Summer Essay: A plan hatched is a plan with a hitch

MICHELLE DUFF
Last updated 13:36 07/01/2014
Hitch hiking
NATALIE LITRAS

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Oh my god, shame. It totally sucked. Somehow, we had ended up being complete losers. Everyone was going away for New Year's apart from us.

We didn't even know how it had happened. One minute there were plans to go to Castlepoint, or maybe Mt Maunganui, or boost over to Whanganui. We kept our options open.

Then, the unthinkable. New Year's, the best night of the year, the night when we should have been drinking KGs (Kentucky Gold bourbon, $15 from Super Liquor and it got you hammered) under the stars with our best friends (I'd probably be wearing my black Zeal T-shirt or my white halterneck, and maybe even pashing the hot German exchange student who had definitely been giving me the glad eye) was ruined. God, it was unfair.

Even though we publicly loved Kurt Cobain, wore Doc Martens, had proven the extent of our rebellion by sneaking out the window to parties several times, and almost passed out from the head rushes learning how to blow smoke rings, somehow all this had not been enough. Laura and I had been overlooked.

"What about Pete? Have you talked to Carla? What is Roxanne up to?" we asked each other. By the time the end of December rolled around, our black glitter nail polish was bitten down to the quick. And all the rides were still full.

That's when The Plan was hatched.

In hindsight, I think we were a victim of The Plan. We didn't really make The Plan. It formed itself, from a year of Courtney Love screaming at us to fly away to Malibu, and watching Pulp Fiction so many times (especially the part when Uma Thurman gets stabbed in the heart with adrenaline) that we could recite entire scenes, and wondering who shot 2Pac - most of all we were just dying to get away from Feilding.

Escaping was everything. It was OBVIOUS we were only here because we had to be, because our stupid parents were dumb enough to live here. Sigh.

Staying in Feilding for New Year's was the social equivalent of liking Hanson, or playing the clarinet.

We had nightmare visions of watching the countdown at the town clock tower, surrounded by jigging Highland dancers. Would Gwen Stefani stay at home for New Year's? Hell, no. It could not be allowed to happen.

The Plan was thus: We would tell our respective parents that we were staying at each other's houses, then hitchhike to Taupo. When there, we would find our mates who were staying in Kinloch, which was somewhere around the lake. Fun would ensue.

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It was basically foolproof.

Funnily enough, the most challenging part of our awesome Plan turned out to be the easiest. Shoving some food, clothes and makeup in a backpack, we set off at around 8am.

Breakfast was a pie and a V at the Shell on the outskirts of town. After a brief argument over who would put their thumb out, we decided it was only fair if we both did.

Five minutes later, we had our first ride. He was a family man from New Plymouth, and drove us wordlessly to Bulls. Yes!, we exclaimed, as he motored off. That was EASY!

The second guy was in a van, and told us stories of his own hitchhiking adventures as cows flashed past. We laughed loudly. He bought us lunch in Taihape, and dropped us under the trout in Taupo.

It was barely midday, and the sun ambled bright in the sky. Cars cruised the lakefront; the water was bejewelled. We lay on the sand, letting the sun caress our stomachs, congratulating ourselves on our nous. It had worked. We were free!

In town, we wandered in and out of shops, trying on sunglasses, crossing the sticky street with our cool Cokes. Man, it was hot.

Kinloch was even hotter, and our bag was getting heavy. We waved to the guys who had given us a ride and set off down the suburban streets. The lake was a summer tableau, families playing in the rocky sand and boats heaving past. We wondered where our mates were; none of us had cellphones, and we didn't know where they were staying. We'd just figured we'd see them at the lake.

Probably a bonfire would start soon, and they'd all appear around it, we told each other.

But the sun waited for no man, let alone a pair of teenage girls. It callously ignored our silent implores, falling ever lower on the horizon.

Outside the dairy, there was a brief argument over who would go in and try to buy the booze. The six-pack of bourbon and cokes burnt cold in my hand, but I threw them nonchalantly on the counter alongside some miscellaneous other items (you had to pretend the booze wasn't the point). My heart pounded. I adopted a knowing look, such as an 18-year-old might wear. "ID please," the owner asked. Dammit.

Okay, okay. Let's try to get back to Taupo.

Luck was no longer on our side. Shadows lengthened as we stood on the road, sticking out hopeful thumbs.

We pulled hoodies out of the bag, and munched on potato chips. It grew dark. Someone yelled at us from a car. An hour later it was cold and, worse, boring. We did a quick count of our money, and reckoned we could afford a taxi.

In the brightly lit house, the woman looked at us strangely.

"The phone's just there in the hallway," she said.

We had interrupted their dinner, forks were clacking from the dining room. It smelled good, and the house was warm. I reapplied my eyeliner in an ornate mirror.

"Where are you girls from?" the woman asked again.

Nowhere, we mumbled, south. Our parents were coming to get us but their car broke down. The lies nestled in the plush carpet.

Taupo on our return was an electric beast, cars doof-doofing and neon lights flashing above nightclubs we were too young to be allowed into.

A backpack was not acceptable nightwear, and we had to stash it. But where? We walked through the park, trying to find a suitable spot. How about there, under the trees?

Laura stood guard and I crawled through the undergrowth, pushing the backpack firmly into the middle of a bush.

---

Our load lightened, we took to the hectic streets. Lit cigarettes as protection against the weaving masses. Older girls in high heels, strutting across the road in glamorous groups. Guys leaning against cars, dark eyes gleaming. We were too sober, too obvious. We wished for invisibility.

At a quarter to midnight, we gave up the pretence. With our last $20, we bought a Happy Meal each from McDonald's.

We walked to the lake and, as the clock ticked 12pm, threw our toys in the water. Happy New Year! Happy Meal New Year! Hahaha.

We got tangled up in the hilarity, tears streaming down our faces. Seriously, what a laugh.

In the early hours of the morning, it got super-cold. We headed back to the stash point to grab our bag. But, impossibly, the bag was gone.

"Where is it?" Laura yelled, as I searched helplessly through the leaves. "Did you find it yet?"

My hand brushed on something, a rough material. I grabbed at the bag, pulling it up. But it felt different. What the hell? I felt in the dark.

"Oh, my god," I said. "What?" asked Laura.

"This isn't our bag."

"What?" she crashed through the bush next to me, grabbing at my hand. It was a canvas bag, like a beach bag, and it was full of bananas. Bananas? Was this a sick joke? Who would steal a backpack and replace it with a bag full of bananas?

We never found out. After another hour of searching, we gave up and huddled together under the bush.

Our bag was gone. After about 50,000 hours the sky began to lighten and there was a brief argument about how early was too early to start hitching home.

A middle-aged woman picked us up off the side of the road at 7.30am, in a car that smelt like roses. Her chit-chat rolled over us like gentle waves.

When we got home, we were in trouble with a capital T.

"What were you thinking?" our parents raged. "You could have been killed!"

Their anger rolled over us like gentle waves.

We were home. We were safe. And from that summer on, Courtney Love would never sound the same again.

- The Dominion Post

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