The Alexander Beetle

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There has been a few times, and they’ve stuck with me, that I would look down at the dash and all three dials would be pointed directly ahead.
Really they point directly up, but I like to think it is ahead.

The smallest gauge on the left was for fuel, and it seemed to perpetually indicate I had around half a tank left.

The speedometer hovered around 70 miles per hour for the lion’s share of the journey and with cruise control set it rarely wavered from its 12 o’clock setting.

And the tachometer matched the pace of the speedo, and at 70 miles an hour the little engine would be spinning her guts out at a rate of around 3300 revolutions per minute.

Driving in the centre lane of a three lane highway I smiled as I drove through Orlando and past Disney World, glancing at the dials which were arranged in a sort of inverse Mickey Mouse head formation, using the dash to placate any worries I had that forward and further away was not the direction I should be heading.

In reality, the dials are probably designed as a caricature of the car itself, given how much character the VW Beetle has garnered over the years, and how much it relied upon sentimentality when they released the new models in the late 1990s.

And what with my innate pretentiousness constantly bubbling away, I was probably rebelling against that sentimentality and cringing slightly at the idea of driving around the US with it hanging over me that I went for an inverse Mickey Mouse. Much less sentimental. Dickhead.

But after 3,000 miles, damn near 5,000 kilometres in the new money, I’ve entertained the thought of never driving anything else in my life with fairly worrying conviction.

Aside from the built in character of the new Beetle, my particular model, which was apparently the first of the new models off the assembly line in Cincinnati in 1998, has plenty of character from bits falling off.

There is no air conditioning, so climate is sweating-your-tits-off with the windows up, or sweating-your-tits-off with a nice breeze but zero conversation as wind rushing by at 70 miles an hour sucks all human interactions back out on to the highway.

The passenger side window switch also fell out of the door the other day, so if you’re in the passenger seat you’ll need to voice your climate requirements.
The stereo volume control is also questionable, as it doesn’t work, turn it a little more, doesn’t work, turn it a little more, doesn’t work, turn it a li- MAX VOLUME OH GOD TURN IT OFF.

The ceiling cloth has also lost all contact with the body of the car, and is held up with a combination of thumb tacks and bulldog clips, both of which fail at more than 100 kilometres an hour.

But those three dials are still pointing dead ahead, leading me and all that character around these great United States of America, and I will continue to follow their lead.

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New York by the numbers

I could quantify my time in New York in a variety of different ways.
I could create a bar graph and plot the actual physical time I spent in the state against the number of bars I visited with a correlating set of data points denoting the number of drinks consumed in each which would invariably fade into obscurity due to my propensity to not remember anything past the third or fourth drink.
I could, theoretically, count the number of total Instagram photo likes I’ve received since landing against the number of photos and compare it to previous likes on previous photos and record how much social media cred I have gained on my travels and therefore how much cooler/more interesting I may be perceived to be since becoming a hashtag traveller. But hashtag fuck that.
I could put the number of places I’ve slept at night (or not slept) against the dollars I’ve spent on accommodation but it would come out at something like [eight beds:zero dollars] because apparently I’m a bit of a legend when it comes to convincing strangers to let me sleep in their house.
Or, more accurately, I met a few legends who felt sorry for me and let me sleep in the house.
But ultimately, what any numerical gauge of New York will do is fall short of justifying the absolutely wild time I’ve had here.
And that’s wild in the animalistic, explorational sense, as I’ve never been heavy in to the party scene, and many things I saw sober during the day were as personally confronting as those I saw (or did) buckled by night.
The number of great cafes I found doesn’t go any way to indicating the number of good conversations I had with the people in them.
The number of kilometres I walked doesn’t in any way describe the things I saw, heard and experienced as I walked them. Though it does go some way to driving home my refusal to use the imperial system to measure distance.
The subway rides and the tickets bought; the concerts seen and sing-alongs sung; the crosswalks crossed and the taxis dodged; the spare change given and the spare change not; the rooftops dancefloors and the basement clubs; the forever from the skyline and the claustrophobia of the street; the individual beauty and the collective criminal; it’s all greater than the sum of its parts.
I won’t exercise any of my considerable arrogance to try and reflect on my time in New York on a broader scale, because I’m still overwhelmed at the size of the city and any advice I could give would be fairly obscure and specific (When staying in Bushwick take the M-train from Wyckoff-Myrtle to Essex Street for the skate shop on the Lower East Side that sells Vegemite.)
But I will say that if you’re going in to New York City and you’re anything like me, ease yourself into it. Give it a week and get out.
I did two weeks straight up, and as someone who hasn’t lived in a city, a couple of times I needed to find the centre of Central Park and lie under a tree where I couldn’t see the sky scrapers and pretend the noise of the city was the crashing of waves at the beach.
I also went to the beach at Far Rockaway, and I get the feeling that may have been comparable to a New Yorker going to Adelaide to experience a city again.
I’m about to board a bus for a ten hour trip to Columbus, Ohio for the next leg of my journey, and I’m excited for a horizon that isn’t skyscrapers.

