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

Friday, June 20, 2008

Picking Up the Pieces and Carrying On

After a few meditations of where I am and the rattling enquiry of what on earth am I doing? and of the relatively less financial security, and the fact that it is winter here and I am guaranteed nothing, due to the lack of drive and initiative, of comfort and heaters, and sweat tea, and most importantly all my many good friends in the US...I've decided to fly in the face of all these, how important they may be, and stay.

Now, some of you may be wondering, what could possibly make a roving individual like myself yearn for my return. You see, it was a number of things that add up when thrown into the light of a pretty horrific financial setback. (Here, for the uninformed, I refer to my catastrophic car crash in my past note.) But there were other things hanging on the memory like a dapper salesmen on the doorknocker of my mind. I must admit that I didn't leave some dull and drab job in the states. I was not exactly making an escape from mundanity. But I had a relatively interesting source of income, stamping all over the south, and sometimes beyond that. Flexibility and travel were hallmarks of this job. Plus my own ability to pretty much plan where I will go and what I will do when I get there. Then there is that strange word, that perplexes adventurers when they both have it and don't have it, and yet, dare I say it, still tempts me....that word being "comfort."

Imagine if you will waking up as I did today. Freezing in a sleeping bag, as I've done for the past 3 months. Now the cold isn't that bad by itself, but add the fact that there is really nothing to do for that day. All the jobs that you've been applying for don't pan out. You don't even get called back. Transportation is all about a bicycle, for you wrecked your big bad automobile that you've had after the first week of driving it. Even to ride your bicycle (which you're borrowing from one of the Thai guys who is allowing you to stay at their house), out to get some fish and chips takes a dent in your bank account for everything is dastardly expensive here. Not to mention that it is raining. You just lay there in your sleeping bag, not wanting to get out because for some reason not many Kiwis have discovered the advantage of placing heaters in their homes.(And its like their December right now). Plus you feel confined and stuck, discomfort is okay if there is excitement with it, but when it is dull and idle...Good Lord, give me a heater and a steak! So my mind began to drift back to the land where it is summer...hot, humid summer...with sunshine and fireworks on the 4th of July, where free refills overflow into gargantuan cups, and netflix...pure, sweet netflix. So you see...what phantoms of the US, I am up against.

But I have been fortunate, not only in suriving my crash, but also in the friends that I have found here. For the past 3 weeks, I have been staying at members of the Church of Christ in Otumoetai. The last 2 weeks, I have been staying in the house with students at South Pacific Bible college. A house composed of one Kiwi, one Aussie, and two Thai guys. I sleep on a mattress in what they call the rumpus room, kinda like the basement..free of rent, for the time being. And from this constant interaction with those involved with the church and college, I've connected with so many others within the church family. My world is broadened; hope is sparked; my faith renewed, surely...in all reality after all the negativity of my misfortune is overstepped....my cup overfloweth.

Besides, I'm in a interesting,new country. I am already making new plans for the future here. I'm thinking vineyards but further north where it is a bit warmer. And at the end of the day, it is all about the journey, the adventure, and the people that we meet on their own journeys. A famous fellow Alabamian who was both blind and deaf once wrote, "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." I remember being in art class way back in high school and being stirred by the quote that I etched it on this drawing that I had done of either Lewis or Clark as they peered over this precipice, glimpsing the lands and the river stretching down below.
So, no, I don't plan on returning any time soon for right now. Tonight, I will watch with some Kiwis the All Blacks (New Zealand's national team) whoop up on England once again, and I will enjoy myself. And as for tomorrow, I will worry about it when I wake up tomorrow, again cold and hesitant...for each day has enough worries of its own.

Friday, June 13, 2008

My Brush with Death; The Big Crash

So I had just bought my new car here in New Zealand. I'd been driving it around for maybe a week. Was getting the hang of the left side of the road, when just the other night, I was on my way to a small group here in Tauranga, cruising down these neighborhoods, when I missed my turn. So I found a place to turn around down the road. And just as I pulled out into traffic, my mind was far away from the proper procedure of driving in this country and more into the irritation of not seeing the roadsign that I had missed. (It is common here for them to place their roadsigns across the street that you would be turning onto)...when I did the brainless and altogether perilous thing of driving on the right side of the road. I had not gone but a few yards in this death-provoking manner, when I noticed the oncoming traffic coming straight at me in the form of a white jeep looking vehicle not slowing down, only the beams from their lights seeming to mimic the panic that the people in that jeep were going through.
Well, fortunately I have fairly fast reflexes, that, and a God who's constantly looking after me, that I jerked my wheel to the left just in the nick of time, missing a devastating catastraphe by seconds. Naturally, I felt very stupid and embarassed about the entire thing, but no chills. At times, I am so constituted that the wind from those close sweeps of Death's scythe, leaves me calmer than I am if I lose a game of monopoly or chess. (Perhaps,I should have been a soldier.)
But not so, with the driver of that vehicle of whom our grills almost kissed in painful fashion. No, he cut around fast and furious determined to hunt me down.

