WEEK 3 : THE CRUEL AND THE USUAL

September 8TH - September 14TH

Adelaide and Surrounds


TIME IS A HUMAN CONSTRUCT

We knew that this year apart was going to create a vast difference in our social interactions. We expected to recede into ourselves in ways that we never had before and to, perhaps, feel a little out of tune with other people. Even with this expectation we were unprepared for the way that our sense of time would be so completely at odds with the outside world. Having grown up in the U.S. where work is life and vacations are hard-won and usually last only a week we assumed that we could depend on everyone else to maintain a relatively normal schedule. But this is Australia, a land unto itself, and the people who own businesses simply didn’t comply with traditional trading hours. The 9-to-5 business model we are so accustomed to has no bearing here. Businesses in the cities have a little more structure than those in the country, it's true, but neither area feels particularly bound to the working day.

We learned quickly that hours are hardly ever listed online or on the storefront and if they are they are usually a mere suggestion. We have done our best to develop the habit of calling ahead, but that only works if there is someone there to answer the phone. I cannot count the number of times that we pulled up to a cafe excited to grab an afternoon coffee only to find they had closed for the arvo (it took us much longer than we care to admit to realize that arvo was short for afternoon). Or the number of times we confidently strolled up to a pub whose hours are listed as ‘open till late’ to find that late meant not a moment past 6PM on that particularly gorgeous afternoon. It’s bewildering and fantastic. We have seen windows that say, “Closed long weekends and all public holidays." Some storefronts even state that they have gone for the season and may return at some later date, which of course has yet to be determined. 

Though the laxity of the trading hours has confounded, befuddled, and annoyed us in turns, I do admire the mindset. It causes us only a mild inconvenience and, to be honest, it amuses me to no end. We are adjusting to our new state of being and we are quite happy to judder along amid Australians who have no desire to rush or sacrifice any of life’s joys for an extra hour of work.


MOMMA LOVES A SMALL TOWN

He and I know what the pulse of a metropolis feels like. We know that some beat slow and steady while others seem to beat too fast, but we have never had the pleasure of existing in a town where the pulse seems non-existent or intermittent at best. One of the best things about being constantly on the move is that we have the ability to stop-over in humble townships that would otherwise remain unknown to us. So far, what we have noticed is that the lack of pulse is calculated. It’s a feint to throw outsiders off the scent. The social circles are smaller but the celebrations are robust.

Mallala was one such town for us. We needed somewhere to rest our heads over the weekend before heading into Adelaide. After a quick search on Wikicamps, we found a free-camp at a local football-oval and we decided that would do quite nicely. We pulled off the main highway and made our way down the deserted main street. There was a pub within walking distance of the oval, a small grocery store, and a post-office. That was it. We made camp for the night settled amidst a legion of gray-nomads and expected to pass the evening in relative peace and silence. Fortunately for us, this was no ordinary night in Mallala.

Two of the local sports teams had just returned home as champions and we were in a prime position to experience the local bacchanal that followed. The clubhouse for the aptly named Magpies sat a mere 500 meters from our front porch and as the festivities began to build in intensity so too did our curiosity. Our natural antisocial tendencies were overridden and we took it upon ourselves to infiltrate the celebrations. I say infiltrate as if we snuck in under cover of darkness and blended in with the locals, really we were spotted immediately, since we were the only people not dressed in black and white, and welcomed with open arms.  We were invited to take our place in line to buy a dinner plate to support the local clubs. Barbecue was heaped onto our plates and the grill-masters were introduced to us. Beer was made available for our drinking pleasure. A rather inquisitive older gentleman took it upon himself to ask us approximately one thousand questions beginning with our ethnic background and ending with our lack of knowledge in regards to Australian-Rules-Football, a damn shame that. After an hour of social-overload we retired to the privacy of the Falcon to enjoy the festivities from a safe distance. Most of the parents and athletes were already pretty well skunked and we found ourselves wildly entertained, even from a distance. They proceeded to party at top volume for the rest of the evening and, as we would learn, well into the next day.

In the morning we emerged from our den to relative silence and assumed that the rowdiness had reached its logical conclusion. As we made our way into a languid afternoon we began to notice the unusual attire of some locals as they streamed past the oval in search of the aforementioned pub. As the day wore on, we began to crave a jug of ale to assist us in some deeply pensive writing. We too found ourselves drawn by the undeniable pull of the pub. Upon arrival we were shocked to find about a hundred people in full fancy dress (read: a profusion of Halloween costumes) and a state of inebriation that I have only seen paralleled at college frat parties. It was intense. Everyone from 18-55 was obliterated. Slurred words and sideways youths slung themselves across the pub from bar to bathroom and back again. Again, we found ourselves unable to blend in, dressed as we were in modest traveling garb.

Eventually one jovial fellow dressed as Ron Burgundy took pity on us. He plucked a bedazzled cowboy hat from a passing drunkard, plopped it onto Jorge’s head, and slid into the seat next to us for some hardly understandable conversation. It was from this fine gentleman that we learned this second round of festivities was not, as we had assumed, a reaction to the championship wins. This was a weekly event known as Silly Sunday. Beginning at dawn it is a day of fancy dress, debauchery, and divine chaos. If any of the celebrants made it out of bed the next morning, I could not say. What I can say is that we will always remember Mallala. 


MAGPIE SWOOPING SEASON

While driving through Adelaide, SA we observed a few bicyclists wearing helmets adorned with upwards of twenty zip-ties. Naturally this registered as a little odd. It wasn't long after this that the announcements came via television, radio, and posted advertisement. Never in my life would I expect to hear PSAs warning everyone that it is in fact “Magpie Swooping Season” again and it is time to take precautions.

