My Wicked Week

This week, I road-tested a form of transport that I’ve been hanging out to try for years – a Wicked campervan. Man, I couldn’t wait. I’ve wanted to hire one of these ever since I first saw one on the highway, trailing the fumes of exhaust and embarrassed parents.

You know, Wicked campers. Backpacking institution. Painted with crazy artwork, break down at the drop of a hat? Anna Bligh called them racist? You know the ones.

Wicked vans are awesome for their cheap price and rebellious paint jobs. But the thing that really struck my fancy was the handwritten graffiti all over the inside of the van. It seemed like every backpacker who’d passed through that van had scribed something. There were at least five quotations signed by a Pouick, and my boyfriend and I seemed to keep finding more. For the whole week, one of us would be firing up the barbecue or doing the dishes, and the other would yell from inside, “I FOUND ANOTHER POUICK!”

Pouick and Pouick-related graffiti.

This Pouick was clearly a backpacking epigrammatist of the highest order, whose wisdom has been immortalised on the ceiling of the van. Sage advice such as: “Rain is not a camper’s friend.” “Slow down camper, you will see that koala.” And perhaps the most enigmatic of Pouick’s quotations: “No, Meaghan, don’t look at me. Look away. Don’t look at me!!!”

The inside of the van was patchworked with doodles and scribbles. It was like the walls of a ladies’ toilet in a university arts building – but less insane (Pouick excepted). Instead of diatribes or weepy confessionals about sexually confused boyfriends, Wicked campers wrote heartfelt messages of love, advice on cool places to visit, and personal jokes from their trip. After a week, it felt like my boyfriend and I were travelling not just with each other, but also with a gang of cool new friends who had shared their memories with us. It was a beautiful and warming thought … Until my boyfriend started wondering aloud if Pouick might actually be living secretly inside the van somewhere. After all, we kept finding new Pouick quotes that we could swear weren’t there before. Then I wondered if those scratching noises we’d heard all night weren’t really possums, but the sounds of Pouick’s ghost trying to get back in. It was hard to sleep after that.

But still, I had a great time in our Wicked van.

Home sweet van.

So, here’s to the ghostly crew that kept us company during our Wicked week. To Major Jiggle, the three English girls, Jeffy + Jilly, Team Boobies, and the prolific Pouick, thank you for your words. The boyf and I have added our own, so that future campers can travel ensconced in our fond memories. And thank you, Wicked, for such a fun camping experience. I don’t care if your vans rattle and the mattresses are so thin that I couldn’t lay on my side for fear of bruising my bony hips. We paid for an experience, and that’s what we got. (We also got to and from our destination without breaking down, so BONUS!)

Since writing that last bit, I’ve found out more about our campervan. Some of the graffiti informed us that it was used in the shooting of an upcoming Brisbane indie film called Dark Are The Woods. Guess we were sleeping inside a former movie prop! It was exciting to think of seeing the van we hired in a movie, but that was before I looked up the movie online. I’m really glad I didn’t see the teaser while I was still spending nights in the van. It turns out Dark Are The Woods is some kind of B-grade torture porn flick, all about backpackers getting killed and eaten by incestuous bush-dwelling cannibals. And there are strippers, for some reason. Uh, yeah. I’m glad I didn’t know I was ensconced in the memories of those minds.

Hmm. Maybe next time I’ll just ignore the graffiti.

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Empire Service (Part II)

For long-time readers of this blog, you may remember a few weeks ago I told you a story from my travels in New York – the tale of the NYPD cop who helped me find my train when I was lost and deranged. You may also remember that I left a tantalising teaser at the end of that story, suggesting that it was not in fact the end. If you need a refresher, here’s the link to Empire Service (Part I). Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

… Doop dee doop …

Okay you’re back! Hello. You probably noticed that I ended that story with “Little did I know …” Classic cliffhanger. And I’m finally going to stop the dangling and drop you off the cliff. So to speak.

So we’re back in the year 2005, a magical year in history. It’s before Facebook but after Furbies. I have just boarded a train from Manhattan that will take me to Buffalo, New York. I am extremely frazzled and exhausted. But it was worth getting up early and all the dramas trying to find the train station – all of that was worth it because soon I will be reunited with my boyfriend. He’s staying with his relatives in Canada, and my plan is to catch the train to Buffalo, where I will then catch a bus to meet him in Niagara Falls.

As meeting places go, it’s hard to miss.

