Friday, January 8, 2010

New Zealand 1987

New Zealand 1987

I met Ian in Fort William, Scotland in 1983. He had just traveled through the USSR by himself all the way from Vladivostok to Europe. Whenever I'd ask him about the Soviet Union he would give me an interesting anecdote as a response. For example, I wondered about governmental policies regarding religion and he told me that officially, people had freedom of religion in the USSR but that most churches, mosques, and temples had been converted to museums. Perhaps the communists wanted to portray religion as an outmoded way of thinking deserving of something to remind them of a quaint past.
We kept in touch by letters and the occasional phone call. At one point Ian was in Tibet and had given me a mailing address in Lhasa and I recall sending him a postcard which I don't think he ever received due to his nomadic lifestyle. He was born in England and spent much of his childhood in Sri Lanka but he considered himself to be Australian.

In the spring of 1987 I rang him up and he told me that he'd been trying to organize a ski holiday in New Zealand. Skiing in the southern hemisphere when it was summer in the US was something I'd dreamed of myself so we decided to rendezvous in Queenstown and he told me where he'd arranged for accommodation. Our timing would be a little off as I would arrive two days prior to him.
In Chicago's O'Hare Airport I can remember listening to the Vangelis albums "Mask" and "Soil Festivities" on cassette tape as I made my way through the terminal on the moving walkway under glass and lights. It was a thoroughly wonderful experience.
My layover in Honolulu was six hours long so I decided to have a taxi driver give me a guided tour of the city and Waikiki. My personal tour guide was informative and somewhat proud to show me his city.
When I was back at the Honolulu Airport I met a couple from Buffalo who had just gotten married and were indeed on their honeymoon bound for Japan and other places in the far east. They seemed to be a little sad for me because I was traveling alone. I don't think they fully realized that I would soon meet up with an old friend.
On my flight from Honolulu to Auckland I met an attractive young woman named Robin who was on her way to take up a position at the US Embassy in Canberra. We exchanged addresses and agreed to keep in touch -which we did for some time. A party had developed at the back of the plane because that's where smoking was allowed on our trans-Pacific flight. Even folks who didn't smoke gathered for some socializing.

The journey was beginning to take its toll by the time I got to Auckland because I've never had much success in trying to sleep in a moving vehicle. I still had to fly to Christchurch and Mount Cook before finally getting to Queenstown. One nice thing was that I got bumped up to first class for the flight from Auckland to Christchurch.
Stopping at the small Mount Cook Airport seemed like a waste of time but I suppose there must be some good reason for it. The mountain is the highest peak in the country at about 12,000 ft. The flight over the mountains -called the Southern Alps is quite scenic from Mount Cook to Queenstown and the small aircraft certainly bounced around from the turbulence.
The song on the loudspeakers at the Queenstown Airport was "Take Me Home Country Roads" and it helped to remind me that this was the furthest from "The Mountain State" I had ever been. West Virginia is where I grew up.
The hotel was a welcome sight to finally get to. It was 2 PM and I told myself it was ok to take a little nap. I woke up at 10 PM having just gotten a solid eight hour snooze and I knew I'd have a little difficulty adjusting to a new sleep pattern in a time zone on the other side of the world. Heck, it was winter time, too -in this late July!
Great! Now what was I going to do? Should I just stay in my room wide awake all night? No, I decided to check out the hotel bar and have a few drinks. Maybe I'd feel sleepy again.
The bar was empty except for the bartender named Brian. As it turned out he was from Windsor, Ontario and aside from being the bartender he was also an extra in the new George Lucas movie being filmed there. The movie was to be called "Willow" and Brian described how he'd been spending his days slogging around in the mountains in a soldier costume while the director barked out orders.
I went skiing the next day at Coronet Peak and had a decent enough time even though there wasn't much snow cover and I kept dodging rocks. All too often, though, I would hear dreadful scraping sounds from the bottoms of my new Rossignols as I dragged them across slightly concealed pebbles.
My ski jacket still had a lift ticket from Whiteface (Lake Placid) and the ticket had the olympic rings and said "Olympic Authority". All the lift tickets from Whiteface had those items printed on them. Well, some girl who rode the lift with me saw that and was convinced that I was some functionary from "the Olympics". Looking back, I should have played it up instead of denying it like I did. Who knows where it might have taken me? But of course, I'd be guilt ridden afterwards.
Went out in town after skiing, of course. One thing a person should know about Queenstown is that it is one of the most fun places on the planet to visit. Besides skiing there are hundreds of things to do. Some of the obvious ones are bungee jumping, jet boating, white water rafting and paintball. For people who take having fun seriously there's always a party afterwards -or during -or prior to! Looking back, I'm not sure how I survived it, really. Maybe I didn't completely.
Anyway, there are lots of places to go out at night. I think it was my first night that I ran into Marty and Steve from Melbourne. Marty and I would eventually become very good friends and we still are today. After talking with Marty we discovered that we had some similar tastes in literature -specifically, science fiction.
I went to Coronet Peak again the next day. While on the lift I met a guy from the North Island who owns a business selling full spectrum lighting. I told him that I wouldn't mind relocating to his country but he seemed to discourage it by telling me not to judge New Zealand from spending time only in Queenstown. He had a point, of course.