"Oh goodness gracious," I thought, "he's probably getting my tags and phoning the police." That, or really wanting a violent confrontation about my absent-minded driving skills. The car was full of people. Young people. I could see two guys in the front seats. I sped up a little, they sped up a little. Then they started riding my bumper. One of my pet peeves is when some blockhead tailgates me. My response, a few pats on the brakes. Of course, this only just ticks the already angry person off more. And certainly him riding my bumper irritates me more. And then the whole thing turned into this massive car chase. It wasn't necessarily that I was afraid of them, oh no, even if they were half a rugby team packed in that car,..all tatooed Maoris. No, it was more out of pride that one races to get away. "I'm not letting these ass clowns get the benefit of getting me to stop. I will outrun them." Such is a fool's thoughts; they were mine in hotblood for that moment.

So we go flying down these mostly empty neighborhood roads...New Zealand suburbia. On a cold Wednesday night. At one moment, wishing to get behind them, I pulled over into the right lane and slammed on the breaks, believing that they were going at such a speed to shoot right by me. But they slammed on the breaks shortly after me and for a few splitseconds our cars were parallel to each other. I glanced over into the window next to mine, and this guy with spiked hair was spazzing out, his eyeballs almost popping out of his head. And he yelled, convulsing his mouth cartoon-like in fomenting rage. No use, there...so I took off again. I kept thinking, "The price of petrol is so expensive...you think soon they'd realize the waste of gas and time in chasing me. But I am wasting them also." But undaunted, I pressed the pedal down in determination to loose these morons. All the while, saying to myself "left, Brian, left...you got to keep on the left. If I instinctively drift over to the right, then i certainly won't escape a collision." And every turn and wind that I made they followed in close pursuit.

I finally got to a road and was just going to start building up speed to lose them. I was rushing down the avenue, fall leaves dancing dizzily behind me in my wake, when right in front of me I noticed a sight that you don't want to see when racing anywhere. I noticed just as i entered it...a cul de sac. Right in front of me gleamed the reflectors off a wooden barricade that designated the end of the road. I slammed on the brakes but much too late...CRACK!! went my car against the wooden barricade. Splitters of wood flying across the sky. Instinctively, I wrestled my steering wheel to the right, while using all the adrenaline that was in me to shoot down into my right leg and stomp on those brakes. The car careened to the right. I had almost stopped it before I went smack into a little tree. I hopped out of my car without a scratch on me, and noticed the cliff that lay only a few feet away from where my car lay. The cliff was about a 40 feet slant into a lake. With nothing more but a flimsy wooden sign between my car and the cliff to warn people that there is a dangerous cliff there. This entire scene was in darkness. Had it been a house or a building at the end of the cul de sac, I would've seen that the street came to an end much sooner. But it was nothing but the distant few of a lake and a darkened sky that was the backdrop, and caused me to believe that the road wind on forever. The right front wheel of my Subaru had been jerked out of its axle. It looked like it had been twisted around as it had tried desparately to claw into the ground to keep me from going over that cliff. The front of the car was smashed solid with that tree. The lip of the hood busted in a unbecoming fashion.

It goes without saying, I was very, very lucky. I now live. I am fairly convinced that God was most certainly involved here. This calmness fell upon me, very unnaturally. I drifted out a serene gratitude to God. And I see the complete folly of my indulging in this insane chase. I apologize to God and again thank Him. Amazed at life and death. And God's hand over me.

