Swagman #7 – Students and the Drifter
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Last Wednesday I popped into Quarryman’s pub in Pyrmont for a quick three
beers and walked out with a new job. St. Patrick’s couldn’t give me more
than 20 hours a week, and those hours were mainly stacked over two days. For
those following this travelogue, Quarryman’s is where Joe and I saw a
bouncer pummel a patron on one of my first nights in Sydney. We got to know the bartender, so I was speaking with her last week and casually mentioned I
was thinking of picking up a part time job. She spoke to the manager, he
told me to come in on Thursday for a trial. After my trial the owner told me
he could give me 40 hours a week, so on Friday I quit St. Patrick’s and
finished out the weekend there.
I didn’t start the new job until Tuesday, so on Sunday I jumped on a bus and
headed down to visit Jackie in Coogee for a night out. Jackie is studying at
the University of New South Wales for a semester. I was a lifeguard with her
and her older sister on Long Island for a few years and kept in touch with
her sister since, so it was nice to know someone from home who was going to
be in Sydney.
I met her and her friends at one of the pool tables at the Coogee Bay Hotel.
They were speaking with a guy who, when I arrived, suddenly said “Hi, I’m
Johnny Knoxville, welcome to Jackass” and then took a piece of broken glass
and cut his leg deep enough to draw blood. He then laughed and went back to
playing pool with his friends. I guess the ploy worked, because for the rest
of the night it was “Oh my God, there was this guy who…” so I guess he
made a solid impression.
We spent about four hours at the CBH drinking. Something just didn’t seem right, and it wasn’t the band.
“Is everyone here American?” I asked Jackie.
But she was busy talking to just about everyone, because they were all
students at UNSW. I was at an American college party on the other side of
the world. Not that this bothered me, until we all piled into Jackie’s
apartment when the bars closed at midnight and she confessed that they
didn’t have any alcohol. It was, in many ways, sobering. First, as I
listened to them talk, came the realization that everyone in the room was
born in 1983. Second, no one could really grasp the concept that I just
showed up in Australia for the hell of it. One question you rarely hear
being thrown around on the travel circuit is “Why are you here?”. The answer
is an unspoken “Why not?”. If there are places in the world that I have not
seen, I want to see them. It’s that simple. So when I am asked that
question, I usually just shrug. When I did this with the students in Coogee
they looked confused and I suddenly felt like an old drifter.
The next morning, after a quick “Wait, where am I?” moment, I was up and
dressed and ready to go. Jackie and her roommate where heading to down to a
Backpacker Travel Center to plan their spring break so I said farewell. I
stopped at a cafe for a small breakfast and a large coffee, and I suddenly
realized that I have been in Australia for over a month and still had not
seen the ocean. Some of Sydney’s best beaches – Coogee, Bronte, and Bondi –
are all joined by a path that weaves through each town and along the edge of
the water from sea level to tall cliffs. It was on my must-do list, and the
weather was perfect. So, despite a hangover and the fact I was wearing last
night’s clothes, I made the trip. After an hour nap on the beach in Coogee,
The walk perfectly justified what I am doing and why I am here. Although I
am sure it would be more crowded on the weekends, it was a work day and the
only people I passed were joggers and dog walkers. No other hung over
travelers with smokey clothes and bed-head, but pleasant people who always
smile or say hello as you pass. I made a point to stop at every bench to
stare out at the ocean, and I made a point to lay down in the sand at every
beach. From the cliffs I could see old men fishing from the rocks below.
Waves crashed all around them, surf shot high into the air, but they never
seemed to get wet. The weather was warm enough that there were people
scattered around the beaches. Surfers bobbed in the water, which was clear
enough to count the rocks on the bottom. I didn’t have a camera with me, but
there was the constant smell of of the sea and the occasional music coming
from car windows. That’s all you need for memories, smells and songs. Either
one can make you remember more about a specific moment in your life than
most pictures ever could.
I spent about an hour and a half in Bondi, lying on the beach and watching
the surfers paddle out, ride in, and paddle back out. They’d coast along a
wave, slicing through the water gracefully, and then head out again quickly.
It seemed as though they were rushing to get back out immediately or they
might miss the wave they have been waiting for. Each wave was great, but the
next might be better. I realized the same can be said about traveling, and the old drifter smiled.