Category: Stories

Island in the Sun

Today I was driving to the grocery store and Island in the Sun by Weezer came on. I was transported back to Costa Rica in November 2015.

The bottle of Sailor Jerry’s rum sat in the middle of the table. The party had taken off around me with my two friends, a couple with at least eight tattoos of the Canadian flag between them, preppy fraternity brothers appearing and disappearing from a bathroom, and Cristian, the manager of the hostel, was conversing and drinking with them all. Then there was me. Completely sober. I was at the table, or wandering around, people sat and swung in the hammocks. The sun had set, but it was still warm outside. The afternoon rain shower had since evaporated, and the humidity had thinned out.

Cristian announced: ‘We’ll go to a big party later.’

I followed one of the girls down to the liquor store beneath the hostel. She was blonde, from Rhode Island. She talked about prescription drug abuse at some point. She talked about the waterfront restaurants, and how she worked at one as a hostess. Apparently everyone there is on some kind of prescription medication, just to get by. The fraternity brothers were all collectively in love with her. I was sure they spent all those trips to the bathroom measuring their egos to see who would get to make a move.

I don’t know which one of us opened the door, but I remember being in a place with absolutely no value or interest to me. All these bottles of alcohol on the shelves had no appeal to me. I dutifully followed her to the counter. She paid for it, although I don’t know if anyone else contributed beforehand. We went back up stairs. The bottle sat on the table, while they prepared the peripherals: shot glasses, soft drinks to mix it with, whatever else. They didn’t have coconuts or little cocktail umbrellas but the imagination was there. It was at that moment that I found myself staring at the bottle. I had a guitar string in my chest, and someone had just strummed it. I could just take a shot. It’d be fun. My brain started to play tricks on me too. Remember how fun it was to drink shots of rum, back when you were 16 in Germany? That’s when I heard a voice:

‘All this time you’ve spent staying sober. You’d throw all those days, weeks, and months out. That one shot would reset the clock. With one shot, your clean record is wiped. You would have to start all over again.’

The group of us were walking down an unsealed road to the big party. It wasn’t far from the hostel. Cristian announced: ‘I’m lit up like a freaking Christmas tree.’ Everyone laughed and the conversation picked up again. We passed by a couple of police cars, probably doing a routine traffic stop. Cristian positioned himself in the middle of the group and made himself small. He said something about his immigration status. I don’t know if the police even cared that a bunch of drunk foreigners were out and obviously headed to a local club.

We waited at the bottom of a very big set of stairs, and slowly made our way up and into the crowded venue. There was a big pool outside, but it was roped off. The place was packed, and boring. We left after an hour or two.

The next thing I remember was being near the ocean. There were deck chairs and a swing seat. I wandered out to the beach, then pulled everyone out there with me and ordered them all to look up. In the dead of night, on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, the stars were out in force. I don’t remember the stars very well, but I remember everyone staying on the beach. One of the frat boys and the blonde from Rhode Island were knee deep in the waves. I noticed they were making out, and I looked away. I guess I’d given them a context to be romantic, but that certainly wasn’t what I meant to do. I wanted to feel sublime underneath the brilliant light of nature and existence. They just closed their blurry eyes to all of it.

That was the one time I was ever tempted to really drink alcohol. The voice that persuaded me out of it was my own. I didn’t want to stop being sober, I didn’t want to lose my progress. I really didn’t want to give up on myself, on the commitment I’d made. If I did, the consequences would have been so much more devastating than a headache. I would have broken a promise to myself. I wouldn’t be able to make any other promises and believe that I could really keep them.

I was distracted thinking about this story while I wandered through the grocery store. I’m no longer close to the friends I had back then. I listened to the voice that night, and since then I’ve been living the life I want to, and keeping my promises.

Good luck on your adventures

On Saturday I visited Snoqualmie Falls, and Twede’s Cafe in North Bend. Both locations are featured in Twin Peaks. They’re about an hour long drive from my place, so I had to go and check them out. The falls were cool, but a little touristy. The cherry pie at the cafe was divine, though the place was a little run down. I thought I was going to cry from grief for the characters in the show, but there wasn’t enough surrealism in the air. It just wasn’t dream-like.

