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The Dashing Life and Exuberant Times of Brian Harrison....And Other Rare Anecdotes

Friday, March 28, 2008

Our Train Ride Across the U.S. and How I Almost Got Kicked Off the Train

On our long haul to New Zealand, we planned on making it to be quite the excursion in itself. “By plans, trains, and automobiles”, perhaps, became our wanderlust motto. Why do the easy task of hopping on a plane and landing in the prolonged blink of an eye when you can forestall your trip by a week and take a more substantial, authentic journey? This is what Tyler and I decided and this is why now as I write this, we are bouncing through arroyos and the rugged wilderness of southwestern Texas. We boarded the train 2 nights ago and have had the cog wheels chugging ever since, with here and there a lengthy stop…and all is silent and motionless…until this great steel beast lunged across this desert on towards our destination of Los Angeles.

2 nights ago, I was determined for some comfortable sleeping space. We had only paid for a coach car. That meant 38 hours of sitting without the nice nocturnal accoutrement of a bed. Long, long time to rely on one’s reclining chair. A misery that we foresaw when we bought the tickets, but a traveler’s challenge. At about 11 pm when all the cars’ lights shut off and every one makes vicious combat with the seat their imprisoned to, all for a few hours of slumber, I resolved on my own scheming course for an exemplary rest. Earlier I had explored the cars and took mental notes of everything of interest. Our coach car was behind the lounge car, the lounge car was attached behind the dining car, the dining car was attached behind the deluxe sleeping car, and the deluxe sleeping car was attached behind the transitional sleeping car. And this transitional sleeping car is the point of interest in this story. The chairs in this transitional sleeping car transform into beds. And each has its own cabin. So the possibility of sleep was ever before me as I sat in this irritating, cumbersome position in my coach chair trying to start counting those sheep. The problem is getting from our couch car to this transitional sleeping car 4 cars ahead. This proved a difficulty which really bore that enticing degree of challenge and intrigue which gives me stories to write of. So very quietly and stealthily I crept into the next adjoining car. No problem there it was allowed. But on past the dining car, that’s where the danger lurked. For no lowly coach passengers were allowed to go beyond the dining car into the more luxurious sleeping cars. Even Amtrak is smitten with a very staunch degree of segregation. Separating the tiresome, groggy passengers with empty pockets from those quaint, highly fortunate individuals with beds of their own. When I entered the sleeping car minding my footsteps very carefully, there stood a train attendant like a gargoyle blocking my path, but before she could get the words to form out of her mouth to inquire about me, whom she hadn’t noticed among the richer travelers, I acted. It was at this instance that I had to choose which excuse to take, and the best route was to play the part of a person that lacks the ability to really communicate in English. So I pretended to be a foreigner and completely dumbfounded about something. She got confused as I uttered out a few sentences mixed with Russian and pure gibberish. Then I said, articulating the best that I could, “Toilet?”

She said “Oh” and pointed at the restroom. I nodded and entered and letting her pass, I walked back out to an empty car. I was in the clear. Only one more car to go, and I entered my promised land of transitional sleeping cars. There was hardly evidence of anybody and a wide selection of cabins where I could shut my self off for the night. I entered shutting the door behind me. Transformed the chairs into a bed, and pulled the curtains across the door window. And stayed up and read a little bit and then turned out the lights. The train jostled about in the desert darkness. And all too frequent the train whistle would howl into the night. I would’ve gone and fetched Tyler who was trying to make Zzzzs in the coach, but I feared that the venture back through the cars would prove to dangerous. I could be discovered and lose my prized find. I would wait until the next night and show Tyler this awesome discovery. Finally, finally I got to sleep only to be awoken by incessant knocking. It was still dark outside. The door opened and this tall, stern man ducked his head inside demanding to know who I was and what I was doing. He reminded me of Joseph Stalin. Dark and with this large moustache. Another conductor came on the scene who was a bit nicer and it was decided that I was going to have to pay for this cabin. The fee from Houston to San Antonio (about where we were when I was discovered.) So I was fiercely charged 88 bucks for that little escapade. Later, I heard that Stalin wanted me thrown off the train for my attempt at a peaceful sleep. So as I write this I am being sternly watched by the entire train staff.

Just awhile ago. A crusty man in cowboy boots and missing teeth, began talking to us on board this train. Somehow our conversation turned to my sleeping car excursion and this story was told to him. He listened as much as his drunken self could. And then he coughed, “You know, I tried that one time. But I got away with it. I thought about doing it last night. Glad I didn’t. But you’re lucky. You’re very lucky they didn’t throw your ass off the train for trying something like that.” he squinted his eyes at me and repeated this phrase, then sauntered off to get another drink. The train whirled across the expanse that we call America.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

My Big Bad Move to New Zealand

I don’t know how many of you know…I don’t know how many of you really care…but I’m announcing to you all, and those online lurkers who happen to fall upon this note who don’t know me at all, that in about 2 weeks I’m moving to New Zealand.

