"All the time I'm not writing I feel like a criminal." -Fran Lebowitz

Monday, July 28, 2014

TRAVEL DISPATCH, WEEK THREE - 22.07.2014 - 28.07.2014


In Adelaide (again), I was FaceTiming my friend Jim in Los Angeles, trying to figure out if there was ANY possible angle I could hold my computer that didn’t make me look horrendous, so I almost didn’t hear the question. “So, how long’s this train ride tomorrow?”

“Thirty-six hours,” I replied, as I thought, “Keyboard on the belly is out.”

“Thirty-six hours?! What are you going to watch?”


“Yeah, Billy. Watch. What have you downloaded for the ride?”

“Oh, there’s no WiFi on the train,” I said. Holding the laptop high above my head was okay, but made my arm hurt. “So I figure I’ll just try to read some.”

“Read what?”

“Well, I’ve never finished ULYSSES, or INFINITE JEST, so-“

“What?!” His annoyance made me lower the monitor to eye level. “A day and a half with nothing but ‘difficult’ novels? Are you trying to depress yourself? Go on iTunes right now and download some movies.” I watched him pull up a website. “Here,” he said, “Top 100 movies of the 80s. Let’s go down the list.”

And we did. And by the next day, as I boarded a train that would carry me 2700 kilometers, including a stretch over over 400km of utterly straight track, I was prepared with movies like AT CLOSE RANGE, WAR GAMES, and VISION QUEST, movies I had already seen and could watch while shutting my brain off as the miles peeled by. I've seen VISION QUEST at least fifty times.

SHUTE: You're a bleeder. And I like blood.
LOUGHTEN: Yeah? How 'bout your own?

I also boarded with a newly discovered lesson:


“Don’t be a hero.”

I’m going to go out on limb and imagine that James Joyce, were he asked what he thought about someone determined to finish his masterpiece ULYSSES while trapped on a train, would reply, “What a maroon.” Were someone to conduct a seance and bring the spirit of David Foster Wallace forth, asking him what he thought of me tackling INFINITE JEST while sleep-deprived and hungry, he would call me an idiot. He might have eight footnotes about the etymology and history of the word ‘idiot’ and lists of historical moments of other idiocy, but he’d call me an idiot.

I’m planning to be on the road a long time. There are going to be times where trying to make headway through a difficult novel is appropriate, and there are going to be times where that attempt is lunacy. I learned that last week. My week was bookended by Melbourne in the beginning and Perth at the end, but was mostly taken up with “transit time” where I’m just in motion, getting from one spot to another, not really able to enjoy myself as I go. I’m starting to consider these times almost business, as in “I have to take care of getting from point A to point B before I can relax and enjoy myself.” Perhaps as this goes on I’ll get better at unwinding while I’m in transit, but now, three weeks in, I have to find distractions.  Stupid movies from the 80s and “light” novels are going to help. Entertainment that causes my mind to wander, to dwell on the mile after mile of nothing, are not.
Cook, Australia - a town?

So I’m gonna do what I need to do.

Australia has roughly 23 million people living in it, and it seems like all of them are living on the edges. Sydney, Melbourne, and now Perth, I’m finding are bustling metropolises (Perth joins the list as the third straight city whose public transportation system beats Los Angeles’s in every way). The three cities I’ve visited so far have each been dynamic, seaside havens full of interesting people and modern ideas. But the interior of the continent is like a donut hole, surrounded by flavor but devoid of anything you can taste for long. I appreciate it, and I’m already growing fond of the country as well as the city, but it has wound up oppressing me at times too.

I’ll be in Perth for the next week, and I’ve already hit the Art Gallery of Western Australia and the Australian Museum (basically it’s Natural History Museum), enjoyed the pub nightlife both in the city and in Fremantle, the chic suburb in which I’m staying, and it’s funny, periodically I remind myself that there are stretches for thousands of miles that have no people whatsoever. Having to bounce back and forth between those extremes almost makes one schizophrenic, and once you factor that in, being able to understand my mood swings makes a whole lot more sense.
Art Gallery of Western Australia - 27.07.2014

But sometimes it only takes one person.

I’m a cranky misanthrope. That’s the polite way to put it. I don’t approach people, I don’t start conversations with strangers. I’ve always been the sort of person who could be by myself. All my life I’ve been the type of person who sees someone moving down the aisle of an airplane and prayed that their seat wasn’t the one next to mine. I want the spare seat. No more. The charming osteopath from England who talked with me all the way from Melbourne to Adelaide, and the energetic university student from Korea who traveled with me from Adelaide to Perth, both conversation partners were enough to weather the storm. The Australian countryside is magnificent, and the clouds hovering just above the farmland, the prairie, the desert, those clouds seemed close enough to reach out and touch or float up to if I only jumped from the train. But they captured my mind as well as capturing my mind.

To have someone to sit next to, to talk to, to listen to, to hold onto as ballast as I wondered if I might just keep moving on what had turned into an Australian countryside hamster wheel, has been crucial, and part of the larger point here. Planning this trip, I don’t think I anticipated just how tough it would be to be by myself. It's been tough; there have been moments where it's excruciating. So being able to talk to someone, anyone, has been the difference between simply going on this journey, and appreciating it.

So I’m making it my mission to start making conversation with people. I've narrowed down the openers to, "Hi, my name's Bill. What's yours?" and "Hi, my name's Bill, and if I don't have a conversation with someone I just might lose my mind."

One or the other. And I’ll be armed with 80s movies I’ve already seen. The fifty-first screening of VISION QUEST might stop the bleeding.

*SOPHISTICATED ROGUE’S TRAVEL TIPS© are meant to be for entertainment purposes only. The title of the tips, the tips themselves, and in fact the sobriquet “Sophisticated Rogue” itself are meant to be ironic, wry, and in no way literal, and if you don’t know that by now, well, (sigh), Jesus, c’mon, dude…