"Are you sure you're alive?", he asked. I sat back in my seat, looking over the centre console, a little bewildered. 'Yes, as sure as I have ever been- although hey, I have a few existential questions regarding how I actually know I'm alive which we could delve into.'
"Yes," I replied.
There was a pregnant pause.
"Well in that case, I think I owe you an apology mate."
I was in the back of an Uber. It was a very Australian Uber, with a very Australian driver, in a Holden Commodore, with rock music blasting. We were cruising down the motorway at 110, having a conversation about a boy with cancer who had done a speech at his school and then promptly died afterwards.
But that boy was me, and I was feeling even more alive than usual with the windows down and the hot air blasting in my face, as we yelled back and forth across the cab.
He paused after his last comment, unsure where to take conversation while he waited to see the reaction of someone who has been vehemently accused of being dead. Then we hollered and howled with laughter.
When we arrived at the airport he jumped out and helped me get my bag out of the tray. Whenever other blokes help me with my bags, I always find myself wondering if they do the same for every bloke. You see, I'm hardly physically imposing. God forbid I were ever to garner enough fame to be asked to take part in a charity boxing match; I would be paired against Ed Sheeran for a fair fight.
So, a little part of me wonders whether, having assessed me, they feel obliged to help me with the bag. That little part hopes they are just participants in a service industry, and not burglars of masculinity.
Regardless, all was forgiven and restored with a firm, macho handshake. "Glad to have been proven wrong, mate," he said. I hoped he meant about the whole being alive thing and not the handshake.
When I arrived in Auckland, I still had to catch a connection to Rotorua. I'm not sure how to tell you that I sensed that flight was going to be cancelled before it was cancelled without sounding insane, but I did. And no, not by the weather forecast. And yes, "Sensing Flight Cancellations" is coming to a TV near you soon.
I began to Google how far the drive was going to be - 2.5 hours if I was lucky. Too far for a taxi or Uber, easily short enough to take a rental.
As I had either foreseen or tempted fate, the flight was cancelled, and I walked to the front desk and found a lady already in the queue. "Rotorua?" I said. "Rental car?" she said. "Jake," I said. "Cassandra," she said. Off we walked together, gathering people along the way like popular high school kids assembling an entourage.
In the rental car office we found Bob. We asked Bob to join our road trip, and Bob said yes. Nice to meet you Bob. We asked Bob who else he knew, and he asked a man who he had just met at the airport. So, we all met Heinz. Nice to meet you Heinz.
The four of us strangers got in a rental car, somehow trusting the youngest by about 25 years to be the most reliable driver, and set off to Rotorua through the darkness and winding backroads of towns I had never heard of. We shared in common two things: a cancelled flight, and a need to get there regardless. That's hardly the basis of a connection.
But when you talk intensely for a few hours, which is of course the magic of a roadie (at least, it is at 10pm when there is little to be seen outside), you find far more in common than you might expect.
Quite a thing of beauty (and even reassurance) it is, to be able to pick a few strangers or have them chosen by fate, and then be able to find them all most agreeable and their company very enjoyable. Add my Uber driver from the morning into that list as well.
Don't be fooled into believing the world around you is a big and scary place, nor that everyone is out to get you. For there are certainly places and people that are, but for every deadpan snarker, they are outnumbered 100,000 to 1 by rather lovely people who want nothing but a friendly conversation and a laugh. To live without taking that risk in connecting with strangers is to miss the 100,000 and that creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of only seeing the worst.
We arrived in Rotorua. No one was there to help me with my bag, and I smiled- although if they had been, chances are they were only doing it to be kind, I had decided.