The Stranger Side of Travel

The Stranger Side of Travel

The Stranger Side of Travel

See dem hills? I live in dem hills…

The man pointing at the blue-green hills in question was talking to my mother. He looked like Billy Ray Cyrus — if Mr. Cyrus had less teeth and a meth-addiction.

We were in rural Australia, and this young man with an uncanny resemblance to a junkie version of the popular country singer was doing his best to woo my mother.

My teenage sister and I were highly amused.  Over a decade later, we still remind my mother of this day.

I shouldn’t laugh. I’ve inherited this ability to attract eccentric people and odd situations. Here’s a list of some of the odd situations I’ve found myself in on my travels.

1. Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA

Do you like alcohol? We could go to a bar and get a drink?

If you’d been having a good discussion with someone you’d just met, this wouldn’t be an odd question.

I wasn’t.

I was doing my laundry in the basement of a hotel on Fort Lauderdale Beach. And the person asking had walked past the basement, noticed someone in it, backtracked, walked in and came out with this question.

The person asking was a hunchbacked midget, sporting an epic mullet and wearing an Iron Maiden t-shirt, replete with denim cut-offs.

A little thrown by the situation, I just politely said no thank you, forgetting to say I was happily spoken for.

Him: What? Don’t you drink?

Me: Err No, I –

Him: You can come over to my house instead. I can cook you dinner.

Me: Oh, I can’t, thank you, but –

Him: We can have steak. I’m good on a grill.

At this point, my husband walked in and started sorting underwear with me. My basement friend beat a hasty retreat.

2. Border of Yengo National Park, NSW, Australia

Let’s take the scenic route!

If you’ve seen Wolf Creek, you probably don’t want to take any scenic routes off highways in Australia.

And yet, despite being Australian, and having seen Wolf Creek, I suggested a scenic route in the middle of rural New South Wales.

And just like in the horror movies, we took a wrong turn.

When we passed a farm filled with sculptures, including a truck sized baby’s head sitting atop giant, rusty claws, we decided not to stick around to find out. You’ve seen the movies. You know what happens to people who stay to see what’s going on.

3. Turlock, California, USA

You can get guns and shooting accessories from a grocery store in the ‘States. But not always tofu or lentils.

We drove an hour to find tofu in Merced County. At our first stop in Turlock, we thought the lack of was just a “Walmart thing”. We had no luck at the slightly more upmarket Safeway.

We thought for sure we’d have success at the gluten free, health food store. The fridge full of Daiya cheese and almond milk seemed to be a good omen. I felt brave enough to ask for tofu.

The lady at the register looked at me like I’d spontaneously sprouted a second head. She shook her head and said, “There’s no tofu in Turlock.”

4. Edgecliff, NSW, Australia

Edgecliff’s a nice area. Good people, good schools, and it’s close to the beach. Great area for kids to grow up in.

This is a very normal conversation in a supermarket in Sydney’s exclusive eastern suburbs.

It would be even more normal, if the man saying it to me wasn’t decked out head to toe in the Australian flag, and wasn’t buying more Australiana gear.

And if he didn’t opt to buy an Australian flag to wear as a cape, rather than choosing bread when he couldn’t afford all of the goods he wished to purchase.

It would also seem more normal if every finger wasn’t blackened, with the flesh rotting at the tips. Meth, perhaps? We suspected so, but he seemed so calm and rational…

5. Somewhere off the highway, deep in the Utah desert, USA

We’d been in desert heat ranging between 113 to 128 degrees for four days straight and were dying for some ice-cold beers.

We stopped at the first gas station we saw – a tiny shack off the highway advertising gas, beer, and sandwiches.  The electricity was shot and they could only take cash. We only had cards. Asking if there was any beer nearby, the attendant directed us to a nearby Shell, only 20 minutes or so up the highway.

I was too short to see over the counter, so this sounded like a normal exchange.

