Tuesday, December 30, 2008

13. fires and meetings

Cath raced for the wardrobe. "Please let there be a bathrobe in here!" There was and she pulled it on, doing up the tie as securely as she could. The alarm was still blaring and she walked out of the room trying to look calm. Everyone else was dressed. Was she the only one who had already gone to bed?
She climbed down the fire escape stairs with the other guests, glad this hadn't been a work trip with colleagues. She caught the flash of red lights as she stepped outside. The firemen had arrived. Was there a real fire? She looked up at the hotel and saw silhouettes of guests against their cream curtains, still in their rooms looking down. Despite her attire, she was glad she was outside. The fireman looked ungainly and out of place striding through the hotel foyer. Cath overheard another guest mentioning smoke near the elevator. Maybe it was a real fire. She watched the sliding doors of the foyer open and close for the fireman. They seemed to be coming and going but not doing much putting out of fire.
Then they came out, got back in their truck, waved and drove away. Cath shuffled back inside with all the others, still not knowing exactly what had happened. She turned down the corridor to go back up the stairs as everyone else waited for the lifts. Maybe she would find out at breakfast what had happened.
The next morning at breakfast, Cath asked the girl filling her coffee if she knew what had happened. She shrugged she didn't know anything. She had been working at another hotel. She did a night shift and then came on here in the morning, while her Mum took her little boy to school. No wonder she looked tired, Cath felt bad that the girl was pouring her the cup of coffee, she probably needed one more. Why was the world always a paradox? - the people who most deserved a holiday serving those that always had holidays.
Cath sipped her coffee slowly so the girl wouldn't have to come and refill it. This morning she had to face the manager who had left the message on her phone.
Her meeting with the manager didn't start well."No. You can not do that."
"But the other manager said I could." She tried to sound brash and confident.
"He didn't have the authority. It is a guest relationship management oversight issue and that is my area." Brad looked away as if the matter was closed.
"I have already advertised this spot for meeting." Cath said, trying to maintain his attention.
"I'm sorry, that is not my concern. You can not use the hotel foyer, it is company policy. It is about the comfort of the other guests." Brad picked up the phone.
It appeared the meeting was over. Cath stared at his name tag, trying to think of a reason he should give in to her.
"Have you ever heard of Jacob Macy?" She handed over the business card. It was looking a bit worn and tatty now.
Brad flicked his eyes over it. "No. I'm sorry it is company policy there is nothing I can do."
Cath stood up, taking the business card back. What would she do now?

Monday, December 29, 2008

12. A quiet night in the hotel

They apologised to the mall security and left quickly. Jack dropped her back at the hotel and as usual disappeared at speed.
Cath went upstairs to her room, hoping for a suitcase to be waiting for her. But there was no friendly, black, canvas, rectangle facing to meet her. She went over to the phone on the desk to ring again about her luggage. Her message light was flashing. Picking up the phone she followed the instructions. Second time through she made it to the message. Her heart sank. It was from some manager of the hotel, she had to call him to discuss using the hotel as a base for her trip to the Reservation. It did not sound positive. She decided to put off calling him until tomorrow, he had probably gone for the day anyway. She checked her emails instead, hoping for a happier news boost, to give her energy to call about her bags. There was a message from Milly. She was still going on about the bad reference Cath's old boss had given. It didn't seem such a big issue now she was so far away from her old familiar life. There was a note at the bottom of the email hoping she felt better after the carpark incident. Had she told Milly about that? She didn't remember telling anyone. She checked her sent emails - nothing there. She went to check her phone and then remembered she had emptied all the messages off it just that afternoon. She decided not to dwell on the weird things that seemed to be going on in her life. Surely it was just her mind playing tricks. Ever since she lost her job she seemed to notice the bad things and collect them like some list of why people were out to get her. She reread the email and tried to take more notice of the suggestions from Milly about how to welcome everyone when they arrived for the trip and she suggested trying outside churches to give away the fliers. That was a good idea for down here in the South, everyone seemed to go to some church of some kind. She grabbed the phone book and looked up the section on churches. The names were fantastically long. It seemed they were trying to encapsulate all they believed in the title. The one that had "Church for anybody" made her smile as with another that included the words" Blessed Assurance" in their name. At least you knew what you were getting she thought. She wrote down a couple of the shorter names and addresses to try tomorrow. She rang the number the lost luggage people had given her. Tomorrow they promised her luggage would be here. Cath felt more in control. She was sure she could talk the hotel manager guy around tomorrow.
She took off the clothes she had bought and decided she might as well give them a rinse in the handbasin. Then at least before her bags turned up she could wear a mixture of her travelling clothes and the new ones. Her travelling clothes were still a bit damp but hopefully overnight they would finish drying. She hung the new ones on the little line, trying to make sure they didn't fall against the others. She slipped between the covers in her underwear and flicked on the TV. She clicked through the channels. There seemed to be hundreds of them.
Then she heard it. It was loud. It didn't stop. It had to be fire alarm. She lifted the covers. She needed something to wear. She thought about her line of wet and damp clothes.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Christmas Break