But, once I’m on the train, I discover something interesting. This train doesn’t terminate in Buffalo. In fact, the very next stop after Buffalo is Niagara Falls! (Why I didn’t figure this out when I was booking the ticket, I don’t know. I am nineteen and generally clueless.) So, I come up with a new plan, a cunning plan. I will simply stay on the train one extra stop, disembark at Niagara Falls, and step into the boyf’s waiting arms. Brilliant!

And it all would have gone perfectly, too, if it wasn’t for that damn fire.

I make it through the eight-hour journey from Manhattan – eight hours! – and when the train pulls into Buffalo I do not disembark. I stay in my seat, thinking about what a clever cookie I am. No messing around with buses in Buffalo – I’m cutting a whole leg out of my journey! As it turns out, I will come to regret this decision.

We pull out of Buffalo, and I get more and more excited. Next stop, boyfriend! But then, a considerable way outside Buffalo, the train suddenly grinds to a halt. Everybody on board is puzzled. From my window, there just seems to be a bunch of trees. I check with a service attendant; no, we haven’t reached Niagara Falls. This is not a scheduled stop. I wriggle in my seat, bitten with impatience. The train is supposed to be pulling into my destination in fifteen minutes!

I get a call from my boyfriend. He’s ringing from the payphone at the Niagara Falls train platform, where he’s waiting for me. I tell him that my train is mysteriously delayed, but I should be there soon. We don’t talk long, because we’ll be seeing each other in a few minutes anyway.

What a view.

Then comes the announcement from the train driver. As it turns out, there is an emergency up ahead. A lumberyard next to the tracks has caught fire, and firefighters are trying to put out the blaze. Everyone mutters with not a little anxiety. But it’s not the fire that stopped us – it’s the fire hoses. Because, apparently, the lumberyard is on one side of the tracks, and the fire hydrant is on the other. So the firefighters have to lay their hoses across the train tracks in order to fight the lumberyard inferno. The train will have to wait until the fire is put out before we can keep moving. I grit my teeth. Obviously we can’t run over the top of fire hoses, no matter how many boyfriends are waiting at the next stop. But I pray that this fire goes out quickly.

It does not.

I try to contact my boyfriend, to let him know what’s happening. But he called me from a payphone, so I can’t call him back. (I can’t remember why he didn’t have a cellphone, but he didn’t. I’ll just say it was because he was being purposefully difficult.) I imagine him waiting on that platform, expectantly looking for my train, becoming more and more concerned. The tension is killing me. Finally, he calls me from the payphone again, and I rush to answer my phone.

“Ohmygod I’msogladyoucalled ItriedcallingyoubutIcouldn’t mytrainisstuckanditmightbehours howareyou?!”

He is curt and obviously annoyed. “So am I meant to wait here for hours?”

“No noooo of course not, just go home and I’ll meet you there whenever I get off this train.”

He is not mollified. “Fine. Well I better go, this is costing me money.” (Spoiler Alert: he’s not ‘the One’.)

We hang up and I slump in my seat. This day is not turning out the way I’d hoped. I’m tired and gross from travelling all day, my boyfriend is irritated, and now my stomach is starting to ache. It’s been hours since I polished off my packed lunch, so I head up to the snack bar in search of food. They tell me that the dining cart is closed, but they can offer me a bag of chips. With a heavy heart, I pay for the exorbitant chips and head back to my seat. Meanwhile, the boyf is probably tucking into a hearty dinner at his aunty’s house. Jesus. Should’ve just gotten off at Buffalo.

After nearly three hours stuck at the lumberyard, the fire is finally put out and the firefighters remove the offending hoses. The train lurches down the tracks; I feel palpable relief in the carriage. We finally pull into the Niagara Falls station, and I yank my bags down from the overhead rack. I can’t get off that train fast enough.

At the station, I hail a taxi and head over the border into Canada. I don’t know where my boyfriend is staying or how to contact him, but after getting lost in Manhattan and spending 11 hours stuck on a train, this is the easy part! Okay so the reunion is going to be later than we thought, and we’re both going to be a lot grumpier than we thought, but this is going to happen. It is.

As the taxi winds through the darkened streets of somewhere in Canada, I’m glad to see the back of bloody Amtrak. Little do I know that it won’t be long before I’m back in the States, having more wacky train adventures. OH WHAT – I did it again! You thought the story was over but it isn’t! My New York train adventure still has another part to it. Guess you’ll just have to keep reading my blog, ‘wink’.