After a full day in town paying Australian rather than Colombian prices for things, and spending almost seven straight hours with my mother, after five months of not, I was ready for a wine or ten.
Parents have a knack for asking annoying questions like “what are your long-term plans?” right around the time you are tossing and turning over your long-term plans.
Mum and I had had a nice day, but I was at my threshold. We got home, dumped the shopping, and I dragged my sneakers out of storage. There was only one way to deal with my stupid Irish temper bubbling just below the surface before it got out of the bag.
The shoes felt like tiny slippers of cloud after months of hiking boots. I basically skipped down the road….for the first hundred metres at least.
It wasn’t long before I was puffing like a steamer and the shoes felt like cement clogs. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Plod. Plod. Plod.
My legs began to loosen and the evening air began to drive away my worries. This was it, addictive as smoking (but not as good for you, if you ask Winfield, Marlborough or Lucky Strike).
Helidon’s valley air filtered through my blood and my spirits were at last persuaded upwards. C’mon endorphins you sexy sons of bitches!!
The moon trailed me like a vanilla grin on a string; running at my pace.
I rounded the corner into the slight uphill and pumped my little legs. Bloody hell.
Ryan’s (who runs up tabletop twice in a row for fun) voice echoed in my head, “don’t whinge and don’t be a quitter.”
I’m not sure about the grammatical structuring of that last sentence.
As I passed the paddocks I tried my animal sounds to make sure I still had it. These things are important in case you ever have to survive in the wild. And by wild I mean local farming community with domestic animals.
I mooed deeply at a small herd of cattle. The wily, white bull –sensing the threat I may impregnate his cows- moved to stand between his harem and me.
Down in the flood-break paddock, which had been filled to overflowing that fateful day in 2011, I spotted two horses gossiping.
I neighed sharply and the bay mare’s head shot up, a classic characteristic of a gossiper. The white mare continued chewing, unphased – a classic characteristic of the long suffering friend of a gossiper.
I beat my merry way across Kapernick’s Bridge. Three baby water hens were striking out on their own. They swam nervously, their heads tugging them across the glassed creek.
I remembered the wrath of that creek in the summer floods of 2010/11. This very bridge had been torn in two, a huge expanse of concrete, metal and bitumen simply gone. The locals came down and stared in disbelief.
People swept mud out of the top storeys of houses. My Dad found a photograph of a lady on Kapernick’s Bridge and handed it in at the local shop, lest it be the only remaining souvenir of a life washed away.
In the cleanup week they found a body in the rubble piled on the remaining portion of bridge. I stopped as I thought of that, my breathing loud in the still air.
Later a little boy from the city 20 minutes’ drive up the Great Diving Range was found washed right down into the valley.
A small community mourned.
I climbed the rail and sat with my feet dangling, looking into the water. We’d jumped off here once as kids, hitting the bottom softly. I thought about doing it now to cool off. I remembered how much heavier I was and decided against it.
The drawl of an engine slowing turned my head.
White ute, two bales of hay in the tray. Tray hay.
A cute farmer type looked out the window, bemused.
“Are you ok?” he asked.
“Yeah I’m good, just went for a run….it’s been a while. Needed a rest.”
“OK,” he chuckled.
I looked down on the house perched on the creek bank. People had been choppered from that roof in the floods.
I decided to suck it up and keep running. Past the fruit and veg honesty stand.
Lettuce: red, iceberg, $2 or 3 for $5.
At Hartz Rd I made a U-bolt.
I laughed at the memory of Dad’s stunt on that road. Our youngest sister had joined him on his regular morning walk. I could picture him striding out; piece of polypipe in hand to hit vicious dogs, should they appear; navy stubbies and work-shirt on; boot protectors over his socks, no burrs getting in there.
They separated for some reason. Maybe lil siswa jogged ahead, or more likely still, sat down for a while.
They had been talking about snakes and heart attacks.
