Unemployed in Old London town

It has been a while between dispatches but I thought this was a story worthy of note.

I have been in Old London town for a couple months now. Like many an Australian before me I landed myself a job slaving behind a bar for board and minimum wage.

My pub gig at the Dick was a bit of a weird one. A franchise operation in Greenwich in which every penny was counted and every spillage noted. The general manager, Henry, is your typical, middle-aged English whinging twat, with a nasty streak to boot. The floor manager, Billy, is a Welshman, a former coal miner with shot knees and a massive drinking problem. I liked the grumpy old bastard on first sight.

Henry and Billy passed their days and years playing a game of cat and mouse where Henry tried to catch Billy out on his constant drinking (which by proxy was theft because he never paid for a drop). Billy was forced to go to extreme lengths to hide his drinking – I once caught him pouring the contents of the bar drip trays back into the lager barrels (needless to say I never drank the lager again).

The staff quarters were located above the bar on the first and second floors. Access was via an internal stairway. The rear courtyard was fully enclosed with no laneway access meaning that the only legitimate way in or out of the pub was via the front doors which – trustworthy though I am – I wasn’t given a key for.

It was an arrangement that proved to be quite inconvenient. In order to sleep in your bed you had to be home before the pub closed (11pm). There was also a strictly enforced “no guests” policy.

Two months had been spent trying to make a dent in my credit card debit, Thursday through Monday pulling pints, Tuesday and Wednesday labouring.

It was fair to say, my London life was starting do my head in. It was time to rattle the cage. I made some calls. Enter Honest Joel and Master Shackleberry. Two likely lads all the way from the antipode bush.

Being the site of London’s old docks, Greenwich has a pub on every corner. Our goal was to sample the fare of as many as we could in one day. A good old-fashioned pub-crawl:

10am, at the the Dick for breakfast pints. 11:30am, next door to the Union for brunch pints. 1pm, to the Mitre for bangers and mash for lunch washed down with a pint. High tea (pints and crisps) at  St Christopher’s. Up the hill to The Hill, to join the masses for “knock off” pints. And so it continued. The exact details of the night are a little hazy but at about 11pm Shacks caught the tube back to his digs in Wimbledon. I convinced Joz to crash on my floor back at the Lion, I had removed the dead bolts from the window in my room so it was simply a matter of scaling the front of the building and climbing in.

The night continued in earnest until we found ourselves in some dingy club that charged eight quid a drink. Realising that all the punters looked as if they had been smashed in the face by a shopping trolley we called stumps.

We wandered drunkenly back to the Lion. Joz gave me a leg up, allowing me to open the window and tumble in. Joz was about halfway up when I got a feeling in my waters. The night was about to take an interesting twist.

A “Rees, I think we’re nicked” from Joz confirmed as much.

Two Bobbys, on night patrol, deemed that it was their obligation to enquire as to the rationale behind a 3am climb into the first floor window of a pub by two piss-wrecked Australians.

It was my place of employment and abode, I explained.

Unconvinced, they sensibly asked why we had opted out of using the front door.

I outlined the complicated constraints of my accommodation arrangement at the Lion.

They understood but explained that were required to confirm my story with the manager.

I explained that would most likely cost me my job.

They understood but explained that were required to confirm my story with the manager.

I gave them Henry’s number.

They called.

A brief discussion ensued then Henry poked his head out of the second storey window.

He unleashed a frightful tirade.

I responded in kind.

In no uncertain terms, he told me that we would sort out our differences in the morning and he told Joz that the Lion’s doors weren’t open to lads of his sort.

This turn of events left Joz in a bit of a pickle. It was 4am on a cold, damp London night and he was a long way from his bed. Opting for the only sensible option, he decided to lodge an application for a night in the warmth and comfort of the holding cell.

Joz began his impromptu interview by conveying to Henry his initial impressions of him. He then proceeded to share his impressions of the two Bobbies with the entire neighbourhood. He capped this virtuoso performance with a fly kick to the back of the Bobby mobile.

