Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Earth-angels and pieces of missing brain


I left two things behind when I set off on the West Australian leg of my tour:
1. A little piece of my brain
2. My driver’s licence

I want you to know that I’m not the kind of girl who usually fails to pack important things when she goes away. In fact, I’ve been known to write extensive ‘REMEMBER TO PACK’ lists, that include everything from camera battery chargers to insect repellant. I’m the girl who not only takes her passport when she travels overseas, but who also packs a photocopy of the passport – stored in a separate place in case of emergencies.

The only explanation I can come up with is that, in my post-album-launch weariness, a little piece of my brain must have fallen out of my head … and I was too tired to notice it drop … and that it was the piece of brain that was responsible for double-checking the presence of my driver’s licence in my wallet.

And so, after a two-hour ride in a shuttle bus from my house on the Sunshine Coast to Brisbane airport, it came as a huge shock to me to find my purse did not contain my licence. This shock turned to distress when I realised that without the licence, I would not be able to pick up my hire car in Perth – a car that was due to get me to remote parts of Western Australia for the final leg of my tour.

I spent the next 12 hours banging my head against a brick wall – no doubt losing other little pieces of brain in the process…

I tried to get my partner to search for the licence in the hope he’d find it and be able to fax through a scanned copy to the car hire place in Perth. He wasn’t able to find it.

I tried to call the Queensland Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) to request them to fax through a ‘Proof of Licence’ to the car hire office. All I got was an after-hours answering machine message.

At ten minutes past midnight, after finally touching down in Perth, I approached the car hire desk and tried to plead my case. Company policy prevented me from driving off in my hire car.

And so, at thirty minutes past midnight, I caught a cab to a nearby hostel and tried to get some sleep … but not before praying to the powers-that-be to provide me with an amazingly helpful customer support person on the other end of the telephone-line the next day.

At 6am, in my hostel bed, I put in a call to the Queensland RTA. The woman told me it would take a ‘week of paperwork’ before any ‘proof of licence’ could be faxed to the car hire place. She said the only thing she could suggest was to head back to the airport office and get the car hire people to call her office – so she could issue a ‘verbal proof of licence’ over the phone.

I called a cab and sat outside the hostel, contemplating my options as I waited. The cab pulled up and I hopped in.

“Andrew?” the driver said.
“Um, no, I’m Ange and I booked a cab for the domestic airport,” I replied.
“This booking for Andrew for international airport. You are not Andrew?” he tried again.
“Um, definitely not Andrew,” I said, stepping out of the cab with a body that felt like a deflated balloon. I’d probably managed two hours sleep in the hostel. I walked back over to the main entrance, where a man in his late 40s was standing.

“Are you Andrew?” I asked.
“Yes,” he answered.
“I tried to steal your cab,” I attempted some form of humour which didn’t come out quite right, due to my lack of sleep and state of scattered-ness. “Anyway, your cab is waiting for you over there,” I pointed.
“Thanks,” he said, picking up his light backpack and heading for the vehicle.

The cab then did a full loop of the car park and came back to the front door.

“Get in,” Andrew said.
“What? But aren’t you going to the international airport?” I was confused.
“It’s okay, we can share the cab, just get in,” he said.

Given I was keen to get back to the car hire office at the airport, I sat myself in the back of the cab and we set off into the morning traffic. As the taxi meter ticked away, I was glad to be sharing the fee with my new friend, Andrew. He told me he was off to Thailand. We spoke about our common love for the country but the conversation stopped as I realised our taxi had driven past the sign for the international airport.

“Aren’t we dropping you off for your flight to Thailand? Haven’t we missed the turn-off?”
“No, we’ll go to the domestic terminal first,” he said.
“Oh, are you sure?”
“Yes,” he replied, without turning around to look at me.

As the cab pulled up, I pulled out my purse and offered up a $20 note.
“That won’t be necessary,” Andrew said calmly.
“But we were going to share the ride?” I said.
“Share the ride – yes – but not the fare. I will take care of it,” he said.
“No! You can’t do that. You don’t even know me. Are you serious?” I pushed the money towards him.
“Just say thank you,” he said.
“Thank you”
“You’re welcome.”

Andrew was the first of three earth-angels I was to encounter that morning.

