Not On My Street, Mate

I’m on duty from 8:30 pm to 7:30 am on Saturday night, but I was talking to the cops till nine.

Friday is the warm up and Saturday is the real deal. You never know what to expect as night porter at a “party” hostel. Make your rounds, watch the cameras, keep your ears open. Be ready.

This is my home and these people are my family. I love it and I love them. Don’t fuck with us.

At 11:15, I received a call from the manager, who lives next door, telling me she saw a group of five drunken idiots vandalizing a tour bus parked on the road.

We checked the camera footage from the street and saw a raggedy group of hooligans strolling down the street with swag and beers in hand. Young Kiwis with an appetite for destruction. The camera was behind them so we didn’t see their faces, but there was one dead giveaway. The back of one of their shirts read, “yess” or “less” or “guess.” They think no one is watching them, but we know everything.

The drunkest of our “dirty old man” crew — every hostel has one — wanted to chase them down and deal out some vigilante justice, but Carl, with an age advantage, knew the best course of action is to make a police report for insurance purposes. It is his work vehicle. We just need a record.

The night goes on and I think nothing of it. The drunk get drunker. The Argentinians are still cooking dinner till midnight and Ivan brings out a bottle of Jaeger. We are going to drink this, and then go into town, he says. OK, just don’t be too loud, I tell them.

The Germans are drinking in the broken-down bus converted in a chilled-out, good-vibes TV lounge. They are smoking cigarettes. Guys, guys, guys, what the fuck are you doing. No cigarettes, just joints in here. C’mon. Have some respect. The people who pass through for a few days don’t respect this hostel like I do. And many of the long-termers think they are above the rules. I walk by again and the girl by the window says, put the cigarette out he’s coming. Do they think I can’t hear them? Do they think I can’t see them?

At last they go to the pubs or they go to sleep and the tranquility of the darkness settles in.

I want this peace to last forever, but I know soon the light will begin to creep over the mountains. A blue-to-white gradient will infect the cloudless sky. The birds will begin their chirp chirp chirp. The fish factory workers and the early morning tour-bus-takers will stumble into the kitchen looking for free breakfast.

I sit in the office, reading news articles about ISIS, Republicans and Bernie Sanders. There is so much hate, ignorance and fear in the world but I still have faith in my hero. From time to time, I walk around or glance at the cameras. Keeping my family safe and making sure no one is being a fuckwit.

And I’m writing in my journal:

Melissa walked by earlier while I was pushing in chairs by the pool. “Smile, John,” she says because none of the Argentinians can pronounce my name. It’s Sean, not John. And juice sounds like shoes. Change your face, cambiar tu cara, she tells me on a daily basis. How about you mind your own fucking business? Maybe my face isn’t an accurate representation, but I was actually in a perfectly good mood before you came along and spoiled it. Now I am self-conscious and you just walk by with hubris like you are the almighty purveyor of true happiness. You don’t know me. Puta madre.

Later, Naji from France sidles up to the “dirty old man” crew — if you can’t think of a good comeback to their constant banter, jokes and criticisms, then this group is not for you — he is there for a few seconds before arrogantly proclaiming, Sean you are always quiet. Always observing.

I tell him I was talking just before you came and I’m thinking, what is wrong with people? What gives you the right to make such a statement about another person?

My mood immediately plummets after his comment and now I have to retreat to the office and write these thoughts and calm down before I can rejoin society.

Suddenly the time is 5:30. Dawn has broken and with the morning light I can feel my power fade. It is time for me to put out the communal breakfast of muesli, corn flakes, rice puffs, weetbix, bread, jam and milk. I share a few words with the Japanese guy sitting in the kitchen. He is taking a bus to the Nelson Lakes for a day of tramping. Nice, have an excellent day.

The light is here and I think it is safe to sleep until my shift ends at 7:30. Surely no one would be so bold to be drunken assholes at this hour.

I hear voices. I know this hostel and I know who is staying here. These are stranger voices. I try to drift to sleep but the voices don’t stop. I hear them walking out of the front door, directly below my open window. They are laughing and they sound dangerous. I have to get up and investigate.

I walk down to the office and playback the front door camera. I see a familiar shirt. “Yess” or “less” or “guess.” He is carrying a box of beer. I shut the door, slip off my sandals and run.

I run to the end of the driveway. A tall man is looking around.

“Where did they go?” I ask.

That way.

“I’m calling the police,” I say.

Good.