I was impressed. I even think Henry was impressed. Unfortunately, the two Bobbies weren’t and to show this displeasure they decided not to arrest him. Instead, leaving him to the London cold.

Disheartened, Joz wandered off to get a minicab (so he said) and I closed my window and began to pack.

At 8:00am Henry and I briefly resumed our discussion from the previous night. At 8:08am my employment at the Lion was ceased by mutual agreement.

I bid farewell to Billy and made my way out.

Walking up the street I called Joz, he had slept in the train station elevator down the road, not as good as a holding cell but cheaper than a minicab.

The conclusion of a New World adventure

Well that’s it… the adventure is over … for a while.  I have finally arrived in England.  I am in an internet cafe in London, and I have a bit of time before the money runs out so I thought that I would share the last part of my American travels with you crazy kids…

From Belize I jumped a flight to Miami where I stayed the night.  Miami was an excellent choice, it offered all the creature comforts that the modern day retiree could want. It is like the Gold Coast only super sized, same as everything else in America. Everybody who lives there was born in New York, has spent about three decades too long in the sun and spend their days riding the bus looking for unsuspecting victims to tell how much better their life had been when they lived in New York.

The plan was to catch up with a friend who lived in the “small town” of Stuart (about 3 hours north of Miami and with a population of 130 000) before following my teen idols – Jason, Kylie and the entire 80’s cast of Neighbours – in seeking fame and fortune in the motherland. I caught the Greyhound up to West Palm Beach where I missed my connection to Stuart. I was planning on getting a hotel when K-Dog, a guy that I meet on the bus offered for me to crash on the floor of his mates house. The cheapest hotel I could find was about US$40 so it would have been rude of me if I didn’t. K-Dog had just got out of prison but seemed like a solid citizen who had fallen in with the wrong crowd. He showed me some of the poetry that he had written in prison, it wasn’t bad.

The next day I ventured up to the thriving metropolis of Stuart, where I spent a couple of days with Chris and Mike. Chris works at a mariner hobnobbing it with the rich and famous golf playing retirees of Southern Florida while her boyfriend Mike is a fire-fighter. I got to see the station that he worked at but was very disappointed to learn that there was no fire-pole.

Fire fighting in Stuart is no where near as good a deal as what they get in South Gippsland, there is no beer or bbq’s and you have to turn up on days other than Sunday. Lighting forest fires is even frowned upon. Although Chris and Mike’s eating habits were a little “alternative” they were really fantastic people and I had a banger of a time. I think that the best bit of my stay there was when Mike told me a ripper story that he had heard about a left-handed serial rapist named K-Dog.

So that’s it. The New World adventure had come to an end and it was time to head to England, the home of countless bad TV soaps, mushy peas and flat beer served at room temperature (which is not too bad).

Breaking of the fellowship

I think that you last joined us in the Lonely Planet’s Honduran darling, the city of Tela. Despite the allure of the Tela’s monkey-less lagoons and anaemic nightlight, Jozza and I decided head back to Tikal in Guatemala (word on the street was that there was some kick-arse ruins there). The trip took about 13 hours and had it all, about six changes of buses, corrupt boarder officials and a very uncomfortable ride in the back of a pick-up with two fat Guatemalan women who stalked Joel for the whole day (I think they liked the look of the cankles that he has been vigorously developing since hanging up the boots).

From Tikal we visited the Mayan ruins that are about an hour drive away. Fucking awesome, is the best way to describe them. It was here that we finally saw a monkey, no thanks to the Lonely Planet. A couple of days later in an internet cafe over a few beers, we listened to Roy and HG call the Roys (or the three Fitzroy players that remain from the so called “merger”) home in the Grand Final. It was also here that Joel and I went our separate ways. I was headed for Belize and he was going to bible camp in Mexico.

The fellowship was broken and while Joel tried to be strong, as the bus drove away I looked back to see him crying like a kid who had knackered himself on the frame of his BMX for the first time. Although this gesture was moving I was glad to be rid of him as I had not had a decent nights sleep for two months because of his serial snoring.

