Heidi and I returned to our motel to rest up before hitting the town for the night.
After working on my swimming skills all summer, I had looked forward to staying here because it had a pool. But the pool was indoors, next to the parking lot, with no natural light or even a potted plant to make you feel you were in nature, and it was too small to swim a lap. It was surrounded by concrete topped with artificial grass and two lounge chairs.
When searching for accommodations with a pool, always look at photos of the pool.
Heidi had made all the arrangements for our time in the centre and I was grateful for that. Not being able to swim was no big deal. I would have plenty of opportunities on the reef.
Our only plan for the evening was to check out a restaurant, Sportys, that Heidi’s Aboriginal exchange student from Alice had recommended. Alice is a small town so we found it right away. There was nothing else, really. I ordered a steak salad that came with wilted, brown lettuce and “steak” that was really processed beef lunch meat cut into “steak”-shaped strips. Our server was a young guy from Orlando, Florida who was clearly thrilled to be anywhere but there.
“I’ve got a one-year work permit and I’m hoping I never have to go back!” he effused.
“Do you think he’s gay?” I asked Heidi when he’d skipped away.
“Hmm … yes?” she laughed.
“Do you think he’s The Only Gay in the Village?” I asked her. This was a reference to a skit from the old politically incorrect comedy show Little Britain, in which comedian Matt Lucas plays the eponymous Only Gay in a tiny Welsh village.
Alice didn’t seem like a place our waiter was likely to meet an Australian to marry so he could stay in the country forever.
It was dark. We sat on the patio and watched passersby: groups of young people with beer cans in their hands, men who looked like they’d been cleaning out sewers or dumpsters all day, Aboriginal teen moms with strollers and toddlers running free. The streets weren’t well lighted except for the main pedestrian drag, which had a fantastic art installation involving swirling Aboriginal patterns projected onto the sidewalks and neon sculptures that resembled insects. This was accompanied by new-age music emanating from nowhere and everywhere. The streets leading away from the main street receded into darkness.
We wished our waiter good luck, then sauntered out into the night. All the shops were closed except for Target, which is not the same Target as the US chain but which has the same logo. “Target sell mainly clothes and small household items,” explained Heidi as we did a walk through. It was a warehouse-style store, but with red Target logos everywhere.
That was our whoopdeedoo night on the town; there was nothing else to do. This was okay with me since I can’t stay up past 9pm anyway.
Heidi had an ambitious plan for us the next day.
“We’ll take a bus out to the telegraph station, then we should be able to visit the School of the Air using the same bus route.”
We procured a schedule, enough change to pay the fare, and searched and asked strangers for directions for half an hour until we found a bus stop. The bus came quickly, and we paid our fares.
“Five more dollars,” demanded the driver, who appeared to be Somali.
Heidi showed him the bus brochure, which stated the fare in black and white.
“No, five more dollars each,” the driver insisted.
We fumbled and coughed up five dollars, then he performed some sleight of hand, insisting we needed to pay two more, then he gave us some change back.
“I think we were just scammed,” I said, “but I’m so confused I don’t think I could argue for our money back.”
Heidi was steaming. When we got to our stop 20 minutes later, she stood in the bus door to keep him from closing it and calmly argued with him. He didn’t budge.
“I’m fairly certain that’s the only bus,” she remarked, “So we’ll be walking back to town.”