammed close together under awnings, whereas the Monk had several tables with big wide seats that would allow us to sit right out under the sun, which is where we wanted to be right then. So Monk it was.

It was a dinner like we’d never had before, and probably never will again. The Jarhead had what they called a Tackle Box—which included fried squid and fried white bait with crispy onion and chilli-lime aioli. I had the lamb ribettes with rosemary and garlic grilled lemon and a Greek salad. Fizzy water (for me) and a beer sampler (for him) completed our meal.

From there, we headed to a nearby liquor store where we bought enough beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages to induce me to wonder if the Jarhead planned to ever leave the room again. That question was answered when he asked the liquor store clerk for some ideas on what there was to see and do while we were in the area.

What follows is a song I wrote about this experience, and some of what happened the next day. I don’t have a title for this little ditty, but please enjoy it to the tune of the theme song (or thong, if you’ve been drinking, like me) from The Beverly Hillbillies.

Now this is a story ‘bout a bloke named Ted

A liquor store clerk with a curly brown head

He said Margaret River was the place ya wanna be

So we paid for our booze and planned to head southerly (south, that is)

Well the next day we spoke to the head valet

The sheila said, no—dontcha go that-away.

She said Margaret River is infested with crocs

And all the nearby beaches are filled with shocks (great whites, that is)

Now, I don’t know if that dude had a grudge against us or tourists in general, but I for one was not amused. Considering how nice had been to him—and now much money we had spent at his shop that day, we did not deserve to be sent on an excursion that had a better than average chance of leading to our demise.

Of course, we had no idea that his advice had a better than average chance of leading to our demise when we got back to our hotel that afternoon. We hadn’t spoken to the valet yet, and since we were too tired/lazy to pop open the laptop and do some research our own, we would remain blissfully unaware of our brush with death for several more hours.

So instead of learning more about Margaret River—or prospective alternatives to going to Margaret River—we popped by the front desk to ask for an extension cord (which they promised to deliver post haste) and headed up to our room.

I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but we were tucked in (with the CPAP securely attached to an industrial size extension cord that run under the headboard and over to WIGCBAPTTRTB my side of the bed) and asleep by 6pm, thereby securing the title of the Most Boring Couple to Visit the Continent of Australia in the History of International Travel.

#wellrested

#nodeath

#noregrets

18
Apr
17

Road Trippin’ Down Under: Bedded Bliss

Four hours and several rounds of Word Hero after the Jarhead had hit the hay I, too, was finally ready for bed. Having metabolized more than my share of sugar, caffeine, and wine—not to mention cortisol and adrenaline—over the past two days, it may be more accurate to say I was ready to crash—and hard.

And so, as quietly as I could and using my phone for a flashlight, I performed my evening ablutions, retrieved my CPAP from its case, and started to set it up. It’s not a complicated process but neither is it easy to do quietly—especially in the dark. And it’s not something I normally have to do myself when we travel. In fact, because it often involves moving one or more pieces of furniture or light fixtures—especially in older hotels—the Jarhead usually sets it up the minute we get to our room.

I can hear some of you now saying awwww and what a sweetheart—if not out loud then inside your head. But let’s not kid ourselves: the Jarhead’s dedication to helping me establish and maintain an open airway at night is as much for his own benefit as for mine. For if he doesn’t make sure upon our arrival that there is in fact a surface on which to position the machine as well as a source of electricity to power it, my ability to sleep and/or sleep quietly will be greatly impaired, which means HIS ability to sleep will be greatly impaired. And nobody wants that—least of all the Jarhead.

I should point out the alternative, which is that I suffocate in my sleep. That, too, might impair the Jarhead’s his ability to sleep—especially as he waits with fingers crossed for the results of the autopsy. And nobody wants that except—just kidding!