I follow them and dial 111. The tall man and I are both barefoot, the Kiwi way, and he is carrying a smashed milk jug that I put out only ten minutes ago. I tell dispatch I need police and I explain who I am and that I am following a group of kids that we suspect vandalized a van earlier and they probably just committed other crimes at the hostel.

They are ignorant, proud of their destruction. They are blind but the tall man and I are awake.

They turn around and see me with a phone to my ear as they approach a quiet intersection in this normally quiet neighborhood. They bolt and we pursue. I follow them down a cul-de-sac and I hear rustling in the bushes. A skinny punk with a black t-shirt and a hearing aid walks out as if he lives there.

“Fuck you, man,” I yell at him.

I forget the police are in my ear and she tells me not to talk to him. He doesn’t try to run. He has given up. He is not blind, but he is half-deaf and it’s impossible to understand him after a night of drinking, vandalism and probably drugs. Meth is way too common in New Zealand. This country may look green, clean and beautiful, but there are very serious problems with crime, drugs and domestic violence.Young people are uneducated and have no motivation. Tourists don’t see it though.

The tall man is Nick, our neighbor. He is thin but strong with a clean look about him and slicked back curly brown hair. He speaks with the classic powerful, deep Kiwi voice. He says he saw the group when they walked by just after 11. They “biffed” a beer bottle down the road while he was just getting home and locking his gates.

“Oi, don’t be throwing beer bottles,” he called out to them. “Not on my street, mate.”

I’m glad we share the same passion for protecting our homes.

A police officer arrives in about ten minutes of waiting and then another joins. They look tired.

“It was like the full-moon was out last night,” he says.

I wouldn’t be surprised if these kids, who I later found out are in their early 20s, we’re involved in a litany of other crimes throughout the night. We give brief statements and they take a beer bottle littered on the ground for fingerprints and they arrest the deaf punk who couldn’t run fast enough.

I return to the hostel to check the cameras to try to get the full story. And what a story it is.

A group of six walked into the hostel four minutes after I retired to my bedroom. Great timing. They made themselves at home. They headed straight for the pool and relaxed into the hammocks, played table tennis and dipped their toes in the pool. They must have been tuckered out after a long night of fucking with innocent people.

Then, one-by-one, they all walked directly toward the camera by the spa. I finally read the rest of the shirt. “Rekless.” Yes, you are. And now we have all of your faces in stunning HD color video.

I recognized one of them. Naji. Except for your earlier comment, I always liked you, man. You stayed here for about a month and you worked here, cleaning rooms. We practiced the slack line together a few weeks ago and you picked it up almost instantly. You gave me advice: “There is only the line.” Everyone around here has a limited wardrobe, but you wear the same exact clothes everyday, a neon wind breaker jacket and black track pants, a black hat with a skull and cross bones and you carry around a small man bag. The girl from Carlisle, in the North of England, with caked on makeup, nice tits and an annoying “Geordie Shore” accent asked you what you keep in the bag on the first night she met you. (No one else has ever dared asking such a personal question.) You said, “This bag is my life.” We still don’t know what you carry around in there. And now you betrayed me. You let these savages into our home.

Then someone kicked the meter tall stone statue into the pool. We only caught you on the edge of the camera. All we can see is a black shoe with a white stripe on the bottom. Two of you are wearing shoes that match the description so that will be easy to narrow down once the cops find the rest of you.

At that point Naji waved good-bye and went to his bed. He realized these are bad guys and he didn’t want any part of it. But he left them to their own devices.

Then the punks walked into the kitchen, but first the “Rekless” guy grabs darts off the dartboard and throws them in the pool. No respect. It appears they have the thirst so they open up a jug of milk and two of them take a nice big swig. The blonde idiot looks straight into the camera and laughs. What the fuck are you thinking? Then they grab a box of beer from the fridge, which belongs to a German girl, and walk out the front door.

That’s when I heard them and got out of bed.

An hour later the cops rock up to the hostel and I show them the footage. The morning receptionist is hung over and he strolls in with bloodshot eyes to an office with two police officers.

It’s funny how cops are so reliant on their iPhones. Earlier on the street, he used his iPhone to take pictures of the beer bottle and the deaf guy. Now this cop uses his iPhone to snap screenshots of each of the assholes who invaded my hostel. Later we would send them the full tapes and stills.