I did cry over the characters as I was watching the show, and then a couple of times when I was driving home late at night, listening to the soundtrack. It happens sometimes, that I get that emotionally invested in fiction, but never quite so strongly as I did with Twin Peaks. Something about watching the town grieve for Laura Palmer, and seeing the murder of another character, connected with me in a way that other crime drama stories haven’t ever been able to. The fictional victim became a real person in that first episode.

So after visiting the waterfalls and the cafe, I decided to go hiking at a nearby mountain. The trail was steep and entirely made up of switchbacks to gain elevation. Most of the time I was sheltered by the surrounding Douglas fir trees. As a result I didn’t notice quite how high I had climbed. It’s only four miles up, but it’s a long four miles.

That gave me plenty of time to think. There were only a few other hikers, so I basically had the place to myself. I thought about relationships: friends here, friend in Australia, friendships with people at work. I thought about my life in America. That’s particularly difficult because I’m like a goldfish in the bowl right now, and I can’t see the water because I’m so entirely immersed in it.

At the summit, the wind had picked up. So I sat on two rocks which formed a kind of natural ‘L’ shape. I had back pressed against one rock, while I sat on the lower one. I put a hand on the edge of the lower rock, and kept a tight grip. The wind felt like it wanted to push me around, but was not strong enough to send me screaming off the mountain top. It’s unsettling to be in that situation. It’s uncomfortable and safe at the same time.

I chatted briefly with a nice lady as we were walking down. At the car park she said ‘Good luck on your adventures.’

Birthday Weekend Part 3

Sunday

This morning I worked for a few hours on a system upgrade, which went really smoothly. Then I came home and chilled out until I headed over to Doyle’s (a local bar) to watch the USA vs Portugal match.

Before the game everyone was cheering the American side (especially Dempsey), and booing Portugal (and especially Ronaldo). When the anthem played, everyone stood up, removed their hats, placed their hands over their hearts, and sang along. I knew what I had to do. Standing with my hand on my chest, I sang along. It was a defining moment for me: being part of an American sports crowd singing the national anthem of my country. I was no longer just an American ‘on paper’. I was an American for real. I was home. I belonged. I was part of the crowd, a member of the team, part of the population. I was just another American singing the anthem.

I’ve written about that issue in the shadows of this blog. I’ve been working through the problems of dual citizenship, being a dual national, and having two national identities. I moved here to establish my American identity, all the while running into more and more ‘Australian-ness’. That moment was a huge step and a big milestone towards becoming a true American.

Side note:
My appreciation of America is not blind patriotism, or the ironic ‘murica’, but genuine confidence in the potential for America to be great. At one point we all cheered: ‘I believe that we will win.’ That describes exactly how I feel about America. On the world stage playing football, and in general.

Anyway, the game was a draw, which makes America’s progression more difficult but not impossible. The emotion and memory of those 90 minutes at Doyle’s will be with me forever.

‘Oh say does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave, o’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.’

Birthday Weekend Part 2

Saturday

I woke up to an invitation to go a street parade in Seattle. I declined, because ‘the mountains are calling’. I grabbed a few essentials and peeled out. First stop: gas. Second stop: Walmart in Puyallup for bottled water. Third stop: Ranger station at Mt Rainier National Park.

Wherever you are in Washington, and especially in Tacoma, you are bound to catch a glimpse of Mt Rainier. You can’t miss it. It doesn’t tower over everything, so much as it appears between buildings, trees, through bridges, and at the end of an open road. It is an inescapable landmark. Today was the first time I’d ever actually approached it.

Highway 410 is a two lane, yellow lined, black top, mountain pass. It zigzags around the base of Mt Rainier, connecting Enumclaw in the west with Yakima in the east.

I’ve been on a couple of weekend road trips with a few of the car guys back in Australia. We’d drive a big loop on the Great Alpine Road, over a mountain range in Victoria. It was always a weekend of fun driving, road side repairs, and camaraderie. on those road trips, when you get higher into the mountains, the line markings turn yellow. I always loved that moment, and the yellow lines themselves. They are very American, and signal that you’ve made it up into Alpine territory. I was dreaming of coming to America for the yellow paint on the road.

All the way up, I was stuck behind soccer moms in their minivans, and a doing-less-than-the-speed-limit PT cruiser. I overtook the slower cars, one by one, at high speed. The FR-S’ sixth gear is perfect for cruising, fifth and even fourth are really for passing. In one swoop I passed a couple of trucks and slow guy hauling a trailer. It was exciting. I bet they all think I’m a total jerk.