Most often, his advance efforts prove unnecessary, as power options are found to be both ample and in close proximity to the sleeping area. Now and again, however, the situation will require a change of rooms or the acquisition of an extension cord, which are burdens best borne by the fully clothed (and preferably while the bags are still packed) or so I’m told. This type of scenario is such a rarity that I cannot recall when last it arose. Nevertheless, it apparently created sufficient havoc for the Jarhead as to warrant his near-obsessive approach to preventing it from happening again.

Despite the playful tone, the Jarhead’s interest in making sure I’m able to breathe (and, therefore, sleep) when we’re away from home is not something I take for granted. It has, however, left me perhaps a little spoiled since it allows me to focus on things like room décor, shower configuration, and word games over sleeping arrangements and outlet placement.

Which is probably why it took me until nearly 3am to realize there were no outlets near the bed.

Notice that I did not write “near my side of the bed.” I make this distinction because the Jarhead had fallen asleep on what is generally considered by all parties to this relationship to be MY side of the bed and, therefore, if there had been an outlet on that side of the bed it would have been useless to me anyway. Unless, of course, I had been willing to drape the cord across his sleeping form and risk having him accidentally unplug it—or worse, strangle himself with it—at some point during the night, which I was not.

But that was a moot point because the fact is there was no outlet near what is generally considered by all parties to this relationship to be my side of the bed or any other. In fact, the only outlets in our room besides those in the bathroom and those behind the TV, were located at the base of the outer wall andapproximately 10 feet as the crow flies from the head end of what is generally considered by all parties to this relationship to be the Jarhead’s side of the bed.

In other words, in order to survive my first night in Australia I had to get down on my hands and knees, crawl under the table, plug the cord into an adapter, plug the adapter in to the outlet, crawl out from under the table, place my CPAP on the table, drag the table as close to the bed as the CPAP cord would allow, put on my mask, and hope:

  • that the distance between my face and the machine did not exceed the length of the air hose (72 inches) and,
  • that I didn’t roll over at some point during the night and manage to pull the CPAP off the table and have it land with a fatal thud on the floor and,
  • that the Jarhead didn’t get up at some point in the night go to the bathroom, forget which side he’d woken up on, and try to climb in on WIGCBAPTTRTB his side of the bed, trip on the cord, hit his face on the table, and land with a fatal thud on the floor

Either way you look at it, it was not an ideal arrangement. Unfortunately, the only other option was to pull the bed closer to the wall on the other side of the room, which would have been almost impossible with the Jarhead already sleeping on top of it. And even if I had been able to move it by myself, I doubted I could have done so quietly or smoothly. In other words, I would have woken him up. Which totally defeated the purpose. After all, if I was going to wake him up anyway, I may as well do so gently and deliberately, and then ask HIM to move the bed for me.

To my sleep-deprived mind at 3am, that sounded much easier.

But still not ideal. Because even if I had succeeded in moving the bed without waking the man of my dreams, he may still have gotten up at some point in the night to use the bathroom, tried to climb back in bed, which was now on the other side of the room, and landed with a fatal thud on the floor.

With that option sounding no better than the other, and finding no viable alternative, I strapped on my mask, put my head to the pillow, and tried to fall asleep.

And sleep I did. Until precisely 4:43am when the sunlight came streaming through the south facing window and patio door of our room.

That was a bit of a bummer—until I remembered that we were in Australia and on vacation.

Then it was bliss.

28
Mar
17

Road Trippin’ Down Under: Sleepy Seconds

By the time the Jarhead had awoken from his nap, I had showered and fixed (literally) my hair, and was ready to take on the day. Since it was nearly 6pm by that point, there wasn’t much of the day left to take on, so we decided to head over to the waterfront in search of sustenance.

Fremantle Waterfront

That’s kind of our modus operandi. When we can’t think of anything else to do, we eat.

Unless we can’t decide what or where to eat, that is. Then we don’t eat. For hours.

If you think I’m joking, ask my kids. Or our friend Nancy. She once sat imprisoned in our car as the Jarhead and I tried to decide where to go for dinner one Saturday in 1993. She had the same reaction to that experience that she did after witnessing the birth of the Princess six months earlier: Never doing that again.