The cop’s name is Johnny and he is just a regular guy. He says if he answered his phone earlier in the morning he would be in a helicopter over the beautiful, pristine Fox Glacier right now helping with the search and rescue of a helicopter tourism crash that left seven dead. One of his mates on the force sent him a picture of the view. “Bastard,” he says.

He tells us it’s a pretty interesting job and he gets to see a lot. I’ve never spoken with a cop with his guard down like this. He looks into the kitchen and see’s the collection of happy young travelers gathered around the communal dining table with the pool in the background. He says he’d like to come back here sometime. The receptionist says, yeah, come back on a Saturday night without your uniform.

I wake up Naji from his sleep and the cops talk to him. It appears the hooligans took advantage of him. He met them on the street on his way back from the pub. Naji says he is going back to the hostel and the group of cunts say, Oh yeah, that’s where we stay. I guess he was too drunk to realize that they were lying. I don’t forgive you.

Backpackers walk by the office and see me talking to cops and they all look curious and that’s fine.

Now it’s 9 am and I can finally go to sleep but I have work at the Fish and Chip shop down the road at 12. It is a restless sleep with all of the excitement and ideas floating in my head but I can’t write. Now I need sleep.

Libby says I look tired. I tell her the story during the quiet lunch shift. She tells me if they are minors they will just get a fine and maybe community service.

“Teenagers get away with everything,” she says.

I feel tired but I can still smile at customers because that’s the job and I like it because I’m in New Zealand.

All of the sudden lunch is over and I can go home and make my own lunch. Asian stir fry broccoli with cous cous and a side of baked asparagus because I do what I want. And then I immediately feast on a breakfast of muesli with dried fruit, banana, linseed, chia seed, psyllium husks and soy milk because I do what I want.

I sit with the Argentinians and tell them the story. Camila has to translate some parts for Mica. She gave up on our English lessons a few weeks ago because she is always around her own people. She speaks to me way too fast in Castellano, not the Spanish I learned in school, and she uses slang words I have never heard before but she still says I always understand her.

Then I try to sleep for an hour until I have to return to the Fish and Chip shop for dinner service. It’s Drew and Shell. Shell is a 30-something Fillipino, she likes anime and is looking forward to playing Fallout 4 on her day off tomorrow. Drew is a lanky 17-year-old with short blonde hair and a grimy rat-tail. He is usually still wearing his school uniform pants and black shoes with white socks. He constantly abuses me and takes the piss because I’m American and that’s what any respectable Kiwi would do. I love it. We’re listening to American Pie by Don McLean and I ask him if he knows who sings this and he says, No, it’s just some American bullshit. It’s a constant conversation in the kitchen and we are always saying what we are doing. Pizzas are in. Burger is flipped. Chips are on top of the oven. Pizza is on the rocks. Can you take that order? I love it.

One day I was talking about how difficult it is to understand Kiwis and then an hour later he starts talking to me and gesturing and it takes me a good twenty seconds of asking “what?” “huh?” before realizing he is actually speaking gibberish.

I try to fight back, but I’m not as practiced as this guy who is seven years younger than me. He comes in one day and I ask how he is going. Great, I just had my first swim of the year in the river. It was kinda scummy, though. Oh, just like you, I say.

Shell squirts tomato sauce into a ramekin and it sounds like a ripe fart and I say, Eww, Shel, C’mon not in front of the customers. And she says, I thought Americans we’re soft.

They always like when I have a good hostel story for them. Like when I walked in on an attempted threesome between a short Mexican guy, a French man and a French girl. The Mexican walks out of his room wearing only a towel and he yells, “Get the fuck out of here, I’m trying to have a threesome.” I love hostels.

Now it’s 1 am and I really need to get some sleep and I realize it was probably for the best that I was in my bed when the drunken vandals walked in to the hostel. If I was still in the office, I would have immediately heard them and told them to fuck off and they wouldn’t have committed any crimes and we would have no evidence and that’s boring. Or I would have confronted them and they would have smashed me and done whatever they can to escape. Maybe they had knives. It was more fun to let them fuck shit up and let the cameras see what kind of people they are. Let them leave the property with stolen beer and milk and then chase the fuckers. Yeah, that was fun.

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Freedom

From sunrise to sunset I am required to traverse New Zealand’s narrow, winding roads and stop at every scenic overlook for at least a half hour and watch the endless supply of travelers cycle through to take a quick selfie.

The three Canadian girls in a rented Jucy Campervan at Hot Water Beach are touring the North Island in just two weeks. Poor souls. A Honda Civic hatchback with a couple from Switzerland and Germany appear. He is here for a year but she is going home tomorrow and we all groan and tell her not to leave. Never leave.