I arrived in Belize City later that day and stayed the night. It is not the most pleasant of cities, the whole city stinks because the sewage runs straight into the canals. Also, the masses there seemed to make a much bigger effort to take advantage of me than in the other cities that I had visited.

The next morning I caught a boat out to Caye Caulker were I did a couple of days diving. It was awesome, the worlds second largest reef and some of the best diving that I have ever done. Thousands of fish, sharks, rays and crayfish. Once again I wish I had a spear gun but Joel’s little incident with the Utilia scuba hippies was still fresh in my mind.

The continuation of Latin American adventure

Last time, our two heroes. Alone, in the wilds of central Honduras, were faced with a life or death decision…

stay on beer or switch to rum and coke.

What would they do? Who would they turn to? And so the adventure continues…

With so much riding on the choice they did the only sensible thing, ordered another two beers and considered their options.

After seeing some pretty impressive Mayan ruins, Joz and I decided to head for Tela on the Caribbean coast. We jumped on the bus and were on our way. I sat back and watched my fellow traveller’s throw their non-biodegradable rubbish out of the windows as we drove. This is a favourite pastime in Latin America, they love it. As Joel noted it would make Roy and HG proud to see the kiddies getting involved at a young age.

Things were going along smashingly until we hit San Pedro Sula, where we had to change buses. We walked to the other bus terminal and asked which bus went to Tela, one of the guys looked at us for a moment and then began yelling at us in super quick Spanish. One minute he was yelling at us and pushing us on to a bus and the next he was shaking his head and dragging us away from the bus. Then some other guys came and joined in the fun. It was a good old fashioned let’s fuck with the stupid Gringos session. We were confused and frightened. The two of us walked ten meters down the street and held an impromptu executive discussion, it was decided by majority that we head to La Ceiba instead, because it was easier. So we caught the bus to La Ceiba.

The next day we got up early and caught the ferry to the Bay Island of Utilia. Which is one of the coolest places on earth. They only have electricity for a couple of hours a day, three year old kids ride four-wheelers up and down the one dirt road at 60 kph, all the bars are on jetties and have no toilets so everybody just pisses off the side. But what stands out most of all is the extent of inbreeding among the locals. I don’t know if it is the Agent Orange from all the US Vietnam vets that live there or what, but it is amazing.

Utilia also has some fantastic diving, Joel went to hire some snorkeling gear and asked about hiring me a spear gun. For this he was kicked out of the shop, damn scuba hippies, all I wanted to do was slaughter some innocent fish and eat them.

After a couple of days we caught the ferry back to the mainland. We decided to give getting Tela another crack. Getting there was almost too easy. My Lonely Planet guidebook had given Tela a big wrap – something about a day trip to cool native villages and a lagoon full of monkeys. We headed out to take a look at this natural wonder. Stupid Lonely Planet, the villages were just the same as all the others and we saw no monkeys.

Tune in again next week to Survivor: Central America. When Rees learns of the Joel’s sordid past and his failed sex change attempt. How will this affect the morale of the tribe?

Guatemala, the land of disappointment

Looking back on our two weeks in Guatemala reminds me of the history of the St Kilda football club, one disappointment after another. We arrived in Guatemala City from the Mexican border – 6 hrs, 150km, everybody from infants to the elderly trying to sell you something, rubbish dumps in the middle of towns and suicidal bus drivers – the usual.

Guatemala City made downtown LA look like the MCG on grand final day (ok it wasn’t that bad but it was a bit of a rat-hole). We had a bit of a poke around then headed for Antigua, beautiful colonial architecture and home to countless language schools. Things were looking up… or so I thought. Joel and I had enrolled in for a week of Spanish School. After 25 hours of intensive study, I was positive at the very least I would be able to conduct international business in Spanish and woo the ladies like Liberace.

Oh, how I was mistaken, as far as I can tell there is no international business in Central America, Liberace was gay and I still struggle saying ‘gracis’ and ‘por favor’. During my first day of schooling, I developed a fever leaving me quite sick. I don’t know what was more disappointing, being bed-ridden for more than a week or the fact that I had pneumonia. I was in Central America for Christ’s sake, if I was going to be sick I wanted it to be with something cool like Malaria or Typhoid. Not pneumonia, only pensioners get pneumonia.