I can’t say I blame her. After discussing, debating, and eventually discounting nearly every casual dining establishment in south Minneapolis area only to settle for carryout pizza, I, too, was disgusted with us and questioning my reasons for staying in this relationship.

But we’re older now. And presumably wiser. Plus, it was getting late, and if we didn’t choose something we would eventually run out of time and either have settle for overpriced junk from our snack bar (shown below) or go to bed hungry.

Room Snacks

Under those conditions, I was sure we could find an acceptable place to have dinner, and make it back to our room before sunrise.

We crossed the Esplanade Park and Preserve and headed up Mews Road, vowing to stop and eat at the first place we both found acceptable. It went against everything we believed in, of course, and had a high probability of failure. The greatest threat to its success lay in the what ifs. What if we eat here and later find out we could have had something better/cheaper just a few blocks away?  What if we DON’T eat here, and then find out there’s nothing better/cheaper elsewhere? We had been burned by this strategy in the past, obviously, and were loath to try it again. But the clock was ticking, so we decided to give it a shot.

Our trip started, like any worthy quest, at a brewery. The Little Creatures Brewery, to be exact. Since the place was deserted and looked an awful lot like an actual brewery, we naturally mistook it for a brewery and gave it a miss.

Continuing up the street, we came to Cicerello’s. Offering a “unique eating experience in the heart of Fremantle’s Fishing Boat Harbour” and providing not only “the best fish and chips” but also “freshly caught seafood, including oysters, mussels, crabs, and crayfish,” the place would have had me at hello. But for the fact that, even on a good day, the Jarhead is barely lukewarm when it comes to seafood, we might have stopped there. But instead we moved on.

Next up was Kailis’ Fish Market Café Waterfront.  This place had everything going for it that Cicerello’s had, plus cafeteria style seating and piles of freshly caught seafood on display and available for purchase.

In case you missed it, that was irony. The combination fish market and café may have been an attractive novelty for some but it was a definite deal-breaker for us since, one sure way to ruin the Jarhead’s already limited appetite for seafood is for him to see it before it becomes food.

The last option—or at least the last one that we could see due to the road blocks and other evidence of construction further up the road—was the Char Char Bull   Unfortunately, its décor and menu gave the place an air of hip elegance that posed a major threat to my self-esteem.

So back down the street we went, hoping to discover options that we had missed along the way but coming up with nothing new. Turning around again, we walked back up the street and wound up—again—at the Char Char Bull.

“At least we can get something besides seafood here,” the Jarhead observed as we read the menu on the door for the second time. Nodding, I took note of our reflections in the window and compared our hair and clothing to that of the patrons I could see inside. Noting that we looked less hip than the hippest people we could see but definitely more hip than the rest, I agreed to go inside.

And with that, our choice was finally made.

We had taken less time deciding to have a baby. And what to name him.

Nevertheless, we had come to a decision, and soon were being shown to a lovely table for two, which happened to be last open table by a window. Sa-weet, I thought as we took our seats. Then I wondered if maybe window-side tables were not considered prime real estate in Australian restaurants. Especially waterfront Australian restaurants. Maybe we should ask to be moved…

Fortunately, the arrival of our server halted that train of thought and put it squarely on the menu where it belonged. It was a much better journey, I concluded, as I took in words like:

  • mac and three cheese croquettes with spiced sea salt, Dijon and truffle mayonnaise
  • ciabatta loaf with whipped brown butter and sea salt
  • crispy tempura with wasabi tartare sauce
  • pork belly with sherry shallots, charred nectarine, almond skordalia, & vincotto
  • butternut pumpkin gnocchi

And the list went on and on.

We started with the mac and three cheese croquettes and some crispy calamari with watercress salad, white bean hummus and pomegranate dressing. I remember drinking wine as well, but since I drank much of it before any food came, I don’t remember what kind of wine it was or how it tasted. Given how well it went down, however, we can probably assume it was pretty damn good.

