Monday, October 1, 2012
Tonight, I'm attending the District 7 (South End) debate at the Dal Student Union Building, and live-tweeting what I see. The Dawgfather, Sue Uteck, Waye Mason, Mike MacDonell and Gerry Walsh will supposedly all be there. Let's see if they can hold it together, or it all gets mean. Hopefully, the latter.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
It took me a week to get comfortable with the idea, but last night I think I told some Torontonians I'd actually move to Toronto for work.
Unfortunately, as of 2:24am, July 27, I am no longer particularly interested.
Walking Landsdowne Ave. just minutes ago, I was pointlessly hit in the face by two passing male rollerbladers. My mouth tastes like blood and sulfur. My upper lip isn't quite split. My right eye is swelling; tomorrow will tell if I'll be able to see out of it. I hadn't said or done anything, but these two fellows, one after another, saw fit to hold their arms out, possibly aiming with their fists specifically, and hit me in the face, and then call me "faggot," regardless, and ignorant of, any sexual history they might have known about. I had no idea who they were. I hadn't said a word to them, and had actually moved out of the way. They were out of sight soon after questioning my heterosexuality.
I crossed Landsdowne to ask a man who had seen it all if he had seen it all, and if there were any obviously split or bleeding spots. I felt a pain in my left temple, my upper lip was definitely swelling already, and my eye, well, it felt salty and sore. But the man was talking on his phone. Did you see those two guys on rollerblades? I asked. Yes. Do you see my lip split anywhere? No. Did you see them hit me?
"No, I'm not talking to you. There's a guy talking to me." This man was so uninterested, he had to explain to his friend on the phone at 2:24am that it didn't really matter what he was hearing from someone who had been pointlessly punched in the face by two strangers. Thanks, pal. He didn't even stop talking, despite the fact that my bloody hands were cupped around my nose to stop my blood from going on my shirt.
There's nobody to call the police on; it's just two assholes on rollerblades, and, as nice as it would be for someone to recognize that description, it probably won't get them any more hurt than I was, by a long shot.
So, thanks, folks, for making me think I might enjoy it here. It doesn't take much to cancel that thought. A split lip, bruised head, and swollen eye almost do it for me, but I've got two days left. Do your best.
Friday, July 22, 2011
I know I missed Ottawa, and the rest of Montreal. This one was easy to write first.
Had I slept at all, it would have been a horrifying way to wake up.
The guy above me has rolled over a few times. It's about 10am. "I'll kill you. Fuck you. Oh, I'll kill you." After rolling and sweating all night, and sleeping just long enough to have instantaneous nightmares just long enough to tap my greatest hopes and fears at the same time, I'm listening to someone with a German accent utter death threats.
I was going to give hostels another chance. My last experience was in Victoria where I didn't sleep at all in a giant dormroom with 20 or more assholes who all came in after 2am. I laid almost face down with my wallet in one hand, and my knife in the other hand. I was up by seven.
Last night, I thought this Toronto place, that I won't name because it's not their fault, was OK. I laid back in a clean, quiet room in a hostel on College and St. Streetcar. This is what I wrote last night: "There's one other guy in this six-person room right now, and he's sleeping. There's an electrical hum that sounds like the beginning of Back To The Future, when Marty McFly is turning Doc Brown's pointless giant amp all the way up to 10. Water is always running, and you can feel the building shake when the streetcar goes by. I'm on a bottom bunk. Someone is going to go up above me and wake me up at some point tonight."
They did. He was mumbling. It didn't wake me up; I hadn't fallen to sleep at that point.
"The bathroom is full of other people's shit. Shampoo, toothbrushes, cologne with German writing on it. It's all weird."
I'd never packed as fast as I did this morning after the psychopath started muttering. There's actually a pair of underwear in my laptop bag. And a pen. And a sweat-soaked shirt. I stripped my bed without standing up, and I never once made eye contact. I came downstairs in a bit of a state; I asked if I could leave my stuff somewhere while I tried to go to the bathroom, and had some breakfast for free.
That's him. he just came down. He has short brown hair, a fanny pack, navy blue flipflops, blue plaid shorts, and a small, mean face. I don't want him here. I don't want to be here. I'm getting a different room to have a shower. I told the lady at the desk I didn't feel safe in my room, and explained the situation. There's an angry, damaged man here, and I don't want any part of this shit.
Hostels are a surreal place. I wish it wasn't three times the price to get a private room.
Thursday, July 7, 2011
Tonight, like any other night, I'm thinking about fishing again. I just ate a herring and a mackerel; two ocean fishies far from being endangered.
The scene is as such: there's a bridge that goes over an inlet southeast of Halifax, overlooking what for the most part is an untouched stretch of pine and bog wilderness. Think some rocks in there, too, if you're trying to imagine right now. And through this vast wilderness goes a long salty watercourse that rises and falls with the tides. The tides push seaweed, styrofoam, beer bottles and other junk under the bridge and out the other side, then takes them back out again in six hours or so. And the current under the bridge is strong in one direction as it fills, and strong in the other direction as it empties. For a scarce few minutes, the water is dead still at high and low tide. High tide, you cast and catch fish. Low tide, you cast and catch the bottom. Then you lose your hook. Then you swear.
As the tide comes in, the water gets clearer and saltier. Sometimes, fish follow the tide. As it goes out, the water gets murkier, and fresh water from waaay back out of sight, trickling from creeks and swamps, prevails.