I was getting better and the weekend beckoned. We decided to do a half-day trip to Volcan Pacaya, an active volcano near Antigua. Now I don’t know about you guys but when I hear active volcano, I think “Liquid hot magma”.  Not quite while we were there, we got a long walk, some sulphur smelling smoke and some lukewarm pebbles.

The next day was National Independence Day. All of the locals had been talking it up, we had heard rumours that the drunkest person at the festivities got to chase people in the crowd wearing nothing but a paper-mashie bulls head with lit fireworks strapped to it. Joz and I agreed our attire was inappropriate for such a momentous occasion so we headed for the local op-shop. We picked up suits for Q$20 (about A$5). Mine, a three-piece pin-striped ripper. We were pumped and ready to go but all we found was a couple of families enjoying “quite time” with some crappy plastic flags, not a drunken bull-man in sight.  We ended up at some trivia night in one of the local pubs (Team Dick Toggs came a disappointing second). All the bars closed at 8pm and we walked home, disappointed once again.

Like the Australian Cricket Board’s stance with Mark Waugh, we thought that we would give Guatemala one more shot to prove itself at the highest level, so we headed to Panajachel on Lago de Atilian. It is a massive mountain lake surrounded my volcanos. It was very beautiful, but once again I couldn’t help but feeling a little let down. You would think that a 126 sq km lake would have some kind of man-eating mythical creature that had been sighted in it but never caught.

We left the lake yesterday and we are now in Honduras. Forgive the whiny, cynical tone of this post, I was sick. Guatemala was great and I would definitely recommend a visit. That said, I think I will have a more enjoyable time in Honduras, beer is half the price and we have already seen a cross-eyed cat.

Two Australian Gringo’s Mexican adventure

After our time in Oceanside Jozza and I arrived in Tijuana full of hope, of better times to come. Armed with Joel’s 1973 Mexican Lonely Planet and all the Spanish that you can pick up from a Speedy Gonzalez cartoon, we headed south.

About twelve hours into our first twenty-four hour bus ride we pulled to halt at a military checkpoint. It was about 2am and the nice man with an M16 made us have a go on the traffic light machine. It was great; I got the green light meaning that I got to keep going. Joel got the red light, so he got a full cavity search.

We got to Los Mochis and had a bit of a look around. Local’s friendly, beer not as cheap as you would think. Took the Copper Canyon railway to Creel. Where we held an international language convention with three nature love’n Germans, a couple of French girls, a homeless hippy from Brazil, a fucking nutcase from Slovenia and the two boys from the bush. As you would suspect English won out.

In Creel we had out first Tequila in a Mexican redneck bar, tried to impress the locals by doing them as Stuntman shots, a sniff of the salt, the shot, and a squirt of lemon juice in the eye later and we were looked at like fucking loco Gringo’s.

From Creel we embarked on a 30hr train/bus trip to Puerto Vallarto, Joel had a great time playing pirates while I slept. There we raced other buses on cobblestone streets, paid too much for beer and did some snorkelling. By this time my Spanish was picking up, I could now say ‘No, Gracis’ instead of ‘No’, much to the delight of the locals.

Headed from here to Zihuatenjo, which is a cool little fishing village, great markets and beaches, not an international tourist mecca yet. There we met some Canandian hippies. They were in perfect harmony with nature and their spiritual inner selves despite the fact that Ron still drove some Toyota sportscar that got half a mile to the gallon.

After a couple of days there we headed for the boarder and onto Guatemala. Our Mexican adventure was over. The country hadn’t seen such good times since the ’68 Olympics. The best thing about Mexico is that no matter where you go or what you do, two Mexican dudes with kick arse moustaches wearing white cowboy hats will be sitting on a rock or a roof watching your every move.

