Month: June 2007

In Memorium: Laura Anne Mehan-Eliaszewskyj

One day I’ll come back and fill you in on everything that happened in Perth, including the road trip around the coast with Steffen, Jake and John. But Perth will always remind me of the news I got one Sunday morning when I stumbled downstairs to check my email.

It was the morning of May 4th in Perth, which meant it was May 3rd in Seattle. I logged into Gmail to shoot off a happy birthday email to Peter when I found he was already online. After I IM-ed him an all-caps HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!! he broke the news to me: Laura, our childhood friend who had been fighting leukemia, passed away that morning.  Although I only mentioned her briefly — she accompanied me on my trip to the Boeing Museum of Flight — seeing Laura was one of the highlights of my trip to Seattle.

My first reaction was disbelief. Laura had fought cancer hard for two years, and well before she was diagnosed I had always thought of her as the strongest person I knew. She had the physical capacity of a Power Ranger and the will of Rambo. If anyone could have beat that disease, it was her. And if she couldn’t, what chance would any of us have. But I also knew that she had been in a lot of pain, both emotional and physical, and that going peacefully, surrounded by everyone that she loved and who loved her, was for the best
It was only after I talked to Peter that I saw the emails from Rebecca and Molly. I called Bec and told her I wanted to come back. She said everyone would understand if I didn’t come back for the funeral, which would be in a couple days. But I already knew what I was going to do. With some luck, I arranged a flight out of Perth that night, connecting via Brisbane and LAX, arriving in Philadelphia the next day.

What I never forgave myself for was something that had been sitting in my backpack for weeks. When I was at the Twelve Apostles I bought Laura a postcard; she had told me how she visited the same site and I knew she’d love it, if not for at least the geological significance. But after I bought it she took a turn for the worse, and suddenly I couldn’t think of the right words. I never got to send it to Laura, but I did get to give it to her mother the day after I came home.

With respect to her and her family, I won’t go into the details of my trip home. It was good to see my friends and family, although under terrible circumstances, and altogether too short. And it was good to say goodbye to an old friend. With just a fraction of her strength and grace I can overcome any obstacle, and I’ll always keep a piece of her with me.

Perth, Australia: Dibs On The Park Bench Near The Hobo Barrel Fire

I’m Gonna Go Ahead And Say It’s Because I’m Brown

When I got into Perth I had decided to use the standard, tried-and-true, backpacker method of finding accommodation after I arrived at my destination. I hopped on the city bus from the airport to the city centre and broke out the LP to find a hostel. As I called each hostel, and as each one told me they were booked solid, a vein of worriness made it’s way through my stomach and up my neck (MS Word spell check has apparently told me that ‘worriness’ isn’t a word, but it is now).

Only one of the hostels in my book said they had rooms available, but I decided to call around first before booking, because I wanted to find out where Jake and John were staying first. Remember Jake and John? Jake was one of the Fantastic Four from Tasmania, and John his travelmate who stayed in Melbourne.

None of the other hostels had rooms, so I called back to Exclusive Backpackers, and the woman on the other end told me three people had come in and booked the only rooms they had left. Perfect.

I reached the city centre and still had no place to stay. I had called every hostel for which I had a number. I stood by the bus station with no idea where I’d be sleeping that night. I came up with a plan, a sad, sad, plan: I’d find a hostel locker to store my things, and then just roam the streets all night. I know, I know, but if I could locate a pub open late, I would be in business.

I walked by a traveler’s club and thought they might be able to help me find a bed that night. The guy was really friendly (more on that later) and busted out his older LP and we both started dialing like madmen. I secured a bed for the following night at the Perth City YHA, and finally found a single at Britannia in Northbridge. It was more than I wanted to spend, but at least I wouldn’t have to sleep on the streets.

“One more time … which is the best bar in Perth?”

Over the next several days, I floundered in Perth trying to decide what to do with myself. The first day I was at the Perth City YHA, a sign was posted for a work-accomodation exchange, and I soon found myself stapling information sheets together for distribution to new tenants. I visited the other hostels in the area to browse the notice boards, looking for work. Jake and John and found jobs working disposals (basically, construction demolition), but I couldn’t find anything for myself.

After a few nights at the YHA, I moved to a hostel called Old Firestation Backpackers in Freemantle.

Freemantle is a beach suburb in Perth and the site of Western Australia’s first settlement in the 19th century. The oldest building in WA stands there, as does a fantastic weekend market and a fun restaurant/cafe/bar strip.

