Flight VA2. Seat 28B. Los Angeles, CA to Sydney, Australia. I approached my seat for this savagely long flight to find it flanked by two large mexican gentlemen. Gold glimmered from all of their fingers. Huge chains hung from their necks. I imagined they must have gotten to the airport two or three hours early just to allow for extra time in the security line. These fellas were hard.
Once comfortable, I asked the man to my right for his name and purpose. He responded with, “B.I.G..” For the rest of the flight, I would call him “Notorious.” Notorious, his traveling partner Antone, and I quickly became pals over tequila shots and peanuts. They were record execs headed for Sydney. I was a traveling correspondent for National Geographic on my way to Melbourne and beyond.
This scene sort of set the stage for what met me when I arrived in Melbourne 30 hours after I left Austin, TX. My attorney flew out earlier to secure the scene, but wasn’t present. Instead, I was met by Mark, Mark (how come everyone in Australia is named Mark? – ED), and Greg. We shook hands, laughed at the utter indecency of my jet lagged appearance, and brainstormed on the subject of my attorney and his whereabouts. Before we got too far along, the man of law flew out of a security gate and looked at us wild eyed.
“An innocent mix-up with customs,” he said. “Let’s go. Now.”
And off we went. The four of us piled into Greg’s chopped 4-door early Chevy and headed down the wrong side of the road to Mark’s house – our headquarters for the next 10 or so days. You can’t imagine and I can’t really explain how surreal the place was that I found myself in. I hadn’t slept in over 48 hours. I was in a foreign country like none I had ever seen, but I was riding in a car that was very familiar to me… only the steering wheel was on the wrong side and cars were flying by in the opposite direction on our right, and we were driving UNDER a river and… It was madness that I couldn’t comprehend. I had this awful suspicion that Notorious had slipped something in my tequila.
Nothing made sense. And the juxtaposition of it all was just getting started…
We arrived at Mark’s house to find a slice of Southern California… Maybe San Diego. A gorgeous craftsman home backed by a picturesque garage and guest home – all filled by a beautiful young family. I took a seat on a lounge chair in the backyard and watched Mark’s kids play a little backyard cricket. The backdrop to the scene was a nearly stock 1933 Ford Phaeton. Focusing on one and then the other was almost enough to take me over the edge.
Noticing my epic struggle to cope, my attorney approached and offered up a sedative. Thinking the can was a beer, I took a gulp only to be surprised by a Rum and Coke… in a CAN… This was followed by another can. This time, Gin. And yet another. This time, Bourbon. All in a can. Foiled again by the man that is supposed to be here to protect me from myself.
And just as I was starting to think about my vengeance, hot rods started showing up. Each housed a member of the River City Coupe & Roadster Club. They were here to eat and to talk about the upcoming reliability run. We did all of that and more. Nothing too mentionable, but that was the charm of it all. I was in Australia with a bunch of strangers drinking hard liquor from a can, but it felt like I was back in Austin with my boys sipping on Gin and juice. Somewhere between the airport and cricket, the juxtaposition dissipated.
Was it the sauce or were these people somehow seducing me? It’s not easy to convert a Texan and doing it in mere hours is unheard of. Maybe, somehow, Notorious was part of an elaborate setup? Maybe a lack of sleep did me in? There was no way to be sure… And my attorney was of absolutely no help.
The one thing I was sure of was that Melbourne is one hell of a city and I was surrounded by folks that I really liked.
Until my next letter and for good or ill,