A lucky escape from sleepy Oceanside

We arrived in Oceanside, California at about 8am after an overnight bus ride from Merced via LA.  Joel and I were there to catch up with a couple of mates from back home, Jason and John. They were staying with Dave, a local surfing photographer.  We found out Dave’s address and walked there from the bus station. At first glance Oceanside, right on the beach, seemed nice, quiet and safe. Nothing bad could happen to two happy go lucky blokes from Australia… or so we thought.

We got to Dave’s place and unloaded our kit. There had been no swell for days so Johnny was pretty keen for a few drinks to celebrate our arrival. To the pub it was. It proved to be a constructive session; beers, conversation, a bit of Spanish was learnt and quickly forgotten. Good fun was had by all.

A club offering drink specials was our next port of call. The fun continued unabated long into the night. But there came a point in the early hours of the morning when a thought took root in the depths of my mind. The feeling grew until there was only one option left open to me. It was time to go walkabout.

I am not really sure but there was walking, a freeway, a fence and a fall. And then there was a police officer. He had received a call about a man in a blue shirt wandering the streets carrying a gun. I tried to explain to the officer that my shirt was not blue but he assured me that the stripes on it were blue. Lucky for me, I had left my piece in my other shorts.

I was patted down and given a seat on the curb. More police officers arrived and each one took delight in patting down the drunk Australian. I had a Victorian drivers licence and three bucks in my pocket.

Where was I staying? Ummm, Dave’s place in Oceanside.

It was the best I could manage but after prolonged questioning I managed to convince them that I could find the house. If not, it was to be the drunk tank for Rees Quilford Esquire. Good deal really. I was cuffed and escorted to the free taxi back to Dave’s house.

After the initial shock of seeing me, in handcuffs, being escorted up the stairs by one of Oceanside’s finest, Dave and Jason saw the humorous side of the situation. It turns out that I had had been on quite an adventure, wandering about 8 miles into one of the seedier parts of town. A place where bad things happen to drunk white boys walking by themselves.

The following day was filled with obligatory sightseeing, it was followed by a Saturday, the day when legends are made and broken. Dave’s brother Chris was planning to celebrate his 29th birthday. Johnny, Joel and myself decided that it would be rude of us not to assist him in his time of need. Word on the street was that the Violent Femmes where playing as part of the San Diego race day festivities, so that was were we intrepid travellers headed. For US$5 we had a day on the punt, saw the VF greatest hits playlist, not bad if that’s your bag. Then it was back to Oceanside for a night of chuckles.

Sunday followed, with the hard work of the weekend out of the way we shared a few hands of cards and a couple of cold cervezas, relaxed and reflected on memories past and future prospects. As is its nature, this innocent Sunday session led us to the bar. The night went along smashingly if not uneventfully – chatted to a few of the locals and had a few drinks.

It was around stumps that things started to go pear shaped. It seems that Joel had unwittingly managed to piss one of the local marine boys off. Not a bad effort since he couldn’t recall even talking to the guy. Obviously this dude didn’t like Jozza’s style, which as many would attest is fair enough.

Anyway we were standing at the ATM outside when he came charging across the street. Made a V-line straight for honest Joel. There was a bit of biffo with a bit of man cuddling (wrestling) thrown in for good measure. Security finally broke it up. The cops arrived and low and behold, my mate from the previous night was one of the attending officers. He told me in no uncertain terms what a silly sausage I had been.

I agreed, I had a black eye and Joel copped a few in the back of the head. Chapped knuckles were proof we did alright though.

We left Oceanside and headed for Los Mochis, Mexico. We had been out three nights and potentially life-threatening incidents occurred on two of them. I am not so sure that I like those odds. It was time to take the advice of my policeman friend and pull my head in.

Leaving Las Vegas

Caught up with me old mate Joz in LA. We spent the past couple of weeks exploring some of the natural wonders of the great state of California. Then an adventure in the city that never sleeps…

For me, Vegas perfectly encapsulated my brief impressions of America. We had some good times but it was depressing seeing so many frivolously splash buckets of cash around completely oblivious to the suffering taking place across the street.

