THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Sunday, 25 February

It’s a rainy morning in New York the smart phone tells me: information available to anyone capable of looking out the fucking window. I am so ready. The checklist double-checked. My old friend, Rolf Potts, will be staying at 54 Bleecker while I’m abroad. I guess the pitter-patter on the windowsill has not muffled my puttering. Rolf’s sipping coffee as I stand before him, a vision of preparedness. “Do you have your passport?” he asks. Simple question. The illusion bursts. “No!” I exclaim, choking on the vowel. Shit. It’s where it always is, in the red plastic envelope of old passports and inoculation records in the night table bottom drawer. Okay, now. Off I go, with my big, blue Samsonite and my new over-the-shoulder bag mit laptop. I’m flying American to San Francisco, rendezvousing with Ali in the International Terminal, and from there, Qantas flight #74 to Sydney. And from Sydney, across the continent, to Perth.

I’m typing away in the troposphere when the cursor freezes. Then the screen goes black. A gray folder icon with a question mark in it sits in the middle of the blackness, mute and implacable. I can’t coax any kind of response. Nothing works. Well, I still have my phone, which is smart. Cold comfort that is. Cold comfort, indeed: at 35,000 feet no one can hear you scream. I’ve planned to type my usual travelogue and post the thing online. I don’t know what the fuck went wrong with the machine, but it’s dead to me. I set my mind into the rictus of acceptance and begin writing  longhand.

San Francisco International Airport. After some texting back and forth, sure enough, there Ali is at the bottom of the escalator. Poor kid’s been waiting here for nearly twelve hours, because coming from backwater Austin Texas meant taking the single daily flight available. Although she’s been able to snooze at the in-terminal Nap Hotel, she hasn’t had a shower in an awfully long while and is wearing the sludge of travel. So, we sit down to gather our wit and eat these tiny, inherently funny, meatballs.

We heed the call to board, settling into protective custody. Sleep is uneasy, of course. I have a dream where she and I are in Cuba running to catch up to a fast-moving tour group. ‘Tis a metaphor of the future. Seated in front of us a few rows, a pair of good-looking young men remind me of the Winkelvi twins, Mark Zuckerberg’s nemeses from The Social Network. Both wear the currently fashionable spotless white sneakers that resemble nothing so much as sensible nurse footwear. Independently, Ali and I watch Thor: Ragnarok, which turns out to be a hoot, except for the battle scenes, which are epically lame. It’s directed by that New Zealander whose movies we like.

The Qantas lounge in the Sydney domestic terminal offers showers, which we both enjoy partly as a sanitary measure and partly to make the fucking four-hour layover come to an end. We’re both extremely punchy at this point, but eventually we land in Perth. The car that Hertz has in store for us is one of those boat-like Holdens, the national automobile of Australia and New Zealand. After some finagling, we secure a downgrade. Blessedly, it has GPS, which takes the pressure off both of us. Driving on the left never fails to take my breath away, hopefully not permanently. We make it to our destination in Fremantle, despite the GPS’s insistence that we take a road that does not exist. Our abode for the next three nights is a two-bedroom apartment overlooking the harbor.

Attempted napping fails, so at five o’clock we embark on a search for fish-and-chips. A bustling nearby place features fish tanks and crayons and a mystifying order/pick-up system. Early to bed. It is, after all, Tuesday, two days since we left the US.


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