Travel Stories: A Coke of Luck
"This is no good, it's an absolute tip," I told myself, staring at the Mr. Everest of Coca-Cola bottles tossed lackadaisically onto the ground. Grabbing a bin liner, I made it my mission for the day to see the fabled floor again, and it was during this ambush that I noticed that the labels on the bottles all had a special code.
Coca-Cola were doing their normal "enter this code on our website and you might win a thing" nonsense, where every code was worth points and you could allocate those points into several different prizes. So, ever the procrastinator, I entered all the codes I found, not expecting to win so much as an appraisal. I used to believe those competitions big companies did were a ruse, to trick the desperate and the needy into buying their product in the hopes of maybe winning a trip to Florida or a new car.
That was until I woke up two days later and had a new text message, which started with simply "Congratulations!".
I read the full text about seven or eight times, still disbelieving. "You've won an all expenses paid trip to Auckland to watch 'Christmas in the Park', for you and three friends."
You have to understand: this stuff doesn't happen to me. In fact, the opposite happens. Earlier in the week I opened my wallet and half my coins fell out and into a nearby gutter. I acquired some friends, rang up to give our personal details and right up until the airport I was convinced I was being pranked.
It was while on the plane that I realised this could potentially be legit, and all my fears were put to rest when we were greeted with a man in a suit with "ANTHONY" written on a board. Jacob's task was to drive us to our accommodations; a five star hotel with its own kitchen suite, two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Pretty fly for this white guy! We had two days to explore, so we made a quick movement into the city centre.
Auckland is bland by nature; the buildings don't have any rustic charm, there's not an awful lot of colour, and there's a few dodgy parts. We stumbled upon a mall complex, and being curious teens at the time, we went full "fuck it" and went exploring.
First floor was fine, being your standard food court type of deal, but as we progressed further up the building, the dodgier it got. Thai "massage" rooms adjourned the second floor, the third and fourth floors wee barren, and on the top floor was a missing wall, a bathroom with discarded needles and fecal matter smeared on the ceiling, and a run down game arcade with only one occupant, a big burly Maori with face tattoos and a Mongrel Mob gang patch on the back of his leather jacket. We christened that floor the "Stab Attic" and made haste down the stairs (as the elevator was out of commission, shockingly).
After catching up with an old school friend and doing a little bit of shopping, we made our way to the park in which this Christmas event was happening. We got to meet local celebrity John Campbell, and we were treated to a full televised concert. Sadly, like the televised version, the festival was ultimately skippable. For me, popular Christmas songs are very much like being in the same room as Ramsay Bolton: they make me feel like I'm being tortured.
Thankfully the show kicked itself up a notch towards the end when headlining local act Broods came on for two songs. The Nelson-born two-piece's melodic tones and soft demeanor gave us a bit of sunshine among the wet weather and bleak moods.
The weather threatened to dampen our day trip, so we bought some alcohol and made our way back to the hotel for drinking games and storytelling. It was around this time that I found out an old friend from Australia was in town, so we gave her a bell and in moments she was at our hotel - the booze quickly vanished soon after. While I'm sure there were stories to tell from this night, I cannot remember most of them, and the consequential hangover (in addition to the muggy weather) made the following day one of desperate coffees, half-asleep shopping splurges, and walking the wrong way all too many times. Come 4pm we met up with Jacob again, who escorted us back to the airport to face my arch-enemy: flight delays!
To this day I consider this stroke of luck to be where life started taking an upwards turn. While the trip was marred by bad weather and a bit of fear, the comradery I shared with my friends is something I'll always remember and be thankful for, and being treated like a celebrity inflated my ego ten-fold!