A weekly ode to the joys of moaning about your holiday, by Tim Roxborogh
Also known as "The Washington DC Tennis Ball Incident Where Barry Gibb Saved Me". It was 2009 and I'd touched down in DC after a flight from London via Amsterdam. Standing in line at customs, I was doing my usual routine of attempting not to look guilty of anything. When standing in an airport queue, I often find myself thinking, "what would an innocent person do?" — it's a curious default position for an innocent man.
Busy trying to resemble the law-abiding traveller that I actually was, sure enough, I got pulled aside.
"Sir, please unlock your bags," came the command and with pounding heart and fumbling hands I somehow entered the codes for my combination locks. Wearing gloves, one officer started going through my stuff while the other grilled me on the stamps in my passport and my admittedly spectacular itinerary for the current trip.
Over the course of six weeks I was travelling solo in Malaysia, England, Washington DC, Miami, Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. Never mind the fact I was catching up with old friends in Malaysia, seeing friends and family in England and about to join a tour group in Central America, in the eyes of US customs I was a dodgy character who was raising more than a few red flags.
And amid all my dirty laundry, they'd found something suspicious. "What's this?" The officer was glaring at me like they'd found the jackpot that was about to land me in prison for a very long time. "It's a tennis ball," I responded. "I know it's a tennis ball! But what's it for?"
I should've answered, "for tennis", but not wanting to make things any worse than necessary, I said with complete, underwhelming honesty: "Sometimes when I'm at the beach I like to throw a tennis ball around."
They laughed in my face; a laugh that said: "A likely story, young man!" Unconvinced, the officer started shaking the ball and was about to carve it open with a pair of scissors when another discovery was made.
The other officer — the one who'd been giving me the third degree on what my intentions in Malaysia, Miami and Mexico in particular had really been — was holding up a CD. "Is that signed by one of the Bee Gees!? My mom loves the Bee Gees! How do you have this?"
And like that, the tone of the conversation did a 180, the tennis ball was spared and I was no longer a suspected drug runner. I explained that I worked in radio and that in London I'd interviewed Barry Gibb, who was briefly there to film a documentary for the group's 50th anniversary. Suddenly the people who seemed eager to see me behind bars were smiling, a tad starstruck and wishing me "a great vacation sir!" Lesson: Always travel a with a signed Bee Gees album.
The blowout. I've had it marching to cliff-tops in the Whitsundays and I've had it in the Burmese highlands. I've had it during a tropical downpour in Kuala Lumpur and I've had it crossing the street in Honolulu. All of which may sound nothing more than a humble-brag of places this travel writer is forever grateful he's been, but it's also a reminder of the foolishness in always forgetting to pack a spare pair of Jandals before going on holiday.
That blowout — where the Jandal plug no longer connects snugly to the sole — is guaranteed to look hilarious and generally take place miles from the nearest shoe or surf shop. I had a friend in the Whitsundays once use a vine to fix a broken Jandal (thus creating the "vinedal") while bent nails and bread tags can also keep you going until you find a retailer.
But if you're a regular and defiant Jandal wearer — especially in conditions that traditionally warrant actual shoes — remember always to buy before you fly.
Tim Roxborogh hosts Newstalk ZB's The Two, Coast Soul on Coast and writes the RoxboroghReport.com.