Coincidence, Chance, and mere Luck. These are the lifeblood of our travels.
They are a large component of The Swerve, that gut feeling or shiny object that leads you down one road instead of another. And you can never know what lay down that other road had the choice been the opposite, even if you return to it, because a place changes significantly depending on the people populating it at that exact moment. There is no finer example of this than what happened in Brisbane.
On the heels of my solo Melbourne journey came a reunion with my new French brothers and their noble Jackaroo, now fully road-worthy and ready to accommodate the long-term hitch-hiker of me. We will venture north, passing thru some turf that Kurt and I had already covered, but with far more time to poke around it. Our first night in Byron Bay and my water bottle of two years disappears into oblivion, likely having rolled out of Jackaroo and into an unsympathetic gutter. Just 3 weeks prior, I had left its twin next to a belligerent, beer-guzzling pig in Tasmania. The universe did not want me hydrated. So, having passed that next week sipping from the bottles of Frenchmen, I elect to swerve into an outdoor equipment store on our exploration of Brisbane.
Replacement water bottle now in hand (a fairly ugly one because, hey, clearance), Lucas ducks into the neighboring outdoor store to pursue the same luck in finding a replacement hat (the poor chap had sprinted 3km back down a mountain trail to retrieve it from our jump shot location, but it had joined my water bottle in oblivion).
It turns out, again and again, that losing something allows you to gain something even better; in this store is where our path intersected our new favorite humans.
This is Chance
Josh, a rock-climbing, base-jumping pilot with pretty eyes happened to be stopping by this store that he only occasionally worked at and assaulted me on the rickety stairs. He enthusiastically inquires what I am up to tonight. Ummm, hopefully climbing the cliffs at Kangaroo Point, I admit, referring to the rocks along the river smack dab in the middle of town. We’ll climb if we can rent some gear down there. Hey, join us (!), he exclaims, gesturing to his nearby pal James. They’re doing a barbecue and have free gear at the ready for anyone who wants to climb.
Uh, hell yes. We are so there.
The beauty of trust between travelmates is that you can commit the whole group to an activity all by yourself and they willingly follow you into the unknown, because they understand that this is the beating heart of the trip. The ability to just say Yes to anything reasonable that comes your way allows for impressive levels of magic.
Now, with Chance underway, prepare yourself for a full-on assault of Coincidence:
Time is a-ticking on our parking meter so, after a quick bite, we meander along the river to reclaim Jackaroo from the clutches of $4/hr parking. As we swerve past the loftiest building in town, what emerges from the door blows my entire mind hole. I do a triple take. She does a triple take. What the hell are you doing HERE?
Emily and I have shared many adventures in our beloved Ann Arbor, MI. From enduring the torture of teching a gamelon concert to sharing a beer with Yo-Yo Ma, she is a cornerstone of the Hill Auditorium experience and a dear friend. Now she was strolling toward me on the opposite side of the planet from where she should be. Hugs ensue. Questions ensue. The Frenchies are wearing puzzled expressions.
She is here with the most notable University of Michigan choir, led by Grammy-awarded Jerry Blackstone, whom we find upstairs in a fabulously-appointed 69th-floor hotel suite. The view is incredible, as are the familiar faces. It’s a slice of home that I haven’t seen in well over 9 months, and I give and collect many hugs for Kurt, because these are his long-missed people. People who haven’t yet heard of his new job.
Emily owns a personality that can best be described as effervescent. She cloaks herself with just the right layering of crazy and you cannot help but get sucked into her fun. Thankfully, the French are not immune to her charms. With an invitation to the concert the following evening that has us all stoked, the boys and I head for Kangaroo Point and our new climbing friends.
It’s a grin-filled evening and we fall head-over heels for James, the kindest Aussie you shall ever meet, and his girlfriend Kelly, a stellar chick from New Orleans who plays the perfect wingman in defending things American. We climb, we grill, we eat, we laugh. I cannot believe this kind of amazing adventure exists in the middle of a city.
And then there is an occurrence of unexpected unicorn magic – James and Kelly invite us to sleep near their house in Jackaroo and partake in their heaven brimming with showers, clean laundry and, ultimately, damn fine food.
Uh, hell yes, we are so there.