I walked back into the airport terminal with a fresh sense of confidence. I was going to make this happen! This confidence fell straight into whatever deep black hole my driver’s licence had fallen into, when the car hire company told me that, despite the advice from the Queensland RTA, they would not accept a proof of licence over the phone. They needed something in writing. But unfortunately Queensland is the only state that does not allow for proof of licence to be faxed to hire companies. Lucky me.

After putting in two more calls to the authorities (hoping that a different call-centre person would result in a different outcome) I came to the conclusion that the best I could do was to fax a formal letter of request to the RTA’s head office and hope/pray/manifest someone to take pity on my brainlessness and grant an exception to the ‘no fax’ rule.

In the meantime I began an internet search of bus routes from Perth to my first destination – a coastal town, 150 kilometres from the city centre – where I was due to perform at a private house concert that evening. Each search came up with the same conclusion: “Sorry, the destination you wish to go to is not serviced by any public transport options”.

Feeling at a loss, I decided at 9.30am to go to the airport café and try and stomach some breakfast. It was in a line, trying to decide if I wanted toast or muesli, that I encountered my second earth-angel. I was two people away from the cashier, and something compelled me to turn to the person behind me and ask how their morning was going. That person turned out to be a bloke in his late 30s with scruffy hair who was holding a surfing magazine.

“Yeah, pretty good, and you?” he said.
My top lip began moving of its own accord and a tear popped out of my right eye.
“Well, I’m having the most crap-hole morning actually. I’m a musician and I’m on the final leg of my album launch tour and I’m due to perform at this house concert tonight and then perform at a festival down south but I can’t get my hire car because I don’t have my driver’s licence and there’s no public transport to get to where I need to go and I don’t know what to do,” I sobbed, uncertain how the bloke would take my unexpected emotional outburst.
“Where do you need to get to?” he asked sympathetically.
“150 kilometres south of Perth – to a town called Binningup,” I sobbed some more.

Sensing I might keep sobbing all morning, the café guy put his hand on my shoulder.

“We’ll sort something out, mate,” he said, “Don’t you worry. I was thinking of heading south for a surf at around midday when I finish my training here at the airport. I’m sure I can drop you off in Binningup. Why don’t you give me your mobile number and I’ll call you at twelve. If you haven’t found a ride by then, I’ll take you to where you need to go,” he said in a gentle and sincere voice.

“Oh my god,” I sobbed again, “Are you for real? I think I am seriously going to have to take you up on that offer. Thank you so much! God, I feel so relieved just knowing that I have a plan B! What’s your name?” I asked.

“George. My name is George. I have to go to my training now. But I’ll call you at midday”. And with that, the second earth-angel was gone.

Half way through my muesli, my mobile rang:

“Is that Ange Takats? It’s Ray from the Queensland Roads and Traffic Authority. Look, I wouldn’t normally do this as it’s not our policy, but I’ve faxed through your proof of licence to the car hire office. They should have it now if you want to go there,” said a voice on the other end of the line.

“I LOVE YOU RAY!” I burst back, “You have no idea how much this means to me. THANK YOU! Thank you! You are my third earth-angel of the day!”

There was a slight pause, Ray (no doubt) wondering whether he’d done the right thing by allowing this crazy hippy to get behind the wheel of a car, and then he simply said, “You are welcome”.

After doing a happy-dance at the car hire office, I set off down the long and un-serviced-by-public-transport highway with a heart full of gratitude for the three strangers who turned my luck around in Western Australia.

At midday my mobile rang. I pulled off the road and answered it.

“Um, is that Ange?”
“Yes, is that George?”
“Yeah, how’s it going?”
“Guess where I am, George?”
“Where?”
“In a HIRE CAR – bound for Binningup! YAY!” I shouted down the phone.
“Oh, that’s awesome, Ange! Wahoo! I’m really glad you got yourself some wheels. You have yourself a wonderful weekend,” he said, in the most genuine of ways.
“I will. It’s going to be a great weekend … I can feel it! Thanks so, so, so much for your words of support this morning. I was very close to dropping my brain-bundle in the airport but you helped me hold it together. Thank you,” I wanted to reach through the phone and give him a celebratory hug but words were all I could offer.
“You’re welcome,” he said.