Saturday, May 12, 2012

Like Lions Perched on Lightning Bolts



First things first, the lovely Becky Krenz has uploaded "Keep it Rolling America", a documentary made by soon-to-be-mayor of Melbourne Peter Kass. This is a 40-minute film about Pete's ride across the United States with two friends after graduating college. It's complete with guest appearances, 2008's hit tunes, sports highlights, and cute doggies. Check it out, I've added it as a link on the right of the page!

Ok I think my last post was a bit scathing. It wasn't untrue, embellished, or exaggerated, but I'm a bit more dug in now, a bit more focused. I found a job raising money on the street for a charity. It's good, strange work, and I truly enjoy the interesting conversations I have every day. These usually range from how we're doing such a good job and people like us are so important, to there wouldn't be a problem with child malnutrition if we just lined their parents up against a wall and shot them all before they could have more kids.

Kids kids kids. Boy it's nice not to have to look for work any more. I have begun to discover Melbourne's fresh music scene. I went to two shows last weekend, and two this weekend. My roommate played in one, he's a French guy who plays French classics as well as his own songs on guitar. He played a little jazz basement while another gipsy jazz band launched their album. I had heard about places and shows like these. This was one of the huge factors of moving to Melbourne instead of following summer with all my bush bandits and going north where I would surely get shafted working more harvest type jobs. Yesterday I started by seeing a jug band, accompanied by a massive IPA, and I thought I was back in Oregon. Then I saw a Cumbia band, which apparently is Colombian dance music, and boy was it a boog woog. It was good, but it was short. And I am no longer looking for a job!

So now I'm dug in. I'm getting ready for my first cold months of May, June, July, etc. It's kind of weird, to be honest, to have these months be cold. I always have to revert to their northern hemisphere equivalents, and think, it's not May, it's November. I didn't really do this when it was hot, I guess I didn't really think about it. Melbourne will be my launchpad, the place where I slam enough bills into the bank to get the hell out of here, and continue on to Chapter III, whatever that may be. There is no urgency, and my bike still idles, unrideable with only one set of hub bearings.

I read about a woman riding from New York to Milwaukee carrying a typewriter. She stops in certain places and invites people to write whatever comes. She calls herself the "type rider". This reminded me slightly of when people would approach Jaco and ask to play the small guitar he had strapped to the back of his bike in Istanbul. They only ever strummed all the strings open, and chanted some local song. To say they were playing his guitar would be misleading. They were entertained nonetheless, and sometimes would play for a few minutes like this. Then they would usually request a local song that there was no chance either of us knew how to play, and be disappointed when we didn't know how to play it. Then Jaco would launch into an American classic, or in the later stages, "We are the Champions", of which he does a fantastic version, ask him to do it when you see him.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Lies, Deceit, and Another Ocean: This is Australia


Lightning can strike anywhere, and when it strikes the face of a cliff, it heats up any moisture in the cliff and causes the fluid to expand cracking and exploding the cliff from the inside. This usually triggers a portion of the cliff to wildly fly out, then down onto whatever soon to be ruin may lie below.

I left Margaret River in a flood of tears and uncertainty. The pack of bushdogs had broken up. Flo, the French roofer was the first to go, leaving in the middle of the harvest rush because he had been told he would have steady employment in Perth as a roofer, which is his trade. After spending most of the money he had earned during the grape harvest just to get to Perth and find lodging, this "steady work" that Australian employers so often promise ended up being two days of cleaning gutters, and two weeks of waiting. Fed up with this ill treatment, deceit and false promise, Flo headed north to the banana capital of the West, Carnarvon, where the last I heard he had steady but underpaid work picking bananas.

The second to go was Ben, a budding historian from Philadelphia. Having saved some picking grapes and washing dishes, Ben left when most others wisely left Margaret River when the harvest really started to slow down in mid-March. He posted a few ads on the internet offering his services as a chess or social studies tutor in Melbourne, packed his bags, and hitchhiked across a continent. It took him a week, but he made it and is now working in a kitchen getting good hours.

Then Erik left the bush. He bought a car, added a bed, and lived in that. Erik is French and holds a degree in oenology. The day after he arrived in Margaret River he interviewed for and got a job making wine at a nice winery. During the heyday he would return from work carrying liters of wine from his estate. Passing it around, Erik's offerings were some of the few opportunities we had where we could actually access the product we woke up at 4am to harvest. When he left the bush and moved into his car it brought the number in the camp to three: Cris, Maarten, and me.