There's a quiet peacefulness to this spot. Herons stand around looking at fish. Cormorants stand around looking like a pile of castoff bird parts painted black. Pigeons poop endlessly from their perches under the bridge. Sometimes, that kingfisher flies by to divebomb you or screech about how close he thinks you are to his nest. Little fish doodle around in the shallow water near the giant white granite boulders you can stand on and cast out from.
I don't remember what made me pick this spot, or why I found it. I know that when I first started fishing, about a year after I moved to Halifax, I never caught anything here. Pollock, which there are millions of, ignored whatever I put in the water. I didn't know about mackerel then, and herring? Well, who knows about them now. I've caught two since I started fishing. One was hooked right near its butt, and the one I caught today was hooked through the side of its face, nowhere near its mouth. They don't eat hooks. They filter-feed. But they also travel in huge schools, and get caught by mistake.
Anyway, the spot. I don't take many people to it. There are those who know about it, and those who ask to come with me, and generally, I'll take whoever happens to be ready at the exact second I decide to go fishing. Some people wreck fishing rods immediately, tangling everything around the reel in a giant ball, or casting so hard that the hook breaks off the line. Some people cast clean and natural with minimal instruction.
A friend told me "I like going fishing with you. Fishing with you is fun! I wouldn't want to go by myself and find out that I liked it without you there." It was a sweet thing to say.
But a lot of the time, I go by myself. In the evening, before the bugs go insane, you can cast out time after time, catch or not catch, and decompress. It's always been there like that for me. I've swam here, too, when the current isn't too strong, and canoed all up through the channels and coves the inlet has, sunburning and moongazing as the minutes turned to hours, and days turned to nights.
Friday, July 3, 2009
It's a terrible curse to feel so tied to a social expectoration, but while camping, phrases such as "is pooping in the woods" or "is probably going to get an intestinal parasite if he doesn't boil this water" or "is going wiggy without a constant stream of updates" kept interrupting an experience that otherwise was a wild, green, quiet break from technology, cities, and even, proper hygiene. Surrounded by green, tall, empty conifers, and crowded with silent, networkless patches of moss and ferns, it still took three days for my mind to change pace from constant input, to constant output.
And it was while camping that I came to the realization that I used to be a net exporter of information. Certainly, and many can attest to this, it wasn't necessarily high-quality, and, if you go far enough back, it was little more than reminisces of drunken escapades, but in its production, there was inspiration. There was motive. There was intent. I had a story. It was a loud, rambunctious, rambling tale that either happened through my own clumsiness, awkwardness or dislocation from reality, or a completely fabricated tale, sometimes intentionally fictitious, sometimes deceptively real.
Now, it seems to be easily condensed into "wants pizza badly" or "hates the cat because it bit him." What is this shit? Honestly? Have I, like millions of other easily distracted individuals, been reduced to a garbage-train-of-though-expectorant? And, more importantly, since I've always been a train-of-thought expectorant, when did the train get so short? And why do I have to go camping to realize I haven't said or written anything interesting in longer than I can remember?
My mind reawoke in the absence of internet. I had several memorable, vivid dreams every night, each one intense enough to wake me up. These weren't nightmares, but I was so unused to dreaming anything memorable that the dreams stuck with me through sheer impact---almost like tasting organic grapefruit. After eating plain ol' regular grapefruit, eating an organic one brought back memories of earlier times, when young tastebuds fired with more intensity at the sour fruit. Yuck. But that first bite brought with it a wave of memories. The kitchen table in my parents' first house. The grapefruit spoons we had for the sole purpose of taking the sections out. The little squirts that would hit your eyes and face and the way you'd try to refill the eaten sections with sugar from the sugar bowl, and eat them again and again.
This is what my brain did without the internet. It all came back to me, slowly. Being unplugged was like eating life organically. It wasn't all piped in. I had to go get it. And it was delicious.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
As I speak, everything my grandmother has ever known is also disappearing. It's being erased, gradually, as all the little parts of her disassociate and forget. They relax. They're calm, unburdened, as they give in to the infection that took her life.
She kept her life within her through memories of the people around her. And the people who went before. While her body failed and her connections with us faded, she surely slipped within her memories of us and held us tight.
Now they're gone. Everything a person knew can be erased, forgotten. Everything they did in life can also fade, but slowly. Everything they hoped for, fulfilled or not, is real. The hope itself, may also continue as well, through all of us.
Josephine Ozano (nee Majcher) died today at around 5:00pm, in the town she lived for most of her life. Her family surrounded her, looking on, as she was freed from a life she loved and allowed to pass into the next life.
And as she passes, so passes her memories. She remembers us all as children. She knew us all as we grew. We all had moments with her that only she remembers---or remembered.
Thus is the connection of the living and the dead. And with mothers and children. And grandchildren and grandparents. We must cherish and revere that which is to be revered. And we must allow to pass---though not forget, any hurt that might linger in our memories.
