After not sleeping well in the bright Airbnb with a hard, coiled bed, I slowly got up. The massive windows had white, almost sheer curtains that didn’t block out much light. I took my time lying around while playing on my phone.
After eating a bowl of cereal, I got myself to drive to Bondi Beach. I had been watching a TV show about Bondi Beach that focused on the lifeguards taking care of people in Australia’s busiest beach. According to the weather forecast, it was the warmest and clearest day of the week, so I decided it would be a good day to see the famous beach.
It took 30 minutes to drive through the city and get over to Bondi Beach. Once I was there, the traffic was at a standstill. I regretted going on a Sunday afternoon. I got more and more frustrated as I tried to find somewhere to park. Shops and restaurants lined the street across from the beach, and a residential neighborhood sat behind them. Cars filled every single parking spot along the roads.
I pulled into a parking lot and had to turn around when there was nowhere to park. On the slow drive out of the lot, a car started to back up. We had all been stopped, and when we started driving again, he put on his reverse lights. I put on my turn signal, and so did the car just past the spot. It wasn’t parallel parking, so I was confused about why that car thought this space was theirs. They already passed it.
I started to pull in as soon as the car left the spot, but so did the car in front of me. I was halfway into the space, and the guy driving the car rolled down his window, saying he had his turn signal on. I rolled my window down and said the same thing. The guy was a meathead, and his girlfriend in the passenger seat sat there looking just as entitled as he did. Our cars almost hit as I kept trying to adjust my car so that I would fit. I didn’t make a wide enough turn when initially pulling in.
The guy kept getting closer as he tried to back in, making it impossible for me to adjust and park. Cars were lined up behind me, and I didn’t want to deal with this mess, so I gave up and drove away while shouting back at the jerk who stole my spot.
I continued to drive around, searching for parking while battling horrible traffic and pedestrians. A couple of blocks away in a neighborhood, I saw an SUV about to pull out of a spot on the street. I purposely passed the car so that I could back-in, and I put on my turn signal. Of course, another car came up behind me and also put on their turn signal. I couldn’t believe it. The SUV was large, and the street was small, so they struggled to get out of the spot with me in front. I didn’t want to deal with another horrible driver, so I drove away in frustration.
It was like I was stuck in a loop of the Seinfeld episode where they fight over a parking spot. I spent 30 minutes searching and battling. The narrow streets full of parked cars reminded me of Second Street in Long beach. I drove up steep neighborhood one-way streets, only to be rejected once again. I was on the verge of saying “forget it” and driving away forever when I came across a spot on a hill where I had to parallel park. I didn’t do the best job, but it would do.
I walked to the beach and saw hundreds of people sunbathing, swimming, surfing, and walking around. There was a path near me that led around a rock cliff, so I followed it. It was so crowded with tourists taking pictures and locals trying to get exercise, that I was getting more and more frustrated.
The ocean and the rocks were beautiful, but I had seen just as beautiful (and often more beautiful) landscape in Australia that wasn’t crowded. The anxiety and anger hit me hard. I grumbled to myself about the idiots that I was surrounded by, making me miss the west coast, which was virtually empty.
As I walked up the paved walking path and around the cliff, I noticed several groups of people standing on the cliffs on the other side of the handrail.
This infuriated me. I read stories every year about tourists who died on waterfalls, cliffs, and nature in general because of things like this. They go beyond the signs, beyond the rails, and beyond the warnings, all for a stupid picture. All because they desperately want likes on Instagram.
They think they’re being original, but they’re all sheep. I watched as couples sat and stood on the edge of cliffs, acting as if they were a supermodel. I can’t comprehend the narcissism in these people.
What would happen if they fell? Rescuers would risk their lives to save these idiots. If they died, they would crush their family and friends. All for a picture. I felt the anger boiling inside of me as I was being suffocated by tourists, narcissists, and attention whores.
When I take a picture of myself, I take one to three and move on. If I don’t like the images, so be it. Sometimes I’m having a bad day (maybe I’m just bloated), and it reminds me that I need to learn to accept myself as I am. I often feel like my face is too red, too many wrinkles, too fat, too oily, or too dry.
Then I force myself to reflect on why I feel that way. I choose not to spend so much time trying to craft the perfect picture, and I choose not to photoshop myself. I don’t understand people who live through pictures. I prefer to experience life in the present and have the occasional photo to remind me of that moment.
A few months later, I came across an article about a young woman who had just died less than five miles from where I was walking. It was titled, “Woman Dies After Falling Off Cliff at Popular Selfie Spot in Australia.” The article states, “Davis’s death comes after a 27-year-old woman died after falling from a cliff at Diamond Bay in August. Last year, tourists were warned against risking their lives for a picture at the dangerous cliff face made popular by Instagram influencers.”
I don’t mean to make light of these deaths; they are tragic reasons to die. No picture is worth your life.