And the weather turned grey. Being in the bush had been fantastic, a fairytale! You wake up to birds chirping, with the sun out and bright but cool under the eucalyptus canopy. When it became too hot we went swimming, either in the Indian Ocean or the Margaret River itself, jumping from trees, swinging from ropes, living with no rules and no responsibilities: itinerant laborers on the edges of society. But in the cold and the wet none of this is possible and there is nothing to do when you don't have a house and you finish work at 10am. I became feverish to leave, and posted ad after ad on an internet ridesharing site looking for a ride across Australia to Adelaide or Melbourne that would have room for my bicycle. Finally I found it, in the form of Edward and his white Toyota Camry. Then I only had three days left, and the prospect of leaving all my friends to go to an unknown city with winter approaching filled me with a leaden dread of loneliness.

I second guessed my decisions so many times in those last few days. Cris and Maarten, the only people in Margaret River who had managed to save a decent amount of money would be buying a car and driving North, away from winter, and into one of the most remote coasts on the planet. With its red cliffs meeting blue ocean, the northern coast of Western Australia would certainly be beautiful, and it would be a continuation of the spring/summer I had started back in March 2011. This made my plan, which was to go to Melbourne where it would most certainly be winter and where I knew no one, seem ridiculous. I was set though. I was sick of these harvest jobs, where you grovel and beg for these jobs where you hardly make anything and get treated like a part of a machine. I had applied to a job teaching wilderness education in the mountains North of Melbourne, and I was on step 4 of a long application process, and things were seeming good. This is the logic that took me across a continent (the first time I've ever traversed a continent by land and not been on a bicycle!).

So that day came, and I piled all my stuff into Edward's Camry. We drove across the nothingness that is the Eyre Highway, and I got dropped off in Tailem Bend, just past Adelaide on the shores of the Southern Ocean. It would be a ten day ride to Melbourne, highlighted by the Great Ocean Road for the last 350km.

My lonesomeness quickly deteriorated to joy as I dove into my old familiar routine of riding a bicycle all day. The limitless freedom was a breath of life into my time in Australia, and I met friendly people, who treated me like a person! I saw eagles and emus, koalas and kangaroos. I camped next to the ocean; I camped at a winery; I saw a comet through my newly purchased binoculars. Things were good., but this is Australia. While at a wine tasting in the Coonawarra, I got a call that I couldn't get that job that I had already done several interviews for doing the wilderness education because they didn't take people who had my visa. That's ok, I understood that reason, and I appreciated the honesty. Then a few days later my bike finally broke down big time: after 17,500km my rear hub had disintegrated.

I cracked the cone on the hub, which holds the bearings in place. Luckily I realized this when I was at a standstill and not going my average 322kph uphill. Luckily, I was only 12km outside Warrnambool, which is the first city where you can get a train directly to Melbourne. Ironically, it's also where the Great Ocean Road starts, which is one of the only things I had heard about doing in Australia that I had planned on doing. Sometimes, someone rolls the dice for you.

I went to the Warrnambool Art Museum-which has some great stuff, especially the painting of the lady fishing with a massive urn of wine at her feet-saw some skateboarders get arrested for bashing up a ledge, and got on the train. I arrived in Melbourne last Sunday night and stayed at a couchsurfer's house, David, who welcomed me in without even a day's notice given my emergency circumstances.

My first day in Melbourne I got a job at a bike shop, or so I was told. “Consider yourself hired,” were the exact words Phil uttered after my trial where I built two bikes. “I'll call you in a few days to tell you your hours.” After not hearing from Phalse Phil after five days, a gave him a buzz and, “Oh, sorry, the position's been filled, mate, no worries.” is what he said. No worries indeed, Phil, that's a nice cheap epitaph, hope you enjoyed the free labor.

So here I am, winter's fangs sinking in, looking for work in Melbourne. Exploitation, deceit, lies, and illegal wages are my expectations. I've already got some stuff lined up, in a factory packing roses for Mother's Day. Maybe I should have listened to my mother.

Despite all this, Melbourne is AWESOME, full of color, people are unique and original and unafraid. Ben is here, and we laugh about having rooves over our heads. There are rumors of friends coming out here to join me, and Good Beer Week starts May 12, and I might even have a job in a brewery during that week, but I don't believe a SINGLE WORD of that until I see it.