Not related to the ongoing story but imagine..
If Jesus came back as Father Christmas.
The second coming in red and white velvetine.
The kids would fine with it. They'd be looking at the adults saying "What! You said he was real all these years. What's the problem?"
It would be a bit much to take in wouldn't it?
I assume the gifts he bought would be different. It would be quite ironic, though in some ways fair enough since the whole Father Christmas thing is based on Saint Nicholas.
It has a nice kind of balance to it and I don't think the Bible mentions for sure what his clothing will be like on return. Why not red and white?
Imagine the theologians trying to work it all out. The arguements, the proof texting.
All the while the kids would be having a blast.
No one knows the time or place and last time he came completely not as expected so maybe....
Christmas services after that sure would be different.
It's good to be open minded I think.

11. Out on the town

The next morning her luggage still hadn't arrived. She washed out her travelling clothes and hung them in the bathroom, putting on the outfit she had bought at the mall.
Cath rang Bill from the Reservation. He had set aside a couple of hours next Saturday for the trip. Tourists and school trips were mostly who they had visiting. He had a bus to pick everyone up and she decided to see if they could meet in the hotel lobby. She went off to find the helpful guy from yesterday who had organised her room.
Fortunately he was on again today and he agreed to let her use the lobby as a meeting place for the bus pick up. She was feeling more her usual self - organised and expecting success. She used the business centre to print up the fliers she had been working on when she was back home. When Jack arrived to pick her up for dinner, she was in control with a neat stack of flyers in her arms. Still no luggage but surely it would turn up tomorrow.
Jack had a rental car and they drove into the town centre. It was empty. The streets were deserted. Where was everyone? They stood in the middle of the main street looking around them. Lights were on in restaurants but no one was walking the streets. Cath shook her head, she still wasn't used to this country. They decided to grab a bite and then head back to the mall to find the people.
They went into a bar looking place. Cath scanned the menu. "A bloomin' onion? What is that?" She asked the waitress.
"It's an Australian classic."
"It is?" Cath tried not to smile.
"You take an onion, slice it so that when it is battered and deep fried, it opens like a flower and it is served with a dipping sauce.
Cath tried to keep her face looking normal. It was all she could do to just nod. That was not like any Australian dish she knew. She ordered some waffle nachos. She took the wine list and ordered a glass by how much the name appealed - none were familiar. Jack ordered a steak. The waitress came back, apparently that particular wine was not available. Cath chose another at random. The waitress went away and then came back again. That wine wasn't available either.
"Why do you have a wine list if you have no wine?" Jack asked. The waitress didn't answer.
Cath ordered a Coke.
Their gargantuan meals arrived- after Jack's salad, of course. Cath ate as many as she could of the nachos but the plate looked no different. She wondered if anyone ever ate the full plate.
They drove to the mall and finally found some people. Cath put on her best smile and went up to the first person she saw offering a flyer. "We are planning a trip for locals to the Indian Reservation. It is free do you want to come?"
"Excuse me what did you say?" The lady bent her head closer to Cath.
Cath repeated herself again. Then she slowed down and repeated it again.
"Oh I get you. I've never been there except when I got lost once trying to go somewhere else."
"Are you new to the area?" Cath asked
"Oh no, lived here 25 years."
"Well maybe you should come then."
"I might just do that."
Cath felt good. Then the next few people she tried just ignored her, avoiding eye contact. Her confidence started to slip.
Jack was doing quite well she noticed and she tried to get her confident approach back. Then mall security turned up.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