It's a fool who thinks she is dead, though. In her children alone, there are three halves of everything she ever was. Her sons and daughters count 1.5 times. Each grandchild counts a quarter---each grandchild holds a quarter of what made her what she is. And great-grandchildren. And on and on forever. We can never see this mother, this grandmother, this matriarch of what has become a large, strong and healthy family truly disappear, for what she was, we are. And what she hoped we will be, we may very well become. And with her memories fading, we may take pause and perhaps consider what we'd like to be, as a family. Perhaps we may do things differently, working to live with and love each other, and move ever closer, despite the years and generations that will fade and grow with time. Maybe we can learn to forgive our often hard words to each other and come together as a group of people with this one common ancestor, one common source, one sure and undeniable connection that, like it or not, links us all fast, and entwines us.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
I wish I could go back in time and spend one more day on the road, travelling through uncharted territory, perhaps at the same mad pace, but in one more direction. I'd like to have one more summer day permanently burned into my memory on some backroad I'd decided to take only because it was unknown. I'd like to go back to the time when I could go across the country, trailer in tow, friends and family ahead and behind, knowing that when my adventure was done, I could disappear again into their waiting arms.
Behind the cage that protects the broken computers from the people outside, I'm sitting, waiting for the sun to come out---waiting for the weather to change, waiting for some kind of freedom---good or bad---to reawaken, or return, or at least reemerge in my memory. Living your life in the past is foolish. But when the future is uninteresting...the past is a nice place to fall back to.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
South Hero. Burlington. Finally, I get onto Highway 2. I don't know what state I'm in. I know on the map that if I stay on Highway 2, I'll get to Halifax, via most of the rest of the east coast.
And highway 2 is wonderful, if only because I tell myself that this is the last leg of my journey. After this, it's beaches, fishing, sleeping, friends, and an end to endless, heartless driving.
Highway 2 is beautiful. But I hate it. Because, from its curvy peaks and lovely valleys, I can see a lovely and fast-moving interstate, and all the fast-moving vehicles smart enough to get onto it, coursing through whatever state it is at 70 miles an hour. I, meanwhile, am stuck behind some 100-year-old pensioner who can't seem to figure out which pedal on the floor of his vehicle does what. He solves this problem by pushing neither, and coasting slowly using the power of gravity. Slow. Slow.
And there are on-ramps to the big highway. But since the map isn't great, I'm not sure how far it is to the point where I want to get off the big highway, and back onto the trans-Maine secondary highway #2.
So, to avoid getting caught on a concrete river running in the wrong direction, I keep away from the lovely onramps, and cry. And languish at bicycle speeds.
Finally, the evil highway splits from the interwoven and hateful 2, and I can devote all my energy to hating the lethargic motorized pensioners blocking the already-slow path of my small truck and trailer, without the distraction of hope that was the interstate. On and on I travel through one after another 200 year old town, all quaint and disappointing in their own ways, and all another obstacle to my final destination.
I realize at some point that I'm actually retracing my tracks through northern Maine, from the last time I tried to take a direct route through the state. I learned in New York and beyond that the straightest route is not the quickest. It's often not even the most useful.
And I learned the last time I shortcutted through the States that it's not really fast at all.
In fact, now that we're on it, I've never, ever saved any time going through the states. Using that ferry in Wisconsin was a bust, and cost an arm and a leg. But it was more interesting than driving around the lake by far. And cutting through Maine in 2006 to get to Toronto was slower than staying Canada by far. And now, I was realizing again that the USA is slower, and the food sucked, too.
Anyway, Maine is beautiful., so I really don't care. Highway 2 rambles like an armless legless man on a three-wheeled skateboard--up and down hills with no rhyme or reason. It also undulates like a roller coaster. Then you get onto the big highway. Maine's highways are the oldest in the country. They're wide, and clean, and well maintained. And they're fast. And the people are polite. It's a nice state.
Then you slip onto Highway 9, that is, if you're trying to go the most direct, least fast route possible. Highway 9 is like a trip back through time. Bangor is busy and close. Outside, on the little secondary highway Bangor never wanders onto, small towns feed sparsely off the small amounts of traffic that trickle through. These little towns, sucking at the streets for survival, never go back too far from the road, and they all have old spruce trees and brick buildings, waiting for time to reverse, or for the town to starve and for plywood to cover their already-lonely windows.
Further back from that on the highway, there's nothing. To a cashmaker, or a financier, or even a real estate speculator, there's nothing. But to a naturalist, or to an environmentalist, or to someone with as simple a goal as kayaking on a dead-still lake surrounded by trees, with no motorboats to break the silence, this is potential. This is real growth--that of trees, and perhaps deer, and possibly bears and moose--all of these hide behind the trees, waiting for someone to step off the path and find them. But that's not what I'm out for. If it were the beginning of the trip, and if I didn't have to get to Halifax some time before Saturday or Sunday, I could have stopped, stepped off the highway, and come back out when the snow started. It's not a fantasy of mine to wander off into the forest, but if it were, this is where I'd do it--in the unbroken wilderness of Maine. It seems to go on forever. Where New Brunswick would clearcut, and Nova Scotia would subdivide, Maine has ignored. Preserved. Protected by omission, or indifference. To roll through here, with the sun glaring off perfect lakes, it's as though you're the first and last to see it, and as though it might always stay that way. And that thought made it a beautiful place. To think that once the whole world might have been like this, in some way or another, before we learned to destroy it all...
But, civilization reappears, after hours of silence and steady driving. The sun sets with the wilderness, and my mind shifts from green to whatever colour booze is. I stop into the duty free and see what's allowed, and what isn't. To be brief, I haven't been in the US for long enough for duty free booze, and the clerk doesn't recommend hiding anything, either. I make jokes with the clerk, looking for hiding hints, and consider gambling, and shoving just a little bottle under the seat of the truck, just to say I did.
But I don't.