Lil siswa looked up and saw her father lying on the dirt track, body twitching. She covered the ground between them at a sprint, blonde hair flying, gravel skidding.
Dad with roaring laughter stood. She was not impressed.
I jogged back across the bridge, past all the animals who eyed me suspiciously; now aware I was neither cow nor horse. Up the little hill like the train who could. Past the spot we’d wait as kids for the bus, breath as steam in the air, cold knees knocking.
As I hit our street I made myself work hard to compensate for the short distance of the run. 60% capacity, wheeze wheeze, 70% capacity, past the barking dog, 80% capacity, glance at the orange tree I used to raid as I ran for the school bus- shoes and socks in hand.
Hold that speed. Don’t be a quitter. Across the electric grid and home, doubled over like an athlete, feeling like anything but.
I stretched on the lawn under the stars. Sammy, the white yard wolf (a breed closely linked to the suburban Labrador) came over to check out the scene.
Pinned in a calf stretch I was hapless as he coated my face in dog breath. I breathed jogger breath in his direction to even the scales.
Toby the cat came over too, having heard that a human had run without anything chasing it.
I didn’t even touch the hot tap when I showered. Just like Townsville days again. On the ABC news a moustachioed hombre from the Gold Coast was being interviewed about the truce reached between surfers and the council.
Sand pumping was no longer clogging up the best breaks. The surfers had been consulted this time and were happy.
“I think we’re finally catching the same wave,” said the mo-bro with a grin.
The whole thing was deliciously Australian.
In other news our country’s gender pay gap has hit an all time high in 20 years.
Now at 18.2%, with women on the losing end, it is the highest since records collected in 1994. That’s the national pay gap of Australia on average. Men being paid 18.2% more than women for the same jobs. What a fucking embarrassment. How disgustingly Australian.
Thankfully, someone is doing something about it. A new website launched now allows employees to search their company and check whether they have completed a gender pay gap analysis. It is for companies with 500 or more employees, but it’s certainly a start.
And then I found the best Youtube video I’ve seen in a long time. To tackle the pay gap issue, 3000 CEOs who haven’t done the workplace analysis have been sent a bottle of Daughter Water.
View the video here. Tackle important issues with humour. Gold:
Important to note, the battle for gender equality is not always set in underprivileged countries.
The sun came up and shouted about itself
Look how thick I seem on cotton
Look how I dance over brass
Look how I change you from dull green to bright green
With my lemon lick
That you might hold your head up –
Thanks to the beauty I bring
Not your own beauty of course,
Just a projection of my golden one
The kookaburras laughed with scorn
A ripened hatred of vanity
Look at our blue wing feathers
That we tell nobody of, they clicked
A frog green as panic came out
And sacrificed itself to a beak
Humans are lazy in the morning
But a frog will die for the same
I sat with fingers tapping
Bleeding my head of the words
How strange, this need that seizes
This burning for language to trickle
Then falling like flour to my pillow
Finger valves turned off
Sleep curls in the empty cavity
The words left behind in my skull
On the second leg of my three day voyage home to Aus I flew from Los Angeles to Honolulu, Hawaii.
I hit the tarmac at 8.30pm, island time, and was due to leave again at 9.45am the next day.
Perfect, I thought. I would sniff out a cheap room somewhere, buy fish for dinner and have an early morning dip before heading back to the airport.
But my plans were thwarted. My money had not transferred back onto my Aussie card as promised by the lovely lady at ANZ.
And so I found myself with five US dollars in my pocket and around 12.5 hours to kill.
I stared in disbelief as the hibiscus shirted staffer spoke.
“There aren’t any showers in this airport, and we don’t have wifi,” he informed me.
“That’s ok, I enjoy counting tiles anyway.”
He didn’t laugh.
I sat on a chair and pondered, beautiful images of Hawaii’s beaches and waterfalls mocking me from the mounted flatscreens. I couldn’t even afford a taxi to get some dinner and return.
I was nodding off so went to find my roost for the night.
