Author’s Note: Don’t worry, as I get adjusted and start doing my bookkeeping instead of exploring, my posts will get shorter. :)
Well, I landed in Mildura amidst a storm of locusts. Really, it was raining them outside the aircraft window. The airport reminds me a lot of the St. Thomas airport, or maybe even the old St. Thomas airport. You walk in through a revolving gate, there’s one baggage carousel, and it’s all covered, but open-air. Cool. Dan was walking across the parking lot just as I was walking through the gate, it was so good to see him after 2 months! :) His hair is all long and shaggy, I think he looks all surfer-boy cute.
We threw my bags into the back of the Ute, which is a small but wide open-bed Ford Ranger diesel pickup. With a giant snorkel on the side and a huge antenna. I know, it sounds stupid, but it’s really just utilitarian here.
Dan said that he’s been happy to have the snorkel upon occasion – I guess when it rains the puddles are big. I predictably went to the right side of the truck, and stood there for a minute waiting for Dan to move before I realized it was the driver’s side. Derp! As we were driving out, he said, “Look, it’s your first kangaroo!” and pointed to an unidentifiable brown spot on the road. Hmmm, locusts and dead kangaroos. I am studiously turning my head the other way and NOT taking these as signs.
We drove for an hour to Robinvale, mostly through vineyards and mallee scrub. You can tell that if it weren’t for the Murray River and irrigation, the whole place would just be mallee scrub desert. It reminded me of the sage deserts out near Palmdale, but the mallee bushes are more like small trees and the dirt is reddish-orange. Strange birds flew by and much to my disappointment, we didn’t see any real live kangaroos.
The house is a couple miles outside of town, in the middle of a vineyard, with a grape warehouse behind it. It’s pretty much what you’d expect of a house that a bunch of dudes rotate through – scratched pots, stained carpet, and not much furniture. The weird thing is the bathroom setup – there’s one bathroom with a sink, bath, and shower. The toilet is in the laundry room. There’s a half flush and a full-flush button, and Dan was saying that because of the ability to continuously flush for as long as you press the button, that apparently these toilets never clog and no one has plungers. Damn, I need one of those! Here’s a picture of the house, I have no clue why there are huge antennae on the roof.
The vineyards around the house. Don’t get too excited, they’re just table grapes. :)
Dan went to work and I made some pasta real quick and went to bed. It’s kind of a bummer that we’re on opposite schedules (he’s managing night shift). I mean, I still wouldn’t have much time with him even if he were working day shift, but at least we’d be able to sleep together at night. It’s kind of weird that we’re together, yet still sleeping separately. I woke up around 6:30am, saw a beautiful sunrise over the vineyard, and found that there was no way to make coffee. Dan had warned me that the coffee here kind of sucked, so I ground a bunch of beans that I had at home and brought them. But he didn’t tell me to bring a french press too! Apparently he’s been getting by on – gasp! – instant. Anyway, I made do with a glass of orange juice and started prepping some breakfast. Dan came home around 7:30, looking exhausted but happy to see me. He caught the morning’s locust report on his drive home, and apparently they’re here for a month too. Sweet. He took a shower while I made eggie scramble surprise with some red pepper, garlic, and ham. Dan coaches me on the lingo during dinner. Apparently if something is “pretty normal” that means it’s pretty fucked up. Maybe “normal” is just a shortened version of “snafu”? He also tells me that if something “gives you the shits”, it just means it annoys you. He was a bit confused when first asked if the flies here “gave him the shits?” and answered “no….not yet….” before it was explained to him what that meant. :) Then we curled up in bed until Dan fell asleep. I still get all emotional just thinking about it, I am just so happy to be here with him.
I puttered around a little bit until there was really no denying it – I would have to suck it up, get in the Ute, and drive the damned thing. A little bit intimidating – it’s not a big truck or anything, but I’ve never driven a diesel or a right-hand drive car before. I grew up driving on the left side of the road. (aside: note that I said LEFT side, not WRONG side you irritating tourist. While we’re at it, it’s St. John NOT St. Johns and San Luis Obispo is pronounced “Luis” not “Lui”. It’s Spanish, not French, and you pronounce the S. Moving on.) I grew up driving on the left, but not on real roads. There are no stoplights on the island, and maybe 5 stop signs. And the cars are “normal” left-hand drive. Yes, I know, that really is backwards, but that’s what I grew up with. I don’t even have to think about which side of the road to be on down there, it would just look all wrong if I was on the right. Fast forward to me and the Ute.
I’m consciously thinking, “Left! Left!” the whole time I’m driving. It’s very, very strange for me to have the steering wheel on the right and be driving on the left. Somehow it would seem more normal to me to have the steering wheel on the right and be driving on the right. So I have this giant feeling of being out of place, not knowing how close I am to the shoulder (who cares about oncoming traffic, it’s the edge of the road/cliff you have to be worried about on St. John!), and every time I go to turn, I turn the damned windshield wipers on. I mean, really, why did they have to switch stalk sides? And apparently, when the stalk is switched on me, left and right and up and down get all screwy in my brain and I don’t know which way to flip it anyway. Oh well, who needs turn signals anyway?
I pull into town without killing myself and into the first parking spot I see. Fortunately, it happens to be right outside of a coffee shop. That’ll calm my nerves, right? So Dan wasn’t really correct in saying that the coffee stinks here, it’s more like living in a house without a way to make coffee stinks. That was one of my tasks for the day – find one of those cup filter things or a french press. I stroll down the main (and only) drag, and find an Asian market first. Yay! I even find 3-in-1s!!! These are really cool…um…instant coffee things that a friend of mine turned me onto last summer. They’re actually pretty good, and they have sugar, milk, and coffee all in 1 convenient packet. They’re perfect to take on hikes or backpacking. But since we don’t have an Asian market in SLO, I had never been able to find them. Hallelujah! I grabbed a 20-pack, some bananas, red onions, and some red serranos.