For my meal, I had an eye filet with smoky bourbon green peppercorn sauce and brown butter potato puree. I remember enjoying it very much, and wishing I could have tried everything on the menu while we were at it.

Meanwhile, since we were in Australia, the Jarhead decided to take the plunge and try the kangaroo loin. It was also served with brown butter potato puree, plus salt-baked beetroots, pearl onions, poached pear, and caraway jus.

To our surprise, the kangaroo loin was virtually indistinguishable from other high quality red meat. I don’t know what we were expecting, to be honest, but we were well and truly surprised. It looked and tasted delicious, but it was no better or worse than a venison loin or a good old-fashioned American T-bone or porterhouse steak.

By the time we had finished our meal—and our bottle of wine—we were both fit for nothing but our bed. And yet, our bed was about a half-mile walk through a chilly seaside park from our table in the nice warm, fireplace lit restaurant. So rather than get up and leave, we decided to delay our departure by ordering dessert.

That proved a mistake, as the Jarhead was soon snoozing lightly with his chin precariously perched in his hand, and his elbow precariously perched on the edge of the table. Oh my god, I thought, as I saw him through the sliver of an opening at the bottom of my own closed eyelids. Realizing that I, too, had fallen asleep, I shook my head a couple of times and took a good long drink of ice water.

“Hey you,” I whispered to my comatose companion as I looked around to see may have heard me snoring.  “Wake up.”

The Jarhead blinked a few times, then looked around guiltily and apologized. “They haven’t brought our dessert yet?” he wondered aloud.

“No,” I replied, although I wasn’t sure. They could have brought it over, found us asleep, and taken it away again for all I knew. But I wasn’t going to tell him that since doing so would have clued him into the fact that I had fallen asleep, too. “I was going to say something, but I don’t know how long ago we ordered it.”

“It’s been at least fifteen minutes,” he announced after looking at his watch. “I wonder what the holdup is.”

Looking around, it became clear that at some point between the arrival of the wine and end of our nap, the restaurant had gotten slammed. Not one table was empty, and the servers and other employees were racing around like bees in a hive.

It took us ten more minutes to get someone to stop at our table, and she did not have our dessert.

“We’re looking for our server,” the Jarhead told her.

“Do you need your bill?’

“No. We’re waiting for our dessert.”

Not sure how or why, but apparently our dessert had not arrived because our dessert had not been made. We learned this a few minutes later when our server came back to apologize and to assure us it would be out momentarily.

A few minutes later, the Jarhead was sleeping again, and I was fighting the urge to close my eyes as well. Knowing how hard it would be to get him on his feet and back to the hotel once he was down for the count, I scrambled toward the kitchen, and stopped the first person who looked me in the eye.

“Do you need your bill?” she asked.

Boy, these people sure wanted to get rid of us.

“No. I mean, yes. I mean, that depends,” I stammered. “We want to go, but we ordered dessert but it didn’t come, and now they’re making it and we really need to leave.”

At that point, she offered to pack the dessert to go and bring it to the table with the check. “I’ll do you one better,” I countered. “I’ll give you my credit card now and you can bring over the dessert and the slip for me to sign as soon as possible.”

Moments later, we were sleepwalking down Mews Road toward the park. Or sleepstumbling, to be more accurate.

By then the air had grown cold and the wind had picked up. I shivered and tried to use the Jarhead as a windbreak, but could barely keep my eyes open wide enough to see him as we made our way through the park and to the hotel entrance. Fortunately, it was enormous and well lit, or we might not have found the place, and would have ended dying of exposure in the park (assuming the spiders didn’t get us first.) Not exactly how I’d like to go, if it’s all the same to you.

Back in our room, the Jarhead quickly stripped down, got into bed, rolled up in the covers, and fell back asleep. Rejuvenated by the cold wind and the promise of chocolate cake, ice cream, and caramel sauce, I traded my clothes for pajamas, flopped down in a chair, propped my feet up, ripped into my dessert.