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Sitting alone on a sold out train

“This is a sold out service from Penn Station to Niagara Falls, so today is Make A Friend day at Amtrak.”
And so I snapped back to reality while boarding a train in New York City to head upstate to Albany.
To this point, the 40 odd hours of travel (at least 25 of which had been spent in the air) had been a sort of suspended reality, as the extent of my human interaction was robotic at best and symptomatic of a brain injury at worst.
It’s not unusual on long haul travel for people to operate at a bare minimum, shifting a total of three to four smiles an hour, dealing in fewer words and moving only enough to not have the occupant of the window seat drag their crotch across your face as they make for the bathroom.
But even still, it took another train ride, several exclamations about my accent and a terrible chicken sandwich to liven me up to the point where I could laugh at our conductor’s jab at New York residents’ famed hostility toward strangers.
It’s bizarre how the same hundreds of people who had no understanding of the concept of personal space 30 seconds ago while forcing their way through the queue to get on the train could be so uncomfortable about being required to sit next to someone.
Symptomatic of the jet lag worn traveller and the early morning commuter then; not of a city.
I’m probably just bitter because on this ‘sold out’ service there was still an empty seat… next to me. They’re just feelings New York, they’ll heal.

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Buy my Subaru Forester and find true love

Owned by my father before me, and to a dealership possibly owned by someone else’s father before him, I regret to announce I must part with my noble steed.
My valiant vehicle. My fortuitous ferry. My safe swan. My brave bitumen Brienne of Carth (Game of Thrones reference no. 1). She’s for sale.
I first came across her fresh from the womb, or factory, if you will, in 2006, when my father purchased her to ferry wounded animals around South East Queensland.
So if you question her nobility, the loss, and the resulting shame, is entirely yours to bear.
She first came in to my possession, although she is a free elf, in 2009 and developed a thirst for adventure.
She carried my companions and I on journeys musical in taste and spiritual in ambition.
In Byron Bay and at Woodford we sought Splendour for three years running.
But when life gave me opportunities, my proud pony followed me further afield, and we arrived in Western Australia, where journalistic ambition and surfing abounds.
But now, three years on again, I must venture further afield than my humble hound can follow, and so I seek a new owner to care for her, and to give her the lifestyle she so deserves.

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2006 XS 2.5L Subaru Forester Located in Margaret River, WA
5 Speed Manual Transmission
Full Service History, 6 – 12 monthly for Duration of Ownership
170,000km
Unleaded
Towball, Roof Racks, Cargo Basket, Fog Lamps, Cargo Barrier, Floor Mats, CD Player, Cruise Control, 2x Glasses Holder, 6x Cup Holders (that’s more than there are seats!)
Registered to December 10, 2014.

For more information email powell.ad89@gmail.com or call 0413 634 289

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‘You’ve probably experienced bigotry but you’re proud of who you are’ and other non-insults

I was 19, living on campus at university, when someone first questioned me as to why I had attempted to insult a friend by calling him “gay”.

It was during one of the weekly games of porch poker we played on the outdoor tables of our campus apartments.

Six or eight students of the University of the Sunshine Coast living at the Varsity Apartments would each scrounge together five dollars of shrapnel (a veritable bounty in itself after alcohol and rent had been taken out of your Centrelink allowance) in the hopes of winning a student’s fortune in a hand of Texas Hold’em.

Surprisingly, as an arts major playing against engineering and accounting students, I occasionally held my own and claimed the $35 prize pool and would be the one drinking actual Smirnoff vodka that weekend as opposed to the brands I’m fairly sure are just random assortments of letters masquerading as Russian.