10. Help

Cath decided there was no point sneaking past and besides she was curious as to why he was here.
"Hi, fancy seeing you here!" She tried to sound casual and not too nosy.
Jack jumped. "Hey there. Jacob said you'd be here."
"Well I've only just arrived today. What are you doing here?" Trying to get the conversation off her onto his plans.
"Oh I was doing one of these things for Jacob in California and he mentioned you were here and I thought why not come and help."
"Yeah?" Cath sat down. "What were you doing?"
Jack sat on the edge of the squishy sofa, his hands animated with his excitement.
"It went really well but I was just helping. Not starting from scratch like you. We did an outdoor screening of these fantastic short films a group of Mexican kids made. We invited the hotel managers and people like that, who employ a lot of Mexicans to try and build respect for cultural differences, seeing all people as equal - you know the stuff Jacob is trying to do. We had a good turn out and they were impressed with the films. Which they should have been as they were excellent. I've still got to write it up and edit the footage for Jacob's website."
He paused. Cath smiled. It did sound pretty neat. Maybe this trip was a good idea. She did like seeing people change and being more tolerant and understanding seemed pretty good changes in her opinion.
"How is your trip so far?" Jack cut into her thoughts.
"Well my luggage is not here and I have only just arrived and...." She stopped, she was going to mention the car park incident but changed her mind. Jack didn't seem to notice.
"When do you start your project?"
Cath stared at the ceiling. "I was going give the guy on the reservation a call to make sure it is all still okay and then I thought maybe of going into the town centre tomorrow night and talking to people about what they think."
Jack nodded "Sounds like a plan. Shall I meet you here tomorrow night then? We could go and grab something to eat first."
Cath agreed. It was nice to not feel so alone here, even if Jack was hardly a familiar face. Jack was up and gone.
As she got in the lift, she pondered - Did he always leave in a hurry and how come he just seemed to do whatever he felt like at the time? She shook her head. She could not live like that. This project was an experiment but if it didn't lead to something she would move on. She wanted to do something worthwhile and successful with her life - not fritter it away. She stuck the electronic card into her door. Would her suitcase have arrived? Even with the bags on her arms, she really wanted her stuff.

Monday, December 15, 2008

9. The joy of large sizes

It was just a fire escape. Cath didn't look back, she kept running on the thin bit of footpath that surrounded the building, she rounded a corner and there it was, the mall entrance with big, sliding glass doors. She ran through and then slowed to the calmness of the musak, relieved to have made it inside. It felt like a completely different world from the carpark. She looked back out through the doors but all she saw was benign parked cars. Was it all in her mind?
Cath kept walking and entered the first department looking store she came to. She felt her heart slowing as she hid herself amongst the racks of women's clothing. She found a couple of jeans her size and went to try them on.
In the changing room she almost laughed out loud. They were her normal size but the jeans were enormous, they fell off her hips. She felt small and loved it. She got back into her now decidedly, wiffy travelling jeans and went to find some smaller sizes. It felt good. Petite sizes? "Why yes I think I am."
She tried not to remember her last trip to Malaysia where all the clothes were too tight and she felt like a clumsy hippo. Here it was all good. Change country and change your clothing size - more expensive but far easier than dieting. Even better she found they had short jeans. Cath wasn't that short but short enough that normal jeans were always too long. She had asked at home if they could get shorter ones but they said it was not worth bringing them into the country. It was wonderful being able to buy jeans here, that fit right off the rack.
Cath went to choose a top, bra and pants - that should see her right until the luggage showed up. She left the store with bags hanging from her arms and a smile on her face, the weird carpark incident banished to paranoia from jetlag.
But as she wandered back towards the mall entrance she began to feel uneasy. Then as she got closer she saw it was hailing outside. Relieved she pulled the hotel card out of her pocket and rang for the shuttle. It felt frivolous and indulgent but she didn't care.
The shuttle arrived and Cath ran through the hail stones and ducked inside, smiling at the driver. He drove out of the carpark onto the highway and then turned off the highway, up the street the hotel was on and pulled under the veranda. It took all of five minutes. She felt embarrassed to have bothered the driver to do such a menial thing. She muttered her thanks and stepped off.
As she looked up to walk into the hotel foyer she saw a familiar face sitting on the couch by the window. It was that guy from the plane. The one that had given her the card. Jack wasn't it? What was he doing here?