It was hot as Hades outside, muggy as a proper Cairns summer. The ‘waiting areas’ were open to the air, with numerous people camped out with bags. They were clearly passengers, but one guy had a sleeping mat and another guy had a dog, who were clearly not. It was a bit too suss to sleep there with my video camera and laptop I thought, so I made my way down to the enclosed baggage collection area.
Curled awkwardly across three chairs whose armrests wouldn’t go up, I stuffed clothing around them to lessen the dig on my stomach and legs.
To take my mind off the hunger I actually counted tiles.
I met two sisters who were also spending the night. Joy and Jem from Los Angeles. Cute as buttons. They had just returned from visiting family in South Korea, and the Honolulu airport was a rude shock after the plushness of Seoul’s.
They had loved South Korea.
“The people don’t really speak much English, but they were still all so helpful,,” Joy told me.
“They would go out of their way to help us. And the food was amazing.”
It had never been on my list, but now I considered it. It sounded very similar to my experiences in Japan.
We fell asleep haphazardly.
The music was good, until interrupted by frequent messages much louder than the music, and thus startling.
“Due to increased security baggage found unattended will be confiscated and destroyed,” boomed the excessive voice.
This seemed like an ambitious target in a deserted airport with no wifi, showers or manpower.
At the unspecific time of 1.23am we were awoken by an apologetic security officer.
“Sorry mam but we have to lock this building now. We open it again at 4am.”
“Can I go up one level?”
“So that will be open?”
“No, we’re about to lock that too.”
“So I can’t go up a level then.”
“You can go to the curb. I’m sorry about that.”
Radical. Hopefully the good vibes of Hawaii will protect me from being robbed on the final leg home.
On the plus side it was much warmer outside and the concrete bench was fit for a queen. A really wide but impoverished queen.
There was a faint smell of cigarette butts rising from the garden beneath my head…similar to tucking a sprig of lavender beneath your pillow for a good night’s sleep. But not at all.
I stretched out, my hoodie as a pillow, and fell instantly asleep under the muggy sky.
This ain’t so bad I thought as I drifted off.
I dreamed of food. And swimming.
Someone began spitting on me. Even through my subconscious I’d been woken up by rain enough times to realise this wasn’t actually spit.
Godammit Hawaii, throw me a fricken bone here.
We relocated to smaller, harder benches fit for one and a half toddlers. Ugh.
After snatching a few disrupted hours (to the lovely sound of rain) I was woken by the roar of a metal beast. It was around 4am because staff were beginning to file into the baggage claim area.
An impossibly loud truck with ‘Dry Ice’ scrawled across its side blasted off down the road.
I was too tired to write so I took off my shirt in the bathroom and washed my armpits with the hand-soap, changed my underwear and splashed my face. No showers. Tsssss.
Hours crawled by like injured rats. I put two coats of nailpolish on both my fingers and toenails.
I dreamed of the first steak sandwish (pun intended) with beetroot and caramelised onion I would order when I went to visit my Dalby girls.
Finally, 6:45am. I ditched my big bag and set off to security through the stream of overweight American tourists being led by a guide in hibiscus print. They mostly wore sneakers, socks, and awkward length shorts (both men and women).
Then came the hordes of Asian tourists in much the same fashion but with better luggage.
A mountain of a woman got into an argument with a staffer, Jem and Joy woke up and we said goodbye, and everywhere repulsively touristic happenings kept happening.
This is the side of Hawaii I’d make sure to avoid if I ever made it beyond the airport.
Away from the chaos I ventured deeper into the folds of my airport prison to see what $5 could buy me in this fine land.
It was seven in the morning and Burger Kind had a line-up. Disgusting. I had three options:
1) Starbucks: Fruit cup for $4.45, (tragically the yoghurt and muesli cup was $5.20)
2) Burger King: A crois-wich (or some equally stupid name) for $4.50 which was a croissant with egg, cheese and some spammy looking meat.