It was during one of my less successful reads of a friend and opponent, who I thought to be bluffing but had actually been dealt pocket aces and managed four-of-a-kind on the turn, that I lost the hand and exclaimed “Ah, you’re so fucking gay!”

I was laughing as I said it, as the poker games were always more for entertainment than financial gain, but the intent behind what I said was still, in a way, negative.

At the time I was sharing my particular Varsity apartment with three others.

We each had our own bedroom and bathroom but shared the living area and kitchen and, as young people do when they spend the majority of their time together drunk by a pool, became quite close with the majority of the revolving door of housemates I had during my two years living on campus.

During that semester, one of my housemates was an American free spirit by the name of Tasia who was abroad in Australia studying feminism and philosophy.

Tasia was also bisexual, I’ll let you decide whether or not that’s relevant.

She looked at me, after I lost that fateful hand of poker, and simply asked “Why’d you call him gay?”

I knew Tasia pretty well by that point in the semester and our friendship had been solidified on the previous weekend during a hungover excursion to the cinema to see the Disney Pixar film ‘UP’.

We still occasionally greet each other online by yelling “Squirrel!” or informing each other that “I hid under your porch because I love you”.

All of this online via Facebook chat though, as she moved back to Baltimore at the end of 2009 and I have not seen her since.

Although I have not seen her, I remember her asking me that one simple question because it questioned a phrase I had been throwing about as long as I could remember, and certainly since my early teens.

I was not homophobic, but I had never been close enough with a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex person to have been called out for using ‘gay’ as a negative.

It was a simple lesson for me – “Oh yeah, gay people are rad. Calling someone gay isn’t an insult.”

The same goes for ‘faggot’ and ‘dyke’ and all the other lingo keyboard warriors and insecure privileged white males everywhere are using – it’s not actually an insult, you’re just making yourself look like a muppet with an average vocabulary.

Not that there’s anything wrong with muppets, of course.

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The service industry loves you and wants you to be happy

Question: what is the first thing you do when you go in to a hospitality or retail venue?
Question #2: I’m going to rant at you. That’s not a question but shut up is the answer.

I did a shift at a local brewery/restaurant on Sunday. I occasionally moonlight in said brewery to make a grab at a bit of extra cash and to help them out.
Of course, I tell them I’m actually there to fuck bitches and get money and I’m all out of bitches. Because, clearly, I’m a massive tool.
A weird thing happens whenever I work a day shift out there. I occasionally work the Friday nights, the only nights they are open, and this weird thing is less frequent.
But during the day shift this weird thing never fails to manifest; usually in the form of some gawking cashed up bogan and his peroxide blonde girlfriend/silver surfer impersonator, or a middle aged couple of grey nomad description, both fat from time spent on the road doing exactly this weird thing.
They will walk in to the venue, whether through the obviously a door front door, or around through the side door because clearly the large front door is just too fucking intimidating.
They will then, and this is when I generally notice their awkward presence, stare at the ceiling decorated with chandeliers made from large glass bottles before casting their gaze out through the dining area, out to the veranda, the playground and the expansive grassed dining area.
This whole process will take around a minute, about ten seconds into which I will have said something along the lines of “G’day guys, how’s it going?”
About twenty seconds in to the process, having not received a response as I observe their blank stares transitioning from veranda to the playground, I will generally reply to my own question with a slightly louder and more expressive “Yeah, I’m really good too thanks guys! What are you up to this afternoon?”
Ten seconds later, when I still haven’t received a response because clearly the plastic fucking bull-slash-seat in the undercover eating area requires their undivided fucking attention, I will follow up the deafening silence of their amazement at having walked into a restaurant without a drive through.
“Although the bull does look ever so life like, you have not in fact entered Madame Tussauds wax museum and we here behind the bar are in fact real life human beings who thrive on interaction with people such as yourselves.”
“And we are able to reward your ability to interact with a tasty beverage, such as the beer crafted right here in this building, or a meal such as a pizza or burger we definitely have not poisoned.”
Of course I haven’t actually said anything of the sort before, because I’m not actually that witty. I think the best I’ve managed is a “Hey, there we go!” when I have actually managed to catch their ever-so-precious attention.
I manage to do it with some form of grace however, and am usually rewarded with a sheepish grin as they realise they have in fact had someone speaking to them for the better part of ten minutes while they stared transfixed at the wonder of a fire contained within a box in a wall like it’s the Year of Our Lord 0004 or something.