It definitely was not a pretty sight. The ice cream had melted and all that jostling had left it looking like something a child had created in the yard after a rain. But it was still cake, ice cream, and caramel sauce, and—thanks to jet lag and one lost order ticket—it was ALL mine!

14
Mar
17

Road Trippin’ Down Under: Arachnophobia

When we last saw our weary travelers, they had landed in Perth, picked up their rental car, and arrived safely at their hotel in Fremantle. While we wait for them to check in and take the elevator up to their room, let’s take a moment to reflect on the fact that they are riding an elevator in Australia.

When you think about it, going up in an elevator in Australia is, in effect, like going down in an elevator in North America. Or close to it anyway. Since (according to peakbagger.com) Wisconsin’s polar geographic opposite—aka antipode—would be somewhere in the Indian Ocean, it’s not a precise equivalency, but it’ll suffice.

But, as usual, I digress.

Now when some folks think of Australia, they imagine cuddly koalas, cute kangaroos, and beautiful sandy beaches bounded by a big blue ocean where one can swim, snorkel, and surf the day away, while laid back Aussies wander around saying things like “g’day” and “no worries.” When other folks think of Australia, they imagine a dry and dusty place landscape literally crawling with a vast and deadly array of spiders, snakes, and scorpions.

Regular readers of this column are likely to assume—and reasonably so—that I am among those who equate the continent of Australia with the imminent, constant and entirely inconvenient threat of danger, death, and doom. So it may come as a surprise that, as we made our plans to visit Australia, the idea that some of its non-human inhabitants might have it in for me never crossed my mind.

Maybe I was too focused on getting there. Or maybe, I was too obsessed with the thought of never coming back. Or maybe I was just too enamored with the word “biodiversity” to fully appreciate its meaning. Either way, in the course of planning this trip I apparently failed to consider some of the more likely means by which I could meet my end.

That is, until I mentioned it to my doctor about four days before we were scheduled to leave.

I was there for a routine checkup but decided to take the opportunity to inquire about any additional immunizations the Jarhead and I might need, or if there were any areas of the country we should avoid, or any epidemics that might justify cancelling the trip and allow us to qualify for a full refund. Having been a patient of his for five years, I fully expected Dr. J. to nod and smile patiently in response to my queries, and then to gently allay my concerns while jotting down a few notes to add to the mountain of evidence he and the Jarhead would rely upon when the time finally arrived to have me committed.

But that did not happen. Or, more accurately, that’s not ALL that happened.

For although he did in fact nod, he most definitely did not smile patiently. In fact, he did not smile at all. At best it was a grim grimace. And while he did attempt to allay MY concerns (while jotting down a few notes to add to the mountain of evidence he and the Jarhead would rely upon when the time finally arrived to have me committed, of course) he then proceeded to—gravely and resolutely—express a few concerns of his own.

Like the fact that Australia is home to some of the deadliest creatures on Earth—including the single most venomous snake in the world (the inland taipan, in case you’re wondering) and the redback spider whose bite can send you into anaphylaxis and kill you in less than five minutes. Not to mention all the scorpions, sharks, and other life forms that have evolved in isolation and whose impact on visitors to Australia has yet to be fully quantified.

How’s that for a plot twist? I go into the guy’s office just a little worried about one or three minor things, and come out of there completely terrified about five or six others. It was like going to bed with the faint sense that you may have forgotten to lock all the doors, and waking up to find your normally sane and supportive spouse speculating in rambling fashion about how many armed intruders may be rummaging around and wreaking havoc downstairs.

Yikes!

From there he advised me as to the places to stay away from and the activities to avoid. In the interest of time, I’ll put it in these terms: Wilderness, bad; urban areas located near medical treatment facilities, good. Alone, bad; crowds—especially crowds comprised of licensed medical professionals—good.

