I am a woman of the worldGWYNETH HYNDMAN
Six weeks ago I was sitting on a barstool between a New York mathematician-turned-gambler and a North Carolinian bullrider-turned- Navy SEAL, watching a baseball game on an island just south of Canada, and drinking watery beer, when I had a sudden and terrible craving for a strong cup of tea and a big, fat buttered cheese roll from Mrs Clark's Cafe in Riverton.
The craving came while I was explaining to these guys on either side of me - the Navy SEAL who is now a chef, and the gambler who balances his his day job as a dining room server with his mad-dash leaps onto the 8pm ferry to get to casinos on the mainland - that despite having Los Olivos, California on my name tag that I wore each night while floating around the Michigan hotel dining room in dresses and carrying a silver water pitcher, most of my adult life had been spent in the deep south of New Zealand, within a 200km radius of a little wind-battered city called Invercargill.
Neither had heard of the place. Or cheese rolls. But they indicated I was allowed to keep talking over the baseball game if I kept my stories lively and useful.
Well rarely would you see me wearing something like this, I said, and pulled on the sleeve of my Jackie O outfit.
And pretty much never these.
I clanked my velvety pumps against the leg of the barstool.
And my hair would never be pulled back like this.
I gave a defiant tug on the swept-up ponytail with a poof in the front that I had mastered, thanks to a how-to article in a Glamour magazine hidden under the hostess stand I could be found most evenings.
In other words, this name tag, the hair, the shoes, the eyeliner, pretty much all of this, is really just a temporary gig until I move on to the next place, I said, with a bit of drama, playing the role of an old crone of great mystery as I held my empty glass up to the bartender.
As in: another beer here please. I have great wisdom to impart tonight as a woman of the world.
Then I watched their eyes glaze over then drift back up to the baseball game.
You know what I really have enjoyed about this northern Michigan island?
Nobody cares about my great wisdom as a woman of the world.
Nobody cares because my restlessness is not unusual here. I have no great insight from the road that anybody here hasn't already stumbled upon themselves.
Tonight, I was sitting with the road warrior pros and it was painfully clear I was out of my league.
So I shut up, drank my beer, and watched the game. And somewhere in there I heard bits and pieces about two tours of Afghanistan, and was given advice on how to ride a bull, kill a shark, place a winning bet in the Michigan lottery, break in a horse, severely injure someone in self-defence (obviously you don't want to have to fight them twice) and how to know when it's time to cut your losses and get out of Vegas.
Almost everyone in casual hospitality work - the kind that takes you from the yachts in Florida during the winter to the ranches of Wyoming in the summer, with weeks of wandering in Kazakhstan or Bolivia in between the seasons - has about 13 lives they have led before arriving on barstools just like these ones to watch baseball games and drink Budweiser, and pretend, for a few hours, to be normal.
Are these previous lives full of adventure? Of course they are.
Can you slither along avoiding relationships with any depth and keep addictions neatly hidden? Yep.
Will you meet big-hearted people in these strange places and have those soul collision moments that lead to friendships where calls from train stations at 1am to say ''Talk to me; I don't know what I'm doing and its really lonely right now'' are totally understandable because that person has also been lonely and has made phone calls in phone booths in empty train stations at 1am too?
Hopefully yes. Finding those kindred spirits is the best part of this kind of work.
We are all leaving the dust bowls of our minds to go pick oranges in perfect weather somewhere in our imaginations, building up the next destination as a kind of nirvana.
But for now, as summer ends, this is where we are - in this in-between place waiting for boats to come in, nostalgic for smells and tastes of places we have loved before we got here; places that comfort us when we are lost and homesick for a place that we can't even articulate.
And yet I know this island is a place I will remember with great fondness somewhere down the line.
What will I be nostalgic for in 10 years? Deep fried pickles?
The beat-boxing bartender here who never fails to make me laugh with his party-boy tales of winters in Key West as I fill up the water pitcher? Bike rides through leaf-saturated trails after an autumn storm?
Standing at the hostess podium with a reservation book, looking out to Lake Huron and talking with the two 20-something co-hostesses - Natalie and Brittany, my confidantes - about our post-island resolutions?
Or the afternoons with Terry - the dining room server who has become like a cool, badass older sister - when we have hung out in the big chairs in the sun, just outside the library, where she does her mending while wearing a bikini top and sunglasses, and listens to me as I flip through travel magazines and moan about boy problems?
This will dawn on me in the weeks after that ball game in the bar: that this in-between place is a pretty good spot to be.
And at least I had one token of worldly wisdom for my co-workers that night which I think was just as usable as bull-riding tips.
If you never get to Southland, and you have to make your own big, fat buttered cheese roll at home, you absolutely have to use red onion and real cream.
Just say you got the recipe from a woman of the world, on a barstool, on an island this one night during a ball game back in October '13.
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