Saturday, August 29, 2015

Outback & Forth | Shrug Down Under - Australian Oddities - Eat It!

Weird Al Yankovic’s “Eat It” hit the top of Australia’s charts in 1984, while Michael Jackson’s original “Beat It” only reached #3.

Weird Al Yankovic's "Eat It" hit the top of Australia's charts in 1984, while Michael Jackson's original "Beat It" only reached No. 3.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Outback & Forth | Shrug Down Under - The Finke

As it turns out, the timing for my trip across the Outback coincides with an annual desert race that has been held in Australia for the last forty years. The Finke Desert Race is a 460km off road, multi-terrain two-day race for bikes, cars, buggies, and quads through the Australian desert country from Alice Springs, southward to the small Aputula (Finke) community - and then back up again. The race is held each year on the Queen’s Birthday weekend in June. “the Finke” as it is commonly known, is one of the biggest annual sporting events in the Australian Northern Territory and has the reputation of being one of the most difficult offroad courses in one of the most remote places in the world.  

The race started in 1976 as a ‘there and back’ challenge for a group of local motorcycle riders to race from Alice Springs to the Finke River and back. After the success of this initial ride, the Finke Desert Race was born and it has been held annually ever since. The race is run along sections of what was an old railway service track adjacent to the railway line along a winding corrugated track, which snakes through typical outback terrain of red dirt, sand, spinifex grass, mulga bushes, and desert oaks.

Although this isn't me, it looks oddly familiar.
When I first learned about the race, I figured if I'm there and it's happening, I might as well slap a number on my back and go along for the ride.  When else will I have such an opportunity?  I mean, how hard can it be?  Then I went looking for images from previous races and this is the first one I saw.  This could very well be the return of Spodekill.

I'd rather regret the things I did than the things I didn't.

I've been asked why I would risk getting hurt by entering an event such as this.  Granted, one wrong move or stroke of bad luck could send me home in a cast or worse without getting to see my boots get wet in the Indian Ocean.  My answer was easy.  When I rode to Alaska, my goal was to make it to the Arctic Circle.  I knew the Dalton Highway went as far north as the Arctic Sea at Deadhorse, but I never planned to go that far.  When I rode Hester out of the park area at the Arctic Circle monument, I had a choice.  I could turn left and head south towards home, or I could turn right and ride to the top of the world.  I turned right.  I rode on and made it to Coldfoot Camp where I could get gas and a meal before making the last 200 miles to Deadhorse.  I was getting ready to leave when a few trucks drove in and emptied out a bunch of oil workers from Prudhoe Bay.  They were heading south because the weather in the north slope was turning.  They related to me that when they left the bay, it was two degrees Fahrenheit and the rain was blowing sideways.  They all advised that I not try to make it because it would be too cold and wet to camp and there were no typically no hotel rooms available when the weather is bad.  The bus driver commented "Leave us a phone number so we'll know who to call when we find your body."  My decision had been made for me.  I was heading south.  You can read the rest in the Alaskapade blog.

I returned home confident that I made the right call.  In the years since that day, I've had countless opportunities to ponder the decision.  The reality is that I was only 200 miles away.  I could have waited out the weather, camped at Coldfoot, and rode on to the north.  But I didn't and that decision haunts me each and every time I think about that trip.  I rarely experience regret, but I can tell you that I'd rather regret the things I did than the things I didn't.  The whole reason I'm going to Oz is because I've never been there.  Whenever I consider the financial, time, and conditioning commitments this trip commands and then add my age, it's reasonable to consider that I'll likely never be back. I did some searching around and found the video below.  Yeah, I gotta do this.  I may live to regret it, but we all know how I feel about regrets, don't we?

Finke Film!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Outback & Forth | Shrug Down Under - Land Down Under

Everyone remembers the Aussie band Men At Work.  They had two hit albums (hopefully everyone remembers albums) in the 80's that were sprinkled with catchy hit singles.  Like may 80's artists, Men at Work faded into obscurity and other than making my recent list of Aussie bands, are now pretty much relegated to brief video snippets in those Where Are They Now shows on VH1.  M@W's biggest hit was "Land Down Under" from the Business As Usual album and featured a catchy hook which was not only upbeat, but unique in that it placed the band in a small group of recording artists including Led Zeppelin and The Marshall Tucker Band who have tunes with a flute as the signature riff.