OFS was everything a hostel should be: free internet, free pool, free ping-pong, beer for sale behind the reception and friendly staff. And the other backpackers were welcoming and fun.

Jake, John and I took a walk around the area and went to the Little Creatures brewery, a popular microbrew in Australia. The brewery had its own bar and lite restaurant, and the set up was similar to a factory floor. It was simple yet modernly stylish. We beer-ed up and headed outside for a seat in the patio area. There was only a few seats at one picnic table open and as we drank, we struck up a conversation with the others there.

We made the mistake of asking one of the guys, James I believe, which were the best bars to go to in the area. James, who was several beers past plastered, proceeded to tell us every 5 minutes that Little Creatures was the best bar in town. And when we asked about other options, he would simply repeat himself. Jake chatted up James’ friends, who were fishermen in Freemantle, and apparently raking in the cash.

What, No Dessert?

The second day I was there, an announcement was made over the PA about a gardening job available. I saw another backpacker get up slowly and, after taking a sneaky look around the room, moved towards the door in that way that people use when they want to run but are forced to walk. I saw him moving and quickly followed, but by the time I reached the front desk and expressed interest, the other guy had gotten it. Though after he spoke to the employer, he said she needed two people for the job. Jackpot! I was on for 9 AM the next morning.

A white Mercedes picked us up and a friendly, kind woman drove us out to her farm about 20 minutes north of Freo (Aussies love abbreviating things). She was so nice that I’ve competely forgotten her name, Diane, I believe. Diane and her husband owned a 6 acre piece of property, and part of the land near the driveway had been invaded by a creeper weed. During the drive, she said it was only one weed, that she simply needed help pulling it up. The work was advertised for only half a day, and I was wondering how we’d even fill that time on one plant. When I got there I understood: it was one weed, but it had spread into a network covering a 20 by 10 foot area. Diane must’ve assumed we were gardeners, because she set us up with tools and then just said “have at it”. I shrugged my shoulders and dove in, pulling up the plants. We worked for a couple hours, and Diane came out with crackers topped with Marmite and cheese (Marmite is a more syrup-y version of Vegemite, but same taste). Another couple hours and it was lunch time. Diane took us out to her back patio and we sat there eating chicken salad sandwiches.

Diane’s house was ranch-style, but long and wide. The rear veranda stretched the entire length of the house and overlooked a beautifully maintained lawn. Apparently, at the back of the property was a 9-hole golf course. They had only moved to the area a couple years earlier, and had previously owned an 8000 acre farm south of Perth. No, that’s not a typo, it was 8000 acres.

We had barely covered a third of the area by the time 4 PM rolled around, and the two of us had had enough of pulling weeds. As she walked us to her car, Diane asked, “So, how much do I owe you?” We had no idea what to ask for, but in the end she gave us more than what we expected.

It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know
As Ben put it when we were talking about a good hostel versus a bad one, it’s never about the hostel itself, rather the people you meet there. I’m going to generalize that and say that a good backpacking experience is mostly the people you encounter and what you share with each other, not just about the museums, parks and events in any one city. So, staying true to that sentiment, let’s talk about the people I met in Perth.

Melbourne Jared the Brickie
I met Jared at the Perth City YHA. One night, I was hanging out in the lounge reading while Jared and his friends were on the piss, stumbling back and forth from the pool table to the deck outside (“on the piss” is Aussie/Kiwi for getting drunk). He stumbled over and introduced himself; he was a bricklayer from Melbourne who was looking for work in Perth, but had only managed to go out drinking so far. He had a high, childish laugh.

Somehow I don’t think it was related to the alcohol, but he could not remember my name. It’s only two letters, B and J, but everytime I ran into him, he’d stop and say “I’m sorry man, but youuuu’re ….” He also refused to let go of my hand when shaking it, very uncomfortable. Along with not remembering my name, he had problems remembering the conversation we had, so we would repeat it every single time. I felt like he was trapped in his own little Groundhog Day, spanning the length of a beer.

When he found out I was from the States, he confessed that his dream was to visit NYC. He asked me what the people were like there, and if it would be OK to “walk down the street saying ‘how’re you going’ to everyone”. I told Jared that would be perfectly alright and smiled, imagining such an interaction between Jared and a New Yorker on his way to work. After a while I left the lounge and went to bed just to avoid him. I saw him a week later at another hostel in Fremantle, and literally covered my face as I walked past.

I’ll post more stories later — they’re saved on my laptop, which I uncharacteristically left at home. Plus, it’s time to move on, don’t ya think?