The first time I woke up in the hostel in Alice Springs, Australia, was when another person in the sixteen-person room slept through their cell phone alarm. The alarm automatically switched to “snooze” and rang again a few minutes later. This time an Australian backpacker got out of his bed to talk to alarm’s irresponsible owner.
“Turn your phone off,” he said sternly.
The person in bed just mumbled—they were either very tired, or very hung over.
“Do you hear me? Your alarm is waking everyone up.”
“Turn off your phone. We all want to sleep,” now making more noise than the alarm.
The person turns off the alarm.
“Now turn off the phone.”
“I don’t want this to happen again, turn off your phone. Or I’m throwing it out the window.”
Desperate mumbles, but still mumbles.
“I will do it. Turn off your phone or I’m throwing it out the window.”
“I am going to throw your phone out the window.”
I had my eyes closed for all of this, though even if they were open I wouldn’t have seen anything through the dark room. I don’t think the situation was resolved with the phone being thrown out the window; I wish I hadn’t been so tired while this was happening, so I could have enjoyed how funny the conversation would have been in the moment.
The second time I woke up in the hostel was because a fire alarm went off at around 6:00AM. My first thought was that the blaring was just another person’s phone alarm. My second thought was, “Our hostel is on fire. That’ll be a good story to tell.” My third thought was something about how I probably shouldn’t let myself burn to death in a bunk bed.
All the hostellers (except for the few who actually chose to stay in bed and endure the horrible, horrible alarm, which didn’t stop for many minutes) gathered outside between the lobby and the kitchen, and waited for the fire fighters to arrive. Once they did, they searched around for the fire and kept searching because they couldn’t find it. I’m not even sure if they ever did. Scott and I got our belongings together and hopped on the train headed to Adelaide.
Some weird things I learned in the Alice Springs train station:
1. There is a 30-minute time difference between Sydney and Alice Springs. I didn’t even know that was a thing.
2. At least one person, according to an advertisement, thinks that jewelry is spelled “jewellery.”
3. Old people go ape for a good ol’ train ride.
4. Scott and I don’t have seats near each other.
I know what you’re thinking. What’s the big deal—haven’t you guys been around each other for every waking moment for three weeks? Well, we are about to be on a train for 24 hours, and we could be seated by anyone, good or bad.
Scott took his seat and was immediately joined by his seatmate, a clean-cut Canadian student. I found my seat: the aisle seat next to an enormous child. As I sat and turned to my left, I noticed his enormous father and mother. Then I smelled them. I was sitting between two generations of “the smelly kid” from school. And the parents were eating. Already? The train hasn’t moved yet. Are you American or something?
Upon closer examination I noticed that the child I was sitting next to was crammed into his seat because he had toy monster truck in a box that took up the entirety of his leg space. He also had food and a laptop with him. He had highlights in his hair, which looked like cheap leopard print, unintentionally I’m sure. Also he had his ears pierced, his eyebrow pierced, and a silver ball sticking out of his face between his chin and bottom lip, whatever that piercing is called. He couldn’t have been older than 11 or 12 years old. Who lets a preteen do that to themselves? Hey, parents: letting your child look that way was a terrible decision, and as a high school teacher, I think I know a bad parental decision when I see it.
Upon closer examination still (though not that close), I began to doubt if the child were a boy…but that didn’t mean I could tell it was a girl. I had no idea either way. I thought about asking, but I just expected I’d get an answer like Alex, Pat, Drew, Sam, Taylor, etc. Also the kid was a mouth-breather and its breath smelled like Funyuns—I have no idea how, those are not even a thing here—and I didn’t want that toxic air pointed directly at me.
Look, I’m not weightist, scentist, anti-fat, or anti-child, but I was sitting by every negative sitting-next-to stereotype possible—fat, smelly, child, has lots of stuff, loud… Oh, and he/she was loud, too.
On its laptop, the child played HALO, muttering things to the computerized players, and with the volume turned up, so every fake bullet and fake death groan and fake footstep could be heard. At one point the mother mentioned something to her spawn about the volume: “Maybe you should turn it down?” The potato-shaped child with the punk-rock-themed face countered brilliantly with, “But if I turn it down too low I wont hear it.” Can’t argue with that logic! And Mrs. Potatohead conceded the debate with, “Well, you’ve got to hear it.”
The row of the four of us—I was crammed into a family portrait of dumpster people. They were like the Dursley’s but without the charm (or the magical step son). This would be the longest 24 hours of my life.
Scott came to my rescue and suggested we hang out in the café car, which is a place you can go it turns out. The café car is a series of booths, and passengers can hang out there any time, even if they aren’t buying food from the kitchen, which is in the back of the car. Scott laughed at my luck and introduced me to Sergei, the dude he was seated with. Sergei had been working in Darwin and was spending several days traveling by train to Sydney. He is Canadian and I interrogated him about why books are more expensive in Canada, and if their milk really comes in bags. Scott kept accusing Canada of losing Alaska to the United States, because they aren’t as good as us, even though Canada never owned Alaska. Luckily Sergei was a good sport and we all talked for several hours. To keep me from going to my seat/personal hell, we stayed in the café until after midnight. Though at one point I had to get my computer from my assigned seat and I saw the whole pod of them eating meat pies. And the child came into the café at least half a dozen times, bought food, and delivered it back to his seat.
These. People. Never. Stopped. Eating.
At one point I went back to my seat just to grab a notebook, and my seat had been commandeered by their food wrappers and other belongings. They stared at me wide-eyed, like they knew they’d been caught doing something inappropriate. I grabbed my notebook, no one said anything, and I walked back to the café.
I waited for as long as I could before I needed to sleep. I tried to come across an empty seat I could sneakily occupy in the seated car, which was no longer lit, but the car was packed. So I accepted my fate and sat in my seat, which was no longer covered in rubbish, and looked at the child to my right, who was now shirtless. I don’t care who you are—don’t take off your shirt while on a mode of transportation which costs over a hundred dollars, or, screw it, any money whatsoever, especially if you have to end up sleeping near a complete stranger, and especially, especially if you are fat, and I don’t care if you’re twelve, you should know better by the time you’re twelve! Anyway…I found out the kid was a boy after all.
I put my hoodie on backwards, with my hood over my whole face, to block out any smells. I used my coat as a pillow. I leaned as closely as I could to the aisle. And I listened to Bon Iver, which I only do when I am really trying to fall asleep quickly, because Bon Iver is French for “sleeping pill for the ears.”
I woke up a few times during the night and noticed that the parents never slept. They were either talking to each other while everyone slept, or, and this only happened a couple times, the mother was just staring at me. Just staring at me. I don’t think she knew I could see her through my hood.
After waking up, the first thing I did was go back to the café. By this point in the morning (and I wish I were lying, but I’m not) the mother was double-fisting meat pies. I caught a good look at the father, too, who was sitting by the window. He looked like he was permanently miserable.
Before the train stopped in Adelaide it made a stop in Port Augustine, a depressing desert town, and maybe a fourth of the passengers exited at this stop, including the family I was seated near. After they left, I checked out our seats. An elderly couple of ladies with seats behind me were standing up, leaning over my seat, shocked at what had been left behind. The family left behind a box of homemade cookies, a bag of potato chips (crisps, they call ‘em here), half a package of green dip, pre-made meat pie wrappers and other rubbish, coffee cups, plastic cutlery, and a Nintendo DS stylus pen.