Friday, December 5, 2008

8. Where do the pedestrians go?

Cath didn't let herself sleep for too long. Time to get out and about. She needed to buy some clothes since she only had what she was wearing. On the wee welcome map, there was a mall across the highway. She fancied a bit of a walk.
The guy at the door tried to convince her to take the free hotel shuttle to the mall. She waved him away but he pressed a card into her hand for her to call if she needed picking up. Walking out into the sunshine, she was bemused at his pushiness. Then she found out why - there were no footpaths.
She walked on the grass verges between a restaurant and a garage. At the end of the street she climbed over the fence and found herself on the edge of a multilane street. There were still no footpaths. Did anyone walk here?
She nervously crossed with the lights and wandered under the highway overpass, cars and trucks rumbling overhead and thundering past. She walked amongst the rubbish and the scrubby grass. Had anyone else ever walked here before she wondered?
Emerging into the bright sun, she was confronted with a confusing crossing of traffic trying to get onto the highway. She watched the lights and then ran when she thought it was right time. She held her breath, didn't dare look sideways and aimed for the other side of the road. There were some horns but she made it.
She stood, catching her breath and getting her bearings. There was the mall. A big square, unadorned building. Malls were definitely not built to be admired from the outside. It was across the car yard and then a massive expanse of carparking. She set off. It would seem no one walked to the mall. This place was set up for cars, not pedestrians. Everything was so spread out. She gazed at the Baskin Robbins across the road. She decided it was too hard to get to - another time maybe, she wanted to try it before she left the country.
At least now she had made it to the carpark of the mall. The carparks were huge. How big were their cars here? You could park a campervan in one of them. Then she noticed that was exactly what they were for.
The carparks shrank to normal size as she approached the grey monolith, if you didn't know, there was nothing to attract you to the building. She thought of the pretty little shops back home with window displays enticing the passerby.
A loud, roaring engine caused her to jump. It was right beside her, she quickly ran between the cars. She wasn't used to the traffic being on the wrong side of the road. She checked before she emerged from the parked cars' protection, thinking she had it right this time.
There was the roar again.
She turned. The same car was there again. Had it swerved towards her?
She ran for what she thought was the mall entrance. She could here the car behind her. Where they trying to run her down?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

7.We share a common language

Of course he had a gun. Cath admonished herself. It was the US - they carried guns here. It felt freaky to her to see them being carried and no one being bothered. She was a city girl, at home if she saw a gun it meant big trouble.
The shuttle stopped and she managed to scramble aboard, her hand luggage backpack slipping off one shoulder, the freebie mystery toiletries still in her other hand. She felt a mess and sunk into the first empty seat - not daring to look at the other passengers.
The hotel was a forty-five minute drive down the interstate. Cath stared out the window amazed at the size of the trucks lumbering past. Their wheels almost level with her window. A corvette cut through the trucks and it looked tiny. At home they stood out on the road - a big car. Here they appeared the same size as other traffic. She began to wonder if she had shrunk on the trip over. Maybe this was how small children feel all the time.
As the shuttle pulled in under the hotel veranda, Cath relaxed at the thought of a hot shower and lying flat on a bed. She handed her booking sheet over at reception, almost too tired to explain.
"I'm sorry your room won't be ready until this afternoon." the receptionist smiled.
Cath's shoulders sagged. "No. I booked for last night so this wouldn't happen, it must be ready."
The receptionist went back to her computer.
"Look I've flown a long way. I need a shower and my room!"
The receptionist didn't look up, hitting keys and clicking her pen.
"You have a cute accent." the receptionist smiled again.
Cath smiled, despite her building frustration. No one had ever said that before. She spotted a plate of chocolate biscuits on the desk, with a complementary note beside them. She suddenly realised how hungry she was. She took one, the chocolate melting on her tongue, the sweetness kicking her brain into action.
"Nice biscuits."
The receptionist looked at her confused.
"Cookies." A man in a suit appeared from behind the wall behind the receptionist. He smiled at Cath. "What is the trouble?"
She re-explained her urgent need for a room and suddenly she had a key in her hand. She stepped away from the desk, taking another biscuit - cookie she corrected herself as she went. Then she stopped. Where were the lifts?
The manager caught her eye and pointed in the direction of the lifts. There they were right in front of her. It was time her overworked brain had a rest. She knew she didn't have much time and needed to get hold of her contact.

5 Favourite Sights Seen

  • 1996 Watching tropical lightning turn night to day, outside a little wooden church in a small village in Sabah.
  • 2004 Flying down the Rainbow Valley at 8000ft in a cessna on a clear blue day.
  • 2003 Seeing and hearing Michael Schmacher rolling out of the pit garage in his Ferrari in Hungary.
  • 2009 Chancing upon 100 or more dolphins just off the Kaikoura Coast swimming around, jumping out of the water, doing somersaults and generally having fun.
  • 2006 Finding a pool at the bottom of a waterfall in the bush at Kaikoura that was full of playing baby seals.