3) The Asian place: Two bits of French toast (sweet) for $4.50 or a vegetarian omelette for $4.50.
I went with the omelette for maximum filling capacity, and it was actually quite good.
So many hours left. This is what it must feel like to be sentenced to death by cheese grater.
I looked to the TV to break my gloom.
An American suit called Hagel was speaking live from the Pentagon.
The US would be launching a longterm campaign against ISIS. Belgium, Denmark and ?Spain? had also jumped onboard, and the British Parliament had just voted to join their yankee chums too.
I wondered what news from Australia on that front. It had been pleasant being away while Abbott was in control, but now it seemed I was returning for the next bout of madness.
CNN was having a field day, for once having fresh fodder to fill their revolving crap cycle. I mean news. News cycle.
I hadn’t researched enough about Isis to have an opinion on it. All I knew was their decree for the forced genital mutilation of every female in one town. I hoped it hadn’t come to pass.
I sat with a rumbling stomach. I was $1.50 shy of an espresso coffee, and the sad realisation that Hawaiin Airlines would serve only one small meal on the whole flight sunk in.
I was going to eat a horse when I got to Brisbane……hopefully one of my sisters had one, because I had not one dime accessible.
Spirit Airways, the cheapest way I could fling my travel-weary body from Bogota, Colombia across to Los Angeles.
Their seats don’t recline and their airhostesses yell at you without finesse to stow your bags under the seat for takeoff. But hey, that $200 saving is half a month’s travel in South America!
I sat beside a lady and her son, originally from Panama. I looked at the rich purple/black of her skin and wished for the millionth time I could go ten shades darker. Her clothing was like a vibrant shout against that shade.
“You should go there when you return to Central America. It’s a really good place to travel there.”
She told me about her favourite area.
“Watch your stuff, but you get that everywhere. Food is really cheap, and a taxi is like $3.
“The only thing is there’s a lotta hookers around there, but they shouldn’t bother you.”
We both laughed at that.
“Hopefully not,” I agreed.
With a budget airline the five hours felt like ten. I thanked the powers that be (whoever they may be) for my short legs and tried unsuccessfully to sleep on my window.
Two hours to kill in Fort Lauderdale, which was beautiful to land in at night, ablaze with a grid-work of lights. Luckily for me I made a friend.
As always, the best people I meet travelling seem to appear in the dullest spots. A boring layover where you eat your over-cheesed sandwich and watch everybody sit on wifi instead of talking.
Organised as usual, I had arranged not much for my midnight arrival in LA, with a whole day and night to kill until I flew out at 6pm the next day.
“If you get stuck,” said my new acquaintance, “you can always crash at mine.”
“I have two bedrooms, and I’m not creepy. And you don’t seem creepy, so that’s always good.”
A stunning woman of Indian heritage, it came as no surprise when she said she’d moved to LA to further her acting career.
She had been acting professionally for around ten years, and I was intrigued to learn that an audition could still be nerve racking after that time.
“It’s good though sometimes because you can turn those nerves into really great on-stage energy,” she said.
We had a great chat about the challenge of doing what you love for a living while walking the thin tightrope of not leaching it of all creative joy.
“I want to write books for a living one day,” I told her.
“Fiction with characters you can really picture, to an extent you know what they’d do in certain situations… as though they are real people.”
We looked around at the crowded waiting lounge, a flat and luck-lustre backdrop for a conversation about chasing your dreams.
Tired people said tired things to each other, chewing airport food unenthusiastically and wishing they were home already.
“You could write about this waiting room and make it really funny, if you just get your dialogue right, and use a fresh perception,” I said, thinking out loud.
It remains my motivation for moving somewhere I know nobody and learning another language. To loosen my mind and distance myself from my ability to earn money through writing. Only then I feel will the proper creative juices flow.
In the end the friend in Venice Beach I had emailed last minute got back to me with great news. Yes I could crash on her couch, she had just finished a late night business meeting and her and her partner were on the way to pick me up from LAX airport now!
