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, 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


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.





Good Golly, Mike & Molly

It may officially be just a rumor at the moment, but apparently it’s true. CBS is cancelling the once popular sitcom Mike and Molly.

As a bona fide fan of Melissa McCarthy, sitcoms, and TV in general, I should be mourning the demise of a program that brings together these three key sources of personal joy. And yet, I’m celebrating.

Yep. Despite having seen not one single episode and being wholly unqualified to state an opinion as to its entertainment value, I am thrilled to hear that CBS is giving the show the proverbial heave ho!

It hasn’t been widely reported by any of the major news outlets, but I’ve been holding sort of a one-woman boycott of the program since its debut six years ago. No one in my inner circle even knew about it except for two of my friends who have (barely) tolerated my oral dissertations on why I object to the program whenever the topic comes up in conversation.

How can I object to a television program, you might wonder, when I haven’t even seen an episode?

Rest assured, it has nothing to do with its stars. Although some of her more recent films have failed to live up to her talent and my expectations, Melissa McCarthy is a fearless and gifted comedian whom I would happily pay for the privilege of watching her read the phone book. And although I’m less familiar with her costar, Billy Gardell, I’m sure the program would have been cancelled years ago if his work wasn’t up to scratch.

My problem with the program is that both the leading man and leading woman are very overweight.

And what a shameful thing to say. Right? Especially for a woman of MY size.

Believe me, I know how it sounds. So allow me to explain.

You see, the problem isn’t that Melissa McCarthy is overweight. It’s that, because MOLLY is overweight, MIKE had to be overweight as well.

Now I understand that the whole premise of the show is that two overweight people meet cute at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting, fall in love, and then spend the new several years humorously trying to avoid pie, cakes, cookies, and so forth. Ha frickin ha.

Never mind the fact sugar addiction is something that plagues millions of people of all sizes from all over the globe. Never mind the fact that sugar and carbohydrates in general aren’t good for you even if they DON’T make you fat.

And never mind that lots of people who go to Overeaters Anonymous are not obese. Or that lots of non-obese people struggle to eat right and be healthy. Or that lots of obese people eat right and exercise but cannot seem to lose weight.

Never mind all that and think about this: The whole show depended on both leads being overweight. In fact, the show never would have gotten the green light from the network if just Molly had been overweight. In fact, I daresay the show never would have been PROPOSED with a male lead who was to be slim rather than husky.

And therein lies the rub. You see, television networks, writers, and producers have no problem with a less than perfect leading man being married to a near-perfect woman. In fact, prime time is rife with shows about men who are shallow, immature, unattractive, overweight, dopey, lazy, or grumpy (cue the Snow White soundtrack now.) And, if the networks, writers, and producers are to be believed, such men have little to no difficulty attracting—and keeping—smart, hard-working, attractive (and apparently tolerant) women. Notable examples include Jim Belushi and Courtney Thorne-Smith from According to Jim, Ray Romano and Patricia Heaton from Everybody Loves Raymond, and Simon Helberg and Melissa Rauch, who play the characters Howard and Bernadette on The Big Bang Theory.

And yet, we’ve yet to see this same scenario in reverse. No, when the star is a plus-size woman or nontraditional beauty, she never has a smart, thin, devoted man as a lover or spouse. Rather, the object of this woman’s affection—if she even has one who loves her back, that is—is always overweight.

Roseanne is but one early example of this phenomenon. Considered groundbreaking for its realistic portrayal of working class life, the show starred the notoriously curvaceous Roseanne Barr as the title character. Roseanne was married to Dan, played by always wonderful John Goodman, who was also overweight.

Like many plus sized FEMALE actors, John Goodman is good looking, talented, and smart, and his character was a decent, hardworking man who adored his wife. So I don’t object to his being Roseanne’s partner and foil. Nor do I object to the casting of Billy Gardell as Melissa McCarthy’s partner on Mike and Molly. He may not be as handsome, charming, or sharp as John Goodman, but as TV actors go, he obviously did well or the show wouldn’t have lasted for six seasons.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t even entirely object to shows where the male lead is married or romantically involved with a woman who is, by cultural standards, out of his league—be it physically, socially, or intellectually. It is often the differences between people that make for the best humor. Fish out of water comedies immediately spring to mind—such as The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and The Beverly Hillbillies, as do odd couplings, like Dharma and Greg and the characters Jay and Gloria Pritchett (played by Ed O’Neill and Sofia Vergara) on Modern Family. I know I’m dating myself with some of these references, but I’m counting on many of you to be my contemporaries and the rest of you to know how to use Google.

Again, my problem is not with imperfect characters played by imperfect actors. It’s that there are literally no shows—and I invite you to correct me if I’m wrong or simply uninformed—where an overweight female lead is paired with a funny, smart, successful or otherwise awesome man who is buff, cut, or smoking hot.

Although it may come as a surprise to the folks in Hollywood, we plus-size gals do attract wonderful, smart, responsible, funny and often hot men in real life—and many of them happen to love, admire, and even worship us. Just ask Delta Burke. Or Adele. Or Melissa McCarthy!

So I ask: If it can happen in real life, why not on TV? Or the movies? Or at least a few commercials? Seems to me that modern sitcoms should reflect reality. Like the biracial family in that Cheerios ad that got everyone so pissed off a few years ago, it’s an idea whose time has come.

And how’s this for groundbreaking? Let’s not make the show about weight or the need to lose it. And let’s not have the main characters meet at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting.

Instead, let’s make it about all the same things sitcoms are normally made about, but with a star who just happens to have curves. Imagine Friends if Monica was still fat but had great hair, an amazing job, and an awesomely funny boyfriend. Or The Big Bang Theory set in a parallel universe in which the love interest is a plus-size actress and instead of making jokes about Howard’s mom’s weight and facial hair, they talk about how gorgeous Mrs. Wolowitz is and hassle one another about how stupid they act when she’s around.

Because I’m tired of the old formula. Tired of all the TV characters who USED to be fat just so the writers can mine photos and videos of their “former” selves for cheap laughs. And especially tired of shows that perpetuate the myths that fat people are miserable and sexless; that we are only attractive to other fat people; that we are lazy and undisciplined; and that you can’t be happy or successful unless you’re thin.

So get it together, Hollywood. Because if the former Al Bundy can get the bodacious Sofia Vergara, then certainly someone as awesome as Melissa McCarthy can get the delicious Matthew McConaughey. And if that lovable weasel Barney from How I Met Your Mother can land a beautiful woman every week for 9 years, then certainly his plus-size female equivalent could manage to land a few gorgeous men (or women!) on some other show. Rebel Wilson, if you’re reading this, have your people call my people.

In the meantime, I’m sorry for the fans who are losing Mike and Molly. You can blame me and my one-woman boycott if you like. Even if it means Melissa McCarthy and I never become best friends, putting an end to that show would be one of my finest achievements.