I get into the truck, hating the sticky cold dampness of the seat that I didn't really notice when it was still warm from my body, and roll over the bridge in Calais onto Canadian soil.
"Good evening, sir."
"Good to have you back."
"Do you want to see my birth certificate?"
"Nope, not really."
"Well, they sure raked me in the states."
"OK," I say, already lamenting my cowardice. I could have brought 300 bottles of anything I wanted back into Canada with nobody saying boo. They wouldn't have even known it was me!
Oh, well. That one bottle would have been gone fast, anyway.
So, through the dark of New Brunswick I roar. The big toll bridge panics me the same way it did last time--only in that I don't think I don't have any quarters. It costs 50 cents or something to get over the massive, amazing 70s-looking bridge, and I do have quarters.
So, it's a boring story this time. Just like the drive through the rest of New Brunswick. It's dull. The highways here cut through the landscape with little concern for aesthetic or view or trees. The whole province looks like the rest of the province--or, at least that's what's easiest to believe from the highway at night.
And it is night. And I am tired.
At one point, I realize that my lids are drooping, and I'm not really paying attention in the conscious sense. Really, I'm letting the reptile brain jerk awkwardly at the sight of a drifting yellow line, and correcting my course in large, awkward jumps. I cross into Nova Scotia barely alive. It's been 13 hours since I left South Hero yesterday morning, and there are still two and a half hours left to go.
I try to change my tack by waking myself up with loud music, which works in that I can't sleep. I pick favourites, and blare them. The moon is following me along, and I realize at one point that, no, I should not be watching the moon for two minutes at a time. Luckily, it's a divided highway.
Looking up, though, and looking forward, I feel a certain comfort coming on to me. I can feel my bed beneath me already, in my small room on a quiet tree-lined street in a town full of friends. I can smell the ocean--not the shitty, polluted swamp-ocean New Brunswick has, but the clean, clear, Fundy-shore ocean, and the long, light beaches that tuck under the shores. I can hear the ... well, I'm trying to be dramatic, but all I can hear is my stupid music, at three hundred decibels, and the rattle of the little engine. But it all sounds relaxing.
But I try not to notice that I'm almost half dead, and that my ears are ringing, and that I'm almost completely full of garbage food. Right now, I can't even remember which trip I'm remembering--did I stop at that Big Stop this time, or in 2006? Was there really absolutely nobody else on the highway? Where is my Crash Test Dummies tape? Where did I get that tape in the first place? Where am I?
I roll up to the toll booth, and give the guy some American dollars. Or debit. Or I crash through the gate. Who knows.
Finally, as the sun starts climbing over the horizon on what will probably be a nice summer day, a crest the final hill before Halifax proper appears. This is the first time I can see the ocean in my province. It's a day's walk away, but from here I can see lighthouses and islands and blue and green, and, if it weren't for the disgusting gigantic commercial park right next to me, I could almost believe I was flying into town, into this eblue and green paradise. Then, I'm back down the hill, and I see the whole town. My town. It's pretty big. And it's green. And I breathe a sigh of relief. It's still there. And it's still beautiful, in all its ugly, messy, disorganized, unplanned, unsprawled, inbred way. The streets are a little unkempt-looking, same as always. The biig trees are still crucified with parking signs, and the old neighbourhoods are still a little run-down and unpainted. My street isn't far. The trailer is close to its new home--which, for now, is at the curb on Black Street. I roll a little further. It's all familiar. It's all beautiful. It's all for me. I walk up the steps to my house, leaving maps unfolded and garbage uncleaned, and windshields covered with bugs. The trailer waits outside with the truck, unaware that neither is going to move for a week. I don't ever want to drive again.
Clumsily, I bang my way through both doors into our apartment. Everything is the same. All the old weird pictures are on the walls. A huge picture of me is still stuck in the front entrance from my 30th birthday, more than a year ago. Space Janitor. And of course, there's Jenny. The little thing wakes up to my racket, and isn't mad at all. She's relieved. We sit around our kitchen table, like we have a million times, and I tell her this story, possibly more abridged, and maybe we had tea, or maybe I stood and talked while she sat, in her housecoat. It's been four months since I've been here, and I'm glad it's her that sees me first. Because, best of all, once I tell her a good piece of the story, she lets me go to bed.
I shake some of the dust off my pillow, unused for so long, throw all my clothes off, and fall asleep before they hit the floor. I'm certain I dream something, but it really doesn't matter. My dreams still have half a summer to come true, in every simple, perfect way that they seem to in Halifax, starting the moment I wake up tomorrow.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
I mean, there's nothing really wrong with this area--there are trees, and farms and little towns, but they're not really interesting. It could also be that it's getting darker and darker, and the first gas station I stop at is bizarrely expensive and full of scary-looking dipshits, or it could be that the drive is just beginning to wear on me.
Everything is still working fine, though; the wheels are all full and the motor is running, and as I check and recheck the map to make sure that, despite being on rambling country roads, this route looks shorter, I realize that this is still going to be a long, long drive. Somehow, Tenacious D creeps up on the MP3 player, and being too tired to fight it, I'm far too entertained to change it to something else. (That was a weird sentence. Anyway.)
Finally, I get to Lake Champlain. Turning south onto a road that crosses a series of interconnected islands and bridges and towns called South Hero and North Hero and Grand Isle, I notice that the trailer has drooped about five inches on one side. There's a real rumble now, and I press on. That's it for tires, so I could stop and look at it, or I could just keep pounding through this state, missing all the scenery because it's 12:30 at night, and pitch black.
