*A buoy bouncing out on the sleazy seas to the Expo Centre (of the Universe)
Already an emotional wasteland after a long-distance feud, over the intangible battleground of skype, I was running late to attend the grey suit and sharp teeth event of the month; the 2011 Baltic Real Estate Forum.
As business writer for a regional rag (potty training puppies from Tallinn to Trakai), it is occasionally expected I suck in my downtroddy demeanour and sock out my sunken peepers to don a blazer and attend these rallies intended for the stock-market-hearted. These events are usually social soirees, chin-wag and chick-chat opportunities for members of similar shit-talking sectors. Here they can meet and greet and gossip and glow in the gloss of next week’s funny papers, after the jerk from the local press immortalises them squinting, hungover or with frosty coffee remnants hanging from the corners of their lips. (Jerks, eg, me, or any other of those corrupt press cronies I call my comrades, who will attend myriad of these listless and boring events to score a cheap angle and a free lunch).
So I was late, and owning neither tie nor car tires, I made do with my second-hand scraps and dressed in a frenzy. Even the iron was hurriedly busted out- a sighting in my household as exotic as seeing the Aurora Borealis in the bathroom- to perform miracles on a musty blue workshirt in seconds.
Evil magnets were spiralling to extend my delay, hiding my socks, toothbrush, and seemingly sucking my sunglasses into some far-reaching dimension.
The real estate conference, the shark tank of tip traders, had begun @ nine, and the clock’s hands were climbing well into the north-west of the hour.
I somehow gathered the skerricks of My Personal Wasteland together, and bustled my squeaking bike out the squealing door. The conference would be on the outlying reaches of Vilnius city, an area where bicycle paths descend into irrigation ditches.
The event was to be held at the Lithuanian Expo Centre, or as it is sometimes called, the Cultural Centre of the Known Universe. Having previously never needed to travel to this pinnacle of creation, used to my happiness in the Periphery of the Known Universe, flying like a rabid flamingo on my 4-speed, I managed to, with difficulty, find myself in a completely different universe than the one I was aiming for.
I was lost- yet somehow not far from the track. Circumvented by daffodil speckled grass knolls- a cute garden piece to the roaring concrete backdrop of highway abutments, bridges and an industrial landscape stretching to Italy- I stared in defeat at my hand-drawn sketch from Google-maps, which could have easily been an extract from Mr Squiggles experiments with methadrone. Groan.
It was time to play the, “Hello, any English,” pathetic non-native game, and try to scramble back on to the trail.
Scanning the settee, I was up the garden path with no prospect. There was nobody to ask for directions. An urgency was filling my insides and I could feel hope starting to wane.
Suddenly! A toothless fatamorgana appeared on the bike paths horizon.
There he was, my decrepit saviour;
Wrapped in a faded ‘MIAMI’ t-shirt and pulling off the best ‘I just woke up under this same bridge’ impression I had seen in hours, he seemed up to the job. Caution to the wind, I screeched my tires halted by his shadow.
“Labas! Sorry, any English?” I bared my teeth so he could see I was serious.
He started backward, and then peered into me; as if at some obscene or disturbing object.
“Where you come from?” he demanded, his shadow encroaching.
I didn’t have the timeaday for pleasantries, but I abated.
“Uh, I’m from Australia.”
“Yes, and I’m really looking for this road…”
“Yes, yes, this is road.”
“Which road is it exactly??” My discomfiture was working its way to a peak.
Mr Miami shifted his stance.
“Do you have paper?” He quizzed me.
I blurred then quickly refocussed,
“A cigarette paper? No, I’m sorry, I don’t think…” I flummoxed around in my pockets with the full knowledge I had none.
“No paper? You are not Australian.” Curt. He began shuffling away into the gassy miasma rising from the melting road tar. Then, in his final triumph, he turned around and in a fiery Litho drawl (remember to accentuate the ‘rrrrrr’ sound) he yelled out,
I had no response. I had been told. I didn’t know whether to burst a kidney or into laughter.
So, with no compassionate compass to guide me, I fled off in whichever direction was deemed less deadly at the moment. I peddled the bike down into the irrigation ditches, spinning through sprinkler systems until I stumbled upon the Centre of the Universe.
As for the convention, the free lunch surpassed all expectations a free lunch can have, and served me well into the afternoon. As for anything to do with real estate, or how the event proceedings unfurled, just check the local Baltic paper, and look out for the photos of the grey-suited sharks; squinting, hungover, and with greasy hunks of chicken skin falling down their chins.