Dec 16

Wet Welly

by in Drawing & Writing

Being forced to pound a hot, ‘take-away’, 16 oz. latte – ”No hot beverages!” – before a five-hour bus-ride is the opposite of a good start, especially when the bus has no bathroom.

Fortunately there was an extended bathroom break in the middle. A thin, middle-aged Kiwi walked up to me.

“Muggy out here, in’t it.”

In no time at all he’d picked up my accent, then Antje’s, and then put together that we were together. “My girlfriend’s from New York,” he said. “We live out here, though. With my sons.” When I asked how he met, he nodded. “One of those dating sites, yeah. Never thought I’d do that, actually. But.” He looked at his shoes. He had a hearing aid. “I put myself on the site, and, uh, all these old ladies tried to contact me. I was like… no thanks. Not her, though. She was already out here, down in Christchurch.” His sons shuffled up, both with sleepy hair. They were half-Maori. “You guys alright? You hungry?” They weren’t. We asked Darryl if he’d been to New York. “We’ve only been together three years now. But yeah, I’d love to. It’s just one of those cities, in’t it.” He sang a few bars from Sinatra, and we hopped back on the bus.

For the next 2 1/2 hours a Maori man a few seats ahead did what he’d been doing for the first 2 1/2: receiving text message after text message after text message, each of which triggered his full-volume ring-tone until he stretched sideways, unzipped his fleece vest, reached into a pocket, flipped open the phone, noted who’d sent it, and, after a second’s thought, hit a button that silenced the melody. His three boys, all of them young, were old enough to realize that this behavior was a violation of some rule they hadn’t learned yet, which was hilarious. They watched the stages of this process again and again, whispering and laughing through it. The dad thought they were laughing with him, and began singing with the phone when ever it rang. The boys loved that. On their dad’s forearms were prison-esque tattoos, he wore a baseball hat that said “Ford Racing,” and, like a surprising amount of New Zealanders, had no shoes on.

As for “Downtown Backpackers”, it’s more of an early-1900s hotel: brittle windows, 18 paint jobs, brass fixtures, copper piping, and a bathroom with itty-bitty tiles. It’s six floors high and has about twenty rooms on each. Seasonal workers even stay there. Sitting on the toilet, one can swing open the window and make eye-contact with an office-worker. It’s hard to say who’s getting more harassed in that situation.

Darryl was in the check-in line, and I laughed at the coincidence. “No, no,” he said, “we’re just dropping the bags off. $5 per night or something. We’re heading to Christchurch.” I nodded, but couldn’t make sense of it. Christchurch is a ferry-ride + bus-ride south, around five hours.

By 6PM the rain still hadn’t let up. This wasn’t “Windy Welly,” as the guidebook had predicted, but “Wet Welly.” The drains couldn’t handle it, and when the crosswalks turned green, even the locals jogged. Antje and I broke out the ponchos and made for Cuba St.

Wellington hooks around like Massachusetts, and as for Cuba St., it’s a strip of irreverence in the heart of downtown-downtown*. There, one floor above the hustle-and-bustle, is “Mighty Mighty.”

As soon as we’d climbed the flight of stairs the tattooed bartrendress put a finger to her lips. A pair of pink velvet curtains had been drawn, cutting the bar in half. Behind them, someone was saying something into a microphone. “It’s free,” she whispered. “You’re welcome to go in. You can make a donation afterwards, if you feel like it.”

* For Seattle-ites: like dropping “The Ave” on 4th and Union.
For Cologne people: like putting a Cologne street in Düsseldorf.

*** drawing from Art Deco city Napier, loved the windows there :) (Antje


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