Mesa Musings: Some friends transcend time zones, oceans

Following a transpacific flight of breathtaking dimensions — we took off on a Thursday and landed on a Saturday — and a day and a half of driving up Australia's Highway 1, we arrived for dinner at a little pub.

My dad and I were traveling together to celebrate his retirement. The pub was in Queensland's beautiful subtropical coastal city of Mackay.

On our plates, two huge oversized fried eggs greeted us, along with a heaping slab of ham, a plump, oily sausage, and two strips of greasy bacon. Heart attack on a plate!

We'd landed in Brisbane, 603 miles to the south, at 2 p.m. that Saturday, and drove to Mackay that afternoon and all day Sunday.

It was now 5:30 p.m. and we were famished.

We found the pub conveniently located a block from our rather decrepit motel.

The year was 1984 and my father, 62, had just retired after working more than 30 years with the same dairy products company. I was 39 and accompanying him on his trip of a lifetime –- a journey through Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific.

We were on our own for five weeks, "batching it." My mother was unable to accompany dad due to health reasons, so he asked me to go with him. I did, with my wife's blessing.

I'd had misgivings. I wasn't certain I wanted to be away from her and our young daughters for that long.

"If you don't go with your dad you'll regret it for the rest of your life," she said. Like so much of her proffered wisdom over the past 37 years, it was spot-on.

At the Mackay pub, Dad and I ate our meals at a table away from the bar, in the center of a spacious room.

Next to us was a large, elevated table with five or six blokes around it — all my dad's age — seated on stools. From the sound of it, they were having a ball. It was obvious they were pub regulars.

Dad and I went about eating our victuals and speaking in rather subdued tones.

Finally, the guy nearest our table leaned over and looked down at us.

"Are you lot Yanks?" he inquired in a loud but friendly tone.

"Yes we are," Dad replied.

We immediately had the entire table's attention.

"Was you in the war, mate?" the Aussie asked my dad. We knew precisely what war he meant.

"Yes," my dad replied.

"He was at Pearl Harbor," I volunteered.

"You was at Pearl? Blimey! That was bad."

We were soon invited to the "big table" and for the remainder of the evening it was the Aussies and us! They'd all been involved in the war effort, too. We were allies.

The Aussies kept thanking my dad for his service and wouldn't quit buying us brews. It quickly became evident that Dad and I were not in their league when it came to quaffing pints of malted froth.

Australians of my father's generation readily express their appreciation to Americans. They remember a huge war fought in their backyard during the middle of the last century.

The battle of the Coral Sea, for example, played out in Pacific waters just north and east of Mackay. In early 1942, right after Pearl Harbor, Australia was in serious jeopardy of being invaded by Axis troops.

We talked into the night.

At midnight we told our hosts that we had to return to our motel. We were catching a 7 a.m. boat the following morning to spend four days exploring the verdant Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef.

They knew the trip well.

"You'll be gettin' back in the harbor late Thursday afternoon," one of our new pals said. "We expect to see you here for dinner."

We joined them Thursday night and this time, as we entered the pub, we felt as though we were greeting old friends.

A war — and the fact that we speak corrupted versions of the same elegant mother tongue — had made us mates for life.

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Tuesdays.

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