The neighbor from next door comes over and very amiably, asks me if I am alright. I say "yep." And I tell him the story. He tells me that he has already called the police. At which I nod in gratitude. Just down the street, my pursuers, whom I thought would have retreated once they had seen my crash got out of their jeep and started to walk towards us. The nice neighbor, a big guy, says that he'll stay here with me if they try to start anything.
I yell across the cul de sac as they approach, "What were you doing riding my bumper like that?" The fellow with the spiked hair is still fuming, "I want you to know that I have called the police on you!!! You...almost killed us back there! You...YOU ARE SUCH AN IDIOT!" For some reason, this immense amount of peace settled inside of me. I cannot really describe it. I think ordinarily I would've wanted to punch this guy in the mouth. But I felt no anger, no fear, no panic of any sort. Just this immeasurable amount of calmness. The guy continued his rant while his buddy just stood there. "Do you know how close we were to colliding back there? We could've been killed!" (I found it interesting that he took little note of the death that i almost had over that cliff.) I said, smiling, "Yes, but we're not! You're alive...I'm alive! Neither one of us is hurt. I'm the one that should be angry....my car is wrecked." He shrieked back at me, "I don't give a damn about your f*** car!!" You are just a complete dickhead!" The guy called me a dickhead. But I remained calm. Still reveling in the fact that God had to be watching over me.

The police came and they were nice and understanding. One of them listened to my story, the other listened to the jerks' story. This guy, ironically, was driving a company jeep that belonged to a local newspaper. He probably was some type of deliverer. The funny thing,is that day, I had used my car to deliver newspapers for another newspaper company.

The policeman told me that it would cost a few thousand to repair my car, seeing how I wasn't insured the car wasn't worth the amount to fix it, I think that I am just going to sell it to a scrap yard for parts. So there goes $1600 up in smoke. A car that I just bought the week before. Right now, I am trying to fight off moods of despondency and anger because this has happened. My bank account is getting low. I am actually deciding whether or not to come back home and try to get my old job back. But at this point, I really don't know. I am constantly trying to remind myself how fortunate I am that I am still alive, and completely unscathed on top of that.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

My First Car With the Steering Wheel on the Right

I finally gave in and bought myself a car over here. I was tired of all the complexities of getting from point A to B. I was tired of the bus fares, the unestimable time frame with hitching, and the feeling like one is stuck. I have a natural affinity towards indepedence and freedom. It was time to purchase my own set of wheels.

Everything added up to this decision. The moment I bought a car, I wouldn't have to worry about hauling luggage around, about bus schedules, or convenience for hitchhiking. I could possibly use my car as a bed also and not have to cough up that $25 for one noisy night in a hostel. If I am to be a nomad over here...let me become completely mobile...let me have 4 pillars of rubber be my foundation. Besides, cars come cheaper over here. About the only thing that is.

So the search was underway. And outside a hostel in Mt. Maunganui, I saw this nice looking wagon for 2,200 NZD. Now, a few days later it is my car. I bought it for 2,000...which in American is about 1,600. It's a silver 95 Subaru with sunroof and leather interior. A CD player that I can't seem to get to working, though with the neat radio station in this town, I am not complaining. I tested the wagon out, seeing when I folded the backseat down, if I could stretch out my over 6 foot body out. And I barely fit. But it works. All in all, it looks a bit nicer than the average backpacker's vehicle in these parts. Know that...in New Zealand backpackers come in droves from different countries and buy cheap cars and vans. Live in them for maybe a year and then sell them or try before they return home. You can get a car from $800 to a big van for $3,000 fairly easy..most of these older models with tons of mileage or "kilometerage" I guess you would say, on them, but pretty reliable nonetheless.

One of the things that you have to understand is that the cars over here have the steering wheel on the right side. I don't know how many times while approaching, I instinctively go to the left side with my key in hand. Then slap my forehead, and walk around to the other side. Fortunately when driving on the left-side of the road I don't get mixed up so easily. I keep telling myself, "keep left,keep left,keep left." when behind the wheel. And it is becoming quite the natural thing now.

Except for the occasional turning signal blunder of clicking my wind shield wipers on instead of signalling left or right for these are reversed as well. Then there are the infamous roundabouts that are foreign to the US. But once you've gotten used to them, they actually seem more practical than tons of traffic lighted intersections. And much funner than waiting for the color green. And here it is doubly important to remember that around the circle you always MUST go left, go clockwise; to go counterclockwise spells catastrophe.

Traffic in New Zealand is not so bad. There is less congestion and less rush. So a speed demon like myself feels good going at a moderate level of pace. Large highways with 5 lanes would be a novelty here. Most of the time it is a single lane, even the main highways across the nation.