Long after Men At Work lost their jobs as rock stars, they were sued by a small Aussie record label called Larrikin Music.  The suit was based on the claim that the signature flute riff in "Down Under" was copied from an old Aussie folk tune called "Kookaburra".  I remember singing it as a kid at day camp. 

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree
Merry, merry king of the bush is he

The odd aspect is that Larrikin themselves actually never put the two riffs together.  They were contacted with an onslaught of phone calls and messages after a television trivia game show asked the question "What children's song is contained in the song Down Under?"  Once the lawyers smelled blood in the water, the lawsuit was on seeking millions in royalties from the band, its label, and anyone else who might have made a buck on the tune.  You can listen to both versions of the riff below.  I can hear similarities, but by no means believe it was ripped off.

The suit dragged on for years and the band eventually lost.  A caveat in the judge's decision actually worked in the band's favor as it was ruled that Larrikin would receive 5% of royalties from 2002 and beyond.  This rendered the band earnings from the tune prior to 2002 safe.  To me, this was fair (my disbelief in the copyright ruling notwithstanding) because it's not like anyone believes that the band members actually:
  a) made any real money from the record at all since the labels were notorious for screwing their artists;
  b) had any money they might have earned from their glory days left, and;
  c) earned much money from that tune after 2002 anyway.

The way I see it, Larrikin can use 5% of whatever that might be to pay off their lawyers, who after all were likely the only ones to benefit financially from the suit.

In a last ditch fuck you to Larrikin and its lawyers, Colin Hay, the band's lead singer with that creepy drifting amblyopic eye, released a new version in 2012 that featured a modified flute riff.  Amazingly enough, it was called "Down Under 2012" and you can hear it here. Web searches indicate that Hay is still touring as a solo act and with a backup band.  It's a given that he has to play his former band's signature tune.  Good on ya mate!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Outback & Forth | Shrug Down Under - My "Tracks" Experience

"Tracks" is a film about an Australian adventurer named Robyn Davidson, although I suppose she wasn't known as an adventurer before embarking on her journey.  Irrespective of her original goal, Ms. Davidson is a living legend today and if you watch the film, you'll agree that she certainly deserves the notoriety.  To me, this film is on the same level as "World's Fastest Indian", "Rudy", and "October Sky"; all based on true stories about paying the price and overcoming adversities to achieve goals to which few others can relate.  Films like those resonate with me and every time I watch them, I gain something new.  In all fairness, I can't lay claim to the adversities the protagonists in these films faced, but I can relate to the passion, commitment, and determination they conjured within in order to realize their goals.

Watch the trailer for the film, or better yet, just watch the film on Netflix.  Although there can be no comparison to the severity and intensity of the her journey and mine, Robyn's answers to "why?" are reminiscent of my own when I went to Alaska and for my upcoming Outback ride.

This will be my lodging accommodations & my view during my Outback crossing.  Hopefully, no snakes across the neck!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Outback & Forth | Shrug Down Under - Australian Oddities - Bonza Bottler Day

Read on, put two and two together, and you'll see why this is a timely release of this entry...
I learned during my time in the Air force that the Australians have some strange tendencies.  Each year, the Aussies sent a squadron of RF4C jets and support personnel over to the US to participate in an international military aerial reconnaissance competition.  These guys were nuts.  The were tough, smart, witty, seemed to possess boundless energy, and were Olympic caliber drinkers.  The meekest of their women could out drink (and out curse) any of the Americans.

Since I'll be spending time among the Australian people in the heart (or as some have described it, "the bowels") of their country, I figured I should learn a bit about their culture.  Lord knows I plan to leave some Texan behind with them. (You can read whatever you want into that.)  With that pleasant and thought provoking line, I submit to you Bonza Bottler Day.