They are everywhere.
They are everywhere.

I stop at the next spot and I think I’ll just stay here for a bit and put on a cup of tea and cook up some noodles and drop in a few eggs and the organic kale I picked up at a booth on the side of the road somewhere along the Coromandel Peninsula. I might as well read another chapter of the Hobbit and imagine I’m traveling with Bilbo and the thirteen dwarves. I wish there was more danger and adventure in this world, but I am content being armed with a camera instead of a sword.

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Not the first time I’ve met wild chickens at a rest area.

I can do whatever I want. I have no obligations and no one to worry about but myself. I can’t imagine being in the group of six Germans divided among three minivans at the campsite last night. It’s hard enough deciding how to spend my day, where to sleep and what to eat for myself.

The boots I bought in Ireland two years ago have betrayed me. My feet feel the morning dew as I walk through the Wentworth Campground. Useless. I spring for the leather Kathmandu hiking boots with Vibram soles. They make me look like a weekend warrior. In a few years the leather will be seasoned and they will have taken me to places I can’t imagine.

Morning walk.
Morning walk.

I sling my hand-me-down Canon over my shoulder and stick my GoPro in the cargo pocket of my brown travel pants and walk though the thick, fern-covered native bush or maybe I’m strolling along a serene beach where the local elderly have been admiring the same sunset for seventy years. The beauty of this place is never ending. And everyone says the South Island is where all the amazing landscapes are found.

I feel the compulsive need to sift through the hundreds of pictures I take everyday and pick out the 42 best shots to share on Facebook. What did travelers and writers do before social media? How did they share what they were doing? Talking? Photo albums? How arcane. What would Henry David Thoreau Tweet from his hut on the Walden Pond?

So many thoughts cloud my mind as I drive down the expressway to Te Puke. I haven’t blogged in eleven days. Wait a second, I’m pretty sure this side of the four lane divided highway is one way. Is this cunt driving on the wrong side of the road? Jesus. The station wagon in the lane next to me pulls behind my van to let the Idiot pass. We give each other bewildered looks once he’s gone.

Bugger Auckland, I can barely stay in a small, coastal city like Tauranga for more than a few hours. Anywhere that forces me to pay or parking is too big. I like Te Puke, where a sign in the library reads:

Dress Code: No gang patches. No gang insignia. No pyjamas.”

Two Maori’s sit next to me playing rap music from their Samsung.

Wait a second, you may be asking yourself, I thought Sean was supposed to be covered in cow shit and breaking fence posts with the tractor. How every perceptive of you, Dear Reader, and thanks for paying attention. Let me take you back to the penultimate day of August…

It’s 5:15 in the morning and I’m sitting in the international arrivals area of the Auckland Airport. A little girl yells “Daddy” and runs to give him a hug. A group of Chinese business men stop to take a picture in the area marked by yellow lines that reads, “STAND CLEAR.” Leigh’s flight is delayed by an hour so I have to sit here and watch families and loved ones reunite. OK, she should be here by now. I get a text:

Sean, I’m so sorry to keep you waiting. My luggage is still not here :(“

After nearly three hours, she sneaks up behind me and grabs my beard. It’s weird seeing her after 73 days apart but after a few hours together it’s like nothing has changed.

She is from the Philippines but she recently earned her Australia permanent residency, thanks to her skills and reliability as a chef at the Casino where I was a barista and bartender. Dating a girl from a third world country is exciting and full of surprise. I never know what to expect and she makes me burst with laughter and joy without knowing why. Tagalog, the Filipino language, doesn’t use gender specific pronouns so she regularly mixes up her he’s and she’s.

Once she finishes the two years left on her contract with the Casino, she will be an Australian citizen with a blue passport. Apparently people from third world countries have maroon passports, which restricts travel. If you have a blue passport, you can enter many more countries without needing a visa or extra paperwork. I’ve never thought about the color of my passport.

The Philippines is corrupt, she says. After typhoons, for example, the government receives international aid money and most of that money doesn’t actually go toward helping people in need. Also, the wages are abysmal compared to Australia. Instead of a solid hourly wage, workers are paid by the day.

“omg, the traffic here is so insane!! i can’t stand it. Look at the red lights… Everywhere!!!!”

In order to travel, she went to culinary school for two years and then applied for an internship in the US, and then in Australia. Now she has accrued six weeks of holiday and is spending one with me and five with her family. It’s good to have an excuse to leave the farm behind and travel around this North Island of New Zealand.