Ian showed up the next day with his friend, Greg who had recently broken a leg playing cricket but to go to Queenstown anyway. They had flown in from Melbourne as well. I had to ask Greg how a fellow breaks a leg playing cricket but he didn't answer my smart aleck question.

At one point, Ian told me that he ran into a girl from the USA named Terri. When I asked him where she was from he said she was from "Louisiana or Pennsylvania or somewhere like that." It made me laugh but I knew that, as well travelled Ian was, he'd never been to America so I assumed that he meant that she was from a state whose name began with a consonant and ended in an "a". When I met Terri I found out she was from Baton Rouge, Louisiana's state capitol.
We all eventually came to realize that Terri was something of a "free spirit" and was liable to say or do almost anything. She was quite attractive although I never really contemplated a relationship with her do to her rough and volatile nature.
Her family had sent her away on a six month -or more holiday in Australia, New Zealand and Oceania. After some thought I decided to ask her if her family was involved in state politics back in Louisiana. She confirmed my suspicions by saying that yes, they were. I think they paid to get rid of their potentially embarrassing relative long enough to avoid any real damage during election campaign preparations.
She often made me laugh at her impromptu statements regarding food she had been served or other services rendered. Sometimes, though, she had me a little embarrassed -as I usually am when fellow Americans draw attention to themselves in a negative way while travelling abroad.
I had witnessed an American businessman in Rome two years previous scream at the ticket agent because she didn't speak English. I wanted to grab him by the collar and say to him, "Dude, When in Rome ..."

There were others who sort of joined our group. Yanni and Penny from New Zealand latched onto us. Two nurses from Brisbane, Trudi and Sarah, became part of our entourage, as well. Toby and James, two "Poms" (as the English are sometimes called) became friends with us as well.

Most days we would catch the shuttle bus to a ski field called The Remarkables. The first day there Ian told me to stop and take in the panorama and then he said, "Mate, you know, this place is ---remarkable."
Ian pointed out the mountain parrots that are a common sight at The Remarkables. These birds are known as "keas" and are infamous for their tendency to rip cars apart. Anything that is rubber or plastic or not solidly attached to a vehicle is fair game with these creatures. Glen Plake once said in one of his ski films that he'd like to let a bunch of these guys loose on the parking lot at Aspen. They will steal your food from the table you are sitting at if you aren't careful and they are somewhat intimidating due to their size and overall attitude.

Once while at The Remarkables I decided to light a cigarette. Ian, Trudi, Sarah, Marty, Steve, Yanni, Penny, and Terri all watched intently as I lit the filter end and take a couple of puffs . Yeah, that's what my "friends" were like. It was good for a laugh I suppose and I doubt I sustained any permanent lung damage from it.

Coming back from The Remarkables one day there were a half dozen farmers from Florida there on some exchange program. One of them took out his can of Copenhagen and placed a pinch in his lower lip. Yanni had never seen such a thing and asked the farmer what that was and asked if he might try some.
The farmer obliged and after minor instruction, Yanni's eyes began to widen as he experienced his first dip of snuff. I pointed out that no one had given Yanni anything to get rid of the spit. So Yanni asked the farmer what he should do and the reply was, "Swoller it." Yanni's face began to turn green as the boy was destined for sickness on the bus while it negotiated the steep mountain switchbacks. It was hilarious!

There was a mechanical bull in one big rowdy bar in Queenstown. I hadn't seen one of those in the US for about ten years. I suppose litigation or the threat of it had disposed of that bit of fun we used to have. In New Zealand it was more or less understood that the stupid things you may do are entered into at one's own risk.
One particular evening I noticed one drunken Kiwi passed out in the corner and his mates waking him to convince him that he should give the mechanical bull a go. He brushed them away at first but eventually was persuaded to join in. I watched as his buddies walked him to the monstrosity and gently and gingerly perched him upon the saddle. Once he was in place the fellow at the controls gave them the slightest nudge which of course resulted in a face plant into the floor from about six feet up. The crowd roared with laughter.
Next, they talked this very pretty and shapely young lady into riding the machine. Once she was in place the fellow at the controls very deftly made it appear as though she was humping the thing. Again, the patrons cheer and have a good laugh. I was in tears.