My husband, however, looked a little freaked out. The guy speaking had eyeballed him as he spoke, combing his wiry, grey, chest-length beard with a metal fork during the entire conversation.

6. Perry, Florida, USA

You’re one of them, aren’t you?

We were in the outdoor bar at the RV park, where boiled peanuts were the talking point. You know when someone strikes you as just a bit off, but you can’t put your finger on it? I’d attracted one of those people in this bar.

In the middle of a conversation, he’d mentioned that his wife liked having sex with women.

Sure, why not? I don’t care what people do with their sex lives.

Apparently my lack of shock and my “Oh, cool” response was enough to be an invitation to him. And his wife.

That was one situation that required a little tact and squirming to tactfully extract myself from.

7. Sam’s Town Casino, Las Vegas, USA

Sam’s Town is what’s known as a “local’s casino” in Vegas.

Locals don’t go to the Strip to gamble or drink for several reasons because it’s expensive and full of drunk tourists. Instead, the locals go to Sam’s Town to watch movies, go bowling or grab a meal.

The casino section, however, made me question whether there was a hospital nearby. We’d seen several patrons sporting hospital gowns and wrist tags.

The most obvious clue, however, was one gambler in an actual hospital bed. A burly security guard stopped to have a conversation to the woman in the bed.

M’am, have you just gone to the bathroom?

Oh yeah. Sometimes I forget.

Well, you can smell it.

8. Richmond, NSW, Australia

Miss, do you mind helping me move my cushion?

I was walking through an outdoor stripmall in Australia when I had this question. I’d been having a good day: lunch with my grandmother and her best friend, it was sunny and I wasn’t working, and I had on a beautiful 50s style vintage dress from Seattle. Life was feeling good. 🙂

The person asking was a guy about my age in a wheelchair, who didn’t have legs. He had arms, but only a couple of fingers. His iphone was on a necklace around his neck, and he clearly suffered from extreme mobility issues.

His cushion, however, was under his backside. I felt really bad for the poor guy, and assumed it was slipping down. Trying to get to it without touching him in that position was particularly awkward. Trying to shift it without touching him in certain areas seemed impossible.

And at this point, I noticed that my cleavage was quite close to the iPhone around his neck, and that he was surreptisiously taking photos of my cleavage while I was bending over “helping with his cushion”. I made my polite excuses, ran back to my car, and promptly fled Richmond.

On telling this story later to my grandmother, she said who knew what he’d be doing with those photos and I should call the police.

I said, Nan, I think I know EXACTLY what he’s doing with those photos. And as long he’s not selling them, he can go for his life! I think she was a little mortified, but hey, no harm done to me, really…

What strange travel stories do you have? Do you attract odd people like I do?

* This post originally appeared in a slightly modified version on Dave’s Travel Corner, where we were runner’s up in the 2014 Travel Writing Essay Competition.

28 thoughts on “The Stranger Side of Travel

  1. You have the most exciting life. Weirdest thing that ever happened to me was getting my nails done in Las Vegas a few years ago now. The nails were still wet so I asked the girl to take the money out of my wallet. She took the $20 and then took another $20 saying it was her ‘tip’. When I expressed my dismay at a 100% tip, she grabbed both my hands and smudged every nail. I grabbed my stuff and ran. I had to calm down before finding a drugstore and some nail polish remover.

    • Oh my God! Michelle, that’s insane… only in Vegas, right? I cannot believe she smudged your nails, what a nasty person. And in Vegas, I can hardly imagine she deserved the 100% tip if she reacted like that.. I think it’s because they think Australians don’t know how to tip!

  2. Ohhh, #1…hahaha. I have no words. Someone recently tried to hit on me online by saying, “You sound sexy. When are we hanging out? You can squat me if you’d like.”

    I also kinda want to clock the guy in #8. That’s effed up!

    I don’t think I tend to attract really weird people when I travel. It’s more just in everyday life, but usually I only see them once, so I suppose that’s a plus!