“Wait outside, we’re close,” the message buzzed on my laptop.
“Black convertible, see you soon! Xx”
I said goodbye to the kind-hearted actress, and thanked the world for sending a stranger to brighten my dull day of transit. We swapped Facebook details, as is the glory of our times.
There I stood at the front door of the LAX terminal, my chode of a backpack strapped on, and my video camera bag on my front. I looked like 2-Pak, but obviously tougher.
Then they pulled in. Could there be anything more LA? I counted the number of times I’d been collected in a black convertible….oh that’s right…one. LA baby!
I met my friend’s partner for the first time. He walked past my outstretched hand and wrapped me in a bear hug. After just five minuted, whizzing back to Venice Beach with the hood up so we could hear each other, I was glad he was with my Aria.
A handy twenty minutes from the airport, their apartment was a cool studio style layout, one large-room encompassing lounge, bedroom and kitchen, with a bathroom and walk-in robe leading off.
There were surfboards in the bathroom, bikes beside the front door and a huge printed graphic of a New York streetscape with the Flat Iron building immediately drawing the eye.
I slept on the extremely comfy couch, picturing a pile of feathers beneath me. I could hear the very distant hum of LA traffic as I felt myself sink down through the layers of sleep. Just as I drifted out of consciousness I felt content, safe and comfy…once again in the home of a friend.
In the morning, well rested from my time on the couch of dreams, we strolled down Pacific Ave, past the famous Venice Beach sign strung across an intersecting street, and ordered bagels and coffee at Café Collage.
Oh salmon bagel, welcome back to my life. Australia was slowly catching onto the beauty of bagels, but here you could pretty much trip over them.
I liked thinking they had the same effect on my physical appearance as say, broccoli would, however their deliciousness made me doubt this.
We sat on the beach to eat, watching surfers appear on the white caps one by one like evening stars.
Can there be anything better linked to happiness than a morning surf before work. The waves were so close to the beach it was like a box-office seat at the theatre.
I watched a guy scampering back and forth on his longboard, distributing his weight with each lift and drop of the wave. Eventually, the wave won.
We talked for around an hour about almost everything, my golden-haired friend and I. Love, sustainability, growing into adults, living in a smaller place but a better location, the need to run away from life as you know it and return wiser, better travelled and with a newfound tenacity.
We had met in primary school and seemed to have grown into adults who still shared similar values and enjoyed an easy connection. I love our generation’s view of the world, the ability to reduce it in size so that moving overseas no longer means you drift inevitably away from people.
Thank you technology and great airfare deals.
We spent the morning in her apartment, her working remotely and me remotely working…mostly scouting jobs in Australia and Colombia.
In between we’d break for coffee or chocolate. It was good old-fashioned girl hangs, and much needed.
Back on the job search, depressing and hopeful at the same time. Eventually the temptation of the pool was too much. I let the cold water swallow me as choppers cruised overhead in the LA skyline.
One mention must be made of the take-out we got from Pacific Ave’s culinary gem…..Mexican joint, The Flying Jalapeno.
Holy smack that food is good. With a whole counter of fresh toppings, you create your own taco, burrito or bowl of delicious.
They cooked my fish fresh and I chose black beans, guacamole, lettuce, corn, grilled peppers, onion and some unknown breed of great salsa.
As I sat waiting for my fish, sipping an amazing house-made lemonade, I realised I had misjudged Venice Beach on my last visit.
Don’t get me wrong, I still hate the boardwalk strip of weird beggars and hawkers, but I was pleasantly surprised by the foot, board and bicycle traffic that went past as I waited.
Many people running, surfers, Dads with great tattoos carrying kids on shoulders, girls with wicked rockabilly hairdos, artistic types and pinup types.
I also noticed the street art everywhere, which I hadn’t seen as much of on my last visit, and my friend informed me of the fantastic local arts and creative community in the area.