“Why?” Many people may ask. “Why not?” is the appropriate response I shoot back. But to delve into that “why not?” a bit, please allow me to. New Zealand from everything I’ve heard about it, seems to be an ideal country for me. The countryside is darted with some of the most gorgeous landscapes and scenery. The people there are absolutely generous, adventurous, spontaneous, frolicsome, and laid back. They may not measure up to our American exaggerated ideals of rush, ambition, and materialism, but hey, they know a thing or two about the finer things in life, mainly…nature, being out in the sunshine, the beach, the mountains, friends, laughter, in short…life as it should be. Throw in rugby, fly fishing, and bungee jumping and I think you describe our Anglo cousins in the far south sea isles quite concisely. It seems to be a nation made up of crazy free-spirits. Of course, I could be wrong. And I’m probably romanticizing it all a little bit. But this is just my inference from all I’ve heard and read.

Here’s the story. My friend, Tyler Priest, had this idea hatched to swing down to either New Zealand or Australia and get jobs and work down under for maybe a year or so. Tyler’s sister and cousin are both in Wellington, New Zealand right now. One has a job working in the Parliament of New Zealand and the other prints off New Zealand dollars with the nation’s banking. Apparently it’s fairly easy to get a good job down there. It’s done through this work abroad program. Here’s the link. http://www.bunac.com/usa/worknewzealand/
If any who read this are interested, well then, watch this video
and maybe it will push you further into actually considering it as a possibility. I’d love for someone to swing down also.
Now, there was a dilemma whether or not to go to New Zealand or Australia. We opted on New Zealand, it being one of those rare places where it seems that so many wonderful things were squeezed into two islands…that and we would have more connections there. Plus our watching of the Lord of the Rings probably had something to do with this. So New Zealand it was.

Now, as I write this, I hold a passport with a New Zealand Work Visa and a plane ticket from LA to Auckland. We should arrive in the country April 1st. As far as jobs, I’m not positively sure what I’ll be doing. But that’s part of the adventure. There are a number of different jobs down there. Maybe picking fruit, working in an office, waiting tables, working at a ski lodge, or even becoming a shepherd could be my next method of employment. It seems that there is a real opportunity for all types of jobs for like I’ve said, the nation is full of crazy free-spirits, and what do crazy-spirits do…go off to other countries and get random jobs. So they need people to come and work there seeing how many of their young people leave to travel the world and get random jobs in such places.
Now, recently there has been a change in our plans. Tyler is coming back to the states quite a bit earlier for a youth ministry position here and so his idea of a year in NZ has greatly shrunk to over a month. Where he won’t even get a job and just travel the country. As for me, I plan on staying longer and actually getting a job. But for the first month I will join him, his sister and his cousins on a huge excursion through the South Island by camper van for several weeks until they decide to come back over to the states.
And then…I’ll do the job hunt and hopefully find something interesting, and hopefully find some friends seeing how I’m gonna be left all alone by my lonesome self by that time. So, the length of my stay is very, very questionable at this point. If I get there and I don’t really enjoy it all that much and I don’t really mingle all that well, then my stay could be decreased to a few months. But if I get over there, and I really love it and find some sort of community of friends then I may just stay…stay for good. I have no real attachments in the states. Or maybe stay for at least a year or so. And then there’s the possibility that if I don’t like it, I may just hop over to another country seeing how I’m already on that side of the world and will live there for awhile. So it’s really not perceivable at this point when I’ll return. In other words, what I’m trying to say, is I’m not really sure when I’ll be seeing some of you again, if at all. I know this is quite a statement. But you know, for the past year, I’ve had this job (my current one now) where I’ve gone from town to town, seeming to catch up with everyone in doses. But all the while, not really being apart of anything (except maybe Disciples Fellowship in B’ham). I feel like some sort of phantom in the states. Knocking on my friend’s door, I enter and we rehash some story from the past. Then I tell them a few new ones, and they share with me what’s going on in their lives, their life-career, new wife, children even, grad school, etc. and then it’s farewell, and I walk out the door and go into the next town and do the same thing all over again. All the while, doing a job that I don’t really feel apart of. Basically, already….I feel disconnected. But I guess I’ve truly felt that way sense I came back from Russia 5 years ago. Or maybe before that. Maybe I was born that way. Who knows? I digress.
So I guess this is goodbye for awhile. And I’m at a loss of words to express my thoughts here. But that’s all right, I’ll let my 2 favorite New Zealanders express that sentimental thought for me. Here.

