PHUKET: My mother always said, “nothing good happens after midnight”.
For travellers, the witching hours, between the dead of night and the dawn, are a subtle or shall we say ‘sublime’ last call.
In past lives I’ve worked the night shift; as a bartender, blackjack dealer and hotel clerk.
It’s a unique microcosm of the secret lives of strangers.
I’m at a loss as to how to explain the strange pickup relationships, which are transient in nature, and most often end on a bittersweet note with money being traded.
The number of drunken taxi rides I’ve had, exchanging stories with the driver about topics that go far beyond the weather, is staggering.
Or even just keeping him talking on an early morning ride to the airport, as visions of massive road carnage and mayhem are played out in the blurred dreamscape of the passenger’s window.
Oh, how nice that sigh of relief is as you hit the airport curb, dropping to your knees and thanking whatever God you may prefer, to have arrived in one piece.
Perhaps you prefer to strike up a conversation with the hotel’s tired security guard.
Exchanging small talk and weary gazes with the hotel cashier who is on the homestretch of an all-nighter.
But talk comes cheap at 4am. Inflamed politics, spectacular spots, hell, it’s a life or death struggle just to get words out of my mouth like a messed up alphabet soup. ‘Huh?’ ‘What?’
Indeed these are common terms when strangers happen to meet after the witching hour.
Music is important to set the tone. Nothing too cheery, or the suicidal ring of elevator music. Norah Jones – give me a break, get back to your grungy coffee shop. Worse yet, is bad jazz.
Certainly there are exceptions, on a short and limited run home. Chet Baker. Coltrane. Miles Davis. My mind turns to descriptive terms as the word “chill” springs up like a bad dream. (note to self: relegate this to the “awesome” bin and let it never be heard again).
The night has a definite soundtrack and groove. But where the real crux hits to the bone is dawn.
That shoulder period where the darkness turns all fuzzy, like an old television, which has been smacked too many times. Or waiting for a Microsoft product to reboot.
Bill Gates you have a lot to answer for. Yes, you and your wife are out there feeding the poor and destitute, but look what you have done to an entire generation? Limbo, and a collective thud of time wasted, waiting for it to boot up again.
Which is much like the coming of the dawn; when a new shift comes on duty and the wet hair brigade passes out through the hotel front door.
These are the citizens of the night, for most it’s a temporary passage fueled by ‘Red Bull’, a lost count of coffees and, in some cases, more sinister chemical substances.
An end game is clear, just go towards the daylight baby.
But what about the dark knight’s amongst us?
Those who like to operate in the pitch black. Shades of Raymond Chandler and his naked city full of stories.
I reach for those noise canceling headphones as the first signs of light appear.
Power up the computer beast. It’s far too early for the empty happiness of tapping into strangers’ and friends’ lives on Facebook. Beat the beast.
Gates, damn him. You can thrash it into submission but, in the end, it’s a game no one can win.
Tech rules all, except when the internet crashes and the power goes out. Back to the cave in a few short keystrokes.
Our soldiers of the night are beating a fast retreat, those hotel workers, taxi drivers, policemen, nurses and the odd shapes of a staggering few, drinking beer from a large, nearly empty bottle.
My demons are in check, the jazz imposters have been canned as the jet wings tip towards a landing in Seoul.
It’s twilight and the rays of the sun are pulling in their arms much like the rejection of an amorous lover turned friend.
What lies out there, just beyond reach? Another night, more stories and friendships struck up and left behind at a moment’s notice.
Just don’t fall asleep at the wheel, as it’ll be gone in the blink of an eye.
Bill Barnett is Managing Director of C9 Hotelworks and can be contacted through C9hotelworks.com.
— Bill Barnett