With a bit of afternoon left before the hours at the airport began, I walked the very short jaunt to the Venice canals.
Built by American developer and environmentalist Abbot Kinney in 1905, the canals fell into disrepair after losing functionality/popularity with the increase of the automobile in Los Angeles.
They were drained, renovated and refilled in 1992 and are now home to some stunning and pricey waterfront houses.
It’s a beautiful walk, with white, arched bridges intersecting the walkways and canoes and rowboats moored nonchalantly in front of houses.
The gardens burst with hydrangeas, bougainvillea and yellow hibiscus bursting in vibrant colour pops on all sides. Little fish swam, the water was still and the day felt easy.
So, Venice Beach, on round two I liked you much better.
NB: No photos because I lost my camera in an overloaded taxi in Peru. Sigh.
It was hot as tin, the air heavy with the suggestion of moisture.
The tease of rain.
We sat for a moment asking when the babies were due, discussing new jobs and laughing about something that some people got, but everyone laughed about.
The Queensland sun smacked down on us.
“That pool looks too good,” I said, and slowly we all drifted into the water like dugongs, lolling there as it cooled the white mass of each heat-swelled body.
The ladies swam their babies across the surface of the water, like fat aqua-grubs, delighting in the foreign texture of it all.
I sunk below the water until my belly touched the cool cement floor.
How double-edged Sundays were – the beauty of bright white freedom, but the knowledge that every minute more of Sunday was a minute closer to Monday.
My last air escaped my nostrils and I shot upwards to break the surface, into my sun-drenched Sunday.
The great thing about visiting friends scattered across the United States is the variation in places that we visit.
We touched down in Buffalo, state of New York, with images of hoe-downs and chicken wings racing through my mind.
While I didn’t see the first, the latter was in delicious abundance. Nobody does Buffalo wings like a Buffalonian.
After reaching our friend’s house (she was at work) we sat on the couch, ate a bagel, and woke up in a daze one hour later. I have always liked how your body calls the shots. If it’s exhausted it will just shut down, without warning, like a flat microphone.
She had left the keys to her Jeep, and feeling very Americana, we drove the hour to the school she taught at to offer ourselves as Aussie show-and-tell.
The neighbourhoods were so American it was funny. I felt like I was featuring in Dennis The Menace. Front porches sporting American flags stood proudly on green lawns that ran to the road without fences. There were maple trees lining the streets and people doing wholesome things like tending gardens.
Memorial Day weekend was coming up so patriotism was in full swing. Every second house had a flag.
As we got closer to the school I noticed the neighbourhoods drop in affluence. I knew it was a lower socio-economic school, which made me only more keen to see it. Having gone to an girls private school it was completely the opposite.
Cool groups of kids hung around the lockers in the hallway, teachers and students were in dress, and everyone was more relaxed and in my opinion more grown-up feeling than when I sat in front of a blackboard.
We visited art class. A girl with eyeliner and a cool fringe told us about the places she’d lived. She was cool and collected, far more mature than I remembered myself at her age.
Another kid up the back was bent quietly to his work. One of the best students, his teacher told us. After the class emptied the teacher showed us a chair he had painted. It was beautiful. She explained the scenes on each side and their meaning was sad and simple in places, dark but hopeful in others.
Kids never cease to amaze me. Youth is an amazing thing. I find it often more truthful than the lives many adults are living. Before it has been corrupted by expectations or norms. It’s probably the closest we come to being who we truly are in some ways.
The kids couldn’t carry backpacks until the bell rang due to gun security. I thought sadly how the power of the gun lobby in America continued to block gun control reforms and put people’s lives at risk. As I walked down the corridors I imagined shots ringing out and the blind panic of hundreds of bodies trying to cram through one small doorway to safety. It is a mind-boggling concept that the safety of American children can be out-muscled by the greed of companies selling steel.
While we were in the States 22-year-old Elliot Rodger stabbed to death his three roommates and then shot down three people in cold blood before killing himself. None of them had turned 23 yet.