[For those who don’t know, a Magpie is a medium-sized bird of black-and-white plumage with a rather distinctive vocal pattern. That pattern being both obnoxious and oddly endearing.]

Apparently these beasties plague the nation during Spring as they rise to protect their nests. They don’t just caw and fly in your direction, they attack with flesh-ripping intent. They gleefully assault cyclists and leave a plethora of nasty abrasions and broken limbs in their wake. Ready for a scary thought? They remember you. If a magpie has spotted you near its nest before and engaged in the activity of swooping, consider yourself on notice. It will come for you again and again. It will communicate with others of its species that you are a threat and they too will come for you. Once attacked it is suggested that you, and your look-alikes, find a new route for the duration of this and upcoming nesting seasons. Yes, they remember you for the rest of their avian-lives. How absolutely insane is that? Cyclists paint eyes on the back of their helmets and fix zip-ties in an effort to distract and deflect the monochromatic assailant. School children make ice cream buckets helmets with home-made chinstraps in the hopes that any swooping magpie will hit the plastic rather than tender skin. There is an entire network devoted to recording magpie nesting areas and incidents of attack.  People have lost eyes. People have died. Beware the Magpie.


DELPHINE NEEDS A NEW ENGINE

At no point during a journey do you want to hear that your mode of transport is out of commission. And yet, it happens. By the time we arrived in Adelaide, the Falcon was spewing white smoke when idling and she would lose power on even the slightest of inclines. Thusly, we took her to a mechanic and there received the bad news. The issue was with the engine itself and we would apparently require a full reconditioning if we hoped to resume our journey in this vehicle. The price-tag was yet another blow, nearly half of what we had payed for the vehicle outright. Cue self-defeating malaise and a budgetary crisis. I did swift rounded calculations and began to panic in earnest as I saw our years of hard-work and scrounged earnings leap out of our pockets and into the van. I was crushed. I swirled in my own pool of self-pity and anguish.

Just as I was reaching for the proverbial brown-paper bag to calm my mental hyperventilations Jorge stepped in to remind me that this is simply part of the journey. We knew there would be bumps. We knew the van wasn’t perfect and that it would need work eventually. If we need to find jobs sooner than we expected then so be it. Does this suck? Yes, of course. But it is not a true crisis and we will be just fine. He was, of course, right. In addition to that correctness, he was also in a state of sincere relief. Up until this moment he had felt that the majority of the issues were a direct result of his naivety in the realm of manual driving. As the sole driver, he had taken responsibility for every single struggle. Now he knew that even an experienced manual-driver would have had issues and that was its own silver-lining. While the resolution would be costly, this might actually be a good thing. The new engine would, in theory, make our travels easier, would add to the value of the vehicle, and would be under warranty for one full year. It would take about a week to have the new engine ordered and installed.

 

In the meantime we did what any self-respecting adult would do: We gathered what we would need, said goodbye to our steed, rented an Airbnb, grabbed a six pack of Coopers Dark Ale and some Pringles, and then we went to the movies. Thank you to everyone involved in the making of Sausage Party, your comedic stylings soothed our troubled souls. Especially Teresa Taco.


NO VAN + STORMY WEATHER + FREE-ISH WIFI = THE BLACK INTER-WEB ABYSS

When you live in your van and the mechanical portion of said van needs work, they generally frown upon your continuing to live in it. So you are forced to leave everything behind and seek out temporary shelter. So if we must leave our home behind and we must pay for housing then you better believe we intend to take full advantage. A stable address where someone might deliver an over-priced box of round-cheesy-deliciousness and a solid internet connection are not things to be taken lightly. Particularly in reference to the internet.

Did we go over-board? It’s possible. Did we really need to binge watch the entire season of Stranger Things? Well, yes. And if it had stopped there maybe it would have been alright. As usual, the inter-web cast its spell luring us into the abyss with the promise of Imgur hilarity and the bottomless pit that is social media. A few days later we both come up for air and wondered where we had been. I think it is a forgivable indulgence. After all, this is a luxury. A vacation in the world of normality and we would much rather be in our van cruising through unfamiliar towns. 


CIRRUS OR CUMULONIMBUS?

Australian weather is a beast unto itself. It plays by no rules that make any sort of sense to anyone not born of it. Having begun our journey in Melbourne which, we have been repeatedly informed, is the most chaotic of cities when it comes to the seasons, one would expect us to have a reasonable grasp on the treacherous nature of the blue sky. You would be wrong. Jorge dutifully checks the weather each day in an attempt to prepare us. Having forgotten the lessons learned in childhood and repeatedly failing to re-up on that knowledge, we constantly look to the sky and its clouds in utter ignorance. It doesn’t help that this particular season has even the locals in a state of distress and unfamiliarity. This time last year, the rains had calmed a little and Spring had blossomed in full; bringing sunlight and warmth to a winter-hardened landscape. Not this year. This year each day was a gamble. Wind, rain, and hail had been whipping at the door of our lodging for a few days already. When the sun started to peak out and the clouds began to roll away revealing a beautiful blue sky we took our freedom. The weather apps informed us that the rain would stay at bay and that the most we could expect would be a light drizzle. Perfect.

 

We had heard tell of free bike rentals and intended to explore the city on two wheels. Rolling along, propelled forward by the force of our own exertion, leaning into the wind, zipping past all the foolish pedestrians, it was a great day. Then the clouds returned from their hiding place behind the distant mountains and unleashed their fury. The downpour was so intense that the Botanical Gardens we were exploring quickly flooded. We fled to the first shelter we could find and waited until the deluge quieted. We were soaked to the bone, wading through ankle deep water, and viscerally opposed to the idea of mounting our bikes once more. We laughed at our own foolishness and cursed our reckless natures. We resolved to always plan for rain and hope for sunshine.