Although I took his advice very seriously, I also took a moment to have a brief panic attack in the privacy of my own car before calling the Jarhead to tell him what we were up against. He laughed and said we would be fine. We had no plans to go hiking in the outback, after all; and snakes were not likely to venture into the city. As far as deadly spiders were concerned, he reasoned that we would be staying at the largest and most popular resort in the area, and that the place wouldn’t enjoy the ratings it had if it were infested with spiders of any kind.

Flash forward a week. We have arrived at said hotel, entered our room, kicked off our shoes, and set down our bags. At first we just stood and marveled at the layout and the modern décor. Then we spent some time commenting on the differences between the furnishings and fixtures in this room and the rooms we’d seen in North America and Europe. Like the toilet, seen here, attached to the vanity, with the flush buttons (one for when you go number one, and the other for when you go number two) at the far left side.

Aussie Loo 3

And this tub/shower combo, with two water outlets—one for when you want to stand, and another when you want to sit or lie down.

Aussie Tub

We were just about to flush the toilet to see which direction the water would spin when I made a startling discovery: a big, juicy—and most assuredly deadly—spider was clinging to the ceiling above our open suitcases.

My first instinct was to run over to my suitcase, slam it shut, drag it out the door and onto the elevator.

Okay, that was a lie. My first instinct was to scream.

But I didn’t want to make a scene, so instead I clasped one hand over my mouth and shrieked through my fingers while pointing at the ceiling, all the while RESISTING the urge to run over to my suitcase, slam it shut, and drag it out the door and onto the elevator. I resisted in part because slamming it shut would not be enough to keep the contents inside as I bolted from the room, but mostly because I KNEW that no matter how quickly and masterfully I could dash over, grab the bag, and whisk it out the door, that spider would have rappelled—even more quickly and masterfully—from the ceiling and down into my shirt, and instead of streaking out of the room with my suitcase in tow, I would have wound up running and jumping up and down in place while screaming and crying at the top of my lungs and tearing at my clothes until I was naked and they were little more than a pile of fabric scraps on the floor.

The Jarhead, as usual, failed to grasp the gravity of the situation. “It’s just a spider.”

“In Australia, there is no such thing as ‘just a spider,’” I informed him.  “It needs to go,” I added, turning and moving my arms as if trying to disperse an encroaching mob, “They all need to go.”

“ALL?”

“You know what they say. For every spider you see there are hundreds more you don’t.”

“I think that’s cockroaches.”

“Whatever,” I breathed. “Just kill him.”

“I can’t kill him.”

“Why not?”

“This is a vaulted ceiling. I’ll need a ladder just to tap him with a broom.”

Crap. He was right. So I grabbed the phone and called the front desk.

To my delight, they promised to send someone up right away. Okay, I told myself. They are on the ball. They know that spiders don’t belong in resort hotels, and they are going to dispatch this one tout suite.

Relieved, I sat down on the bed to keep watch over the eight-legged invader.  I wasn’t about to let him disappear before help arrived.

The Jarhead wasn’t happy about this turn of events. He had been in the process of stripping down to his skivvies and laying down for a nap when I noticed the spider. Now he would have to remain both clothed and awake until the spider was removed. Normally I would have felt bad, but this time, I was tickled pink to know the beast would soon be exterminated.

Until I met the exterminator.

He was old, tired-looking, and none too thrilled to be assigned to spider duty. He showed up with a dirty, cob-webby broom and a can of the Aussie equivalent of Raid.

My confidence flagging significantly, I thanked him for coming, and then pointed at the spider.

“Oym gunna nade ah ladda,” he informed me, before setting down the broom and departing the room. A short time later, he was up on the ladder, swatting at the spider but not quite hitting it.

Oh my god, I gasped, as I imagined all the ways this could go wrong. At best he was going to knock it down and allow it to find a spot to hide. At best I was going to live to die another day. In another room.

Just as I said it—but before the Jarhead could get our bags out from under the area, that sucker literally jumped off the ceiling and landed godonlyknowswhere.

“Well, he’s gone now,” the man announced as he climbed off the ladder.