Then, turning off the music, I realize that it's a lot quieter in the truck. Things seem to be rolling much better. I pick up a little speed.
Almost immediately, I see headlights turn on behind me. And then blue and red flashing lights. And then someone accelerates towards me. Curious about who would have such a flashy vehicle, I stop to chat, rolling down my window.
"I think you know why I stopped you, don't you?"
"Because I have a flat tire?"
"No, it's not that."
"No, sir. I passed your tire about a mile ago. You're wrecking the road and kicking up sparks all over the place."
I try and fail not to laugh a little. Bad move. And I try to play dumb. I really did think the tire had just kinda gotten comfortable with being flat and stopped making so much noise.
"Noise? You sound like a bloody freight train going by with no tire on."
"Where are you headed to?" I'm certain he has no idea where Alberta is when he runs my plates.
"I'm going to Halifax." Crickets chirp in the background.
"Nova Scotia." Gears grind in the trooper's head.
"Northeast of Maine." Some kind of spark appears in his face, but it fades quickly.
"And you thought you would get there with your trailer like that?"
Sure, I thought. It's only 15 more hours. (But I keep quiet.)
"So, here's what you're going to do. There's a little state park about a mile ahead. You can't camp there, but you can't pull this thing any farther. In the morning, you go find a tire--I don't care where--and if I catch you driving this thing like this, I'm going to take you in."
He gets back into his car. I start moving with my window still open and confirm that, yes, the trailer sounds fantastically similar to a freight train. I actually like the sound, but realise that I'd be quite concerned if something that loud were passing my quiet island cabin at 12:30 in the morning.
He follows me to the park, watching me turn in. I drive in, and, afraid that I'm blocking the gatehouse to the park, try to do a narrow turn and move onto the other side of the gravel lane that runs into the park. But bad driving and lack of power steering means I go too far over, and plow an inch-thick, three-inch-deep furrow in the lawn of this lovely state park, directly behind the park ranger residence. Luckily, officer Freighttrain is gone. I try to smush the turf down and make it less obvious, but eventually I give up. There's a scrape-trail in the road all the way to the curvily-carved sod, so if anyone decided to figure out who had destroyed everything, they wouldn't need Sherlock Holmes.
Finally, I eat another pound of the corn chips I bought, read some more of Carl Sagan's Contact, and recline the seat of the truck as far as possible --not very far.
Six hours later I wake up freezing cold, covered in drool, and unable to turn my head. It's permanently and painfully cocked at a jaunty angle--and by jaunty I mean my neck muscles have seized with my chin on my chest and my head a little to the left. It really hurts. There's still nobody in the park's gatehouse, so I don't try to leave yet. I don't want anyone thinking the trailer is abandoned, and throwing it in the garbage.
So I sit.
For my own entertainment, I use the stupid slow jacking technique to lift up the trailer. Then I realize that without contact with the ground, I can't get the tireless rim off the trailer. Then, after dropping the trailer, I realize that I can't get any traction in gravel, so I still can't undo the tire. Then I realize that I have to wedge a bunch of wood and junk under the rim to keep it still.
Then I realize that if I beat on the rim, I feel much better.
Finally, I get it off. A morbidly obese woman drives up and crawls into the gatehouse of the park. I explain to her what's going on several times--I realize it's a stupid story, but she could have tried harder to understand--and then start off on a Sunday morning, rural Vermont quest for an antique-sized trailer tire. Oddly enough, this is challenging.
A man in east hero who turned his apple orchard into a trailer park says there's a man in Winooski or Colchester or Essex Junction who might have one. And another in some other town somewhere who might have one, too. Or the place with all the boats might sell tires for boat trailers. But after some phoning around, there's no answer, and no tires. I got to a Sears in Burlington, and the 12-year-old kid (who knows more than the 50-year-old) says he may have some, but they're discontinued, and he can't put them on the rim. Fortunately, he doesn't have them, so I don't have any rim trouble.
The kid does mention West Marine in South Burlington, north of East Somethingorother. Compasswise, I'm confused, but I find the place after doing a full tour or Burlington and its suburbs, and--I can't believe this--it's open--and--get ready--they know what I'm talking about--but--of course--I can't use Canadian bank cards for debit there. So I go to a gas station, get a really, really crabby attendant to snatch my card from my hands, turn it over, and swipe it for me after watching me try the machine for about 5 minutes, and then come back with $80. The tire is mercifully cheap ($30 less than in Canada, and already mounted on a brand new rim) and is happily thrown into the box of the truck.
Driving back to the Hero Islands, the sky turns grey and starts barfing all over the place. I drive and drive and drive and realize that I've gone farther than the state park. I've crossed the bridge the state trooper was hiding by. So I turn around and drive back. I get all the way to South Hero. Where is my trailer? I know I'm fatigued, but I honestly can't find that park again. There's only one road, and it goes straight through...
Driving around in a stupor is really entertaining. As in I hate it. But it goes on and on, and I burn a quarter of a tank of gas driving up and down a 20-km series of islands, looking for a trailer I had less than three hours ago. Finally, on a road I'd already driven three hundred times, in a spot I'd looked at four thousand times, I see the sign for the park on the road, sticking out, really obvious. I fire the tire onto the trailer for the third time this trip, hook it up, get into the truck, and get outta there, firing gravel and leaving messy grooves in the lawn and gravel and pavement. Thus began the last, last leg of my journey. Wow. Just writing about it makes me tired.
