‘On the road again . . . ‘ I was thinking of country singer Willie Nelson’s famous song as I hurtled along on the freeway to Darebin. I had a five hour trip ahead of me and not to have this long stretch take away from my valuable selling time, I had left Melbourne on a Sunday afternoon. I liked travelling on Sundays, in the afternoon, because the roads were clear and the service stations and roadside restaurants were unhurried and relaxed.
Whenever I felt the need to eat, I made a habit of stopping where the big interstate trucks parked because there, for sure, would be the best food and best comfort! In summer, their air conditioning would be working well and in winter, there would be, for sure, a warm log fire to relax by. On this day, I found myself looking for a place to have a mid-afternoon snack. The nearby large roadhouse looked inviting, and there was a group of semi-trailers congregated in the vast car park, waiting for their owners.
‘Good afternoon’ a friendly greeting made me relax right away.
Sitting down in a cosy nook, I had asked for a chicken salad and a pot of coffee in accordance with the weight-watching program I was undergoing at the time.
‘Very well.’ The young lass had made notes and disappeared into the kitchen.
The background music was all ‘country’ and I had glanced into a newspaper for the latest news on the economic front, what so-and-so said in Parliament and the reply from the opposition, the news from the footy teams and how they dealt with unruly players.
Boring, boring, I thought - always the same. But it helped me to relax, so much so that I felt like dozing off.
‘Here you are luv,’ a friendly voiced waitress put down some cutlery, pepper and salt and then ‘bang!’ an enormous bowl of something appeared in front of me.
My sleepy eyes snapped wide open and I gasped in shock. It was a large mound of salad, piled high above the rim of the bowl, and on top of it, carefully balanced, was a half a grilled chicken!
I can’t eat all that, I thought. What a portion! Looking around helplessly I had seen on each table one or two tall, burly men in singlets or T-shirts, tucking with gusto into similar mountains of food. They all seemed to take the size of the portions for granted! Trying to fit in with the other ‘road people’, I pretended to tuck in with great appetite. But I still had to furtively wrap most of the chicken into a paper napkin to take ‘home’ to my motel room.
Later, back in my car and driving off, I had made a mental note to check the size of the meals in future before ordering.
Upon approaching the town of Darebin, I had remembered some friends in Melbourne asking me what I did if I fell sick or something similar whilst on a country trip.
Well, on my last trip to Darebin, I had lifted a heavy case of samples out of my car. Grabbing it wrongly, or misjudging my ability, my back had given out and the pain which shot up and down my spine was excruciating. I had managed to drag myself into a motel room, close the door and fall on top of the bed. The pain got worse because the bed had suddenly become so unbearably soft. Carefully, I had managed to slide off it and slowly lower myself onto the thickly carpeted floor. The relief was instant - no pain, no aches. I managed to pull down from the bed a pillow and a blanket.
Never had I thought a floor could be so comfortable to lie on. I slept through the evening and the night, but before I dozed off I had wondered what the staff would say if they came in the morning to make the bed and found me on the floor, unable to move. Would there be a doctor in the town that could come and help me? How long would I have to lie on the floor before I could move again? I was a long way from home . . .
However, when I woke up in the morning, I felt extremely well and had no more problems with my back! As I slept deeply, nature had taken over and healed, like the utilities programs in my computer, I thought.
Another time, I had caught a bad flu virus. I must have shaken hands with a real germ carrier of an architect! Arriving at a motel, I checked in with a croaky voice and running nose, shivering and obviously with a slight temperature. Once holed up in my room, I helped myself from the courtesy bar to a tea bag and a small bottle of Bundaberg rum. After a cup of hot tea laced with rum and ensconced in a warm bed, I started to glow like a stop sign. And, again, when I woke up the next morning, although my pyjamas were wet with sweat and my hair was sticking to my scalp and forehead, I felt fine, even on top of the world I thought.
