You know that grumpy, stern and stone-faced [Greek mythology] teacher in high school whose eyes squinted suspiciously at anyone with a heartbeat, whose mouth talked through a permanent scowl and whose long, jagged fingers sent slow scratchy shivers down your back?? The one who was never wrong and never let you forget it; especially on your report card?
Well, he made a comeback as my tour guide in Melbourne last weekend.
D, the white-haired love child of Cruella de Vil and Gargamel of the Smurfs, kicked off our tour by requesting that we not ask any questions about what to expect, run back on the bus at the beck and call of his urgent hand gestures and that we sit with our hands folded, our mouths shut and eyes forward (OK, he didn’t actually request that last one but we did it anyway!)
All along the 3-hour drive to the coast of Great Ocean Road, he regaled us with interesting stories of blood, gore, death and destruction (bridges collapsing, ships capsizing, gas explosions). I think the only non-gory story he shared was about vegemite… And speaking of dark-brown-food-paste-made-from-leftover-brewers’-yeast-extract, his enthusiastic jerks and swerves along the windy coastline in the torrential rain allowed us to brew our own, especially the woman who threw up three times. Most of all, though, D wanted us to know that he was the authority (even when he forgot the actual years, statistics, places of the stories he shared.)
Listen, behave, agree or be left behind. He seemed to exude.
But to be fair — D’s behavior came from a good place. Throughout the 10-hour tour you could really tell he was, in his own way, ecstatic to share the breathtaking scenery, diverse look-out points and furry creatures that called it home. You could tell that his nervously-recounted anecdotes were to distract us from the poor weather that befell our day. And that his request for us not to ask questions was so we wouldn’t get our hopes up if we didn’t see a kangaroo, koala, king parrot (we saw all three). And that his urgent gesticulations were to ensure that we would make it to the beautiful sunset at the coast’s infamous Twelve Apostles.
But as much as he managed our expectations, he was dead certain about one thing: “In all my years leading this tour, whatever the weather conditions the sun has always always always made an appearance. It always finds a way to peek through the clouds.”
Despite the absolution in his voice Eloria, an Eastern European tourist, asked “Look at the sky, there is no sun at all. Why are we waiting for nothing?” Everyone murmured in agreement beneath the stubbornly impenetrable clouds that hung over our heads the entire day. At that moment D’s face remained frozen and immovable, but silently his spirit seemed to be crushed.
We marched through the meandering fields at the beat of his hurried gait anyway and arrived at the Twelve Apostles at exactly 7:42pm, just minutes before the forecasted sunset. Some of us clutched our thin clothing to stay warm as Melbourne’s four-seasons-in-a-day blew threw, while others were already mentally checked out.
One minute passed, two, three were gone, and so were we.
But then, an almost undetectable orange speck grew and grew until its sparkling light illuminated the dramatic landscape with a warm and welcoming gaze. It was for a mere three minutes but the warm glow juxtaposed against our cold and shivery day was like the yin to our yang, the black to the white, the light to the dark. For just a moment, it made us appreciate all the good there was in the day, in our lives.
And with this came our belated recognition of D’s efforts to manage our expectations, protect our hopes and bring us along for the journey. Despite his grumpy demeanor, there was method to his madness.
As the sun shared its last glimmer before saying good night against the inky sky, we turned to D with captivated awe and said, “You were right.”
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