It went down in Santa Barbara, California. A really nice town with excessively high prices that we’d stopped in for lunch on our road trip the week before. One victim was shot down in a sandwich shop.
Rodger’s parents had alerted authorities about concerns over their son months before the May 16 attack, but no grounds were found to detain him or search his premises.
In a manifesto published online Rodger cited a history of rejection from women as his motive. Just another messed up kid given too easy access to murder. If he couldn’t walk into a store and buy a gun perhaps he would have done something else destructive. I used to pinch a carton of eggs from the fridge and pelt them one by one at the horse trailer to deal with my own inexpressible juvenile angst. Nobody was ever killed during this ten minute release of anger.
The pro-gun lobbyists say it’s people not guns that kill. Stabbing three people is one thing, but standing metres away and letting the pull of a trigger mow down three more is a damn sight easier.
Maybe one day the head of America’s powerful and filthy rich National Rifle Association will have someone they love gunned down in cold blood. Until that day they will continue to pour money into opposing any kind of gun reform in the United States. It’s a sad, stupid state of affairs and one I have little patience for debating anymore. Every time they pick the young body of a school massacre off the ground I wonder dully how it is even still up for debate.
We walked down the hall where some kids were painting a mural on the wall.
“Good job guys,” said our teacher friend.
She walked to a boy kneeling down painting the white caps of waves.
“I think we need to get a little more shading on this light coming out of the lighthouse,” she said.
“See how it’s blending too much with the water?”
Leaning back on his haunches the kid surveyed his work and agreed. He dipped his brush in a darker yellow and began adding a subtle shadow line to the lighthouse beam.
people need is nurturing, a bit of guidance and the space to grow and achieve things for themselves.
Seeing my friend interact with the kids was beautiful. She was fun, cheeky and patient with them. I could see how they loved her. If the world had more people like this lady we would be turning out more kids who felt they had options for help, rather than feeling backed into a corner with the need to lash out. My hat off to the great teachers toiling in this world. I know the work doesn’t stop when the bell rings.
I decided a long time ago I wanted to take in foster kids. There seem to be so many souls who aren’t given the chance from the outset. They don’t need much. Just someone who gives a shit and a bed they know they are safe in at night.
That night we gathered at our friend’s parents’ place for a good old fashioned American dinner. Luckily for us they were from a long line of chicken farmers, and their great-grandparents had even paid good money for a secret recipe back in the day.
Just like the KFC legend, before it was commercialised to death!
I love meeting people’s families. People are generally a product of their nature and nurture. Gretty’s family were like her: gracious, hospitable and friendly. And her mum had the same booming laugh I loved her for.
It erupted without warning, pure as honey and honest to its last resounding note.
After her dad found out I worked as a journalist we had some great chats around the barbecue. The US was having fracking dramas with exploration for gas/energy sources similar to Australia’s. I explained our huge underground water table and the fears of local farmers that such a dry country was risking water security for the short term dollar.
Mr Gretty basted the split chicken halves with the secret sauce his ancestors had paid for those years ago. The meat looked out of this world delicious. He wouldn’t tell me the ingredients, a true flavour guardian of the oldest order.
“You should see this place in the winter,” he told me, as we looked across the stunning green spread of his lawn.
“Everything is white. It’s just melted not long before you guys arrived.”
Their house was beautiful, they’d done well. I looked up the street and was sorry I wasn’t here in the waist-deep white of winter. I imagined how red my coat would look against the blanket of white. I imagined the kids dining each others’ doorbells and standing back to pelt snowballs when the door swung open. How different to my dry, inland upbringing of gumtrees and red dirt!
Our hosts covered the table with enough food for a small country, and we ate with relish (the enthusiasm not the condiment) as we envisaged the strict budget ahead for the next five months.