Another time things were a bit trickier for me. Again, on a country trip, I had parked my car in front of a hospital engineer’s office. The ground was so uneven that I had twisted my foot and sprained my ankle. First I took no notice of the pain and completed my business with the engineer before driving off. As soon as I was on the road, I noticed that my left ankle was swollen and extremely painful. Putting my car in ‘cruise control’, I had experienced immediate relief. But every time I had to slow down and use the brake, the pain that shot up my leg was indescribable. I never noticed before how often one has to brake, even on a clear freeway! Finally, I arrived at the next town and, jumping on one leg, with gritted teeth and bated breath, I checked myself in at my motel,
The next day I went to the local hospital by taxi, where a doctor x-rayed my ankle and put bandages on it. I hired a pair of crutches from the nearest chemist and spent the next two days in my room, conducting my business as well as I could, from my telephone. Other illnesses have, thankfully, never happened to me whilst on a business trip.
I was deep in thoughts, when I arrived at Darebin town. On my car phone, I had dialled John Russell’s private telephone number.
‘John Russell here’, a relaxed voice had answered. In the background I could hear children laughing, dogs barking, adults talking.
‘John, this is Peter Frederick here.’
‘Oh hello, Peter’, his voice sounded pleased. ‘Are you in town again?’
‘Yes, John, I have just arrived at my motel. I shall be in your shop tomorrow morning to discuss with you your current television advertising campaign.’
‘Great, Peter. Shall we say at 9 am?’
‘Yes, John, I am looking forward to seeing you again. And, oh, before I forget, could you video-tape your TV ad, please? You know, the one you have currently showing in this area! My boss wants to see it, regarding cooperative advertising.’
‘Of course, I shall tape it tonight for you and bring it tomorrow to the shop.’
‘Excellent! Have a nice evening, John, and I shall see you tomorrow.’
‘Yes, see you tomorrow, Peter!’
The next day, I was at ‘John’s Floor Coverings’ right on time, but there was no sign of John. Being used to waiting outside shops and offices, I had looked at a few windows and then admired his store sign. Whilst some establishments have high-falutin’ titles like ‘Galaxy Floors’, ‘International Floors’ or ‘Super Floors’, ‘John’s Floor Coverings’ sounded rather quaint and, since everybody knew him, there was no need to impress anyone with a bombastic name. At twenty minutes past nine, John arrived in his panel van and I made the mistake of looking at my watch.
‘Sorry, Peter, but I had to take the kids to school.’ ‘No problem, John. It’s good to see you again. How is business for you?’
‘I am really flat out at the moment.’ We entered his shop and he switched on the kettle.
‘I see you’ve got your priorities right, John. Coffee comes first!’
He grinned. ‘Have you spoken with your boss regarding subsidised advertising on our local TV? I do need help!’
‘Of course, John, and we won’t let you down, like I explained to you yesterday on the telephone. Did you bring your sample video recording of this spot with you?’
‘Damn, I forgot! I put it next to my bag and overlooked it this morning. It’s all that rush, you know!’
‘I’ve got to have it in order to help you, John. I promised my managing director to post it to him “express overnight”. He’s waiting for it.’ I was looking desperate and John had an idea.
‘After you have called on the architects and the hospital in Darebin, at about lunch time, come back to the shop. I’ll dash home in the morning and get that bloody tape!’
Having updated his samples and having talked ‘shop’ for about ten minutes, I took my leave. Exactly at noon, ‘high noon’ as I remembered from the famous film, I walked into his shop again. He was still breathless from a hectic morning.
‘I’ve just come from home and here is the tape. There is another program on it too - your boss will have to find the TV ad.’
‘Thanks, John, I shall go straight to the post office and mail it. Declan is waiting for it. You will hear directly from him regarding our payment towards your costs.’
Walking into Darebin’s post office was like going back in time. It still had linoleum-covered floors and counters. I wrote a little note for my managing director telling him that the commercial was on the tape, amongst other programs. Feeling relieved for having finalised everything in this matter from my side and with the ball now in the corner of my head office, I headed happily to the next town.
Driving home to Melbourne at the end of the week I was listening to calming, classical music and had loosened my tie as I still had four hours of driving ahead of me. Suddenly my car phone sounded a shrill interruption and it was Declan, my managing director, on the other end. ‘Where is the TV advertisement you were meant to pick up from John’s Floor Coverings?’
‘I sent it to you “express overnight”. Did you not receive it?’ I was very annoyed because I had made an extra effort to make sure that he received this important item as a top priority.
‘I received the video tape with your note alright and watched it wondering when the commercial was coming on.’ And now he raised his voice in frustration, ‘But you’ve sent me the wrong tape, there is nothing but two hours of ‘’Tom and Jerry” on this one!’