Flashback: Wanaka, New Zealand: The Birthday That Rocked The World

Early last October, Garth received word that his stepmom was in the hospital, fighting the last battle in her long war with cancer. He left for Rotorua the next day and put me in charge of the bar for an indefinite amount of time. By then Garth treated me (and paid me) as his second-in-charge, the assistant manager. Not only could I run the day-to-day operations, but I knew how to generate all the reports and track all the invoices to send to the head office in Queenstown. It was hard work to keep the bar running and with only two other bartenders on staff, it meant a lot of hours.

As October 15th rolled around, it became clear that I’d have to work on my birthday. I didn’t make a big deal out of it; I certainly didn’t tell Garth for fear that he would feel bad, but many people found out and decided to come down to the bar and have a few drinks with me in celebration.

They got me drunk. Really drunk. Fortunately it was a Monday, which meant I didn’t have the pesky responsibility of dealing with too many customers, so my friends bought me shots and drinks until midnight. Phil and I made fools out of ourselves stumbling around the bar and inhaling pies. And then they all left.

Sometime soon after midnight I was sitting by myself in front of the outside fire, listening to the music that was quietly drifting out of the bar. My elbows were on my knees and my face wore a gaping stare towards the ground, struggling to quantify just how drunk I was, and fearful of all the work I’d have to do when the bar closed. Suddenly things went all wobbly and shaky and I muttered to myself, Man, I’m really wasted …

But when I looked inside the bar I noticed the lights that hung down from the ceiling were also shaking. Wait a second, maybe it’s not me.

I started to walk next door to Woody’s to see if anyone else felt it, or if someone could take me to the hopital because I was clearly having some sort of concussion. The ground was moving so much it felt funny to walk and the lights that hung over the pool tables in Woody’s were swinging wildly. I screamed inside, “So it’s not me, right?”

I can’t remember what that earthquake registered on the Richter scale, but it happened just off the coast of Milford Sound, only a two hour drive south from Wanaka. The next morning I felt some aftershocks as I sat in the living room trying to focus all my energy in bringing the coffee to my lips.

I like to think that my birth was so historically significant the whole Earth shook in celebration of that momentous day. What? No, you’re delusional!

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