First we went to Northland to camp on Uretiti Beach then down to Waitomo to take a tour of the famous glow worm caves. There were options to do adventure black water rafting, tubing and abseiling but I just wanted the simple tour of the caves guided by a soft spoken Maori who ended every sentence with “aye.” He says it takes 500 years for a stalactite to grow one inch, aye. Then he takes us on a twenty minute boat ride through the glow worm cave, aye. The American Dad in front of us with crew cut and brand new hiking boots — Now I’m like him — sits the wrong way.

“You’re facing the wrong way, mate,” he tells him, aye.

The glow worms will stop glowing if we make any noise, but the Spanish family that barely speaks any English keeps chatting and our guide says, “Shhh.”

The boat comes to an opening with nothing but green, glowing orbs above us, and our guide stops the boat for ten minutes and we all sit in silent awe. It is peaceful.

I realize now that it’s a losing battle trying to write about every day and every experience we had on this trip. I could write thousands of words, but no one wants to read that. So here are some pictures:

We attempted, and failed, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
We attempted, and failed, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The filming location for Mordor and Mount Doom.
In the middle of five days of rain and high winds.
In the middle of five days of rain and high winds.
We sought refuge at the Mangatepopo Hut and then turned back to the carpark.
We sought refuge at the Mangatepopo Hut and then turned back to the carpark.
Then we stopped at some pine forests and I called the courier to send Leigh's luggage to the farm house.
Then we stopped at some pine forests and I called the courier to send Leigh’s luggage to the farm house.
We stopped at a thermal spring outside of Taupo.
We soaked in a thermal spring outside of Taupo.
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It was hot and refreshing.
We ran into some real Kiwi celebrities, Jono and Ben, goofing around in Taupo.
We ran into some real Kiwi celebrities, Jono and Ben, goofing around in Taupo.
They were goofing around in Taupo a few days before sailing a bouncy castle across the largest freshwater lake in Australasia.
The next day, they sailed a bouncy castle across the largest freshwater lake in Australasia.
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Next it was off to Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland to see geysers, craters, sulfur caves and boiling lakes.
I didn't know the Earth could look like this.
I didn’t know the Earth could look like this.
No trip to New Zealand is complete without visiting Hobbiton.
No trip to New Zealand is complete without visiting Hobbiton.
Bilbo's house.
Bilbo’s house.
On Leigh's last night we watched the sunset from the top of the Kaimai Range.
On Leigh’s last night we watched the sunset from the top of the Kaimai Range.
Beautiful spot.
Beautiful spot.
The Whakatane Rugby team joined us.
The Whakatane Rugby team joined us.
They were drinking beers and sitting in my van with us and being hilarious.
They were drinking beers and sitting in the van with us and being hilarious.

On one of the last nights we had together sleeping in my van, she asked, “After I leave, is this the end?”

It was like she was reading my mind. We had already said goodbye when I left Alice Springs and it was really hard. I didn’t think we would see each other again. She has two years left in Alice Springs and I am living a life of travel and adventure. I need to be free.

I feel like I’m a puzzle piece in your life and one day you will be complete and I will be so happy for you.”

People underestimate her because her English isn’t perfect and she is small and soft spoken. But she is smart and intuitive and cheeky and funny and when she says things like this I realize how incredible she is and how lucky we are to be with each other right now. She understands me and she believes in me.

She is 23 and she is young and she wants to be free. After two years of learning and developing her skills as a chef, she will be a talented Australian Citizen with the entire world and all of it’s food ready to be diced, sautéed and plated. One day I will dine in her 5-star restaurant.

She asks me if it is hard to always be leaving. The emotions come in waves. I’m anxious in the process of making my preparations and saying my goodbyes. But once I’m packed and charged and on the road, it’s pure euphoria. I can stop at hostels to find work if I want or I can keep camping and traveling.

As we drive to the airport, she says, “It’s so hard not to cry because that’s all I can do.”

The second goodbye was easier for me. When I left Alice Springs I was leaving a steady job, my best friend from back home, an easy life in the outback and my girlfriend and I was heading to a new country where I had to start all of that over again. This goodbye is different. She is the one who is leaving and I  know what I’m doing.

I’m not sure if this is the end, but I’m so glad you joined me.

…And now I’m alone with the road and the wild chickens and the travelers and the sunset. This is where I’m supposed to be.