Our trio advances to the next adventure in our crazy day – a Salsa bar of unexpected magnificence featuring live music and no cover charge. While Lucas savors the sounds and drinks, Marc and I drench ourselves in sweat on the dance floor, completely sucking within the sea of experienced dancers, but not caring enough to stop. Sometimes I deeply appreciate that it’s the guy who has to lead, and boy does he.
Exhaustion is an understatement. We drag ourselves to the house of James and Kelly and discover that sleeping in the car won’t be necessary – they have set up beds to accommodate all three. I was previously unaware of levels above Unicorn Magic, but this pair has achieved and will continue to exceed it.
Over the next many days we enjoy group yoga, bountiful climbing, Frisbee, a market, hospitality of the highest level, and utterly enriching conversation. Until now I did not comprehend how thoroughly I have missed conversing in my native tongue. It is one thing to speak English with a foreigner, be they Australian, Kiwi or, slightly more difficult, French or Thai, but to engage with a sister of your own tribe (and there are surprisingly few Americans out here, especially ones with which I desire to converse), with the same culture and colloquialisms and body language, illustrates fantastically how intimate and nuanced language can be when not burdened with uncertainty or translation.
[Marc will argue incessantly with me on this, but we will save it for its own post].
As a thank you for all of the amazing, our trio elects to cook the next many meals for our hosts and share the tastiest parts of culture. Marc and Lucas go remarkably insane with crepes and duck casserole and caramel-core brownie cupcake thingies (the made-from-scratch caramel utterly slayed our taste buds).
Marc has always desired a real American pancake breakfast, and Kelly has certainly missed them, so I jumped at the chance to use a real kitchen for the manufacture of buttermilk pancakes (infused with walnuts and blueberries and topped with lemon-soaked strawberries and, yes, real Canadian maple syrup). There are some things Americans just do right. This includes the gumbo soup Kelly labors over for our final dinner with them. And then she shows us the Tim-Tam slam, an Aussi tradition of sipping hot tea through a wafer cookie.
The thought of leaving this heaven is so painful we just continue to stay.
The concert with Emily and her Michigan choir (yes, we are back to Coincidence now) is as perfect as one can manage, held in an intimate church and populated with exceptional songs sung exceptionally well, all followed by food and conversation in the basement. And this choir is all American – all currently living in my home town of Ann Arbor. I almost cry with happiness over the commonalities and shared history and sense of home they bring. My Frenchies and our new pilot friend, Josh (who strongly considered base jumping out the 69th floor hotel window), thoroughly enjoy the night of random, especially drinking the gift of fine wine rejected by teetotaler Mr. Jerry Blackstone himself.
As if we haven’t squeezed enough awesome out of Brisbane, our final adventures there will nicely illustrate Luck:
Josh and James run a new company specializing in scenic flights to wine country. It is a posh adventure the French boys and I would never consider but, when presented to us at crazy discount rate because the plane need filling at the last second, we cannot say no. Our wine glasses overflow with delicious all day long and the food equally impresses. The tour de force comes with our return flight to town, where Josh shares a bit of aviary acrobatics and we get to experience free fall.
Our time in Brisbane must end, or we shall never see the rest of Oz, so we take our bittersweet departure and head north to Fraser Island (4wd hilarity on the world’s largest sand island) and Cairns (for some SCUBA on the Great Barrier!). As a result of not wishing to die of the bends while in the air, I cannot return to Brisbane in time to visit our new favorite humans before I sprint from there to China. Strangely though, Luck has some tricks up her sleeve.
As a direct result of Murphy’s law, wherein we are at the wrong airport terminal and, after correcting this, my passport remains camouflaged on the carpet of the wrong terminal, I miss my flight. The opposite of luck, I know, but it means I get to spend a night in Brisbane with Kelly and James. In addition to reclaiming a lost journal entry from the digital ether (if you read the Twelve Tribes post, even YOU have benefited from Brisbane’s magic), while helping clean Jame’s car, my long-lost umbrella materializes before my eyes! James found it in the gutter (yep, fell right out of Jackaroo) and kept it because, hey, random free umbrella. I was in agony over the idea of venturing to China without it.
Is any umbrella this special? Yes, in fact, and it is back in my hand. And damn has it come in handy.