Brisbane, Australia: That’s Right Baby, I’m Back!

In hindsight, I could’ve planned things better. But then again, since when did I start planning things?

A week before I left Wellington for Brisbane, I emailed Zorba, my former NASA colleague and friend in Oz, telling him when I’d be in Brisbane and if he could get me from the airport. I probably should’ve called or emailed him again before that weekend, but nevertheless, I emailed him the morning I left and told him when and on what flight I’d be arriving that night, and if he could collect me from the airport.

After the mess in Perth last February, I had become pretty adept at coming up with Plan B’s. So when I got into Brisbane airport and didn’t see Zorba waiting for me in the arrival lounge with some kind of welcoming party and multiple-piece band, I realized that 1) I didn’t have his number or address, and 2) I didn’t have a phone. I thought about it for a moment and went with Plan A: The Sim Card. See, I had kept my Australian sim card all this time, I figured Zorba’s phone number might still be on it. But alas, when I convinced the girl at the Vodafone counter to let me borrow a display model and plug my sim card in it, I discovered that the numbers had been saved to the phone, which was in New Zealand. Plan A: Failed.

Plan B was based on the assumption that somewhere, some-when, I had recorded Zorba’s number. I kept a bunch of phone numbers on my laptop, but only ones for my US friends. So I got some change from the kid at the snack stand and then logged on at an internet kiosk. I searched through GMail and Hotmail for more than half of the 15 minutes of time that I bought. It wasn’t there. I wandered around the terminal, unsure of what to do. I walked outside and took a look down the passenger pick-up area, still no sign of Zorba. Plan B: Failed.

Plan C and D started formulating: I didn’t have my friend Brad’s number either, but I knew where he lived. I could take the train into the city and show up at his door. Rude, I know, but in the end I knew Brad wouldn’t mind. Or, I could just find a hostel in town and hang out there until Zorba answers the email.

It was at this time the bulb went off. I remembered the exact conversation Zorba and I had when he gave me his number. It was a few days before New Year’s and right after I had gotten into Sydney 15 months ago. I was asking him what his plans were for NYE, but he said he was already out of town. His wife, however, was gonna be going to a party in the city. He gave me her phone number, and his own. Plan B was back on.

I raced back to the internet kiosk with a few minutes to spare and frantically searched Gmail. Finally I found the email and there it was, Zorba’s phone number. And it went straight to voice mail.

I left a voice mail that went something along the lines of this: “Hey Zorba … just got into the country and I’m at the airport. So yeah … if you could pick me up that would be great, but if not I’m just gonna catch a train into the city and I’ll just hang out at a cafe or something and we can get together later. Since I don’t have a phone and no way for you to call me, I’ll just call back in 30 minutes. After that I’ll just head into town.”

Thirty minutes later I called back and got a hold of him. As it turns out, he had gone out of town for the weekend, and was just on his way back into town when he got my message. After picking me up, we headed to a nearby bar for a drink before heading into his suburb of Kangaroo Point. We met a friend of his, Sonya, at the Pineapple Hotel (remember, in this part of the world, hotel = bar) for a few more drinks, then we picked up takeaway Thai food and headed to Zorba’s house.

The last time I saw Zorba he had just divorced his wife (oh … that’s right, I didn’t cover that one. Alot can happen between New Year’s and St Patty’s Day …) and had sold his house. When I visited him, while spending a week with my brother in Sydney, he was packing up the house and moving back to his parent’s house in Victoria for a while. The house was a mess of kid’s toys, adult’s spent booze bottles, computer equipment and clothes. When I visited Zorba’s Brisbane house, it was the same mess.

We ate our takeaway off our knees in Zorba’s living room. I was sitting in his daughter’s tiny play chair, next to some kind of tiny table. Zorba’s ex-wife’s cousin was staying with him, so the extra bedroom was taken. He got out his camping air pad and cleared a spot on his living room floor for me.

I lay awake that night and thought about whether this had been a mistake. After all, Zorba hadn’t found any work for me, and he could only set up an interview with one of the partners at his company to see if they could use me on the project. As usual, Zorba was brimming with confidence about finding me a job, but in his words, “And if those guys can’t use you, don’t worry, we’ll find something … it just might take a little while.” Take a little while?? I was counting on being able to find work quickly so I could make some cash and keep moving. I wanted to be in Europe for the summer, and couldn’t spare ‘a little while.’

But at the same time, I chuckled at how haphazardly I had thrown this trip to Brisbane together, and despite a few stumbles, it was working out pretty well. I got into the country without any way of getting in touch with Zorba, without even knowing that he was actually out of town, and yet within an hour I was sitting in a bar with him reminiscing about old days at NASA.

So maybe I was overthinking the whole job situation. Things sometimes have a way of working out if you really want them to. Of course it’s not gonna be perfect, and you’ll have to make some compromises and adjustments, but in the end you’ll get there, a little drunk and full of Pad Thai.

For the first time since that morning in Wellington, I shut my brain off and let my thoughts wander into sleep. Ultimately, I found solace in one trumping fact: I mean come on, I used to work for friggin’ NASA.


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