photo.JPGAustin drives a frog green 1986 Mitsubishi van with GUMBOOT written backwards on the front, cows on the sides and two stencils of roosters spray-painted on the back.  There are three seats up front and a bed in the back where he sleeps.   He bought it for $1900NZ in Auckland when he first arrived. 

I got to ride in it today when we traveled from one vineyard to the next and let me tell you, people STARE.  Especially old people.  They also usually frown while they stare, which makes things really funny. 

In the front seat of GUMBOOT–or TOOBMUG, I should say, there were a pair of canvas shoes and two bottles of wine.  One was empty and Austin says it’s because of that empty bottle that he lost his iPhone last night.   It’s probably somewhere in the gravel on a campsite near the beach, he said, Oops. 

On his dashboard he has portable speakers, a plastic little Chewbacca doll and a pin that says WEBLOS.  Ignorant former Brownie that I am, I inquired about the meaning of WEBLOS.  Apparently Austin was an Eagle Scout.  Either that or he’s a complete pathological liar.  I haven’t decided which yet.  (Austin, if you’re reading this, don’t worry.  I’ll still like you either way.) 

Before I started picking grapes, I told my sister how I would have to have a partner to pick with.  My sister laughed and laughed.  And then she laughed some more.

“What’s so funny?”  I asked.

“Knowing your luck you’ll probably get a mute for a partner.  You’ll be bored stiff without anyone to talk to!”

Austin is no mute.  We tell each other tales of our travels and also sometimes crack jokes about the others when they aren’t in ear shot.  Especially about the older couple that asked me if I was from the Czech Republic.  No, I’m American, I said.  From Texas. 

“Are you sending money back home to help out with the situation?” he asked.

I thought hard about this for a whole second.  And then I realized that his guy probably thinks I’m the equivalent of an illegal Mexican immigrant worker in the States. 

“Uhhh…no.  Things aren’t that bad at home,” I said, a little lost for words.  “At least my family’s fine.  No one’s hurting for money.”

“I didn’t mean to your family!” he was indignant.  “I meant for your COUNTRY!”

Oh.  Well excuse me!  Still.  I had no idea what he was talking about.  Was there something I missed on the news?  Did this guy know some horrible secret about our national deficit that I had not yet heard?  Is my beloved America in trouble and am I the only one who can single-handedly save my country by picking grapes in New Zealand!?    

This was yesterday, by the way.  Today, Austin and I had good laugh over this. 

“I didn’t even know how to respond to that,” I said.  “I mean, it hurts my head to think about answering that guy’s question.  Does he think there’s some national bank account where people just deposit money to go towards the charity of our national deficit?”

Austin and I were in stitches laughing so hard.  Between laughs, he goes, “I mean, just the plane ticket alone would have cost you more than what you’ll make at this job!”  

After the old man asked me if I was Czech / working to send money back home, he then asked me if I was legal to work in this country.  

At this point, I’d sorta had it with this stupid questions so I copped an attitude with him and took on a feisty, sarcastic tone.  “Yeeeesss, otherwise they wouldn’t let me work here.” I said.

Then he went on into some story about how last year these people from the Czech Republic came and were working for weeks before they found out they weren’t legal to work.  And how the Czechs couldn’t find work because they didn’t have a visa and blahblahblahblahblah.  “Did you apply for a visa before you came here?” they asked me. 

It was getting to be a quite complicated, slightly annoying conversation.  Who were these people anyway? 

Old people are not only sometimes nosy, they are also blatantly rude and invasive.  They are set in their ways and ask far too many questions.  “Hovering,” as my eighty-four year old Poppie calls it.  “Hovering.  Am I hovering?” he says to me on occasion when he asks about my life.  “No, Poppie, you’re just being a grandpa.” 

“Good,” he says, “Because I don’t want to hover.”  And he means he doesn’t want to be nosy and pesky. 

There are a lot of nosy and pesky people out there picking grapes.  They are old and retired and boring and completely out of it.  It makes things interesting, though.  And gives me stuff to write about.  And, thank God, stuff for Austin and me to laugh about. 

As it turns out, some of the nicest, most normal people you’ll ever meet in your whole life will drive frog-green spray-painted vans.  Some of the rudest will be retired, have gray hair and think they know everything. 

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