I felt more and more like I wanted to be a hermit and live alone in the woods. I don’t fit in with these people, and I don’t want to. I turned back and walked towards the main beach.
I tried hard not to be angry. It was a beautiful place, and I should have felt grateful to be there. But I just couldn’t. I walked on the sidewalk between the grass and the beach. The crowds continued.
It all reminded me of Santa Monica. I used to run there on Saturday mornings with a running group. It is a beautiful area, but thankfully we ran in the early morning before all the tourists were out. Living in LA for 15 years has made me numb to “tourist spots.” The hype is gone. The flare is annoying.
After a quick restroom break, I headed back towards the car but decided to take the street to see some shops. I found a fast food place selling chicken bowls and ordered one for a late lunch. I sat outside on a bench and tried to convince myself that it wasn’t that bad there, but I couldn’t help and compare it to most of my time in Australia – the outback, the small towns, and medium-sized cities that weren’t nearly as crowded with locals or tourists.
As I continued to walk to my car, I passed a small Italian restaurant, Cento per Centro. A man outside said they had take-away coffee. I hadn’t had coffee that day yet, so I went inside. A man in the kitchen area walked over to help me. He was middle-aged, and we briefly chatted while he started my flat white. He asked where I was from and when I said LA, he pointed to his uncle sitting in the corner and said, “My uncle lived in San Francisco!”
An older man in his 70s-80s was reading the newspaper in the corner and peaked his head up. The music was pretty loud, so he asked what was going on. When he found out I was from LA, he got very excited. All of the customers enjoyed food and drinks outside, and he was the only one inside. The man (wearing a baseball hat that proudly read Australia) walked towards me at the counter and started talking to me about America.
Maris attended a university in San Francisco and lived there decades ago. He has some family there as well as LA, and he goes back occasionally. Maris raved about America. He loves our freedom and said, “You’re the only country in the world that allows you to say anything you want! It’s wonderful!”
Maris was from Latvia and escaped the Russian invasion 30 years ago. He told me how he was so grateful to get out and come to Australia. He loves Australia, but he also loves America. I laughed, “Right?! People seem confused when I tell them I love America and Australia. They think in order to love one; you have to not love the other.”
He pointed out that Trump only takes $1 for a salary and the usual salary is $400,000. He said, “You guys get to elect your president, which is wonderful. In Australia, we only vote for a party, and they select the person. And the Prime Minister here makes $500,000 a year! More than the U.S. President! How crazy is that?”
I asked Maris why he loved the U.S. so much. He told me, “You know, the U.S. is the only country which has helped to fight wars and never colonized. You guys helped Australia fight against Japan when Britain bailed on us, but you didn’t take us over. You guys fought for freedom for Vietnam but didn’t take them over. You have fought all over the world for freedom but never colonized. England has always colonized all over the world. China, Japan, Russia …they all went to war and colonized those areas. No other country fights so hard for freedom. I know if Australia is in trouble, if we’re invaded, the U.S. will help us again. Everyone wants to go to the U.S., and it’s because it’s the greatest country in the world!”
Maris was enthusiastic, and I smiled as he told me about his love for the U.S. He went on to talk about immigration, visas, and other political topics. Maris was disappointed that the U.S. has started to become offended by so much, like saying “Merry Christmas.” He said he didn’t understand why it was offensive. I agreed, “I know. I don’t get offended when someone tells me Happy Hanukkah. They’re just trying to give me well-wishes.” He patted me on the shoulder and appreciated that we were both Christian.
All of my anger from the day disappeared as I talked with Maris. He kept apologizing for taking up my time (my coffee was sitting on the counter waiting for me). I told him not to worry because I loved the conversation. After 15 minutes, he had to be somewhere so I paid for my coffee and said goodbye to Maris.
I turned towards the young blonde woman listening to our discussion while cleaning up and Maris’ nephew through the half-wall divide to the kitchen.
The woman apologized for eavesdropping and said, “I just love your accent. It’s so much easier for me to understand it over the British accent. It has a nice rhythm to it. The British accent fluctuates in strange places. And Australians have so much slang!”
The woman told me that she was from the Czech Republic. The man in the kitchen was from Italy. I asked them what they thought about Trump because they mentioned him right before I started talking with Maris. They both shrugged their shoulders and said they didn’t care for him, based on what they heard on the news. After talking with them briefly, I left so that they could focus on the other customers. They told me to come back and eat some pizza sometime.
I was so happy to have that experience. I was feeling so angry with humanity most of the day. Furious with what humans have become and how overpopulated the world is. The three of them reminded me that people can also be fantastic.
It reminded me that what I need in this life is great conversation. I absolutely love talking to people about their perspectives and life experience because we’re all different. Sometimes people annoy me, and I don’t particularly appreciate being smothered by crowds, but I love getting to know people on an individual level. In the end, Bondi Beach wasn’t so bad.
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