There was another place that my group frequented. It was more of a dance place but I never cared much for that particular activity. I can recall once, while standing at the end of the bar, a fellow comes up next to me and whispers, "Mate, do you see that bottle of Jack Daniels on the shelf right there?" I acknowledged that I did and he suggested that -at the count of three that I hoist him up by his boot so that he could grab it and I agreed to it.
He counted one ...two ... and just then the barmaid came around the corner. He looked at me, grinned, and said, "We'll get it later."
At the same club -perhaps the same night I went to the men's room to relieve myself. The toilet had a trough along two of the walls where guys stood shoulder to shoulder and did their business. Suddenly, someone lit up a joint and passed it down the line. Keep in mind that these guys are from all over the world and could be carrying any number of dreadful diseases and their hands had been just touching their-know-what. Your fear competes with another way of thinking. You don't want to seem ungracious or antisocial or to be somehow above taking one little hit. You might tell yourself that the fire and the smoke will likely kill any germs. So you might thank the fellow who hands it to you, take a puff, and pass it down the line.

Being an astronomy buff, I had to mention to Ian one evening that I'd never seen the Southern Cross and I asked him to point it out to me. He did. There had been a huge supernova seen earlier that year called SN 1987A and was only visible in the southern hemisphere. It had first been noticed in February and had peaked in brilliance in May. I didn't count on still being able to see it in late July. But, after I asked Ian if it was still visible he was more than glad to point it out to me. I wondered how many folks would have been able to do that or if I was lucky to have such a knowledgeable friend.

One morning I decided that I was too wiped out to go skiing so Toby, James, and I decided to look for some other sort of diversion for the day. We wondered the streets of Queenstown looking in the shops and things. I found a 175 gram frisbee that had a world map on it that placed the nation of New Zealand at the center and made it larger than the continent of South America.
The three of us decided to try out paintball in the afternoon. We were taken by Land Rover out into the bush and equipped with military style jackets, goggles and weapons and ammo. The three of us fought three New Zealanders for an hour or so. It was utterly exhausting and I looked forward to diving into some beer afterwards.

One evening our extended group decided to get together for pizza and beer at the Pizza Hut. There must have been at least a couple dozen of us. I recall laughing and drinking and looking up to see the newlywed couple from Buffalo that I'd met in Honolulu a week before. When they saw me they seemed utterly surprised to witness me surrounded by so many people with whom I'd obviously forged strong bonds in the relatively short amount of time. I went over to their table to say hello but they appeared as though they preferred to be left to themselves so I went back to my group.

The hotel restaurant served delicious meals and I had been going there for dinner nearly every evening. There was an attractive young lady who'd waited on me most of the time and I always tipped her well. When Ian, Marty, and the others learned of me tipping my waitress they grew angry with me. They let me know that tipping simply wasn't done in New Zealand and Australia and that if I helped to introduce the custom it might undermine their economic system. I guess the waitress must have thought I was rich.

Trudi and I had become quite close and when it came time for me to leave New Zealand she saw me off at the Queenstown airport. The song playing on the loudspeakers was "Leavin' on a Jet Plane." Trudi mentioned that the song may foretell a theme for our relationship were it to continue. That song had also been written by John Denver.

My neighbor, Joe, had suggested that I stop and visit his daughter, Karen, and her husband during my long layover in Los Angeles upon my return to the continental US. At LAX I got a taxi and told him where I needed to go. As it turned out they lived in a gated community and were apparently quite wealthy. Karen's husband owned a line of sports clothing that I was familiar with. I swam in their pool and became somewhat refreshed.

At O'Hare a bad thunderstorm had caused many of the outgoing flights to be delayed. I found myself in the bar chatting with a woman who was trying to get to Dallas/Fort Worth. Eventually we ended up snuggling and snogging out of need for entertainment as much as anything else. After our respective flights departed we never heard from each other again. I should have felt guilty for that since I'd just left Trudi but I could just blame the alcohol.

Trudi and I were an item for the next couple of years and I got to visit her in Queensland a couple of times and she visited me in the US a couple of times as well. The last I heard from her, she and a group of friends spent New Years Eve flying around Antarctica and each hour they entered a new time zone at the stroke of midnight so that they kept experiencing the new year. She was definitely a fun girl. One of the things I'll always remember her telling me was, "For your thirtieth birthday you can have anything you want."

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