I left Byron Bay and continued driving south towards Sydney, Australia. The drive became flatter, and I was sad to be leaving the tropical mountains of Queensland. An announcer on the radio talked about the bush fires that were increasing by the day.
The man said the bush fires were the worst they’ve experienced in Queensland and New South Wales; it was a national emergency. The man explained that the government and the Prime Minister started a new program that will give $50,000 – $60,000 to drug-addicted welfare recipients for treatment. The Prime Minister was surprised there was opposition. The announcer was upset because many people just lost their homes, and farmers needed that money. One woman wasn’t backing the new drug treatment program until she saw a solid plan.
I knew the fires were early for fire season; it was only mid-September. The fires were different than in the past. But I didn’t realize just how bad it was about to get. According to The Center For Disease Philanthropy, “The first major bushfires began even before the official arrival of spring in June and then new out-of-control fires sprung up at the beginning of Sept. 2019.”
The article continued, “The bushfires burned more than 46 million acres (72,000 square miles) – roughly the same area as the entire country of Syria. At least 3,500 homes and thousands of other buildings were lost and 34 people died in the thousands of fires between September 2019 and March 2020. The majority of deaths and destruction were in New South Wales (NSW), while the Northern Territory accounted for approximately 1/3 of the burned area. At least 80% of the Blue Mountains World Heritage area in NSW and 53% of the Gondwana world heritage rainforests in Queensland (QLD) were burned. Many of the other buildings that were lost were farm buildings, adding to the challenge of agricultural recovery that is already complex because of ash-covered farmland accompanied by historic levels of drought.”
It was also estimated that more than a billion animals were killed. Two months later, when the fires continued to rage in Australia, I was back in the U.S. My heart broke for the devastation. Many people on a travel Facebook group said they canceled their trips there because they didn’t want to burden the country going through such a crisis. Others didn’t want to go because the fires would impact their trip.
The thing was – Australia was encouraging people to travel. Many people there rely on tourism, and the majority of the country was not on fire. The fires didn’t impact many of the cities. I saw pleas from Australians on the group asking people not to cancel their trips. As soon as the fires were out, Covid-19 struck.
I had a lot of driving to do that day, and I needed to take a break. I saw a massive plastic banana advertising The Big Banana shop and café. I had read that it was a nice place to stop, so I went inside. I ordered their famous banana split, and it was delicious! I savored the flavors and sipped my coffee.
After driving 620 kilometers (385 miles), I arrived at Newcastle (population 453,000). By the time I arrived in the city center, it was 6:40 pm. Newcastle is famous for having the largest coal exporting harbor in the world.
I pulled over in the downtown area and used the public toilets near the harbor. I booked a motel on Orbitz at 7:00 pm, and it said the lobby was open until 9:00 pm. I was tired from driving all day and didn’t plan to spend much time in the area.
I drove to Reign Inn and walked into the lobby at 7:20 pm. The motel was old but had new renovations. The entrance was small, dark, and basic.
A man in his 60s walked around the corner from the back, stared at me, and said, “Yes?”
“I’m here to check-in,” I replied.
“Nope,” the man replied with a scowl on his face.
The man didn’t blink and just stood there with an angry look on his face.
I explained, “Yes. I booked it 15 minutes ago.”
“Well, nothing has come through,” he insisted.
“Well, it’s booked,” I said, getting annoyed by his lack of customer service.
The man was annoyed that I wouldn’t leave. “What’s your name again?”
“Did you book on our website or elsewhere?”
“Hmmm, I see it. Sign this.”
I briefly skimmed the document the man asked me to sign. He was insulted, “What, you don’t trust your own booking?” I snarked back, “I read things that I sign.”
The man turned towards the board with all of the keys and grabbed one. Then he said, “Wait, what room? They put you in a room that is already occupied. Here, take this instead. This is what happens when you book through an American company.”
Now I was angry. I snapped back, “Well, I’ve used Expedia/Orbitz in Australia for over five months, and it’s never been a problem before.”
I moved my car 50 feet to park outside of my room. The motel was a U-shape and only had about 15 rooms.
The room was smaller than what I paid for. There was not a desk like the pictures showed. Mosquitos and other flying bugs were hovering around the light. A pool of water was on the bathroom floor. The room smelled so strongly of chemical cleaning agents that I had to open the window.
I was exhausted and wasn’t about to address concerns with the grumpy man in the lobby. I sat on the bed, watching T.V. when I received an email from Orbitz asking how my check-in went.
The email only gives two options, a smiley face or a sad face. I rarely fill those out, and the few times that I have, I’ve given great remarks. This time, I hit the sad face.
A short survey popped up, asking for feedback. I gave a brief description of how I was treated and how I had to insist that I had a booking for the man to help me. I went back to watching T.V., and 15 minutes later, I got a nasty email from the man at the front, who was clearly the manager or the owner.
The email was rude, condescending, and treated me like I was a child. He was upset that I gave a low rating for check-in and complained about the strong smell. The man said I didn’t tell him and instead went online to bash him. He also insisted that I had the same room that I booked.
I was appalled. I wrote a short message back, explaining that Orbitz asked me how check-in went. I didn’t rush online to rate him. He wrote back, continuing to go off on me. I decided I wasn’t going to argue with the man over email. I was uncomfortable staying there, considering he was only 50 feet away in another room.
I tried to brush it off, but I was furious at how I was treated. I didn’t do anything wrong, and I was afraid that he’d say I messed up the room or something and try to charge me extra. I couldn’t wait until I could leave.
The next morning, I loaded my car and watched the angry man walk into different rooms, getting them ready to clean. I walked into the lobby, hoping to avoid the man. When I walked through the door, a bell rang. A woman in her 60s was around the corner and yelled, “Has that lady left?!”
I shouted back, “I’m trying to check out.”
The woman walked into the lobby and took my key. I couldn’t help myself and said, “You should really talk with that man. He was unnecessarily rude to me.”
The woman got visibly angry and snapped at me, “He was joking! You just don’t get his sense of humor!” I thought she was going to attack me.
That’s when I realized that she was most certainly his wife. I had been to many motels in Australia that were owned and operated by a husband/wife team. Sometimes they were working for a couple of months in exchange for living on-site while they traveled around the country.
I tried to explain what happened, “Excuse me? Staring at someone who is trying to check-in and saying ‘nope’ is not funny.” The woman kept cutting me off and said, “just leave!,” while pointing at the door.
I was stunned at the treatment. I said, “Wow, you’re going to double down on the rudeness?” I shook my head and left. I felt my blood boiling and started shaking from the anger.
Certain people get under my skin. They were those people. I didn’t do anything to deserve their treatment, and when I called them out on their behavior, they treated me even worse.
I sat in my car and wrote a review about what happened and to warn others. Two other reviews mentioned the poor service from that man, but there were many positive reviews. It was like when he had a bad day, those around him felt it. His wife wasn’t any better.
I took some deep breathes and tried my best to let it go. I think I was in shock because I didn’t experience any treatment like that from Australians for more than five months. They were usually friendly and happy. But I guess no place is perfect. There are humans there, after all.
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