My point is this, or at least something like it; if you happen to stumble into a building you haven’t entered before, and you intend to purchase something, give the people who work there at least the benefit of the doubt that they are not only decent human beings but actually good at their jobs in the service industry, excited to chat to you and serve you and ensure your visit is memorable and worthwhile.
Certainly, I understand that sometimes they aren’t; sometimes they are just useless and will openly scowl when you present with a knowledge of the venue even only slightly less than their own – unfortunately, there are times when one party, either staff or patron, is just going to be a shit person. You can do your best to not be that person.
Speak, converse, interact! I once delighted an African patron who told me he was from Rhodesia by putting on a mock African accent and saying “We say Zimbabwe now don’t we brother?” I don’t think he got the Blood Diamond reference but it didn’t matter. He’d already had a good time and hadn’t even yet spent any money! It’s so easy to just not be a complete tool.
In the same way, two of my close friends are my close friends because I walked into their shop and they were just friendly, interesting people who were happy to have me in their store.

Meanwhile, I’m sitting in a crowded restaurant, tapping into the free wifi and writing this while eating and drinking alone, so maybe I’m not the best barometer of sociability.

 

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Wearing your heart on your sleeve in the second person

You have an idea of who you are. You are a highly complex character, a unique product of your own existence and experience. Etched within the walls of your mind (Sorry Prof. Snape) are details as broad ‘not a dickhead’ and specific as ‘can be a dickhead but in a self-deprecating way if it gives others a laugh’ and ‘a bit pretentious; okay with it though.’

You take these details, these landmarks on the roadmap of your character, and you do your best to display and control them in a way which make you appear to family, friends, colleagues and complete strangers as the absolute best intimation of yourself. Except sometimes it becomes just an imitation of yourself.

Although you have not attempted to control the broadcast of your character to a point where you are infallible, without fault or flaw, you have attempted to control the flaws which you see as most desirable within yourself, those which do, paradoxically, make you more attractive to potential lovers, friends, employers. After all, you yourself are attracted to certain flaws and a vision of perfection is so subjective you believe it foolish to search for; at least at an aesthetic level.

Ideally you see yourself as someone who is genuine, kind, accepting, funny and weird in a way that draws people in. You are not someone to suffer the bullshit or idiocy of others; though you don’t become angry at stupid people, you attempt to emulate your father’s ability to tell people to go to hell, while having them look forward to the journey. Your ability to handle stress is one of your defining characteristics. You advocate knowledge and you rebuke those who preach ignorance through idealism. You are good at your job but you will not let it define you. You live for a lifestyle which allows you to both explore these aspects of your character and also ignore them for the sake of pleasure. You are outwardly happy, and if you are not inwardly happy you remove yourself from the company of others so as to not bring them down. You constantly question each of these aspects and every decision they lead to.

But right now you are sitting in on a couch in a library, mentally noting that if you were a parent on holidays in Margaret River on a 40 degree day you would totally take your kids to the library and give them a book and a beanbag. Man you’d be such a good Dad if you were remotely interested in ever having kids.

You are sitting here inwardly exploring in some kind of pseudo-intellectual philosophical ramble because you are on holidays, and you’ve allowed yourself the time to indulge in such nonsense. But you have to question why you’re on holiday, and you have realised it’s exactly because of a fault in the character you work so hard to not appear to work so hard at maintaining. You lost control; you lashed out; you became angry. You let an aspect of your job overwhelm and control you. At the time you thought your rant was eloquent and informative, controlled yet deservedly biting. But it was just angry, bitter and savage.

But you won’t dwell on that, you just need a little time away to indulge in sunshine, live music, art, surf and the beautiful people you surround yourself with. You deserve it, man. Motherfucker you just wrote two entire newspapers on your own, give yourself a high five. Better yet, tell someone else to high five you. Now stop talking to yourself, because this whole character control thing is becoming vaguely OCD. It’s okay though, because it’s self aware. Almost meta. Should probably talking to yourself though.

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