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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Don't Hassle Me, I'm Local

In the spirit of Random Acts of Kindness Day (which was a couple of weeks ago - evidently it was Procrastinator's Day as well), I bring you this post!

I'm not sure what sort of criteria go into determining at what point you can truly call yourself a 'local', once you have moved to a new location.

Sure, I've lived in the greater Wellington region for just over three years now, so on the surface of it I'm sure that is more than adequate 'time served' in terms of determining where I call home. Certainly, I still haven't affected (and probably never will) a proper Kiwi accent, although I have picked up many of their turns of phrase. As you do.

I'm also bona fide in terms of my residency status here in New Zealand, being a de facto citizen until that can finally be made official in a couple of years.

But these seem to be merely crude, if not acceptable, measures of determining one's status in a place as a True Local. While I am not trying to be pretentious at all about this, as one might be while trying to claim status as a true resident of an exclusive neighbourhood (*cough* Beverly Hills *cough*), I feel a deep connection to Wellington somehow. Since moving here, then, I have gradually felt less and less like a tourist and more and more like a true Wellingtonian.

So what is it that I have found that makes me confident enough to say 'ich bin ein Wellingtonian'?

Why, it's having a flawless record at giving out directions!

What better way to establish yourself as a local and prove your know-how of the area than by pointing lost souls in the right direction? What better way of proving you belong here because you know the cool spots, and not all of them are on the beaten path?

Again, I am not trying to sound egotistical at all about this, although I suspect I am failing in that regard. But please don't mistake my enthusiasm and pride for Wellington as arrogance. It is love! I just love it here, and it's moments like these when it comes shining through.

I give you Incident One: Whilst strolling up Lambton Quay towards the city centre one evening, I was stopped by a man who bore a helpless look on his face.

"Excuse me, where is Cable Car lane?" he asked, in an accent that I am going to guess was... Eastern European. (I'm nothing if not perceptive, no?)

Well, this was an easy one for me, as we were not only 300 yards* away from his destination, but the Cable Car's trademark sign (with the red cable car on it) was within our line of sight.

So I happily pointed him in the right direction and, as soon as he noticed the sign, his eyes lit up and he thanked me.

I continued on my way, chuffed at being able to solve someone's little dilemma and also feeling for the first time like a local. I felt a little self-conscious while I was giving him directions, as whenever I speak it is immediately obvious I am not from around here due to my American accent.

But my successful direction-giving cancels out that one, I think!

Incident Two: Whilst walking up Featherston Street, again late one evening, a harried-looking man accosted me. He asked me, in an accent I am going to guess was Scandinavian (I'm a regular linguistics expert, I tell you), where he could find Hunter Street.

This was pure kismet! For not 24 hours ago, I had been on Google Maps perusing downtown Wellington for a particular address, when I noticed where Hunter Street was in the process.

And before we continue: Yes, I am aware that my admission to looking up directions may - at first glance - appear to weaken my case for being a local. Well, in response, I would say that even locals have to look up directions from time to time! And who can resist the uber-awesomeness that is anything Google? They are the kings of data, man, so get off my case and go use one of their apps, already. They're genius.

Back to our story. Hunter Street is a tricky one, for it is one of those streets that is initially called something else (Featherston, natch) which then takes a 90 degree turn and magically becomes another street - in this case, our Hunter Street! Had I not fortuitously looked at Google Maps the night before, this tourist would have stumped me with his directions request and my ambitions for True Local status would have suffered a serious setback.

But good luck was on my side and since there isn't really much to Hunter Street, and this guy was from out of town, I am guessing his destination was the large hotel located there.

Incident Three: While making my way across the scenic steps by Wellington Town Hall, a man with a distinctly Spanish accent (I am getting better) was looking repeatedly from his copy of Lonely Planet to the street sign at an intersection. His wife/girlfriend seemed to be in a frustrated mood and they had the look of haggard tourists who were having a hard time finding their way.

I cast a glance in their direction and smiled, and he jumped at this chance to ask somebody for directions.

"Excuse me, do you know the way to the iSite?" he said, holding his copy of the Lonely Planet guide as if he would like to tear it in half like that guy did that one time with a phone book.**

Again, this was a fastball down the middle of the plate for me and I, being a power hitter (baseball analogy), took this one out of the park.

