Our last full day in Australia dawns gray and cool. The rest of the Landing Party is headed to the Healesville sanctuary to check out all the oddball Australian creatures that have so far escaped our detection. I have a guided tour of Melbourne scheduled for the afternoon, and in the meantime I head back over to Chapel Street to check out the Saturday morning crowd.
The shopping strip changes from swanky to funky in short order, from high-end clothing stores to appliance repair and guitar shops in the span of a few blocks. There are a number of used CD stores, all of which have multiple copies of The Presidents of the United States of America II, an album I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in the States. I pick up a copy. I also find a used copy of the gruff, lonesome Perkins, Walker & Owen CD that was playing at the Portofino in Port Fairy.
I grab a cup of cappuccino at the and jot a few notes in my journal. The trip is 2/3 gone now but my head is still clear, with work and old house still nine time zones away.
During his stint in Sydney Jeff Drimak made the acquaintance of Andrew Giannopoulos, a friendly racecar enthusiast who’s promised to show me around Melbourne. Over Mafia Pasta back in St. Kilda he affirms what I’ve been suspecting all along – the women in Australia are good-looking. Lycra is, in fact, the national fabric. Everyone loves the beach, and the culture is a mix of American entertainment and European fashion – with a healthy dose of AC/DC mixed in. Andrew, for the record, hasn’t followed that band since that first singer choked on his own vomit.
I get the full tour of Melbourne, from the beachfront mansions to the “yuppie dog boxes” by the race track. The Grand Prix is only a few weeks away, and Andrew happily guides his BMW across the circuit – fielding a call on his mobile, of course.
I get a comprehensive tour of the business district and the busy neighborhoods to the north and east – one block will be crammed with little restaurants and shops, then two blocks over it’s the same thing again. I finally see the cool part of Brunswick Street, maybe a quarter-mile north of the point I turned back yesterday. Up here it’s pretty funky, with bright lettering scrawled on black walls and hip post-college types lounging outside, eyeing the scene. We drive past stately wrought-iron mansions and back over the Yarra River to Toorak. It’s a complex city, and I’m about overloaded with information. I thank Andrew and suggest we try to get together with the wives later that evening.
The rest of the crew have been tripping over sleepy marsupials at the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary.
Melanie’s spotted a place to eat – an Irish joint named on Chapel Street, across from the Black Prince where I weathered yesterday’s rain. Andrew tentatively agrees to meet us there. It’s an imposing building, half bank, half church, with rich red carpet and a sweeping balcony. Too cold and windy now to sit outside on the slate patio, we snag a table high up along the balcony overlooking the bar and dining room below. We’re sure Andrew won’t show up – this place is like TGIFriday’s, hell we didn’t know but he’d know the scene, and he and his wife have better places to go on a Saturday night. The food’s okay, traditional Irish bangers & mash and stew; no arguing with pints of Guinness. A band sets up in the far back of the balcony. We allow ourselves one more pint before leaving when Andrew and Tonya wedge their way through the growing crowd. Good timing. We’ve got a little oasis with the table, and we can shout over the band back here. They’re fun people, and Melanie and I enjoy hanging out but we’ve got an early flight in the morning. It’s getting late and we’ve gotta go.
On my way out I’m blocked by a huge bald mustard jar of a man who asks if I play bass. This is pretty weird, because I do play bass. Apparently I resemble a local Melbourne player. The jar’s a bass player himself, but he snapped a tendon in his picking hand and is out of commission for the forseeable future – all he’s got to show for it is gauze around his thumb and an ugly cast up the length of his thick forearm. I wish him well and thread my way through the crowd, dazed by this odd coincidence and all that stout I just polished off.