I continued walking down the main drag, then up the other side. A bunch of clothing stores, another coffee shop/bakery, a hardware store, a video rental place. I saw the blue “i” across the street that is the universal sign for tourist information, so I headed there. It’s a nice little shop with a bunch of locally produced stuff, like Kalamata olives, olive oils, jams, and soaps. The lady was really friendly, and has awesome-looking blue eyeshadow and eyeliner. It’s very striking and attractive, not 80’s scary at all. She gave me a barrage of recommendations for things to do (none of which are actually in Robinvale), a bunch of maps, and sent me to the Rural Life Museum next store.
The museum is only open on Thursdays and Saturdays and is run by volunteer docents. I put my $2 coin in the donation bin, say hello to the gentleman docent, and meander around. They have a lot of stuff there, all of which was actually used here in Robinvale. Tools, tractors, bikes, all sorts of household equipment. I spy an old hand-crank air raid siren and wonder how that must have sounded. There’s one bike in particular that’s been beatuifully restored – it’s a 1947 Triumph. I tell the docent that the bike is beautiful and he beams. Apparently, he just finished it up about 2 weeks ago and brought it in. He says that it’s still not running quite perfectly, but fires it up anyway. It makes great noise, all big and throaty, and that familiar smell of 2-stroke fuel fills the air. I remark on how similar it is to Dan’s old Puch and we laugh about how there’s always something to be fixed on old bikes, and you’re lucky to make it home without it breaking down. Then I get the full tour. There’s a nailing machine in back that was used to punch the nails in old wooden crates. They have a bunch of old pedaled sewing machines, but only one sad little Ashford Traditional (a very old one) spinning wheel that has no flyer/bobbin/whorl. We talk about the wheel a little and it’s obvious that I know a thing or two so he asks me if I’ve used one. I say that yep, I spin yarn, and I actually have 5 spinning wheels. He laughs and says, “You have to collect something, right?” I think he understands. :) There’s a really cool 100-year-old gas engine in front that the docent is particularly proud of – it’s called a Hercules and it was made in America, yet there are none left in the States. This is one of 3 in the world, and they’ve restored it. He fires it up and it also makes a great banging 4-stroke noise and makes the whole place smell like petrol. It’s 1.5 horsepower, and apparently it was used as a generator, to power a shearing factory. Sheep! At this point, a husband and wife and their 2 kids walk in. They get the spiel on the old engine too before the docent turns it off. I’m about to wander out, when he says, “Kids like things that make a lot noise, I’ve got something to show them.” At which point he heads to the air raid siren. Cool! I want to hear it!! He winds it up a little, just enough to get it going but not enough for it to be deafening. It sounds just like the ones you hear in the movies, too cool. I sign the register and make a mental note to definitely come back with Dan, and head out to find the grocery store.
The grocery store is typical small-town – not much of a selection and everything’s expensive. I look all over for coffee-making apparatus, but I don’t even see coffee filters in the coffee aisle. Not a good sign. Next up, cheese! I’m staring at the selection – there’s muenster, swiss, havarti, gouda, but where the hell is the cheddar? There’s just this stuff labeled….oh wow, I think. Whoever came up with that marketing maneuver is brilliant. Cheddar is called Tasty Cheese! I grab my tasty cheese and head to the butcher’s counter to buy some sliced turkey. Man, everything is crazy expensive! As the clerk asks me how much I want, I realize that prices are by the kg and my brain totally freezes. Um….I don’t know how much I want! I quickly try to do some math in my head….I know 1 kg is 2.2 lbs so 1/2 a kilo is way too much and 1/8 of a kilo is more like it. I say an eighth of a kilo and realize it sounds ridiculous as it leaves my mouth. Damned imperial units, making me think of everything in terms of fractions of a pound. The clerk looks at me funny and says how many grams? Right, grams! Um, 200 grams please. I take my turkey and hurriedly leave the counter, shamed by my defeat by the metric system. I resist the urge to get a jar of Nutella, pay for my expensive groceries, and head over to the bakery for some lunch.
There are lots of interesting-looking things at the bakery, and a bunch of mediocre-looking sandwiches on squishy white bread. Hmmm. Maybe California has Robinvale beat in sandwich-making technology. So I go for something from the pastry shelf that looks interesting – apparently it’s a pastie. To clarify, this is a vegetable and sausage-filled pastry, not a nipple tassle. Ok. I ask the lady behind the counter where I can buy one of the plastic coffee cones that you put a filter in and put coffee into and put over your cup…..and judging by the look on her face she’s never seen one. But she sends me across the street to the hardware store, they might have something. I meander through the camping aisle, no dice. Hmmm, I’m thinking that in a hardware store, that was probably the best bet, but I keep wandering. And I find the kitchen-stuff aisle! Just as the nice woman is asking if I need helping finding anything, I spy a french press! Wooo! It’s $13 and is half the size of a normal one, but I’m stoked. There will be coffee tomorrow! I buy it and head back home.
The trip home in the Ute is better, I’m warming up to this strange right-left thing and I’ve even managed to use the blinker correctly a few times. It’s a beautiful day, but I keep the windows rolled up because of the locusts. :)