My pre-arrival CNN based impressions were of an America divided on ethnic lines. While I am sure tensions do exist due to ethnic differences, what I was most struck by was the divide between rich and poor, educated and uneducated.

Because we caught the Greyhound around, we arrived in the poorer and more desperate side of the town. We stayed downtown about eight blocks from a mass of crumbling casinos built in the 50’s. It is about 8km up ‘The Strip’ to the new casinos. The area around our hostel wasn’t very picturesque or safe but the price was right.

Vegas is a complete fantasy land, people sit in air-conditioned comfort distracted by the flashing lights and the promise of a quick buck while just off the strip, filthy streets are lined with ruined souls stinking of piss and desperate for a bite to eat and a safe place to sleep.

The hardest thing to swallow is the “America is the land of opportunity” rhetoric. Regurgitated over and over by the wealthy and educated. Some self-righteous self-starter will pause between $1000 blackjack hands, look you straight in the eye and tell you that people are only poor because they are lazy. The underprivileged can always work hard and get a scholarship. I guess a few people are lucky enough to overcome poverty through their natural intelligence, but what about those who are born poor and dumb?

I would be interested to hear Joe’s thoughts on that one. Joz and I met Joe at the bus stop, he didn’t want anything just a chat. Told us he had tuberculosis but because he didn’t have insurance, no hospital would treat him. He said to me “Momma said there would be days like these, but she never said there would be this many in a row.” I gave him a couple of bucks then rushed back to the hostel to check how tuberculosis was transmitted.

Spending time in the casinos does have certain perks; everybody who gambles gets free drinks. So Joel and I spent our time debating the merits of a neo-liberalist free market economy while playing 5c slot machines getting shit-faced for free.

Frat parties and beer pong

After a brief time in New York City, I legged it down the New Jersey coast to Sea Isle City. There I caught up with Sarah, an American friend I met at uni.

Interesting place, filled with college kids on vacation. You have to pay $4 a day to use the beach. Everybody seems completely oblivious to the goings on of the rest of the world, and everybody is very, very patriotic. In the post S11 setting, overt displays of patriotism are the norm but it seemed to have been taken to the extreme by college kids.

In Sea Isle City I dabbled in some quintessential American college pursuits, I brought beer for underage kids (poor misguided youth turning to the bottle at the tender age of 20) and I also learnt to play beer pong at a frat party (a great game combining alcoholic consumption and non-physical sport) and listened to the Boss in the car on way to a night out in Atlantic City.

“Put your make-up on. Put your hair up pretty. And meet me tonight in Atlantic City.”

From America Jnr. to America Snr.

From Canada it was down to the US of A. A bold move some may say – going from America Jnr. to America senior – but I was undaunted. My four-hour direct flight from Vancouver to New York morphed into a fifteen-hour marathon featuring an unexpected three-hour tour of the Toronto tarmac.

After a couple of hours of fitful sleep on the ground of the arrivals lounge of JFK airport I enquired about the cost of a cab into the city. With response well outside my modest budget, I walked the half hour to the bus which was followed a subway trip into Grand Central.

There I was, a hot, backpack wearing sap blearily staring through sleep-deprived eyes at the suggested accommodation board when a nice gentleman from the New York Tourism Board (so his name badge said) kindly enquired if he could be of any assistance. After discussing the pros (a bed) and cons (the cost) of the listed options it appeared I was out of options. That was until he mentioned that a mate of his ran a hostel a couple of blocks from the station. While it usually took months to get a booking he would put in a good word for me because I had “an honest face.” He made a call, sold me a voucher then walked me down and pointed out my digs for next two nights, “Just go in and give them the voucher and they will sort you out.” As it turned out, a voucher don’t get you a bed in no homeless shelter.

Within seven minutes of arriving at Grant Central Station I had been hustled out of 60 bucks (which, in light the current exchange rate, would buy a small country estate back home) by one of the smoother talking cats in New York City.

Lesson learnt, so I had a bit of a poke around. On the whole I found New York in summer to be dauntingly big, hot and angry. Central Park is very cool though