You’re Going to Get Into a Stranger’s Car?

Two years earlier, I met a guy named Matt at a bar in Los Angeles. We stayed in touch and he is from Adelaide. He picked me up and showed me around the city. We stopped for sushi and I was happy to have him around.

Day 322

I walked to the bus station near where I was house sitting and hailed the bus down like the sign instructed me to. I stepped inside and asked the bus driver, “Can I buy a ticket from you?” He asked me where I was going and told him I needed to get to the Central Market. The driver replied, “Ok, so the city? That’ll be A$5.50.” I put A$6.00 into the machine, and it spat my change out. Next, the driver instructed me to insert the barcode side of the ticket into another machine two feet away. Once I did that, I sat down, and the driver took off. At the next stop, the driver walked over to me with my ticket and said, “You gotta keep your ticket with you. It has a time stamp on it.” Oops. 

The driver was really helpful, and I appreciated his understanding that I was new to Australia. It took about 40 minutes to get to the Central Market. It was an indoor market with all sorts of goodies – fresh fruit, vegetables, bakeries, wine, soap, etc. I ate some pasta and a dessert at one booth and watched people walking by. 

After leaving the market, I walked around outside and ended up at Rundle Mall. It’s a huge outdoor/indoor mall with a wide pedestrian street in the middle. People played music outside, and the lights made it romantic. I ended up on the east side, where there are bars. It was an older crowd – people in their 40s, making it a little classy. 

After walking around, a friend who lives in Adelaide messaged me around 7:00 pm that he was finished with some work, and he’d pick me up to show me around the city. I met Matt a year and a half earlier while at a bar in Los Angeles. I was there for a happy hour with two friends, and he was there with three friends visiting the U.S. We ended up talking for a couple of hours and connected on Facebook. 

We had been messaging when I arrived in Adelaide because Matt was helping me figure out options for vehicles to buy that would take me around the country. He offered to help me pick out the best car.

Matt was stuck in traffic, and I was on the sidewalk, waiting. To avoid parking, he messaged me about which car he was in so I could just hop inside. I had only met him one time, and that was more than a year ago. I hesitantly opened the door to his gigantic white truck that looked like a Hummer. I got inside, and he joked, “You’re going to get into a stranger’s car?” 

Matt was 33 years old with light brown hair, was very tall (around 6’5”), fit, and attractive. He was a police officer and also played footy (Australian football) for a local league on weekends. Matt explained that he couldn’t stay out too late because he had a game in the morning. He drove around the city and pointed things out, but it was dark outside, so I could only see some places.

We were near his favorite sushi restaurant, and he asked if I wanted to try the sushi train. I had always wanted to try sushi when it was going down the conveyor in a train, so I said sure. It was fun to pick sushi as it moved along the belt. Matt told me about his travels. He’s been to the U.S. a lot and had even road-tripped around most of the country. Matt really likes the U.S. and had recently applied for the green card lottery. 

I had no idea about this practice, but the U.S. has an annual lottery where people can apply to get a ten-year green card to say in the country and work. Unfortunately, he wasn’t selected. Matt explained that Australia doesn’t get as many entries as many countries. Of the 14 million people that apply around the world, only 50,000 get selected. Then they still have to be interviewed. I asked Matt, “What job would you do in the U.S.? Would you still be a police officer?” Matt laughed, “No way. I don’t want to get shot.” Ah yes, being a police officer in the U.S. is quite different than being one in Australia. 

Matt was once offered a security position with a company in the U.S., but after he realized he’d only get two weeks of vacation a year, he declined. He said, “I wouldn’t even be able to see the U.S. I could stay in Australia working and get more time off, and ultimately see more of the U.S. by living here.” I think he gets six weeks of vacation a year, like many Australians.

