One of the most fundamental and unmentioned parts of this tour guide job is that I have to drive people back from whichever far-flung spots our esteemed visitors have deemed worth coming halfway around the world to see. Or at least, what they’ve been told is worth coming halfway around the world to see.
In my case, I have to drive people 3 hours back from the approximate 12 Apostles region to the safety of Melbourne’s city lights. Worse is that I have to drive for 2 hours in the darkness from Phillip Island.
By definition the penguins come into the beach from the sea as darkness comes, always, every day of our lives. That automatically means that the drive home is done in the dark.
Now, we as individuals are our own little world unto ourselves. This sense of self, this notion that the person inside my head is me, and there are other people out there with their own me inside their own heads, is a very special thing. We are able to convince ourselves that we are uniquely impermeable from disaster. Our moments of stupidity will magically turn out ok and not lead to our unfortunate deaths like it can for other people who are not me.
This is naturally wrong but understandable. I have had close shaves in my life, although only two real ones that I can think of. One is when I illegally snuck into and out of Brazil to attend the 2014 World Cup without a Brazilian Visa in my passport and dangerously lived like an undocumented nobody for two weeks. It was naïve stupidity at its finest, but every 50-50 situation that could have gone horribly wrong for me – and there were about seven or eight of them – all went my way, as if the trip was blessed. The Brazilians never knew what hit them, and I guess I have a story.
The other is more relevant. I fell asleep at the wheel once on an empty freeway at 1am, woke up and jerked the wheel back onto the road. You can’t do that at 100km/h, so I spun in one and a half 360-degree spins. But I lived. I did not crash, no one else was behind me, and the car came to a gentle halt on the median strip – facing the wrong direction. It really could have been a wake-up call, but here I am a 34 year-old tour guide.
This is what confronts me on this job: the risk of falling asleep. The third time I drove home from the penguins it was about 9pm. By 9:35 massive fatigue hit. I somehow drove the entire rest of the hour and a bit on the verge of falling asleep. I had a headache between my eyes and the minutes absolutely crawled by – every time I glanced at the clock only two minutes would have passed, instead of maybe 15 when I’m healthy. There was a painful battle going on in my head as I tried to keep my eyes up.
Will I end up sacrificing my one life for just a fucking job?! That is the question. All of my time, all the learning I’ve done, the investment into myself, my brain and my individuality, will that all be gone because I have to sell myself to drive a van on some dark road at 11pm? Is that what life is when the world is pragmatic, just doing someone else’s completely random bidding, and will you lose yourself, lose your life, because of throwing it all away doing random shit for someone else?
But that’s the world right? We must work, or not eat. There perhaps is no free world that we make for ourselves. And if I die, there will be no one to tell anyone else that I was unique, that there was a me inside this head that saw things the way I see them.
In December I stopped on the side of the road – with customers – three times in three weeks to have a five-minute nap and roll off the road with their lives, their me‘s, to boot. All three times I received a tip of – progressively – $20, $60 and $100, so something had gone right beforehand.
But since then I have had to make sure I drink a large coffee on every trip. Coffee is the miracle juice. There are no more unscheduled stops now, as coffee saves me from headaches and desperation. But I know one thing, and I’m trying to write this undramatically…
If I ever become immune to coffee, as a tour guide and as a human being, I am fucked.