Monday, November 21, 2011

Gullible on the Ceiling

My sons have this line they use on their sister who is, I admit, fairly easy to fool. When one of us says something obviously over-the-top untrue and she says, "Really?" they say, "Hey look, there's gullible on the ceiling."

Yesterday, I saw this photo on the Internet and it reminded me of one of my own many gullible moments.

The year was 1992. We had been married a year and were using my uncle's wedding gift: frequent flyer points for a trip to visit Australia. We were staying at his house in Sydney for a week, before spending time in Melbourne, a week driving up the Gold Coast (snorkeling and scuba diving and avoiding snakes along the way), and a week at a luxurious resort before returning home to the armpit of North America and our little Toronto apartment.

Maybe we were jetlagged. Actually, it's certain we were jetlagged, but I'm not sure I can use that as an excuse because Dave was as tired as I was and he didn't fall for it -- and I did.

We had read our travel books before going and we knew that among Australia's chief exports were Mel Gibson, The Man from Snowy River, vegemite and opals. So, one day, we were wandering around in The Rocks, a gentrified, touristy area that used to be the holding area for convicts when they landed near Sydney's iconic bridge. (OK, fine, the bridge wasn't there at the time of landing.) We knew we weren't going to make it to Uluru or really any of the outback, so when I saw a sign offering us a tour of a Genuine Opal Mine, I jumped at the opportunity and Dave gamely went along.

We went inside a lovely lobby, paid our money and waited for an elevator to take us down into the mine. If I recall correctly, it was during the long and bumpy elevator ride that I started to wonder. When the elevator stopped, the back door opened and we walked out into what was not a genuine opal mine, but a recreation of a mine, a small museum of opal artifacts. We learned about opals and how they were formed and mined and blah blah blah, and as we walked the floor sloped upward and we followed the path. As our experience came to an end, we turned a corner and found ourselves back in the original lobby. Not only was this not a genuine opal mine but the elevator had been a simulator and we had dropped maybe three feet.

Dave laughed and laughed, and I felt like a dork for thinking there might in fact be a storefront mine in the middle of downtown Sydney.

A few days later, a little older and wiser, we spent our first wedding anniversary in the Blue Mountains. The name comes from the air which is tinged blue by low-hanging eucalyptus oil from the trees that cover the mountains. We took a train up into the mountains and then walked from one hilly hippy town to another. We stayed in a Man-from-Snowy-River-like plantation and the wind shook our guesthouse all night long. We ate food on our anniversary in the smokiest, artsiest of restaurants and loved it.

The next day dawned clear and we decided to visit a little town that had two tourist attractions: a gondola that swung out between two mountain peaks, over a valley far far below, and The World's Steepest Railway. I decided to let Dave go alone on the gondola - the people in my family are all tall and we believe that is the origin of our fear of heights - and instead climb aboard the tamer railway car for a picturesque choo-choo ride.

My first clue should have been the padded bars on the roof of the open car, which resembled nothing so much as a roller coaster. I climbed aboard, strapped myself in and soon we were chugging along. Then we were chugging through a tunnel and suddenly we were chugging straight down the mountainside. The angle of descent was probably 87 degrees, but all I could do was grip the padded bar with sweaty hands and claws, praying and squeezing my eyes shut. This was no genuine opal mine -- THIS WAS A GENUINE OPAL MINE.

The engineer slammed on the brakes and I opened my eyes to see that we were parked at a type of metal scaffolding, on which we were invited to disembark to take photos and enjoy the scenery. Halfway up -- or down -- a mountain, depending on how you looked at it. Which I did not.

I had learned a little Australian (Strine) by this time, and I thought to myself: No. Bloody. Way. I did open my eyes to the lovely view, but my hands stayed firmly locked around the bar and my prayers were unceasing.

When my fellow passengers climbed back aboard, we ascended the mountainside in reverse. Dave's gondola ride was long since done and he was waiting for me at the top, camera in hand, ready to capture my bug-eyed stare and my eternal gratitude for being on level ground once more, ready to believe the claim that this was indeed the world's steepest railway.

My point is that sometimes being gullible -- believing every claim -- serves you and sometimes it doesn't. Just look for the padded bars. That's your clue.

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