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 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.