Two older Nissan coupés were pretty lively, passing slower cars and keeping up with me. We stopped together at the ranger’s station and had a quick chat. The leader had a pretty banged up little car he had been working on. The spark plug wire had come free, which is why he hadn’t been able to keep up completely. I took off before their group did, and it’s probably better we went separately. I was enthusiastic enough throwing the FR-S into corners, without needing any extra encouragement.

This was a solo road trip anyway. I’d come up here to go driving and hike up some kind of peak. Whenever we were on camping trips in high school we would do these ‘solo’ things. Basically you headed out on your own into the wilderness for a couple of hours. Just to spend time alone. You weren’t allowed to talk to anyone, and you just sat there and wrote stuff down. I think I needed that solo experience today, and that’s why I chose to go driving on my own, rather than go to Seattle with friends. The passenger seat still felt empty.

I chose a twisty road, which was incredibly fun. Even the hairpin corners were a blast to pull out of in second gear. I didn’t go too hard because I’m still running the engine in (less than 1000 miles), and I don’t know the limits of the car, so it’s not worth pushing it so soon. I did get stuck behind a slow truck on the straightened out stretch to the top car park. At that point it was all scenery anyway, so I didn’t mind.

I took some photos of the car at various points. I climbed up a snow capped mountain peak above the car park. Certainly not the tallest peak around, but it had a pretty awesome view over the mountains and of Rainier. Climbing up was hard work, climbing down was a matter of falling gracefully. I also realized just how far my cowboy boots have travelled with me.

Coming down I was stuck behind a slow VW and a motorcyclist who had a bad habit of breaking all the way through corners. It didn’t matter though, I peeled off at one point to a campsite, and took some more pics of the car with Rainier in the background.

Driving home involved a quick stop at Mickey D’s and a lump of traffic that carried me all the way back to Tacoma. I snuck a good look at Mt Rainier in my side mirror coming home down River road.

Birthday Weekend Part 1

Thursday Night

So I had dinner with some friends at a nice restaurant near my place. We were celebrating one of the girl’s birthday. Sort of mine, too, but mostly hers. It was her night, and it ended up being amazing fun.

After dinner we stopped at a night club for their lackluster ladies night. The DJ was playing okay music, until his buddy jumped on a drum kit and drowned out the bass. Electronic beats and live drum kit is a great concept (see The Presets), but in a virtually empty club?

Ladies night at this particular venue meant guys paid a five dollar cover charge. To go upstairs, where the cheaper drinks and all the girls were, cost an extra $2. Going upstairs felt predatory, and the girls were young. Downstairs was a sausage fest, with chairs and tables filling up any kind space of dancing. So we left there pretty early, and headed to a more familiar and friendly place.

This bar was much more accommodating and comfortable. We lined up the jukebox with some 90’s alternative rock. Our little group has a habit of singing along to Lit – My Own Worst Enemy when we go out. We rocked that bar, it was great.

There’s a guy in our group who has a badass apartment building. I’ve been there three times, always after a big night out. We lightly danced to Iggy Azalea – Fancy in his apartment, and went swimming in our underwear.

There were only four of us left at this point, and it was already early Friday morning. It was then that I realized how tipsy everyone else actually was. I don’t have a problem with it, I just hadn’t noticed. The night ended when the host got out of the hot tub and put his shirt on.

We went upstairs, and then I dropped the birthday girl off at her apartment. I drove home, a bit angry about something. I don’t know what ticked me off because nothing bad had happened. It was a great night out. I went to work on Friday with about 3 hours sleep.

86

I’ve been hesitating to write this entry for a little while now, because I don’t want it to sound like I’m showing off. This whole blog at times feels like I’m just showing off. That’s partly why I wrote the last entry. Having a bad day means my life is becoming normal, after the initial euphoria. This isn’t about instant gratification or selfish wish fulfillment. This is about working hard to accomplish the dreams I’ve held onto for a long time.

One of those dreams has been to own a Toyota FT86. It’s an awesome 2.0 liter, rear-wheel drive, coupé sports car. It’s a combination of two parts of Toyota’s racing heritage:

  1. Toyota 2000 GT (from the late 60’s)
  2. Toyota AE86 (from the 80’s)

So it has serious enthusiast street cred. It’s also beautiful, and drives incredibly well. The development of the 86 was a collaboration with Subaru, who developed the boxer engine. There’s already a large aftermarket modification scene – for style and performance upgrades. Mine is absolutely base model with no extras, in silver. It’s badged and sold in North America as the Scion FR-S.

