"ANYBODY KNOW how far up the road it is?" I asked and lit a cigarette.
Joseph bummed the cig, took a drag, and answered, "It’s pretty far. There’s a whole unsealed section into the Canaan Downs we haven’t even hit yet.”
We stood on the side of the narrow, snaky highway that climbed the Takaka hill, maybe three quarters of the way up, surrounded on all sides by ardent greenery. Ahead a stationary and long line of gleaming, Gathering-bound vehicles twisted out of sight.
Behind more vehicles pulled up and our taxi driver - having returned, good as his word - had already long since disappeared back down the highway.
“Well this is just great,” exclaimed Sam shading his eyes with a freckled hand. “Why would they tell you to catch a taxi if it's going to be like this? What are we supposed to do now? Walk everything in?”
“Nah,” Tim replied with a slow smile. He seemed to be enjoying himself. (He always seemed to be enjoying himself.) “I reckon we join the queue.”
When no better idea came, we decided to do exactly that. With Tim in the ‘driver's seat’ we arranged all of our luggage into the shape of a car and sat down on the warm bitumen to wait. When the queue moved so did we, having great fun making loud car noises and dragging everything forward a few feet at a time.
The day was crisp and clear and it was all rather pleasant sitting there, but eventually, I suppose, we would have grown bored and attempted to hike our gear in.
A dire fate.
But we were saved.
The family in the campervan behind. A couple, maybe in their forties, funky, apparent in their effortlessly tilted fedoras, with two sons in their early teens.
The type of couple, funky, you secretly wished were your parents taking you to an electronica festival as a kid. They'd watched our antics with bemused expressions for the past half hour and now the father called Tim over to his window. "You guys need a lift?" he asked.
"Ah, man, that would be so great, if it's not too much hassle?"
"Not at all." He turned to his two sons in the back. "Chris, Matt, make some room. We're going to have guests."
Bubbling over with gratitude, we moved quickly to take them up on their offer, the two sons watching us invade with an air of astonishment. When we had finished, we'd filled their camper to overflowing: Joseph, Sam, Tim and I either sitting on our backpacks or standing, and using the overhead cupboards to balance during the infrequent times we actually lurched forward.
Light burst in, Placebo played on the stereo. A friend in need's a friend indeed, a friend with weed is better . . .
They were Wellingtonians - the father a journalist, the mother a schoolteacher - and we passed the next few hours in pleasant conversation, Joseph and Tim schmoozing as they was so good at doing.
In-between times we ducked outside to survey the queue and speculate on home much longer it would take our friends coming later, feeling glad it wasn't us. On re-entering the camper the third time I noticed the two sons sneaking glances my way and whispering.
The father noticed too and had a quiet word. After, he said with a laugh, "Don't worry, they were just wondering if you were maybe some kind of professional wrestler."
Joseph, sipping on a water bottle, nearly choked.
No doubt the son's confusion that day had more to do with the fashion I was rocking than the guns I was packing. For in the year since I'd crossed into the dance scene my style had changed, blossomed, the plaid flannel long since retired.
Dad had stopped, muttered 'God fuck me', his favourite swear expression, it never having occurred to him what it was he was asking God to do, done an about turn and fled. Dad’s evident strategy being ask no questions, hear no unpalatable truths, though my answer would have been: Dad, it's cool, really meaning: Dad, it's freedom . . .
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