At 7:20 AM, Sarah and I awoke startled as my phone rang. Simon the Stranger. Downstairs. “You don’t have a big bag, right? I’ve got my bike in the back.” Uh, now you tell me…? Scraping the last vestiges of sleep from my eyes, we wheeled me down to meet Simon. “Ah, he looks lovely,” remarked Sarah from afar. Ok, sure. Temporary big goodbyes to Sarah (she’ll meet me in Melbourne and I might come back to Sydney for Australia Day (equivalent of July 4th – yeah, I’m a bit hooked), I focused back to my driving partner. Pleasantries exchanged, Simon and I set off in his black hatchback. (I don’t know what he was worried about, the bag fit beautifully…)
After peripheral small talk, I started to wonder how should one act on a 9-hour road trip with a stranger? On no sleep. My biggest road trips were to and from Michigan with Lukoff where I rationed her Snapple to avoid abundant pee breaks (the girl’s got a bladder…and while I wasn’t tolerant of frequent urinators then, I’ve started to soften). With Jen, we’d take turns driving, playing DJ, choosing the snack of the moment, waving at hot passerby in 300Z’s. Road tripping was easy. What to do with Simon?!?!
Could I take off my shoes? Could I put my feet on the dash?
What if I fell asleep?
Would I do the “oh-I’m-not-sleeping-head-snap” to mask or would I embrace the nap?
If I embraced, what if I drooled? Worse, snored? Worse even, both?
What if my head lolled onto the window where I made hot breath marks as I slept? Should I share my food? Would he partake or refrain?
Could I eat a banana? Where would I put the peel?
Could I hum, better sing quietly, if I liked a song? What if I sang the wrong words?
And what was the limit on questions?
What were within “getting to know you” boundaries?
All of this filtered through my head as I decided to just run with…gulp…being myself.
It worked. Not 2 hours into the trip, passing “The Hunter”, I had my bare (!) feet on the dash, had consumed a banana (peel in a garbage bag that I was keeping for the duration) and was sharing gummie worms with Simon, formerly the Stranger, now the Sweet. He took a lot of the orange ones, the leftover color, how considerate. Simon was quiet, at first. But soon enough, we were laughing like old friends. I even nodded off a few times and while I’m sure he was too polite to tell me, I think a snort or two might’ve escaped my lips on the reawake. By 5 hours into the trip, we were comparing war stories on relationships, both of others and our own. Simon’s trip north was a spur-of-the-moment one; he needed a moment to just clear his head on his life, away from the confines of his apartment with his girlfriend in Sydney. Josh would call every so often to check status. He had a date with “Mexico” the night before (girl of Mexican descent, for the less clever readers out there…) and was keen to dance around the details via mobile, giving Simon and I something to speculate on.
The landscape was lovely, really pretty. The Blue Mountains then the Great Dividing Mountain Range were to our west the entire drive and they offered quite a spectacular view. What impressed me the most was just how much of the land we passed was untouched, wholly natural, and completely green. Australia has a population of 20 million (Total! If you need perspective the U.S. just surpassed 300 million…) and it’s here, riding through the unmanned wilderness that I realized how such a concept is possible. And we were traveling the coast, not the outback. I can’t imagine how those drives will be, the outback drives. Solely animal country, I reckon. Though the road signs (and roadkill) indicated kangaroos and koalas abounded, we had no spottings. Simon pointed out a wombat, or was it a sloth? Maybe I should’ve made that sidetrip to the Sydney Zoo…
By the time we reached Byron, we were golden. Golden enough, seemingly, that while Simon dropped me off at hotel after hotel “that he deemed Marie-worthy” to check for vacancy, he was comfortably working up to the question: Wanna just split the night? Um, sure. So, now it’s a car ride AND a shared hotel room with Simon the Stranger. What would my mom say? We found a great little beach side vacancy right off of town and settled in. Simon left me to rest for a few hours while Simon did what, I’ve come to learn, Simon does. Bike, dip, then shower. A guy after my own heart, he also scouted a great little restaurant called The Balcony overlooking the main drag in Byron. After a few beers off the beach, we had dinner, a great bottle of New Zealand white (I’m a buyer), and laughed our asses off. Then, off to bed for a continued road trip further up the coast in the morning, after a bike, dip, and shower in the stunning setting of coastal Byron Bay.
A new friend made, the 29 hours I spent with a random Aussie stranger were great. The next day, after Simon left me at the very cheesy Versace hotel along Queensland’s Gold Coast (I promptly returned to the hippie enclave of Byron Bay after 24 hours), he texted me a note that proclaimed me “the funniest and very good value,” a term that loosely translates to quality which I plan to make my own over the next months. Nice! Being myself worked. Sometimes you forget how satisfying that simplicity really is.
Now back in beautiful Byron Bay. Lowdown to come…