I call it my Top Ramen car, because:

  • It’s Japanese
  • I can only afford to eat cheap microwavable ramen with the monthly costs of the car
  • The AE86 is featured in the anime Initial D, where the main character uses his AE86 as a tofu delivery / drift race car

I love my new car. Owning and driving it is motivating me to work hard so I can afford to keep it. As soon as it’s paid off, I’ll be driving it around America.

A Bad Day in America

So everything about my day went well until about 5pm.

I went to a credit union to investigate car financing. They asked for ID, but I left my wallet at work. So I provided my passport instead (I had come prepared to apply for a loan). It turned out the dealership I talked to on the weekend had already applied to that credit union on my behalf. For $7,000 more than the retail price of the car I want. At no point in the conversation with the dealer did I mention wanting any extras. In fact I stressed on several occasions that I wanted no extras, the base model, etc. So they’ll be getting a “you lost a customer today” call tomorrow. The credit union applied internally for a better deal, and obviously less principal.

I drove home to get ready for my personal training appointment at the gym. I stopped off to get the mail, parked in front of the communal mailbox, which happens to be in the middle of a T-intersection and a fire lane (painted red, no parking allowed). I pulled the keys from the ignition, unlocked my mailbox and retrieved three useless pieces of junk mail. Yay. Climbed back into the car for the 45 second drive to my parking spot. Keys in the ignition, and nothing. No electronics, no lights, no ignition. The car wouldn’t start. I heard a fizzing noise in the steering column. Great.

So the car was immobile in a T-intersection, a fire lane, and it was blocking the mailboxes. I popped the hood (bonnet) and there was blue fuzz all over the positive terminal. Google search: blue fuzz on battery = leaking battery. Okay. It was only 6pm. I called the gym and rescheduled. I checked if Autozone (five minutes away) was open. They were, until seven pm. I still needed to get the car started. Grabbed some tools from my apartment. Blowing off the fuzz revealed the positive connector had broken off the positive terminal. I wiggled it back into place, but only temporarily. It started! Success. No way I was going to risk turning off it again. So I kept it running while I locked up my apartment and headed to Autozone.

Oh wait. My wallet is at work. So off to work instead.Fifteen minutes later, I arrived in the secure parking lot. I kept the car running and went inside. I searched my desk for my wallet. It wasn’t there. It wasn’t in my laptop bag either. Okay, it must have been at home this whole time. Whatever. I headed outside, only to find my car was running, and all four doors were locked. Things just went from bad to worse.

My car was running, and the keys were locked in it. It was time to call the locksmith I know (from my apartment complex). I didn’t have his number in my phone for some reason. So I called the insurance company’s roadside assist.

‘Do you have your policy number?’

‘No, it’s locked in the car’

‘Okay, unfortunately without the policy number, there will be a charge, for which you can be reimbursed by sending in the receipt.’

‘Can you look it up by my name?’

‘No, we can only search by policy number. So unless you can find the policy number, you will have an out of pocket expense.’

‘Like hell! I have insurance with you!’ (Yes, I lost my temper.)

‘Okay sir, let me connect with a Company representative who can help you find the information you need.’

‘Alright, thank you.’

The insurance company verified my information, and I’m returned to the roadside assist people – a young lady this time.

‘I’ll note that it’s an emergency, and send you a text with details.’

The text arrived seconds later. It mentioned a 45 minute wait. Screw that. I would rather break the window. I ask a nice dude from Security if he had  tools. We found a hammer and a sharp saw with a pointed tip.  Perfect.

‘Before you break your window, let me make  a call to our locksmith guy.’

While we waited for locksmith guy to call a more local locksmith buddy – probably the one I know from my apartment complex – security dude and I chatted a little. We hunted for a slim jim to unlock the door using an emergency unlock button. I found a suitably long and thin piece of metal, and ka-chunk, the door was unlocked. Success. I was home free.

It was now nearly 8pm, and so Autozone was well and truly closed. No chance to replace or repair the battery issue. I drove home and when I turned off the car, it wouldn’t start again. That will be a problem for tomorrow morning.

Even a bad day in America is still a good day in the world.