“No he’s not.”

“Yeah he is. Oy got eem with the broom.”

“Show me.”

The man held up the bristles of the broom but it bore no corpse.

That was it for me. Bags or no bags, I had to get out of there. I grabbed my purse and my CPAP case from the nightstand and bolted out into the hallway.

“It’s okay.” the Jarhead called. “I found him.”

Poking my head back into the room, I saw him move his suitcase to reveal the still living, breathing juicy black spider. I could only hope it was the SAME living, breathing juicy black spider.

A moment later, the Jarhead had him flattened with one of our travel maps, and was flushing him down the toilet. “He’s dead. You can come back inside now,” he announced as he and the maintenance man approached the door.

Backing up to let them join me in the hall, I looked up and nearly fainted.

On the wall above the doorway to our room—the doorway in which I had been standing only moments ago, were seven—yes, SEVEN—juicy black spiders. I thought I would literally crack up and melt away.

In desperation, I grabbed the Jarhead’s arm. “I can’t stay here,” I whispered as if I feared the place was bugged (pun totally intended.)

“It’s okay,” he replied with a nod to the departing maintenance man. “I’ll protect you.”

I guess I wanted to believe him more than I wanted to find another hotel—and definitely more than I wanted find out what might be lurking at another hotel. Because I didn’t argue and I didn’t flee.

Instead, I popped open my laptop and a bottle of water, and sat down to draft a killer political rant while the Jarhead napped. Outside in the park between the hotel and the water front, some crazy bird I’ve neither seen nor heard before squawked wildly from a tree.

View 1View 2View 4View 5

Against that backdrop, I took a vow not to obsess about the spiders, and to make the most of this trip of a lifetime. I knew my commitment to that goal would be tested repeatedly over the next week—along with the Jarhead’s patience—but with a little effort—and perhaps a little wine—I knew I could do it.

28
Feb
17

Road Trippin’ Down Under: Planes, Brains, and Automobiles

The flight from Abu Dhabi to Perth went pretty much the same as the flight from Chicago to Abu Dhabi, only instead of spending twelve hours facing the front of the plane, I spent them facing the back. Oh, and about four hours into the flight I had to give up both reading and playing Scrabble in favor of watching movies because I was so tired that I could no longer comprehend the written word—much less devise one out of a set of seven letters.

By the time the third movie started—ten hours after we had boarded—I could no longer comprehend the SPOKEN word either, but that was partly because the actors were speaking Japanese and I didn’t have the wherewithal to read the subtitles. And so, by the time the captain announced that we were starting our descent into Perth, I was more than ready to deplane and eager for a change of scenery.

And a change of scenery is what we got….

For starters, there was the immigration and customs area of the airport, which basically looked the customs and immigration area of any other country I’ve visited except that it was practically deserted. I don’t know what happened to all the other passengers that were on the plane with us when we landed, but they most definitely were nowhere near us at that point. I’ll admit we hadn’t exactly sprinted there from the baggage claim, but it isn’t as if we had dawdled either. And even if jet lag and sleep deprivation had kept us from dashing through the airport like O.J. Simpson in a Hertz commercial, certainly SOME of the folks on our flight were just as worn out, so it’s unlikely that ALL of them were capable of walking faster than we were.

It felt kind of eerie to be the only people in the area. I kept wondering if we’d gone to the wrong place, or if the others had all gone to the wrong place. Or if instead of getting off the plane and walking through immigration and customs, I had fallen asleep and was only dreaming that I was walking through immigration and customs. Or if instead of dreaming that I was walking through immigration and customers, I was walking through a virtual immigration and customs deep within the Matrix.

“I doubt it,” the Jarhead reassured me, although I suspected he would not have minded if my brain had gone offline. “We probably just got here after the solitary, young, and childless people, and before the slow, older people, and the people traveling in groups and with children. Most of them will have brought a few more bags than we did, so it will take them longer to get their luggage off the carousel and wheel it over here.”