We were within spitting distance of his destination, as the iSite is part of the Town Hall building complex. And although it was very close by, this wasn't quite as easy as it sounds as it wasn't within line of sight and also the path to its door was an unmarked, covered sidewalk that curved away out of view. So this explained his confusion as, from any street map, it looks like you should be able to see the iSite from the spot we were standing on - yet you could not.

Anyways, he seemed much relieved at my help and his girlfriend set a rapid pace that he shuffled to catch up with as they took off in the direction of the iSite. I can only think their day improved from there and once again I felt happy to help!

Incident Four: This one is the most recent, and it happened while I was walking back from training with W.I.T. As I traversed Wakefield Street, I came to the intersection with Tory Street and stopped to wait for the little green man to appear and grant me permission to cross. As I stood there, I started to notice out of the corner of my eye that somebody was staring in my direction.

I looked over, and this hulking dude was standing there with his girlfriend (who was SMOKING HOT, by the way). He glanced away when I looked over, then he looked back and asked if I could give him directions somewhere. His accent sounded Russian to me, although as I found out later he and his girl were from the Ukraine. (I was close on that one, at least!)

In this case they didn't have a specific destination in mind, but rather asked for a place to get a good steak.

Aha! So the difficulty level on this request was increased above and beyond that of simple directions to an easy landmark. Now came a true test of my local knowledge!

Once again, fate smiled upon me as not only did I have a good recommendation for him and his lovely partner, we were once again almost within line of sight of the place of interest.

We were just around the corner from the Hog's Breath Café, which I had initially heard about having the best steak in town from a fellow traveler, and then experienced firsthand.

As an aside here, my very first night in Wellington was three years ago when I was on a trip for my job interview. Once that was done I had decided to stay on for a couple of days to see the sights in town before heading back down south to Ashburton, where I lived at the time.

While I was on line at Reading Cinemas at Courtenay (can't remember what movie I saw), I was reading my copy of one of Bill Bryson's books. It was a long line and, as I was by myself, this was a great way to pass the time. (And I was doing two Single Guy Dating Himself things at once, something that will be mentioned at greater length in a future post when the Guide is published).

The guy standing in front of me in line noticed what I was reading and introduced himself. Turns out he was another American and he hailed from Iowa - Bill Bryson's home state! He was familiar with all of Bill's books and he even made a wry joke about having come from Des Moines as well, and said that Bryson is what they were best known for to the rest of the world. (I have to admit, Bryson was the very first thing I ever came to associate with that city!)

Anyways, he said that he came through Wellington frequently on business, though for the life of me I can't remember his name or what line of work he was in. I remember being a little envious of him at the time, for I didn't know the status of my job interview yet (this, of course, had a happy ending!) and, not having spent 24 hours in Wellington yet, I was already in love with this city.

Before we parted ways (his ticket was for a different film), he made it a point to tell me where the best place to find a steak in town was: the Hog's Breath Café - which was right next to the movie theatre, as luck would have it!

And when a Midwesterner gives you advice on where to find a good steak, YOU TAKE IT!

This I then did, although not on that night - and it really is great steak there. So I was confident in the recommendation I gave this bloke from the Ukraine. I lost a few points for having taken them the long way around, but then again maybe the scenic route is a little bit more fun. In chatting with him, he said he and his girlfriend came down to New Zealand frequently from the Ukraine as they loved it here, but they had never yet spent any time in Wellington. Turns out they were right off the plane almost, having just freshened up in their hotel before running into me. When I asked him about what line of work he was in, he became suddenly inscrutable, mumbling something about the shipping business and giving me a sideways glance.

I (wisely) let it go at that and found something else to talk about until we got to the stairwell leading up to the Hog's Breath.

So I wonder if any of these tourists were confused by the smiley local with the American accent who seemed to know his way around Wellington? Did they feel like they had just encountered another tourist who maybe had done his homework a little better than they had? Or perhaps he had better maps? Or a superior travel agent?

Well, it was 'None of the above'! For they had just encountered Brooksie: mild-mannered vet by day, master of directions and timing by night.

Oh good lord, I didn't just type that, did I? Is this to be my lame superpower? Expert directions-giver and steak-recommender?

Well, I call it a case of being in the right place, at the right time. I really enjoy being able to help people, and not just on Random Act of Kindness Day either!

And tomorrow be a fine day as well, me buckos! For then, it'll be International Talk Like A Pirate Day!
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* Metres? I dunno...
** True story.

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