Friday, September 28, 2007
Anyway, some people think Toronto has one of the best transit systems in Canada. The buses run on time, and the subway is the oldest and best the nation has seen.
But those stupid streetcars. Sure. They're nostalgic and they look cool, with their big red corpses dragging aboveground on busy streets.
But their tracks are the reason this story is at all interesting.
It's barely a memory now, but at one point, after a wrong turn downtown, the trailer hooks the trolley tracks. It results in a weird dragging-skid, but at the time, I don't even bother checking anything. I'm certain, if tracks were bad for tires, then they would have ripped them up years ago.
So, I'm just driving along, wheels turning, motor motoring, music musicking, when I feel a bit of a rumble. I think something is wrong with the motor, so I turn off the music for a moment to listen. There's a hum, and it's only when I accelerate.
There's no place to stop and investigate further on the 401, so I keep going.
Then the trailer starts jumping up and down on one side. It looks almost comedic in the rear view window, but, as much as I'm enjoying my trailer's destruction, I figure I should actually stop and take a look. By now, I'm pretty sure that there's a flat.
I look. Phew. It's not a flat at all. It's a shredded band of rubber horribly twisted around the rim of the wheel. And it's not an old tire--I just bought that tire three weeks ago. The 15-year old tire on the other side grins contemptuously at me.
I take stock of my options. The crank for the jack for the truck is under the hood, so there should be a jack in the truck somewhere. I take a look, but I can't find anything. I try to wedge one of the non-lifting stands that I have (basically, it's a post) under the frame of the trailer, and pull the trailer ahead so that it props up under the trailer and lifts it.
After plowing the gravel shoulder of the highway up, and dragging the tireless trailer 10 feet forward through numerous stupid-looking attempts, a thought pops into my head. "Hey. I don't know if I have a spare, anyway.
So I set up the rickety, off-balance trailer enough to get at the emergency compartment under one of the trailer's seats.
There is a spare!
Oh. My. God.
This is one of the tires that came with the trailer. It is cracked to hell, and patched with some sort of cave-man latex/pine tar. Not surprisingly, it's also completely flat. I guess it's been in there for 36 years, so the only thing that is surprising is that someone hasn't thrown it out yet.
After ignoring more logical answers like going back to Toronto and waiting another day to get a new tire from a proper store, I decide to roll into Kitchener, which is mercifully close. unfortunately, there's still no jack to get the wheel off the trailer.
Using the power of science, and with necessity being the whore mother of using junk to lift heavy things, I devise a system where I wedge a tire iron under one of the legs of the trailer, wedge a piece of wood under the tire iron to make a lever, and then lift the trailer up a fraction of an inch. Then I loosen the leg of the trailer, lower it to the ground, wedge the piece of wood and the tire iron underneath again---I know this doesn't make sense mechanically, and there's a piece missing, but I can't remember what it is. Needless to say, it's a long, slow process that becomes slower when I slip and the trailer falls back down.
But it gets up high enough, I take the tire off and throw it into the box of the truck, and speed off to Kitchener.
The Canadian Tire lifts my heart, and I smile, glad to know that a giant chain store might be my salvation. Considering they're the ones that sold me the shitty popped tire three weeks ago, I'm really excited to replace it with a similarly shitty tire, and have it pop when I ran over a bug or some air or a ghost.
Luckily, they're not open at all. It is 5:30 on a Sunday in a small town, I guess.
So, I take the only option available to me to the gas station across the street. I hook the 36-year-old tire to the air hose, and try to fill it, watching as the air pressure expands the cracks in the surface rubber.
Amazingly, it holds air. I pour some water on the tire to check for leaks, and there are none.
"Well, sure," I tell myself. "Wouldn't that be interesting if I could drive all the way back on this ancient tire?" It sure would, dummy. It sure would.
So, I get back to the trailer (with the overpasses and such it's about 20 km back, so I illegally cross the median on the 401 as soon as I see the trailer, and bottom out the truck) and remember that I still have no jack. I try the stupid pull-up-on-posts technique again, and then the amazingly-slow tire-iron jack system, and put the sad spare tire on.
I lower the trailer, fold it back up again, and begin to drive off. Less than five minutes later, on a random glance in the rear view window, I see a small black chunk of something fly off at the speed of sound. It's almost comedic, the velocity that this little fragment of tire flies. But the tire holds its pressure.
The Thousand Islands Bridge looms, taking me to cheap gas and New York State. Logic would dictate that it would make more sense to stay in Canada, where it's safe, and where I could get health insurance if something went wrong, or, most importantly, where there's another Canadian Tire. But I carry on. The Thousand Islands Bridge is huge, and the view below is beautiful. It passes over little green islands, surrounded by little boats, and covered with little cabins perched on the rocks. The lady at the toll booth tells me it's $4.75 to cross the bridge. I give her $3.27 and an apology, and cross back into the United States.
Thursday, September 6, 2007
So I'm driving along, with Lake Erie in tow, wishing for nothing. Both sides of the highway are lined with yellow-green summer grasses, and each driveway leads to a hundred-year-old farmhouse. The sun politely stays out of my eyes, but still warms my arm as I lean it out the window of the truck. I barely break 80km/hour most of the way up through the deep south.