However, one thing that is perplexing is the cost of fuel over here. I shake my head everytime I hear people in the states complaining now about gas prices. Over here...petrol is very dear. I paid 60 dollars to fill up this Subaru to only the 3/4 mark. And just in my driving around the Tauranga yesterday and today, I must've burned about 15 dollars worth. So driving just for the fun of it...is ruled out over here. Of course, money is getting tight. I mean, I'm still making payments for a car back in the states...that is until I can sell it. So I guess this marks the first time that I can call 2 cars mine at the same time. If anyone's interested in a Honda Accord 2003..let me know.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

All Roads Lead to Tauranga

I hitchhiked away from the Kiwi fruit orchards, out of Katikati, and into Tauranga. My initial plan was to head south all the way to the South Island and get a job working in a vineyard. But some amazing connections were being made and I felt that I had to at least stop in Tauranga and visit. You see, back in the States, numerous people told me that I had to look up this guy named David Nelson. He ran a Bible College in Tauranga. I couldn't remember who all knew this person. I just remember jotting down in the back of my mind my half-hearted intention to actually look him up. Maybe I would, Maybe I wouldn''t. The whole time in Katikati, I never really thought about it. That is until I was thinking of leaving the Bay of Plenty and I thought, "Oh right, Tauranga," So just when I was about to purchase a bus ticket far away from this city. Just out of nowhere, I decided to write this David Nelson guy. Well, it turned out that he was not in NZ currently, he was in the states, and that he would be returning shortly. And as he wrote where he was in the states...everything clicked. For David Nelson was in Lubbock, TX.

Then it came back to me, that he had dealings with the same missions organization that I had been apart of. And then I found out that only the next week, that Tauranga would be getting an AIM team (the organization I had been apart of when I went to live in Russia). So the coincidences were pretty staggering. I also found out that groups from my university would be traveling through Tauranga as well. So it seems that all roads were leading to this port city.

I also felt almost as though I was hitting a wall, when actually buying a ticket southwards. It was as though, I shouldn't be thinking of traveling down there just yet. I felt a strong tug. An inward pull to go visit Tauranga for a few days. I don't know why exactly. This guy was not even there yet. And I didn't even know a soul. But I had this urge to go Sunday morning to this church where David Nelson goes. And visit and see where this lead me. I had a flickering awareness, a faith really, that something would come from it.

So Saturday, I left Katikati, my thumb again out on the highway. I had to hike a little distance with all my luggage to get to the main highway. It was really dumb of me to pack so much stuff with me. I had way too much luggage. A huge suitcase. A large backpack and a fair-size carry-on bag. I was hurting underneath the weight, rolling the large suitcase behind me. If I had known that I would be hitching around like this...not living in one place I would have have definitely packed less. But no, I thought that to live in another country for about a year, one should carry two pieces of large luggage with you. Big mistake. These two middle-aged ladies picked me up. They were nice and congenial. And they drove me all the way to Tauranga central right in front of a hostel. I got out lugging all my possessions up these stairs like an irate tortoise trying to climb a tree. When I finally got to the top, the hostel keeper told me that they were full. In disappointment I clambered back down the stairs and into the streets of Tauranga. I walked blocks and blocks, like a welter-weight Atlas shrugging with the earth upon my shoulders.

I went from hostel to hostel, all of them packed with no vacancies. This basketball tournament was in town which left all the accommodation places full. I was beginning to curse myself for actually believing that there was a purpose for coming to this city. Where was I to sleep? The city streets, I guess. It wouldn't be that bad but for all my luggage and the fact that it was supposed to rain that night. But then I happened upon a tourist center that called a number of places and ended up calling this hostel in Mt. Mangaunui which was just outside of Tauranga. It was where I had the adventure of the hotbaths 2 months earlier. I hopped on a bus and made it to the hostel that night. All the while thinking that I really, really need to get a car.
After a night of uncomfortable sleep. I tried hitching a ride to church. I even made a sign that read, "Going to Church." But there was no luck. I ended up calling a number that was given me at the last minute for someone from the congregation to come and pick me up. So I made it to the church. And immediately afterwards..I am being pommelled and meeting all types of people. I am invited to lunch and then to watch some rental movies for the afternoon and then supper and then a dip in some hotbaths. Over and over the fun continues. I felt like I've known everyone for a long time. I'm given a bed and a cell phone and a tons and tons of friendship. This is what the church is all about. Right now, I am staying in the house of some really neat and wonderful people. Brooke and his wife Kelly..gave me a place to sleep the first night that I got here. Brooke is a Maori who attends the Bible college in Tauranga. It's been so neat to talk to this guy. They've been so kind to me. It looks as though, I will stay longer in this city than I had first intended. And it looks like someone up in the skies is really watching after me.