The other day, something amazing, unprecedented, and previously unfathomable happened: Hayley and I had a day off. From both jobs. At the same time.
In order to illustrate the momentousness of this occurrence, I’ll point out that this has never once happened in all our time in Arrowtown. Hayley will have Monday and Tuesday off from the bakery, sure, but will spend those days working 9:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. at the lodge, and ditto for me on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Evenings after the bakery are usually spent picking lodge laundry off the clothesline and plying unwilling sheets into precise little origami packets. I can’t complain, as this scheme leaves us exhausted but financially stable enough to do things like book flights to Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur before passing out in our slope-roofed attic room at night. But it does tend to leave one fumbling for memories of what it was once like to be a little more footloose, a little less diligent, a bit more accustomed to, well, having fun.
On Wednesday night, Hayley and I were collapsed on the couch, half-watching New Zealand’s prime-time version of General Hospital and lamenting the fact that we were both scheduled to work 12-hour shifts at the lodge the next day. When the lodge owner popped through the door holding her omnipresent red schedule binder, we knew what was coming: she’d tell us which rooms needed to be made up the next day, which were available to let out for the night, and offer forcedly gentle reminders of exactly how to wash the brand-new sheets from Room 3. She’d ask us to rake up the newest batch leaves that have been carpeting the lawn daily, to dust the lodge’s windowsills, and to scrub out the insides of the fridges and microwaves. These were our typical “day off” duties.
But instead, she had come to tell us the lodge wasn’t nearly as busy as she’d anticipated and, well, she didn’t need us after all on Thursday. The day off we’d specially requested from the bakery, the day off our boss had finessed the roster to give us together in order to get the lodge in order, would end up being an actual day off.
Hayley and I looked at each other in disbelief. There were high-fives involved, and silent screams, and waving about of the arms in a style befitting Kermit the Frog. Almost simultaneously, the lodge guest next door came over to ask us if we wouldn’t mind taking a few spare Isaac’s hard ciders off his hands for him. I’m pretty sure, had it not been dark out, a chorus of cartoon birds would have burst through the windows whistling “Zipadee Doo Da.” Yes, you could say life was suddenly looking pretty rosy.
We immediately decided to spend the day in Queenstown. The “adventure capital of New Zealand” is only 20 minutes from Arrowtown but, as you might guess, we never get a chance to make it there. But before catching the bus, we decided to stop by the café next-door to the lodge, an adorable little place I’m constantly embarrassed to admit I’ve never had time to set foot in, for the “obscenely good sticky buns” we see advertised each day on our walk to work.
Now, I should point out that there are a few things a customer in my bakery can do if they want to ensure service with a scowl and guarantee their spot in the pantheon of “difficult people I can and will whine about post-work”: They can insist on a velvety cap of foamy skim milk — which neither foams nor gets velvety no matter how hard I try — on their coffees. They can use vague hand gestures to direct me to the exact piece of cake they want — incidentally always the hardest for me to reach — as if they’re signaling a plane landing. And they can ask me to just “trot into the kitchen” and cut a pastry in half, or into thirds, or into “sort of a half, a third, and a quarter” portions. I’ve grown to temporarily loathe these people — these tourists — and the lack of regard their vacation mindset gives them for the hard-working counter girls (ie me) whose jobs they make that much more annoying.
And yet, what did I do on my day off? I asked for trim milk in my flat white. I pointed out the exact pastry I wanted – “no, not that one – the extra-sticky-looking one in the front here.” I went back for a second pastry and asked them to chop it down the middle so Hayley and I could share. In effect, I did all the things I get annoyed with customers for doing when I’m behind the counter – and it suddenly felt incredibly liberating, like an instant reminder that it wasn’t me being put out. I’m not proud of my hypocrisy, but damn it if it didn’t feel great.
After getting into Queenstown, we met up with Sarah, our friend from the bakery who also happened to have the day off work. Now, I’m not sure I believe in fate, but I will say I believe in divine flukes, and we’ve been fun-starved enough the last two months that I immediately decided this qualified: Sarah, Hayley and I had been talking about taking on Queenstown’s Skyline luge for months, but it had always been the kind of oft-discussed but far-fetched plan that would never actually happen, like all moving to Paris one day or opening our own bar. At the end of the day, we’d never dreamed we’d get a day off all together. Yes, I know that is pathetic. But also, apparently, incorrect. And so we headed for the luge.
Perhaps the coolest thing about the luge is the ascent: you take a gondola up the steep side of Queenstown’s dominant mountain, then board a ski-lift even further up to the top. You don a helmet, crouch yourself into an open-topped plastic soap-box car, and slalom your way through a series of downhill concrete gorges at ever-increasing speeds, repeating as needed.
And then, if you are smart, you high-tail it to the Skyline bar for a pint and some panoramic views.
If you want to keep the party going – and, well, if your bus back home doesn’t leave for another five hours – you go to a local institution for fried food and glasses of Speight’s, then spend the rest of the chilly Alpine evening wandering from bar to bar in search of fireplaces and inexpensive wine.
And that, I can say with confidence, is a day-off well spent. Cliché as it may sound, it’s difficult to come back to work after being reminded how awesome it is sometimes to just be on vacation. Which we will be in another six days. And that may be worth all the missed days off in the world.