I explained how vacation works in the U.S. For people in the private sector, they may not get any paid vacation time because they’re part-time. People who work for the government (teachers, post office, police) get much more paid time off than people in the private sector. For those who do get vacation time in the private sector, the standard is:

  • 10 days a year until you hit 5 years with a company
  • 15 days a year when you’ve been with a company for 5-9 years
  • 20 days a year once you’ve hit 10 years of service

Many people max out at 20 days of paid vacation a year, and the majority of people can’t take more than a week off at a time. And this is all if you stay with the same company. Each time you switch companies, you’re back to ten days. That happened to me when I worked at Target. I was approaching my fifth anniversary, and then I left to work for another company. My seniority started over, so I was back to only receiving ten days of a vacation a year until I hit my fifth anniversary there. 

In Australia, federal law guarantees four weeks of paid vacation, not to mention all of the holidays. They quickly get to six weeks of paid time off. Once they’ve continuously been in the workforce for seven to ten years (regardless of which company they work for), they can take a sabbatical. Depending on the state, they receive 6-13 weeks of paid time off for their “long service leave.” 

I tell you all of this, so you’ll understand why I ended up having this conversation with Australians over and over again in the next several months. I would usually get a response like, “We always hear that Americans don’t get a lot of time off, but I had no idea it was that bad.” Yes, it’s that bad. The saddest part is that many Americans don’t even take the paid time off because of fear they’ll lose promotions, or come back to a backlog of work. It’s something that needs to be fixed before everyone gets burned.  

Anyway, Matt drove me to his house so we could get a beer. We got two bottles of Corona out of his fridge and after a few minutes, he said, “Let’s go. I’ll drive you to a lookout point.” Matt walked towards the front door. I looked at him, confused, and motioned towards my beer. He said, “Bring your beer. We can have them in the car here.” Wait; what?! 

We got into his car with our open Corona bottles, and he started driving. I couldn’t believe that this was legal, so I kept questioning him. The law in South Australia is that a driver cannot have a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) above 0.05, but drinking while driving is totally fine. If Matt were to get pulled over by a police officer, the officer would test his breath. If it were under 0.05, he’d be let go. If it were above, the officer would wait 15 minutes to retest because it’s possible that he just took a swig. If his BAC were between 0.05 and 0.08, he’d get a ticket. If it were above 0.08, the officer would arrest him.

I was blown away by this! I was so shocked that I kept questioning Matt. He responded, “I’m a police officer. I think I know the law.” In the U.S., a driver’s BAC can’t be above 0.08, and there is no drinking allowed in the car, even by the passengers (open-container laws). I ended up Googling this afterward to confirm the laws in the U.S. and found out that actually, one state in the U.S. does allow a driver to drink while drinking (as long as their BAC level is under 0.08) – Mississippi. In Australia, it is only legal in South Australia, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory.

I’m not advocating that people should drive while intoxicated, but it makes sense. As long as your BAC is under the legal limits, it shouldn’t make a difference if you’re actually driving while drinking. However, I still couldn’t get over the fact that I could drink a beer as a passenger.

Matt drove up the Adelaide Hills, which included a mountain overlooking the city. There was a tiny parking lot at the top, so we got out to view the city lights. The wind was freezing, so after a few minutes, we both rushed back to the car. 

Next, Matt drove us to the beach, and we walked towards the pier. Unfortunately, the cold wind was unbearable, and we agreed to skip walking down the dock. It was getting late, so Matt drove me back to the house I was staying at. It was Friday night, and we had plans to hang out on Sunday. He hoped that he wouldn’t be too sore after his footy game. I told him to take some Advil and said goodnight. 

It was an enjoyable day, and I was glad that Matt and I were able to reconnect. I was happy that he remembered me and was willing to show me around a bit. From a bar in Los Angeles in the fall of 2017 to meeting up in Australia in May 2019 – you never know who you’ll meet. 

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Throughout her wild 3-week journey backpacking 220+ miles in the California Sierra Mountains, Christy encountered freezing temperatures, pelting hail storms, and losing her way, but found trail family, incredible views, and experiences that would change her life forever. Hiking up and over ten different mountain passes gave Christy a lot of time to think about why her nine-year marriage was falling apart, gave her the chance to truly embody her individualism, time to make new friends, and the strength she would need on and off the trail. Her life could never again be the same.
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