Then I slam on the brakes. Tillsonburg! My back still aches when I hear that word! Stompin' Tom Connors has jumped into the middle of the road, his siren song luring me into the small town, made famous by a fading Canadian icon. I considered following the call, but decide that a picture of the Tillsonburg sign will suffice. It looks like the camera might have enough batteries to take one more shot, but I fumble, and the flash goes off, and I take a picture of nothing, and kill the battery. Oh, Tillsonburg! What will I remember you by, now? Luckily, a bug flies into my mouth while I'm outside, so I'll always have the taste of that little fella's guts.
Back on the road, it gets dark. I get tired. It's been less than three hours, but I realize I'm not interested in driving at all any more. If I had my way (I did! Why didn't I?) I would have stopped right in that twilight paradise and set up a homestead. Instead, I drive into Hamilton, drive stupidly through that dull town, whose downtown is old and dull-looking, and lacking in anything to do with steel, from what I saw, and then into Burlington (around it, really) and then into Oakville. I don't think I want to wake up my friends at midnight, so I start looking for signs for campgrounds in one of the most build-up areas in Canada.
Finally, like a tarnished beacon, I see a sign for Bronte Creek Provincial Park. And there's camping there. I turn up the exit. The sign aims me right. I turn right, and it says 7km to the park. Then I get to another intersection, and it says 7 more kilometers, to the left. And then I drive back into Oakville, since I've been skirting the park the whole time, and do a u-turn.
The thing is, I can't believe there's a park here! It's really hard to see which part of this area has actually been preserved. There's multicoloured ugly houses and condos, and wall after plywood wall covered with cheap vinyl siding, all newly schlepped into place. Four lanes of residential roads sprawl off in all directions, and bright white new sidewalks shine orange in the glow of a million new streetlights. There are no stores in this area, just houses. Just sprawl, trying to feed Ontario's unflagging hunger for affordable and not-so-affordable housing. I gag a little.
Finally, I turn down a long road where some trees still exist. This must be part of the park. A park ranger is parked across the entrance to the campsites, behind the gatehouse, and wants to know what I'm doing there.
"Camping. Or I want to camp."
He gets it. He tells me I'll have to pay tomorrow. I say sure.
The campsite is almost empty, sitting at the bottom of a hill, with tall oak and maple trees on one side, and tall grasses on the other. I don't see a creek. Mind you, it's pitch dark.
I set up the camper in one of the treed lots, collect some firewood from the underbrush and neighbouring campsites, stuff some paper and wood into the firepit, and try to light it. The paper ignites and disappears, while the wood, slightly damp from a recent rain, slumps over onto the ashes triumphantly.
I grab the last of the paper from the truck, light it, and rush to the trailer. I'm having a fucking fire tonight, regardless of what the weather and the wood and everyone else think. It's the first time I've actually camped at an old-school campsite with firepits and trees and quiet, so if I can't have a fire, I'm going to have a fit.
Inside the trailer, I've got cans and cans of chemicals from my ex's garage. I find some carburator cleaner, check the symbols on the front (flammable? Check. Explosive? Check. Poisonous? Who cares.), rush back to the fire, and fuckin' lay that shit onto the smoldering fire. It takes a moment, but finally, an orange fireball erupts under the wood. I lay off, and the fire flounders. Frustrated, I fully go insane, pumping the chemicals directly into the core of the flames, until half the can is gone. The wood, which now smells like gasoline, finally starts to burn on its own. I throw the can into the trailer triumphantly, wipe all the disgusting chemical off onto my pants, sit in my lawnchair in front of the fire, crack one of the Alberta Genuine Drafts I got in Alberta (duh), and read my book. Finally, I can relax. Peace. Quiet. Stars. Rustling?
In the bushes, I see devilish, glowing eyes, and shit my pants a little. Then I see another pair of eyes, behind the first two. I crank up my rechargable flashlight to full power, and see two stupid raccoons, rustling through the underbrush, attracted, I guess, by the smell of cheap beer, since I haven't really brought any food. I throw something at them, and hope they don't come back, but it's too late. Every time I hear something, I think those damn eyes are going to show up behind me, or right in front of me.
Finally, I go to bed. It seems weird camping less then three hours from where I last stopped, and less than an hour from Toronto, but in hindsight, it seems sort of in-character to find the only natural space for miles and miles and use it as a refuge from what I know will be a three-day immersion in the biggest city in Canada.
The next morning, it's the city that wakes me up with the sound of I-beams being pounded into the earth just over the park boundary. Above the earth berm that's supposed to hide the deadly creep of condos and houses, buildings rise and peek in on the privacy of this little oasis. I'd talked to the guards the night before, and they said that just two years ago, there wasn't much of anything around the park, but now, Oakville was creeping up to all the boundaries.
This is when I first realized the stark contrast between that little, lost town in Saskatchewan, slowly fading into nothingness; returning to agriculture, and this town, this village, this faceless bedroom community, devouring everything living and natural around it.
I know this is how the world works now--you buy land, you carve it up, you sell it, you retire. But seeing this in action again, at this scale, outside of Edmonton, and in every other city I passed through made it so much more blatant. And scary. Where will we get food when we live everywhere? Where will we go to hide from cities when we can't get away from them? How will people get out to these houses when there's no more gas to burn? I also thought it was a small but amazing kick in the face to the developers that governments still have enough power to set aside little places like this. I wish they'd do it more.
All this development is a scary thought for me. I don't know why more people don't seem more concerned. I guess they've got other things to think about.
