Friday, January 9, 2009

Wanderlust interrupted

Auckland: A winter wonderland for masochists

Express Staff Writer

Anyone who doubts that working in a ski town is one step removed from reality should carefully observe himself or herself during the next serious snowstorm. It's difficult to imagine another place where the resulting treacherous road conditions, painstaking shoveling and need for 17 layers of clothing are not simply tolerated, but regarded as a present from a higher power.

Like a French chef with dangerously high cholesterol, the inconveniences actually serve as a signifier that things are exactly as they should be.

During my various forms of employment over the years, winter was not marked by the delightful prospect of another powder day.

Instead, there has been revulsion when being reminded once again to mind the gap before being crammed into a subway car in which the heat is cranked up so high that the wet hair of the lady standing in suffocatingly close proximity begins to steam.

Or trepidation at the thought of being blinded by an errant metal prong on the streets of Osaka when, at the first hint of a dark cloud, thousands of pedestrians uniformly open umbrellas at exactly eye level.

Or facing the humiliation of falling victim to a rain-soaked manhole cover. That's right, a manhole cover.

For those who work as bike messengers, these oft-overlooked manifestations of modern public utility represent the equivalent of a chunk of ice lying below two inches of fresh snow when encountered by the cyclist making a GS turn at Mach 1.

Winter in Auckland, New Zealand, is difficult in that it comes at an entirely wrong time of year. July was intended for lounging on a beach, playing kickball until twilight and grilling deliciously unhealthy treats. Therefore, I knew something was seriously wrong when it rained for three weeks straight and daylight lasted for approximately five hours.

Before becoming a messenger, I held the common belief that the job would be one of the best forms of employment available. Ride a bike all day, expend enough calories to justify eating an entire box of Tim Tams in one sitting and wear clothes that don't even have to be washed regularly, let alone dry cleaned. Perfect.

And in many ways, it was. That is, except when I woke up in the dark to the sound of a downpour, knowing that within seconds of rolling on the pavement, the pad in my lycra shorts would be transformeed into an inundated sponge.

And if being constantly wet and chilled wasn't enough to make me grumpier than, as Jerry Seinfeld would say, an old man returning soup at a deli, then there were always the elevators. Invariably, I would be standing in a puddle as water squelched out of my shoes and water poured off my helmet, and a seemingly educated and respectable businessman in a suit would give a quick once-over at my disheveled character and ask, "So, is it raining out?" Perhaps an innocuous attempt at small talk, but under the circumstances it seemed a justifiable reason to garrote him with a spare inner tube.

But far worse then temporary homicidal hallucinations is making the poor decision to choose a turning path that includes a manhole cover or painted road stripe. With a minimal amount of water, these road features quickly have all the tractional properties of a greased watermelon floating in an oil slick.

More than occasionally, I would be cruising along upright only to suddenly find myself sliding on my side through a gutter toward a startled pack of pedestrians, who would have to take a moment to let their laughter subside before inquiring about my well-being.

But, even after arriving home with scraped elbows and bruised pride, my lower legs covered in a fake tan of road grime, I truly felt as if I deserved my paycheck, as opposed to when I would sit in front of a computer and change the font on a spreadsheet. And maybe this feeling was enough to make the wet winter not just bearable, but a rewarding life experience.

Of course, so is a powder day.

Jon Duval is a staff writer for the Idaho Mountain Express.

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