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Friday, February 23, 2007

Just another day in the life of "Jet Set" Brooksie...

Well, zipped up to Auckland and back yesterday, to see 'my boy' Bill Bryson give a talk at a luncheon. Grabbed the 9:30 out of Wellington, touched down in the old capital city an hour later, snagged a shuttle straight to the Hyatt Regency, and began to loiter like nobody's business.

I got there a wee bit early, you see, so I took a stroll around the inside of the hotel to kill some time before the luncheon began. It's a really nice place, with an excellent bar - the Cokes there are top-notch.

Somehow, I managed to resist buying another one of Bryson's books, even with the great prices they had on hardcover editions. Normally I'd have ponied up fifty bucks or so and increased the size of my collection (plus hardcovers make excellent book-signing fodder and hence great gifts), but lately I've been priding myself on curbing my spendy ways so I saved the money for the shuttles instead. Jet-set living ain't cheap, ya know!

Well finally they started letting us all in to take our seats, and there were a good fifty tables or so in the dining hall, with eight people seated at each table. I was the first one at my table, so I grabbed the choicest seat available (the one with the best view of the podium) and made myself comfortable.

Soon after that, my table-mates began drifting in, and I was surrounded on either side by a pair of husband-wife couples who could not have been more pleasant! To my left were Kristin and Ash, and on my right were Tracy and Doug. They were really great company, and I have added them to the long and growing list of friendly and fascinating Kiwis that I've met since moving to New Zealand. At the end of the luncheon, I felt a real pang of disappointment as I realized I would probably never see them again!

Still, it's experiences like that which make life all the richer, so I'll take it for what it was and be glad I got to know them a little bit. It was also pretty cool to meet fellow Bryson fans and discuss what we all like best about his books and experiences.

Speaking of Bill Bryson, his speech was excellent and he is truly as witty in person as he is in print! It wouldn't always follow, I imagine, that an excellent (and humorous) writer would necessarily be just as engaging in person, but Bryson certainly is. He must get a little of his sense of humor from his father, whom Bryson says was always fond of a good pun. My kind of comedy!

To steal shamelessly from Bryson's speech and to give you a sort of feeling of what it was like to be there, I'll give you this little anecdote he shared with all of us about his late father.

On one of their many family vacations across the U.S.A. while growing up, Bryson's dad took them all to San Francisco. At one point, they were all standing right next to the infamous San Andreas Fault.

Inexplicably, Bryson's father took a quarter out of his pocket and flicked it casually into the crack.

"Why did you just do that, dad?" Bryson asked.

"Well, I've always wanted it said that I was 'generous to a fault'."

Haha! I must share that one with my friends Todd and Mike back home, those guys love puns and I've been present at many a masterful exchange when the two of them get going. I never partook in those exchanges because I'm one of those guys who might be funny, but only thinks of something really good about a half hour later. C'est la vie.

Mr. Bryson also read us a couple of passages from his latest book, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, and they were excellent. Much as I love Bryson's books, there are still three or four I have yet to read, and I'm trying my hardest to savor them for as long as possible. Once I've read them all, it will be so disappointing to not have anymore to look forward to!

That's not entirely true, of course, for he is still alive and well and he sure seems to me to have a good number of books left in him. He did sort of hint that New Zealand may well be the topic for a book of his one day, which is great! He is in fact spending at least a couple of weeks down here with his daughter, first doing the book tours and signings, and then staying on to enjoy the awesomeness that is New Zealand for a bit. I honestly hope he finds several things that hook his literary interests while he's here, and for the life of me I cannot see how he could resist.

Hell, if he doesn't write a book about travels in New Zealand, I will just have to beat him to it!

Once the luncheon was finished, Bill took a few questions from the audience and then graciously stayed on to sign however many books however many of us had brought with us. I had my second-hand copy of "Down Under", which I thought most appropriate given where I am right now.

I had him make it out: "To Brandon - a fellow American with wanderlust" which he wrote, and then signed it, "Best Wishes - Bill Bryson". As he was writing I told him how his books were a large part of my inspiration to move to New Zealand in the first place, which is entirely true (Tony Horwitz would be the other author who has so moved me to, well...move).

After that I caught the shuttle back to the airport, and along the way had a great conversation with a pleasant elderly English woman. Seems her vacation time Down Under had doubled from two weeks to four, although not by choice. Poor thing had come down with a dreaded DVT (deep vein thrombosis) on her flight over from the UK and the New Zealand doctors wouldn't grant her leave to fly back until she had medical clearance. So, loaded up with blood thinners and a clean bill of health, she too was on her way to the airport for the very long slog back across the Pacific then the States and finally to jolly old England.

She was to spend last night in Los Angeles and I'd imagine that by now she's back in Essex, where she makes her home. She had a great spirit and was so friendly, and given what had happened to her on her vacation she had every right to be sour and depressed, especially since her husband had gone back home two weeks ago. But she was indomitable and great company on the long shuttle ride back to the airport, and I wish her the very best!

Yet another great person I've met down here that I'll never see again, but that's what makes life so grand, isn't it? An encounter with a truly nice and unique person will keep you floating for days. Since moving down here I've met great people from the world over, not just New Zealand: Zimbabwe, Australia, Canada, England, and last but not least the United States.

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness."

Mark Twain was so right!


Blogger Beechball said...

Brandon, Brandon, you have inspired ME to travel... in my mind, of course, for the time being for it's really not a good time for me at the moment, but really, hearing all your wonderful stories and seeing all your amazing pictures really does make me wanna pack up and leave this cruddy snow filled city I live in and head for warmer climates! That was a really long, improper sentence, lol - I could never be a 'writer' in the real world, that is why I love my blog so dearly *blush* I am so happy that you got to meet someone who was so motivating and inspiring to you, I hope that I too, one day, will (first figure out who I admire and then....) meet the person who pushed me to achieve all my dreams and follow my heart (whatever they are and where ever that may be...)! hehehe Oh Im excited for my 'school break', can you tell? lol (G'night Brooksie!)

5:03 PM  
Blogger Brooksie said...

Ah Lyndsay I'm sure one day soon enough you'll be traveling so don't worry about it. Then I can live vicariously through you! Glad you are getting a school break and I hope you have a really good one!

But you and Dan will have to make some good travel plans for the next year or two, whenever you finish school or have a longer break. If you get time, I recommend reading either "Baghdad Without A Map" or "One For The Road" by Tony Horwitz, or Bill Bryson's "Neither Here Nor There", "In A Sunburnt Country" or "Notes From A Small Island" to inspire you further to travel. They're all great reads - funny, insightful, and sufficiently short to knock out within a week.

Enjoy your break!

5:47 PM  

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