Buffalo probably doesn’t feature high on the average US itinerary, but I was glad we went. The next morning we ate in the garden, cold air on our faces. A red breasted robin and a squirrel frolicked in the garden. I waited patiently for Snow White to step out of the greenery, fawns at her heels. It was very pleasant after the concrete rambling of San Fran.
We visited Niagra falls, spectacular but marred by the casinos on either side. Nature should be natural.
The Hornblower boat glided underneath the hallway of blinding white water, its deck packed with poncho-clad tourists. I pictured the spray raining down on them, their cameras taking blurred snaps of nothing much. Their eyes goggling at the might of it .
That night we went for beers and buffalo wings at a little local joint. Dark and great. A sign on the wall declared “if it needs a blender we’re out of that.”
A moose head hung above the beer taps. The bartender shouted a shot of local whisky. I always hoped I’d find bars like this in America.
We also squeezed in a night out on the town, which was highly amusing. Cinnamon flavoured shots are a big trend at the moment in the US. A bit like shotting pureed bakery items, but tasty nonetheless.
We left the industrial town of Buffalo, with its pretty outer suburbs and unassuming galleries and vintage shops, and clambered onto a bus for New York City.
Little did we know it would be the quickest of our bus trips over the next six months.
30 soles for a Swedish massage….why not.
We limped with aching muscles up the stairs, the two Peruvian ladies leading the way. Peruvians are tiny and beautiful, like the Burmese.
“No ropa, solo las bragas,” she said. (No underwear, just nickers).
Hmm….problem number one. I explained in atrocious Spanish I’d put almost everything I owned into laundry that morning and wasn’t actually wearing any.
“No problem, we are all women,” she said in Spanish.
She began working on my back, running her knuckles down the length of my spine to the plump of my bum.
I pointed out the two ferocious knots on my right shoulder begging for attention and she did her best to skirt this problem. Sigh.
It was soothing nonetheless, as oil and touch inevitably is.
By this time her little daughter had climbed under my table and was firing a rapid succession of “hollas” at my upside down face.
“Holla,” I replied once to her ten. She was cute as a button in her little red trench coat and striped stockings.
She found the sight of an immobilised gringo impossibly funny and kept kneeling so her face was an inch from mine.
She was about four and told me her name was Mina….or something like that.
“Mi nombre is Lisa,” I replied.
I blew her hair and she giggled so much she fell over. I tried to focus on the massage while I laughed. Deciding we weren’t quite close enough she brought her nose right up to mine and rubbed it like a bunny. Only in a South American massage! I liked the informality though, it felt more natural.
Eventually her madre took her outside.
“Ciao chica,” I called to my new friend.
The small lady began massaging my hair, which was more like mussing, less like massaging.
The shoulders, though brief, felt good.
“Muy fuerte (stronger) por favor,” I requested.
She climbed on the table and used her tiny frame to lean into her elbows.
It was similar to a small goat walking across my back.
She moved to the base of the table and wrapped a hand around my big toe, lifting my leg by this odd hoof-handle.
It reminded me of a baby clasping your finger.
With the other hand, which felt smaller and stronger, she began pounding my tender calf.
Dear God. Give me back the Inca Trail….. the thousand steps of death were like feather fingers in comparison.
A tear sprung involuntarily from my eye and sat in a pearl on the carpet beneath my face.
It took a good 10 minutes to soak in. Must be the same carpet old people put in their bathrooms. Weird.
I couldn’t help worrying about the views she was being subjected to from her vantage point at my spread calves.
“Change positions,” she said in perfect English.
Then the brand new experience of a pectoral massage. The arm massage enlightened me to muscles I didn’t know existed, and the quad massage required a teeth-clench. Oh Inca Trail you were cruel.
Overall the experience was painful but freed the muscles to some extent. You certainly get what you pay for though… as all requests in poor but decipherable Español to work on problem areas were ignored.
It was very much a repeated process for each client, rather than the necessary tailored approach per client.
The ferocious knots would have to wait until a better-researched option in Lima. At least some of the Inca Trail pain had been persuaded out of my legs.