Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Collie is coal

And we find ourselves in a different city once again.

I am writing you this note from scenic Collie, where the coalmines are deep and the history runs rampant. We set up camp here early Sunday morning (again, in the middle of a deserted showgrounds where you must trek a 10-minute walk to bathrooms or even running water) and since then, things have been rather pleasant. The town is quaint, and we have had four full days to ourselves. What’s here? Lots of nature, trails and generally a lazy demeanor that is great for relaxing. And yes, once again I was able to butter up the seniors!! This time I managed to get a free tour around town with the president of the Collie Historical Society, Jeanette. We talked for nearly two hours on Sunday and she offered her services that Monday, seeing as how she had the day off. The drive, though rainy, was great because she took us to many places we would have otherwise never seen. Sights included the Harris Dam, a popular local swimming hole, Anglican Church (where she scheduled a private tour and we even got to climb the winding spiral staircase and ring the church bells!) and old coal refineries. Her breadth of knowledge and amazing commentary on just about everything made the whole experience that much better, because every sidewalk, house or business had a story attached. If you couldn’t guess, Jeanette was born and raised in Collie, has never lived anywhere else and was only in a plane for the first time this year, at the tender age of just 72-years. She was certainly a peach.

Now, other than this sporadic venture, I have found myself just meandering through the small streets, interacting with the many friendly locals I find everywhere. And this is what I’ve discovered: never before have so many people been fascinated by my American accent…it just seems everyone lights up when I talk and is so curious to know everything about everywhere I have been or am going. It is kind of nice because I often get things for free or a discounted price! For once, being American is paying off! What else? Oh! I went on a mining tour, since Collie is known for its mines stretching back to the 1850s. We descended into a replica structure that was very ‘coal’ (har har, pun intended!) and got to see first hand how people began this industry. As I have mentioned earlier, mining in Australia is HUGE and really a money making venture. I even met an American guy from Ohio in Collie who moved here for the mines. Crazy! So nice to hear him speak though, because I can safely say I am missing our lingo, mannerisms and unique way of expressing our crazy selves! Needless to say I have learned a ton from this visit and quite frankly it’s nice to have been a tourist for once in Australia, instead of just a bloody carnie.

Work on setting everything up starts tomorrow, which will be interesting because it’s so damn hot and yes, I am already sun burnt. Another fun thing, this city has a Target Country. Yes, a Target Country. I was so confused on what the ‘country’ part meant BUT I did find shorts for only $4.86! Yes, I know what you are all thinking…Nick wins!

Ok, so a brief explanation of the previous weeks should be in order too: since I last wrote (remember, from Brunswick, where I hitchhiked?), we were in Cannington, which is a posh little suburb of Perth. It was a great show and had the nicest bathrooms of any showgrounds yet. Yes, I have started judging my experiences in each new city based on the softness of the bathroom’s toilet paper. This place was a cool 10 out of 10 no doubt. They also had the biggest shopping mall in the whole state of Western Australia right next to where we stayed. I went in at 10 a.m. and didn’t emerge until around 6 p.m. with squinting eyes. I still don’t even know how I found my way out or what I even saw because there were so many people, shops and food stalls. Definitely an experience…and I spent a bit too much money, because the style here is crazy (I am referencing all the good stuff here, but there is definitely a lot of bad)! Please, allow me to try and paint picture: all men have mullets or some sort of curly rat-tail they are working with. To complete this look, they all wear board shorts, singlets (or tank tops) and a beat up pair of Vans. Every. Single. Male. Looks like this here. No joke. And the girls apparently are from the same family with high-waisted, cutoff shorts, silky tops that have odd cutouts in random spots (which make for some very interesting tan lines) and knockoff sunglasses and purses from Bali.
Oh, speaking of Bali (you know, the island in Indonesia, which is part of a massive chain of islands below Asia?), yeah well I booked a ticket there for December 5th! Yes, 10 full days riding perched atop the local elephants, sampling cooked insects and generally lingering with the Balinese, some of whom are professional Lady Boys (or Benchongs or Pooftas as they call them in Australia). Yes, apparently lots of Balinese men like dressing up like women, the likes of which then try to steal your money, hide drugs in your bags or kill you. I will ALWAYS watch my back here.