That sounded reasonable, I’ll admit. But if that was the case, it would have been the first time in our entire lives together that I had walked that far and that much faster than that many people without the promise of chocolate or pizza, or the threat of bodily harm as a motivator.

At any rate, we made it through the maze and soon were standing in front of a friendly red-haired agent at the rental car area. Her name was Gail—a fact which I remember only because it is also my dad’s name—and after discussing the details of the rental with the Jarhead, she took one look at me and asked if I had brought any sunblock. She then went on to tell us how easy it is to get a sunburn in Australia, especially for those of us from the northern tier of the United States.

Gail then cheerily asked the Jarhead if he’d ever driven in Australia or anywhere else where they drive on the opposite side of the road. When he admitted that he had not, she said “I see,” with a deliberate smile and more than a trace of gravity. “I’m sure you’d do just fine,” she added. “Just make sure to keep her in the gutter.”

Having assumed that the “her” in question was the car, I wondered why she thought driving it through the gutter was a good idea. Then I wondered if perhaps the word gutter meant something different in Australia than it did in every other English speaking country in the world. Then I realized that the “her” was me, and that by advising the Jarhead to keep ME in the gutter, she was trying to help him avoid drifting out of the left lane and into oncoming traffic.

It was good advice. Disturbingly delivered. But good just the same.

I pondered that advice all the way through the terminal and across the parking lots to our rental car. I was able to forget my concern long enough to take note of the pleasant breeze and snap a quick pic of the Jarhead behind the wheel, but it came flooding back again as we were fastening our seatbelts.

“You’re going to need to drive around the parking lot a while,” I informed my chauffeur. “You’re not ready to be on the road yet.”

“Sure, I am,” he replied.

“Okay, then I’M not ready for you to be on the road yet. All I can think about is you forgetting to stay on the left side of the road and driving head on into a semi.”

“Do they even have semis here?” he asked as he simultaneous ignored my request and missed my point. “Or do they call them something else?”

I couldn’t tell if his was a genuine inquiry designed to ignite a lively debate or just some sneaky attempt to distract me from my fears, but I wasn’t about to fall for it. I needed a shower more than I wanted to argue or assert my verbal superiority, after all, and our room at the Esplanade Resort in Fremantle was still about 45 minutes away. So, in the interest of time, and lacking another viable option, I slapped on my “sunnies” (“sunnies” as in protective summer eyewear—not the ubiquitous Midwestern lake fish) then closed my eyes and braced for impact.

Every few minutes I would tell myself I was being an idiot and scold myself for not opening my eyes and taking in the sights. You didn’t come all this way to see nothing but the inside of your eyelids, after all. So now and then I would open one of my eyes or cover them both with my hands and peek out through the gaps between my fingers—as if seeing only a sliver of the underside of a semi or witnessing a bloody murder with only one eye would make the whole experience less traumatizing—but that failed to quell my anxiety. If anything, these tactics made the situation worse because it seemed like every time I would venture a peek at the wonders to beyond my knuckles, the Jarhead was changing lanes and coming within a fraction of an inch of hitting a nearby bumper.

Same thing happens whenever I watch a scary movie, by the way. Just as I get brave enough to look out through the gaps between my fingers, I immediately find myself face to face with a slimy alien, a slobbering zombie, or an ax wielding lunatic. It’s uncanny how it’s never a basket of puppies, a litter of kittens, a bunch of baby goats or a bouquet of shiny balloons. And if it ever IS a collection of puppies, kittens or goats, you can bet they’ll be zombie puppies, kittens or goats, and the balloons will be shiny because they’re covered in blood.

At any rate, by the time I was comfortable enough with the Jarhead’s driving to keep my eyes open and uncovered long enough to get a good look at our surroundings, we had arrived at our destination. Not knowing our way around well enough to find a parking garage, and not wanting to run out to the street every two hours for the next 24 to drop more coins in the meter, we pulled up the valet, handed him the keys, removed our belongings from the vehicle, and trudged into the hotel.




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