Sunday, March 9, 2014

Turning left at Galveston

Everybody’s life has turning-points, and it’s a fascinating study. If one had taken a different bus, or visited a different house, or met a different person, one’s life today might have been quite, quite, different. Turning-points galore! But there is usually only one incident that actually defines one’s life, and it can be fun searching for it.

In my blog called Turning Point in November last year, I reported that the famous American author Mark Twain identified his personal turning point as when he contracted measles (deliberately) at the age of twelve. The incident changed the entire course of his life.

I identified my own personal turning point as having occurred at age 26, when I baulked at the prospect of a long wait to be interviewed by the US Immigration Office in London. With a long time to wait until my number would be called, I hurried around to the Canadian Consulate to see whether Canada’s queue was more manageable. They saw me right away, and I never went back.

Leaving Australia to “see the world” was always my ambition, from when I was a boy. It never occurred to me not to go, so my eventual departure can’t be claimed as a turning point. Catching a boat to London was one of Linda’s turning points, although it was the thing to do for young Aussies in those days, so it wasn’t a big deal.

Actually, she was all set to marry a stolid chap from her home town, until a domestic tiff persuaded her to put the wedding on hold. She went off on a cruise to Fiji, came back and planned the wedding again, had second thoughts (or was it third thoughts?), cancelled it altogether, and booked her passage.

In London she answered Louise’s ad on an Earl’s Court notice-board for a travelling companion in Europe. That deal lasted until a blazing row one night in Greece prompted her to storm out and hitch a ride to the nearest Youth Hostel. That was her life’s true turning-point. There happened to be an English-language movie playing at the local cinema, and – well, I wrote about that in Zorba the Greek in January 2012. It wasn’t love at first sight for us, but I was a more compatible travelling companion than Louise, apparently.

Our son Ross’s turning point has been harder to identify. There was never a chance that he would stay in Cayman. Local success is much too easy to achieve. There are no challenges to win, only money to be made, and he is even less interested in money than I am. We both feel a compulsion to do things the hard way.  

A Scuba instructor, a submarine pilot taking tourists 800 feet down into the local trench, a mechanic on the bigger submarine… boring, boring! Bumming around Australia for a couple of years… unfulfilling. So back home in Cayman, aged 24, he hitched a ride with some American yachties to Galveston, Texas, and that was his turning point. That was the re-set button.

Turning left at Galveston, he drifted along the Gulf Coast, working odd jobs in exchange for bed and board. While cleaning car engines for a dollar an hour in Mexico City, he lucked into a career modelling clothes and doing TV commercials for a hundred dollars an hour. Pride of place in my bedroom today hangs Coca Cola’s calendar for the year 2000, with Ross on the page for July. But easy money couldn’t compete with the lure of a hippies’ life in Guatemala and points south. 

One of the hippy communes in the region had attracted an adventurous Norwegian girl and her toddler, and they attracted Ross. Another child was conceived in Ecuador, and the tender trap sprang shut. 

At age 38, his life is still a work in progress. Fatherhood has slowed him down and focused his attention, but it would be rash to conclude it has stopped him. I don’t know where he’ll go from here, or if there will be another major turning-point. In theory, he still owns a tree-house in Guatemala [Not the Swiss Family Robinson, August 2013], so who knows?