Back to the story though: following Canngington, we were off to Albany, the second largest city in Western Australia next to Perth. It took nearly six hours to drive there (and I saw FOUR dead kangaroos along the way) but at least this city had a serious lack of those pesky flies! But what they lacked in small buzzing creatures they made up for in low flying seagulls. Several of our workers even got pooped on during the course of the show! Albany, a great town with tons of charm, was made up of one steep street dropping off into the harbor. There were also loads of friendly people mingling about. The weather, though, was a different story. We were warned it was going to be cool and rainy the farther south we went, but Albany’s climate was literally insane. You had all four seasons in one day. When we arrived, it was a blustery 45 degrees maybe? Now, I brought no jumpers, coats or pants on this trip because I was TOLD Australia was going to be HOT. Wrong. Very, very wrong. That being said, I bought a sweater and a coat and stuck it all out. The week before we arrived, there had been a bad flood too; so many stores were closed for renovations. During our brief stint, I saw massive hail, torrential downpours, wind in excess of 60 mph and insanely black clouds. Thankfully, the show saw sunny days and mild temperatures, so no complaints here.

Albany is also home to the amazing Gap and Blowholes, which is a natural wonder where Antarctica and Australia were once connected some six billion of years ago. Today there exists steep cliffs, dramatic seascapes and crazy winds. My boss told me for that reason this spot remains a popular place to commit suicide for locals. Thanks for the tip, John. He was nice enough to drive us to the locations though, which were breathtaking. The only major sight I missed was the wind farm, but apparently they are everywhere in Australia, so another city and another time. I also finally opened an Australian bank account in Albany, so I am no longer carrying in excess of $2,000 in cash on my body. Yeah, that was getting old.

As for the Albany Show, it was the worst experience of my life. Up until that point, I had been working at the dart game in each show, but here I was moved to guns (the point being a person tries to use an air rifle that hurtles a cork towards nine tin cans, the objective obviously to knock the whole stack over). Simple right? No, because you have to knock the entire stack over for a single, small prize and the amount of kids who had one or two cans remaining after a valiant effort far outnumbered the winning ones. Their usual response? Shrugged shoulders and a downturned smile. Their parents’ response? A spiel about how horrible of a person I am. How could I not let little Jenny or Bobby get that stupid stuffed polar bear they so desperately wanted…some cheap piece of crap they would probably end up giving to the dog anyways? The words cheat, scam, rigged, asshole and rip off were thrown at me all day long, for two days straight. Sometimes I think these carnivals are more for the adults than the kids. I even had a grown father and 14-year-old son try to fight me because they said (and I quote) I was “a cheap-ass American carnie.” Seriously, they hated me because I was from America and wanted to fight me! Speaking of fights, I saw two massive ones right in front of my stall. The one was between six different aboriginal men and more kept getting involved. Of course, everyone rushed over and all these kids were getting trampled. I felt sick and started screaming at everyone to clear a path for the kids. I got so angry I even started pushing spectators away, because these Mums with strollers couldn’t get through and were being smashed into the walls. The other fight, just 20-minutes earlier, was massive and the men were arrested. Plus, everyone at the Albany show was either drunk or on drugs…It was so bad I was even harassed all day Saturday by a group of aboriginal children, who hurled F-bombs at me like it was their job. John said to just brush it off, as you are a true Australian if the aboriginals hate you. Let me tell you personally, they hated me. They even tried stealing spare corks that had ricocheted out of my game and then came to try and play. I got shot with paintballs too. I couldn’t control them and almost got security to remedy the situation. Needless to say, I hated the Albany Show.

Want to know how I knew it was going to be shitty? The toilet paper sucked.
Ok, so the aforementioned jumble of words should catch you all up a bit! Lots of stories and pictures to share for when I return, but for now, this little post should suffice. Again, sorry for my sporadic lapses in writing, but next week I can guarantee there will be a post, as we are heading back towards Perth (and civilization!). Only two more shows after this weekend’s and then, Bali! Keep me in your thoughts during these hot days as my skin fries up like a skillet full of greasy bacon.

Love to ya all!