So its 10:47pm. I’m on a train across Java and I’ve just put on New York City Serenade by Bruce Springsteen. Waiting for the intro to fade and the show to begin. Work up into a frenzy and then ease you out again, slow and dreamy like everything the song is about.
This used to be the one. The song I would pull out as a youngster when I wanted to lose myself. Whether it was the 190 bus from Mona Vale to the city or the first time I bought my very own walkman, on my first ever overseas trip alone. 16 years old and flying to meet Dad in Oxford, England. Stepped off the plane for a layover in Tokyo, grabbed the walkman and walked the sterile midnight floors of Tokyo airport. Completely buzzing with sound and adventure and dreamy adolescent things. A king of soul and emotion.
That was me when younger. Looking for the next emotional peak. Scratching for it, searching, constructing, exhausting efforts to align the stars and make it all work. Bring it all together for that rush – the tingling, inimitable, all consuming rush when everything…just…works. Everything perfect.
But of course you can’t always manufacture it. Sometimes it just happens, sometimes it is a result of your efforts, sometimes the efforts to make it happen just fall flat and everything seems hard and tedious. That’s always worse because you are waiting for it, waiting to taste that sweet moment…then it doesn’t come.
I used to create these moments as often as I could – even within the relative normality of my youthful world. Because I find the rush much harder to reach when things are always the same. Routine is the rush killer. But when I travelled it was just there in spades. There were fat buckets of the rush around every corner. Everything was different and nothing was what you knew so it was like shooting fish in a barrel. A swig of beer in a bar overlooking the ocean in a part of the world you have never seen before. A taxi rushing through the heavy, sweaty Asian night as the perfect song drowns out the world and chokes you up. Sweeping, twinkling lights lining the path up a mountain peak in Sri Lanka as the dawn creeps in with U2’s The Unforgettable Fire turning the lights into marching armies setting out to conquer this dreamland.
I don’t know why the frequency of the rush fades as you get older. Maybe it’s a good thing that everything is not so up and down. Maybe it’s just so logical – that as you gather the experiences the number of potential new ones just gets less and less. You know more, have felt more. You know how things often work out and how they often don’t. It sounds so common – the decline of the emotional peaks and rush as you get older and mellow out. Reduce the oscillation, reduce the amplitude. Start looking for the balance. God knows it would be exhausting being the teenager I was all the time (sorry mum..)
So it’s strange to find myself surrounded by it all again. The rush is surrounding me. It’s different now though. It’s not so….loud. Not so big. But it’s there and it’s deeper. I look to my right and my four incredible women are asleep (or trying to sleep under the blaring flourescent lights ). They have sarongs wrapped around their heads, eye patches on, ear plugs in. The train lurches and rattles its way across Java as towns without names slip by without me raising my eyes. U2 are playing and my laptop is open writing this.
I catch a glimpse of myself in the window reflection and I see my new $1 haircut I just got a few hours ago (yes…$1…read that and weep Melbourne hipsters and Sydney Av Cats). We had just been ushered into dinner by an overly accommodating local man in Banyuwaring – a dusty pit stop port town that is the arrival point into East Java. We had 2 hours to kill before our night train left for Surabaya. Dripping sweat we left his warung and walked past a barber shop. I looked at Mel and she just said “I dare ya….”.
$1 later I look 10 years younger and I have a funny story about the worlds friendliest, loveliest barber, who couldn’t speak a word of English and kept yammering away in Indonesian, laughing and pointing to the faded, peeling posters of possible haircut options….all of which were Indonesian boy band members.
Then we took two becaks (a pedal powered rickshaw) and ambled through the Javanese night just for kicks. People laughing and pointing at the crazy tourists stuck waiting in their no name port town for their train to leave. My three daughters somewhere behind me on a different becak, Mel beside me.
And now I’m here, drunk tired, trying to get these last words out before I go to sleep, sitting upright in my ageing “Executif” class seat, hoping to drift off and wake up in Surabaya. Where we will try to find a 24 hour coffee shop at 4:30am. Where we will wait until midday so we can go to our little hotel and collapse for a while before wandering out to see what things we can see.
It’s so good to be moving again. Bali was nice but it’s Bali. Our little adventurous 5 are nobodies. Tourists abound, the restaurants are straight from a dream, the coffee is as good as Melbourne now but the rush seems far away. It was nice to have the villa pool, surf some good waves and then spend some time in Ubud. Nice and steadying for the girls I think. But as the ferry pulled out of Gilimanuk at dusk bound for Java, Mt Bromo looming regally above us in the fading light I felt the change creep in. The Javanese men staring at us unsmiling for just a little too long so that it makes you slightly uneasy. No other tourists. No one speaking English. Everything slightly different and slightly intimidating. As we pulled out I looked at Mel and she smiled that smile. That deeper rush smile. And I thought the words that the girls are sick of hearing me say….
”We’re doing it!!! We’re doing it!!! We’re really doing it!!!”