"Bonzy" The Official Bonza Bottler Day
Dancing Groundhog Mascot

Leave it to the Aussies to create a holiday simply because there wasn't already one.  Bonza Bottler Day is celebrated once a month when the number of the month coincides with the number of the day (Jan 1, Feb 2, Mar 3, and so on). When the number of the year also coincides with the number of the day and month (such as it will on June 6, 2016), they use this occasion as a reason for a larger party (more food and more booze). They refer to this as a Bodacious Bonza Bottler Day. Bodacious is defined at as “impressive, awesome, brave in action, remarkable, prodigious”.  If all goes as planned, I'll celebrate next year's Bodacious Bonza Bottler Day on my fifth day on the Outback.  I suspect my celebration will be limited to the euphoric relief of simply making it to a camping spot and being able to crawl into my sleeping bag without being eaten by a dingo.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Planned Parenthood: Tissue For Sale

Anyone who knows me is aware that I make no qualms about my religious views, or my lack of therein.  I enjoy the luxury of rational thought and as such, my opinion on abortion has no religious foundation.

That said, while I am pro choice and pro capitalism, I find the recent Planned Parenthood videos repulsive.  The motivation for profit has clearly superseded medical ethics.   I doubt many of the mothers would elect abortion if they were presented with the fact that their baby's parts, and in some cases, the entire aborted body would be sold for profit.  If those sales are ethical, why not cut the mother in on the deal?  I agree that Congress should defund Planned Parenthood, bit because I oppose abortion, but because I don't want my hear earned dollars paying for it.  The argument that Planned Parenthood provides the only women's health services is utter bullshit.

I find it interesting that Planned Parenthood claims to use science in its argument for when life begins and that they can rationalize that a recognizable cell structure, visually identifiable human body parts, and even a heartbeat - are not life.  However, many of these same scientists have no issue claiming that the mere presence of bacteria on other planets represents life.  You can't have it both ways...unless you're President Obama:

The reports President Barack Obama told a group of young African leaders on Monday that harvesting organs from humans that are killed was ‘craziness’ and a ‘cruel’ tradition. He warned of dehumanizing marginal groups of humans and of the problems that arise when ‘you are not able to see someone else as a human being'.

You gotta love hypocrisy.   Even if you don't love it, we've had six years to get used to it.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Outback & Forth | Shrug Down Under - 15 Habits

I ran across this article and although not every item will apply to me during my short time in Oz, I found it interesting and worth posting.  Full credit goes to the author Kellie Donnelly.

15 American Habits I Lost When I Moved to Australia
by Kellie Donnelly

1. Using a clothes dryer
Yes, it helps that it’s pretty much sunny and hot every day in Australia’s Gold Coast, but rarely did I use a dryer for my clothes while living there. We hung our clothes out to dry on these convenient foldaway clothes hangers instead. The few times it did rain, we would simply move them indoors to dry. In America, I can count on one hand the number of times I hung my clothes to dry outside in the summer versus tossing them in the dryer.

2. Drinking bottled water
Really, what is the point? If you live in a developed country with clean drinking water, why are we too good to drink from the tap? It saves money and the environment. I and many of my Australian friends kept a large jug of tap water in our refrigerators. As an environmentally conscious country, it made sense to take advantage of the fact that you live in a place with clean drinking water and to carry your own, reusable water bottle with you.

3. Disregarding loose change
Oh, do the coins add up in Australia. Since $5 is the smallest paper bill, your loose change is overwhelmingly $1 and $2 dollar coins. That pile of little golden nuggets adds up to a case of beer in just a few short weeks of saving. In the States, we literally throw pennies away because they are worth so little. (Side note — why do we still have pennies? Every price in Australia was rounded, thus eliminating pennies.)

4. Never carrying cash
I can’t think of one place outside of the occasional mom-and-pop stores that don’t accept credit or debit cards in the States. I never carried cash in America. In Australia, many places were cash-only, or would have a $10 minimum on credit or debit. At the pub, it was more troublesome for bartenders to run a card versus take cash and move on to the next customer. Although inconvenient if you want to make a quick purchase and have no cash on you, you form a habit of always stopping by the ATM before $3 beers on Sundays at Waxy’s Irish Pub. This is where I used the majority of my coins.