So Long,

Thursday, March 06, 2008

One Long, Long, Long Week

Let's see for record. It all started really over week ago. A fierce lightning storm knocked out the power on my entire street. I live out in the country you see, so when the power goes out, it's all blackness. That, and it takes the power people ages upon ages to drive their little bucket trucks out here (maybe to find that there are actual roads and people who actually use power.) and figure out the problem. I'm not one to complain, but when the waffling temperature decides to plummet down to the 30's a lack of heating is sorely missed. The brilliant power people, I guess decided to theorize about how to turn the power on instead of actualing turning it back on. This is important for purely academic reasons. They also probably theorized how well the local people could manage if they went an extra night without power the same night that it actually snowed in Alabama. So the power stayed off for over 30 hours. And the silent snowflakes were falling. Larvae-like, the 2nd night, I slept in my cocoon sleeping bag. Warm. Except for my scowling face protruding out of the darkened, country quiet. The next morning. I didn't feel so hot. My cough, that I still haven't managed to shake, was progressively worse. I could sense the approach of a serious cold.

A day or two later, I was getting ready for this huge spiritual retreat. The kind of retreat that is built up into one of those life-changing encounters. I had gotten in at the last moment. And though, my cough was nasty, I wasn't backing out. Who knows when I'd get the chance to go on this retreat. People from all over the community of Birmingham come and take part. Guys only. And you go through these devotional meditational type activities. These are not the retreats were you hit on the opposite sex, play ping pong and run around with Supersoakers and then hoarsely sing worn out devotional songs. Cry. And then the next morning its the Supersoakers again. No. These were the type of more in-depth devotional practices. Really and truly designed for life transformation. Instead of a day-care with rice-kripsie squares and free T-shirts, there was something different about this retreat. All ages were welcome. I was probably among the youngest.

Well, it wasn't too long until my cough and cold made the first night of this retreat unbearable. I lay in my bunk bed miserable. I coughed, I sneezed. I ached. I had something more serious than a common cold. I tried to overdose myself on Nyquil to knock me out. But I continued to lay there continually aware of my miserable state. I laid there the entire night. Maybe nodding off for a few minutes. I was in no mood for a retreat. I just wanted to be unconscious. The next morning, early. The stage was set for sanctity. It was only Friday, but Communion was given. I didn't take any, not being in the proper state of mind. I left the retreat that morning. And went to the doctor.

The doctor, which as was custom, had a way of measuring whether or not, I really felt sick enough to see him. That is, by giving me lots and lots of time to really contemplate whether I'm sick or not. This contemplation screening is done in a waiting room, in the hallway before one's room, and then even in the patient's room, where you can't stop from leaning back and crinkling the paper on the bed. A different nurse walks in each time and prods you with all different annoying devices. Something's jammed down your throat, something else stuck up your nose, and then they make you bleed with needles. All to test your resolution on the matter, as though you would jump up, and confess "Aha! Okay, you've got me. I'm not really sick!! I'll go home now and just eat some soup. Just please stop touching me with those things!!" Well, I passed all these screening tests. But then they decided to make my doctor's bill extraordinarily higher by giving me X-rays. And after everything was said and done the doctor came back with his sagacious discernment that earns him a condo in Florida and proclaimed the obvious. "You've got the flu." I was handed out all different types of prescriptions some to actually help me, some more to help the pharmacists pay for their condos in Florida. I was told that I was contagious until Tuesday. It was then Friday. But then the final end to my doctor's visit came. One which would have been incomplete was my visit by Big Betty. Of course, her name probably wasn't Big Betty. But she looked part. She was this big black lady with a nice smile. She came in, so politely. with some needles and rubber gloves. I knew what this meant. And I said calmly, "Which arm?" She laughed her Big Betty laugh. "I don't need your arms." A gulp resounded in that white room and I dropped my drawers. Big Betty administered my steriods shot in my rear end. And then to measure them off, pricked me with some other needle on the adjacent side. With the steriods shot, I probably had the buttocks muscles of a male ballet dancing superstar. Or at least one side.

I had a long haul of being sick. There was nothing more that I wanted to do than just lay in bed for the next 5 days. As I drove home something was not feeling right with my car. "Oh great" isn't this lovely." But I made it home.

So for the past week. All I've done is just lay in bed, eat soup, take my medicines, read Hemingway, Chekhov, and Anne Rice, fiddle around on the computer, and watch every single episode of the Flight of the Conchords. Oh, and talk on the phone with some of my friends. I am better now. I still have this savage cough. But, I feel recuperated to some degree. But...but I am still stuck for you see, my car got sick about the same time that I was sick. Yes, one day, before my full recovery, I ventured up to the store, and had a difficult time bringing it back. Turns out the transmission's shot on it. And transmission's don't come cheap. So right now, my poor Honda Accord 03 is sitting in a shop in Pell City, while a greasy fingernailed man tinkers away inside her. And the cost that I'll probably have to pay him is around $1600. So the doctor, the pharmacist, and the mechanic have all conspired together on how to siphon off the money that I was saving up for my travels. (Sounds like the plot of a nursery rhyme to me, except I'm not much in the mood for nursery rhymes.) And so I'm just left at the house with absolutely nothing to do. Fortunately, my job is such that allows for such inconveniences. But I am getting antsy and restless. Which proves that I'm returning back to my natural self.