So, I returned to the bakery to pick up breakfast and, for the road, a picnic, and for future breakfasts, a half-loaf (better than none) of banana bread. The drive from Adelaide east to Coonawarra will take about four hours and we must get there before 5pm to retrieve the house keys being held at a general store. The plan is for me to rent the latest car from Hertz after breakfast and retrieve Ali and our belongings at the Fire Station.
Hertz politely downgrades my upgrade as I explain my reluctance to drive an SUV (or ‘Ute’ in Australian). They then decline to approve Ali as an alternate driver unless she’s present. Duh. The drive back to the Fire Station is a fucking cauchemar. Construction along the median of North Terrace eliminates one’s ability to make a left turn anywhere. I make my way slowly and carefully despite fooling with Google Maps on my lap and when I arrive I’m pretty fucking wound up. Ali’s ability to soothe fury has limits, which helps me walk back this anger. Back to Hertz. Up a one-way street the wrong way. Fuck you all. Paperwork accomplished.
On the road, at last. The Hertz agent suggested turning off for a rest stop at a town called Hahndorf. It had been an old agricultural town settled by Germans in the 19th century, now reimagined theme park-style to provoke spending on bullshit. This is before noon on a Friday and there’s not a parking space to be had. We end up gnawing on our sandwiches in a grocery store parking lot on the outskirts of town. Food brings a modicum of relief and we’re sailing down the highway again with the crew of the Rocinante (see: Leviathan Wakes, the audiobook).
The landscape of long, pale yellow slopes dotted with substantial trees gives way to the green geometries of vineyards. Because of the perfect climate and soil across southern Australia, its fine wines have garnered a world-class reputation. We pass the entrance to the Naracoorte Caves, vowing to return tomorrow. This road cuts through endless rows of grape vines, hemmed at the shoulder by luscious hedges of red floribunda roses.
It’s about 4:45 when I pull the car in front of the Coonawarra Store after slowly passing by once, as if casing the joint. “I thought that was you,” says the brown-haired lady behind the counter. “We got here as fast as we could,” I reply. When we locate the house, we can’t seem to find the door to which the key applies. The front door is a total bust, but the door by the carport responds favorably to my fumbling. The house is a one-story sprawl, with four bedrooms, a ‘great’ room, a kitchen, dining room and a number of useless rooms furnished in useless eclecticism. And a single bath with corresponding commode chamber, Aussie-style.
Ali suggests we cook ourselves supper, so we hop in the Hyundai and head for the IGA in Penola, the next town. Spaghetti Fiesta! I fix dinner and run a load of wash while Ali sits transfixed by an incomprehensible game show called Think Tank, which may be the mutant offspring of Hollywood Squares, Jeopardy, and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. I poke my head in periodically, only to be mystified. Dinner is carbo-yummy. Somehow, it has become nighttime. I arrange the damp laundry on a drying rack and retire with my copy of 100 Australian Poems You Need to Know.