    • OMG, that’s so gross that he said that to you Farrah! I actually felt a little sorry for the guy, as he was so heavily handicapped. Once I got over being weirded out after I escaped, I just had a bit of a laugh about it.

  3. These are hilarious! I’ve never been there, but I am adopting: “There’s no tofu in Turlock.” That’s what I’m going to say every time my kids won’t take no for an answer.

  4. That is sort of strange that Walmart didn’t have tofu….. I live in a small town in the U.S. and our Walmart has tofu. I wonder what they had against tofu in Turlock….

    • Oh definitely. It was all kinda strange out in that very quiet, middle of nowhere area in America. By contrast, by the time we got to Moab it was so hipster and cool that I never wanted to leave, and it was only 20 minutes from that strange, isolated gas station with the beard combing man!

  5. Hahaha these had me laughing out loud!! I love stories like these. I haven’t travelled a whole lot, but I definitely attract weirdos which makes me kind of nervous to leave the country! 😉

    • Hahaha, oh I can empathize with that Ariana! I attract them just stepping out of the house. Lucky you’re in Canada where it’s friendly and normal for the most part. 😉

    • I’ve heard *such* good things about Austin, Bailey – the food being one of them! It’s definitely somewhere we want to visit next time we’re in the states. We were hoping to swing by for SXSW, but life had plans for us in Thailand instead, it seems!

  6. I. Love. You.
    People are so messed up. Like strangers touching pregnant women’s bellies.
    I can’t think of any particularly strange travel interactions that I have had of late, but some of my favorite situations have happened on the train going back and forth between VA and GA. I love it when people bring their 40s on the train or start singing gospel… at 1 AM.

    • OMG does 40s mean a gun? I’m a bit naive with gun talk. I got a bit surprised at people talking about their guns when we lived in Florida, like it was just a normal thing you do.

  7. Oh Jessica this does make me laugh! People are so weird, other people that is, I’m perfectly normal 😉 keep collecting those stories for our amusement please, hopefully you won’t get in too many sticky situations for our reading pleasure! X

    • You can see why I was pretty excited to catch up with you and Paul for dinner now, can’t you? Hahahaha 😉 I have to say, not so many weirdos in Chiang Mai, thankfully. I’m yet to have an odd experience here, but I’m a bit hesitant to say that in case I jinx myself! How is Cambodia going?

  8. These are amazing! People are strange…
    I think my oddest ecounter was actually at home in Montreal. I’d just got back from a trip, and as I was walking home a man stopped me and asked if he could kiss my foot. I said no, and as I walked away, he yelled after me “I’ll give you 50$!”
    This was also in the middle of winter, -30°c, and I was wearingsteel-toed boots. Welcome home!

  9. I attract strangeness wherever I go – public transport is the worst! We got stalked in India which was really funny and freaky at the same time – it got even stranger when I returned home and discovered my colleague had been stalked in the same town by who we think was the same guy a few years previously! We even filmed him following us just incase we vanished!!

    • Oh my gosh Rebecca, you know I don’t catch public transport because I get hemmed in with weirdos and there is no escape? I will walk for hours rather than catch a train or a bus. People who don’t attract oddbods don’t understand, but you clearly do! And how funny that your colleague got stalked by the same guy!

  10. Oh my goodness, you have so many of these stories! I was expecting, like, 3. But no, you’ve seen and heard it all. My main weirdo defense is that I generally don’t walk anywhere alone–a habit that started as a rule from my parents since I was a teenager in southeast asia and some high-profile kidnappings of western women were in the news at the time, so they didn’t let any of us go anywhere alone, we always had to be with a friend or sibling. My little brother has been 6 ft. tall since he was 13, and we have affectionately nicknamed him “The Bodyguard.” Here in China, I mostly just get stopped for people to take pictures with me. 😛

  11. Oh my gosh, Sam’s Town is such a strange place. My favorite thing is their animatronic animals scattered in the check-in/common area, and the wolf that comes out during their ’80s-riffic light show at night.

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