5. Splitting bills at restaurants
Not an option. You will simply be told no. If you need to figure out who spent how much on what meal, then it’s on your time, not the server’s. They aren’t working for tips (see #6), so don’t expect them to spend time organizing your bill for you. When I went out to dinner with a big group of friends to celebrate a birthday, the expectation was to bring cash to cover your portion of the bill.

6. Working for tips
I know this had been reiterated to Americans hundreds of times, but tipping isn’t standard or expected in Australia. As a waitress, this changed a lot of habits for me. In the States, customers expect you to anticipate their every need, and for the most part, kiss their ass. I quickly discovered working in a restaurant in Surfers Paradise that customers don’t want you constantly checking on them and topping off their drinks — they get quite annoyed. You aren’t an important part of their dining experience so unless they’re asking for something, leave them alone.

7. Ordering sugary and complicated cocktails or shots
Americans always want their Girl Scout Cookies, Sex on the Beach, Buttery Nipples, Vegas Bombs, and all the other ridiculously fruity and sugary shots and cocktails to cover up the taste of alcohol. But once again, bartenders aren’t working for your tip — so don’t waste their time on a complicated shot at a busy bar when they have 15 other drunk people waiting to be served a beer. Order a cranberry vodka and call it a day. Australians spend such little time mixing drinks that they actually sell pre-bottled Jack Daniels and cokes called “stubbies.”

8. Getting frustrated with customers with heavy accents
Americans consider it inconvenient when someone doesn’t speak decent English very well in customer service situations. In Australia, if I were to voice my annoyance about struggling to understand a patron with a heavy accent, it was considered rude and judgmental. I quickly learned to listen better and try to help in any way I could instead of giving attitude.

9. Expecting free and unlimited Wi-Fi
It is not normal in other countries to have free and unlimited Wi-Fi all the time, even in your own home. It requires a data package just like a cell phone plan — so cut back that phone (and Netflix!) time. Starbucks is one of my favorite places to order a coffee, hunker down, and spend hours blogging and reflecting; however, I soon learned that in order to connect to their Wi-Fi, you had to order a drink and receive a passcode on your receipt – that had a 30-minute time limit. Want 30 more minutes? Order another drink.

10. Expecting the air conditioning on full blast at all times
It’s hot in Australia. But that doesn’t mean the air-con is on. Restaurants, malls, offices, and hotels adjusted temperatures so they were comfortable, not cold. Our apartment had one small air conditioning unit we used only on the really hot days — as in topping 100-degrees Fahrenheit. You learn to live in the heat.

11. Freaking out about cockroaches
It’s gross, I know, but cockroaches are part of everyday life in Australia. It’s a common part of your side work i a restaurant to check for cockroaches under the salt and pepper shakers. They’re EVERYWHERE.

12. Brewing fresh coffee in the morning
Unless you have a fancy espresso machine that steams milk for your lattes, bring on the freeze-dried coffee. This was in every house and every apartment I visited in Australia. Boil some water, mix in the freeze-dried coffee grounds with a spoon, and — boom! — instant coffee.

13. Expecting a staggering variety of fast-food restaurants
Have a brutal hangover and craving fast food? Grab some McDonald’s, Burger King, or KFC. Those are pretty much your only fast-food choices in Australia. Because there is less fast food, the majority of restaurants are serving healthier and higher quality food, so it isn’t cheaper to eat out versus cooking at home. Quick, cheap, and easy becomes throwing something together in your kitchen, not passing a drive through.

14. Thinking the rest of the world cares about the NFL and religiously watching games
The New England Patriots are the 2015 World Champions! Yet nobody else in the world really cares. Yes, there are one or two games played in London, but the NFL is an American thing. In fact, Australians consider it a pretty weak sport compared to rugby, where they forego the padding and helmets.

15. Looking left when crossing the street
I’m telling you, this is the hardest habit to break. You don’t even realize you do it until you go to cross the street and almost get nailed by a car to your right. For the most part I ended up looking in every direction about three times before crossing the street just to make sure. It scares the crap out of you at first and you feel like an idiot.