Incommunicado at Surf Doggie, Dog
“It’s nice to be here. When you’re 100 years old, it’s nice to be anywhere.”
–The line George Burns planned to use to open his show at the London Palladium.
One of my favorite things about my college part time job at Baskin-Robbins wasn’t just the chance to get as much free ice cream as I wanted when I was on break. It was the opportunity it gave me to try flavors I never would have paid for. Each time I dropped three new flavors in a cup, I never knew if I was going to like them or not. There were times when I was pleasantly surprised by such flavors as Baseball Nut and Pralines ‘n’ Cream, but just as many occasions when I was shocked at the unpalatability of flavors like pistachio (which is odd considering how much I love the real nut). The one thing that never failed to delight me was the transitional zone where the tastes merged to form their own distinctive hybrid flavors. Daiquiri ice and chocolate ice cream became daquolate, pralines & cream and quarterback crunch became pralined quarterback (or is that quarterback cream?) and hickory walnut ice cream, daquiri ice with just a smidgen of Dr. Pepper morphed into hickory daquiri doc.
An early morning walk through Kuta reminded me of those old three scoop sundaes. In this case it was the many smells of the city that mixed to form their own bizarre hybrids, some good, others bad, but all of them mixing together in the most unusual ways. One minute the sweetish smell I’ve thought of as night blooming jasmine wafted up to be edged out by the smell of sewage flowing through the open sewers at the side of the street, only to be sent packing by the smell of garlic pouring from the stand of a streetside food vendor. No matter where I went my nostrils were constantly being amused, abused, taunted, teased, pleased and generally beaten about the head and shoulders by all manner of odors, essences, scents and smells as I ambled along the streets of the tourist district.
I don’t know what I was expecting Bali to be like before I arrived, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t expect it to have the flavor of an American beach town, only with strange architecture. Instead of having the stand-alone stores and strip malls set back from the streets like back home, Kuta’s stores were flush up against sidewalks that rose and plunged in front of each store with the occasional open sewer grate along the way, making walking a block an exhausting enough adventure to make it worthwhile considering walking through street traffic. To get to the street, however, I had to cross over one of the many concrete “planks” that covered the ditches between the street and sidewalk. I assume they were there to catch runoff from rains during the monsoon season but, for all I knew, they could have been open sewage ditches.
I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to appreciate this insight because I was cranky and preoccupied. Not too surprising considering that I had awoken 5 a.m. to the sound of roosters competing in a crow-off that no one had bothered to tell me about. (Being that I was in the middle of a fairly large city, it had never occurred to me to ask if there might be farm animals. Silly me.) When I was unable to go back to sleep after the competition, I listened to the Voice of America on my short-wave and heard the sad news: George Burns had died. Call me sentimental. Call me an old fool. Call me a manic-depressive looking for a reason to be bummed, but normally the loss of this comic genius and knowledge that the great ones are dying would have sent me into a daylong tailspin, but not today. I had a mission. I wanted to call my friend Michael just so I could say, “You’ll never guess where I’m calling from. I’m in Indonesia, man.” My inability to go back to sleep pushed me to start earlier than planned. Much earlier. I hit the street looking for an Indosat phone — the type of phone that would allow me to dial an AT&T access code and make a credit card call — just before 7 a.m.
My guidebook said there was an Indosat phone on the edge of Kuta. After more than an hour of walking in 80 plus degree heat, all I found was a broken down wartel and a beat up pay phone across the street. Wartels are privately run phone offices where tourists and locals without phones can pay to make local and long distance phone calls. Since wartels are for-profit operations, I didn’t mind paying a little to make a credit card call, but I bristled at the $3 charge because it was like paying to make a call that I would have to pay for again. Call me stingy, but there was no way I was going to give into such highway robbery, so I crossed the street to the phone booth.
The good news is the phone worked. The bad news is all of the directions were in Indonesian and I apparently did not have the right change because it wouldn’t work no matter how much money I put in. Fortunately, a sign indicated there was a Holiday Inn a kilometer away so I headed there instead. Not only did hotel not have an Indosat phone; the hotel’s rates were even higher.
Frustrated, I went back to Surf Doggie and sulked.
While George Burns’ death wasn’t enough to throw me into a funk, being incommunicado was. I admit I was a bit spoiled. While I could put up with many deprivations, I had to admit I wasn’t used to not being able to make a phone call to a friend whenever I wanted to. And it pissed me off.
In the end, I swallowed my pride, found a cheap wartel near Surf Doggie and freaked out my mother by calling her collect. Her panic was understandable. In my family collect calls are reserved for family emergencies and code calls. You know the type I mean. Where you call collect, ask for yourself and when you aren’t there, the person receiving the call asks for a number so that you (your family) can call you back when you return, and then the family member calls you back. Of course, that wasn’t possible in this case, so I’m sure my family thought I was in dire straits.
To make matters worse, my family lived in fear of THE CALL. The one saying I was injured, mangled or dying in some country where it wasn’t possible to get a flight for days. They’d already gotten one such call back in the States years before when I had blacked out while driving down a rural road in Oklahoma then hit a guardrail, went airborne and crashed into the other side of a bridge, totaling my car. I was dangerously anemic at the time, but no one knew it until the ambulance scraped me up off the road after the accident and my mom had to come get me. Suffice it to say the seat-of-my-pants nature of the trip did little to restore her faith in my ability to travel without hurting myself. In addition, the depression she heard in my voice prompted her to remind me that I could end the trip and return home any time I wanted. I could even stay with her in Fort Myers, Florida if necessary.
Her offer inspired me, but not in the way she originally hoped. Although I was depressed being out of touch, I decided to dig my heels in and tough it out. It was an adventure, after all, and it only made sense there would be down times and periods of adjustment, I told myself. Besides, a bad day on Bali was a hundred times better than the best day in Fort Myers.
So, I stayed, in the hopes of finding some interesting adventures. They weren’t long in coming.