A Day at the Races

After a day of working on the farm (okay, actually sight-seeing on the farm), I hop in the shower and Jeanette and I head into town. Tonight’s the night of the staff Christmas party for the school Jeanette teaches at. You know how summertime in the northern hemisphere is wintertime in the southern one? Well, as Christmas is a winter holiday so they celebrate it in September. Wait, that’s not true at all; Jeanette’s school has decided to get the staff together now to celebrate Christmas as it’s always so busy in December and, with every business celebrating then, it’s tough to secure a location. So basically, they’re having it now to avoid the Christmas rush.

I’m Jeanette’s date for this evening as Vernon has chosen to stay home and watch “footy” on TV (that’s football – Australians turn most words into a short, cute version of the original). The party is being held in the banquet room of a local hotel and, though we’re among the first to arrive, others join us without delay. After grabbing a drink at the bar, we all take our seats and enjoy a nice buffet dinner. I meet the various teachers there and can’t help but think of the enjoyment I’ve gotten from teaching – to refugee kids, to kids at the library in Mexico, to grade-schoolers on Lord Howe, and to college and trade-school classes – while on this adventure. Teachers rock!

After dinner, the “Chinese” gift exchange begins (sometimes known as a “White Elephant” exchange). Everyone has brought a gift which cost less than AUD$10 and, as our names are called, we decide whether to step up to the table to choose a gift, or swipe a previously selected gift from someone else. Due to luggage challenges, I plan to give whatever I get to Jeanette. I plan this until someone opens their gift and it’s a bottle of red wine. If I drink it, it will take up no luggage space so, when my name is called, I steal the bottle from the woman who has chosen it. That’s the Christmas spirit!

Following dessert, we move onto the trivia portion of the evening. This is not team-based, but consists of three-rounds with three individuals each. The fourth-round has the winners from the three-previous rounds competing. I volunteer for the first-round and don’t embarrass myself. I get lucky that the final question is a “Who am I?” one and the clues are that one parent was born in America and one in Kenya and that he’s both the forty-fourth and the first. Got it? Anyway, though I win a barbecue steam cleaner (a gift for Vernon because, who doesn’t need one?), I lose the round.

It’s been an incredible day which has allowed me to clear my head and make some decisions. One of smaller decisions being to stay another day. Jeanette says it’s no problem if I stay a week, but I don’t want to impose.

I wake up the next morning not quite so early. Still, after coffee I head out to feed Terri, my sheep (yup, I want to take her traveling with me in my camper van). I play with Lampshade for a bit before climbing into the nicest clothes I have with me (not saying much), put a ‘fascinator” in my hair (one of those not-quite-on-the-head, hair attachments which upper-crust English women put on their head when attending a fabulous event), and head off to the races. Today is the annual Thangool Cup, a horserace at the local racetrack. It’s the one day that many of these country people get to dress up in their fanciest outfits. People plan their wardrobe for weeks ahead of time. I planned mine minutes ahead and borrowed a simple, black, lace flower fascinator from Jeanette.

Jeanette drops me off at the track as Australia is very firm on its drunk-driving regulations and checkpoints with blow-tests are set up on a regular basis. (Jeanette was once stopped to blow at 8:00am on her way to school.- you know those teachers.) This event has the reputation to include a bit of partaking in adult beverages so, though she isn’t attending, Jeanette is my designated driver for the day.

Race CoupleI enter the track area to find tented booths with private corporate picnics inside, a betting area with a choice of bookies, a food area, a bar (I purchased AUD$15 of drink tickets at the entrance) and hundreds of people, some casual and many dressed in their finest. Men wear suits of all colors (very different than the famous Coat of Many Colors) and women don colorful dresses topped with fancy hats or fascinators, some of which will require chiropractic care in order to relieve the strain that their weight must be putting on the women’s necks. Some women have planned ahead, wearing flats or wedges and some have their stilettos sinking into the grass.

I arrive just in time for the second race and step over to a bookie to find out how this works. I’m told I can bet on the local race which will be run in just a few minutes, as well as any of the races which are showing on the TV screens overhead. Being a responsible citizen, I try to buy local, so I place my AUD$5 bet on Big Baba Louie because I like the name. My beginner’s luck hasn’t kicked in yet as BBL comes in 3rd.Horse RacingI wander around in search of food and drink and, after finding the bar and a small, personal-sized bottle of wine, I stroll over to the tents in search of food. This is when I find out that the tents hold private corporate picnics for their employees and customers. I also find a nice man who works in gravel (not actually in it, but in sales, I think) and he asks if I’ve eaten a bug.

“Um, well, probably when I was little; and I once accidentally swallowed a fly,” I tell him.

“No, I mean a Morton Bay Bug,” He tells me.

Though I don’t actually know where the fly was from, it was down in the Caribbean so I don’t think it came from Morton Bay.

Morton Bay BugIt turns out, a Bug is a kind of mix between a lobster and a crayfish. They have a whole pile sitting on ice at their tent and he cracks one open for me to eat. It’s very meaty and not nearly as messy as most shellfish I’ve eaten before. (Perhaps that’s because he cracked it for me but, whatever.) We chat for a while and he’s very encouraging about my job hunt. He tells me that Queensland is looking to increase their tourism and I need to walk into their offices and tell them how valuable I can be to them. I vow to do so on the continuation of my road trip.

I thank him and head back to the bookies to bet on the next race. I walk over to a different bookie this time and place my bet on From The Darkness. I hope to be coming out of the darkness of my job hunt soon and take it as a sign. There’s an option to vote “Two Ways” which the lady tells me that, for a bit more money I can bet on FTD to win, place or show. I decide to increase my odds and, with AUD$2.50 to win and AUD$2.50 for the Two Way, I head over to the rail along the track and cheer FTD on and, He comes in 2nd! This means that, for only a $5.00 bet, I win $2.90. Hmmmm.

While waiting in the line for the restroom, I meet the daughter of a teacher I’d met last night. She wants to work in comedy and her mother had mentioned that she encourages her to write. Her mom had told me about her and what she’d be wearing and I’m able to identify her (and freak her out a bit by knowing her name). We chat for a bit and, it turns out, mom had told her that she’d met a comedy writer. After talking for a bit, it begins to feel as if she was hoping to be discovered. I explain that I make very little money (when I’m able to get gigs writing for others) and that I work really hard. I feel as if I’ve disappointed her. People, let me give you a little advice; if you ask, “But are you having fun?” well, perhaps you need to consider if this is a good career decision. It’s my passion, and I work hard learning and doing and tying to create opportunities; living your passion is not always fun, but it can be quite satisfying.

I grab a burger and potato wedges (and, of course, more wine) before the next race, where I bet on two horses to win; Inaction (after my decision-making abilities lately) and Not So Sober, just because. They, sadly, come in third and fourth and I head back to get another tiny bottle of wine.

Winning HorseThe fifth and final race of the day is open for betting. I bet $5.00 on Seen A Host to win. (I choose this one as, working in the Entertainment Department on cruise ships, I’ve hosted many things. Besides, there are only five horses to choose from.) I step up to the rail and cheer my horse on. Finally, I’ve picked a winner as SAH comes in first! I collect my $23.50 and call my designated driver to pick me up.

Farm work, Christmas parties and horse races; Thangool has not disappointed.

Tomorrow – driving to Rainbow Beach and an unexpected stop.

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