by Peter Nelson
Basically there’s no traffic at all going to Glenorchy. (A tiny village at the other end of Lake Wakatipu where I apparently have a job on a bridge construction crew) Although there is a road. Of sorts. So here I sit, cooling my travel-worn heels on the outskirts of Q-town. Waiting, instead of walking, having been advised that the chances of lifts get slimmer the further you go out of town. Munching on the last of this stale bar of chocolate and talking to the birds in this lovely deep forest. Every bit as thick as the forests in central Norway. Troll heaven. Dark green and very dark. Impenetrable, one could say. No sun gets in. Lovely spot, this. Perched right on the lake shore in the tall and windsome pines. Mountains all around. Cosy at the moment, perhaps creepy after dark. Still, if nothing happens, I can always amble back into Q-town and throw myself on the mercy of the Eureka gang. No doubt.
But along comes this affable young lady wearing blue sunglasses and tooling down the road in a small yellow sports car. First car in hours. Hello. My name is Pam she says. My name is Legion I says. A brief smile crosses her lovely face. Well I’m only going down the road a couple of miles but if you need a place to sleep you can stay there. Well okay. Groovy. Don’t mind if I do. You seem like a nice young lady. Besides it’s getting dark and I don’t have any more chocolate.
Holy Hannah Pam, this place looks like a palace. Oh it isn’t mine, it belongs to a surgeon from Invercargill. His holiday home. Um, OK. Trying to muster the courage to enter this palatial estate in my dusty road rags. Hey Pam I’d better sleep in the garage. Don’t be silly Peter. Well okay but I’m not going to touch anything. This five-bedroom, plate-glass-fronted, oak-beam-ceilinged mountain lodge is a luxury chalet for sure. Geez, look at all those gleaming cabinets filled with immaculate rows of crystal wine glasses. Such opulence high up in the forest intimidates me.
Hey Pam help. Oh Peter just light the fire will you.
OK. Man, look at the length of these matchsticks. I could light this fire from across the room, no problem. Cripes, even the firewood looks imported. This surgeon must sell dope on the side.
Hey Peter where are you from. Alaska. ALASKA?! She shrieks and leaps upon me from across the room. Well I almost never object to being leapt upon by comely young women so I return her enthusiastic hug and as I do, I’m struck by a thought. Ordinarily only one sort of person responds to the word “Alaska” with such uncontainable glee.
Hey Pam are you … Oh Peter I spent two years up there and am hoping to settle there permanently.
Two years in Alaska? Forthwith I leap upon her. Zowie. Alaskanophiles always enact this ritual embracing ceremony.
Some well-dressed people appear in the lodge hall. Hello. Nice to meet you all. Now go away. It’s been years since I met a fellow traveller who’s also been forever marked by the emotional and geographical state of Alaska. Pam and I ignore the newcomers and retire to a corner by the fire, spending the rest of the evening finding places we’ve both loved in the great Great Northland. Eventually I notice the lodge is full of people and talk. Is this a cocktail party or what.
Hey Pam what’s going on. Peter would you like some dinner, you must be starved. Uh, yeah. Right. I must be. Aren’t we going to eat here. No, I have to go back to town.
Out in front of the lodge is parked a most impressive array of gleaming transport. In this long multi-car motorcade we all wheel back into Q-town and up to the Trans Hotel, one of the plushest spots in South Island. Even the parking lot is fully carpeted. Hey Pam help. Into the bar. Crikey these people are rather expensively dressed aren’t they. Into this classy restaurant. Where an enormous long table in the center of the main room has been reserved.
Pam sits at the end and plunks me down beside her. Across from me are Cynthia and Fran and on my right a lady who asks several times throughout the evening have I seen the books of poems she’s published in Australia.
One might wish to be more suitably attired in the midst of such sartorial splendor but it’s wotthehell boys and toujours gai in my 65-cent Salvation Army store pullover sweater (whose arms I had to soak in cold water and then stretch mightily to make them even approach the length of mine own arms) and these unfortunately grass-stained jeans. But I shan’t complain ‘cause the company’s mighty fine. At this very long table, believe it or not, fully 90% of the seats are occupied by exceedingly attractive young women.
So let’s just relax and dig into this cream of lobster soup. Musing back on a conversation I had at the Mercury Theatre in Auckland of an evening, oh so very long ago. Discussing the great contrasts often thrust upon the impoverished traveller. Now I slice into this 1½” thick Porterhouse steak while the ice bucket at my elbow is chilling a magnum of imported champagne, thinking that I’d had nothing to drink or eat since breakfast, save some stale chocolate. From the bony knees of Hunger to the lavish lap of Luxury in a couple of hours. The vagaries of fortune.
Difficult to relax though with all these bloody flashbulbs popping in our faces all the time. Leaving irritating white spots in the eyes. But with the flashes, light eventually comes a-dawning. This is no ordinary meal, no ordinary assemblage. I turn to Cynthia and extract the information that she’s Miss Otago. Fran was Miss New Zealand three years ago and is now a tour chaperone. And — you guessed it — three nights ago in Dunedin, our Pam was crowned Miss New Zealand.
Hmm. Strange waters indeed. In fact, the people at our table (save your humble reporter of course) comprise the entire Miss New Zealand tour, all the contestants and staff and entertainers. Miss Waicato there could be quite attractive. If only she’d take off those silly long red gloves. Pam at least is not lathered in makeup. And sensible enough to have misgivings about her coming year. Cocktail parties, forced smiles, and many many flashbulbs. She looks tired already. Yearning no doubt for the healing peace of the northwoods. Poor Pam. Don’t let them get your spirit.