Regardless, I pushed all this shit back down into my brain, packed up the trailer, and, as I was walking to get some water to refill the blue water container, I saw that someone had half-stuck a Bronte Creek Provincial Park sign onto the campsite marker next to mine. I pulled it off, stuck it to the bumper of the truck as a memento, and drove-stop-drove all the way up Dundas Street to the house of one of my best friends.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
So, of course, it wanders back a month and a half ago...
I'm traveling down Highway 3 in southern Ontario, towards Leamington. It's a bit of a detour, but I'm going to see if I can meet up with a friend's wife's sister. I can't think of who else I know in southern Ontario, and, hey, we had fun once. I found her favourite sweater after she left it at a bar in Edmonton when we were all out for drinks at Christmas. I stayed later than her, and kept it, and gave it back the next day when I went over to see my old pal Nathan at his mother-in-law's/her mother's. She was happy to get it back.
So, long, boring story short, I figured that was reason enough to explore the area around Peelee Point and Leamington. It wasn't that much out of the way.
Unfortunately, it was almost 1:00 in the morning when I crossed the border from Detroit. Driving catatonic down the two-lane highway, I looked around hopefully, wishing Leamington would sort of move towards me at the same time, getting me somewhere I could sleep sooner.
I get into the little town in pitch darkness. The cute little streets are lined with little old two-story houses, some brick, most wood. The only thing open, though, is a Macs convenience store. I park perpendicular in front of the gas pumps and over a ton of parking stalls, and walk in through a cloud of mayflies (no, wait. That's the next store). Behind the counter, there's a grumpy-looking Fred Penner lookalike. I wander over to the cooler and pick a disgusting processed meat sandwich and a chocolate milk.
"Where's the campsite in town? I saw a sign on the highway saying there was something in Leamington."
"You're in Leamington," he replies.
I know that.
He continues. "If you go two blocks straight this way," he says, pointing in some non-direction, "you'll get to the Leamington one."
"Is that the one in the park?" I want to go to Peelee. I assume he'll know what I mean.
So I buy and the food and a lighter so that I can light my campstove, and get back into the truck. Famished, I open the sandwich, devour half, then open the chocolate milk. I should really get moving, I think, so I put the chocolate milk on the dash of the truck, peel out of the parking lot, and fire chocolate slime all over the place. As it drips all over the maps and other garbage on the passenger side of the truck, I devour the other half of the sandwich while listening to the glug glug glug of milk dumping out. I can't reach it. And I'm too hungry. It's not leaking too fast, anyway.
Driving around like a stoner, I don't see anything resembling a campground. I go to a second Macs' Store a few blocks away, and get completely different directions from an unhappy-looking clerk. I follow her directions through downtown Leamington, past the huge brick Heinz Ketchup plant, past the little brick buildings on the main street, into another rural area. I go far, far, far. Nothing. I double back, turn at a different place, and get lost. I double back again, look around, and finally find a tiny sign for a campsite. It sits behind someone's house. I have no idea how to check in, or where to park, so I follow some signs to the office. But I don't see an office, so I go further, and turn into a dead end. I can't back up the trailer for shit, so I spend about ten minutes in the middle of the night in this quiet campsite backing up, stalling out the truck, backing up more, going forward, revving the engine, and accidentally honking the horn trying to get out of that little spot. Finally, I escape. I turn back towards the entrance, where I see a clear grassy patch across from what looks like a house, and some other trailers, near a row of tall trees that blocks in the edge of the campsite near the campsite's messy work area. I pull the trailer in parallel to the road, unhitch it, crank it up, and go to bed. When my head hits the pillow, I'm out.
The next morning, I wake to absolute silence. Well, there's regular sounds, like wind, and some birds, but really, nothing really loud. I think it might be 6:00 a.m. Peeking through one of the slots in the trailer towards the campsite, I see a beautifully-tended park full of trailers. There are still no sounds. Looking right a little, I see a little bug tent to the left of the closest trailer. Inside, there are two chairs. One is empty. In the other, there's something. I'm not sure what, because it's not moving at all. It has all the features of a regular human--eyes, legs, shoes, and so on--but it's sitting absolutely still, with its eyes open.
I get some cleaner clothes on, and step outside. The sky is almost blue, and the grass is amazingly green. I look around the trailer at the little tent. There's still no movement. I look for something in the truck, then look up. Stillness in the tent.
I start to cross the street, to go find the office, when a hand lifts from the arm of the chair.
"Hi," I answer, startled at all this sudden activity.
"You must have gotten in last night."
"Yeah. I wasn't sure if that's a campsite, but I parked there anyway. I didn't want to wake you up. Are you the manager?"
Here began the longest pointless story of whose trailer it was he was staying in, how his sister let them stay there because of something they had done, how they were originally from the Lake Michigan area, how his wife was from Space, and they didn't have a dog anymore...
But it started like this:
"Come in! Sit down here a spell, if you want."
So I did. Then I got that story. I tried to tell a story equally as dull, and kept failing. I was driving across Canada for the first time, and had had some adventures. They cringed at the Detroit part. They marvelled at the abandoned town part. They snored at the part where they fell asleep. They came back with something about Arizona, and the other half of their year, and something about tent trailers, or something...
Finally, I took my leave. He finally got to the part about where the office was (right around the corner, in a trailer), and so I walked over there. I was passing deep little lakes, placed four-by-four, regularly spaced, and surrounded by trailers on the outside, and criss-crossed by a road on the inside.
I walk up the the trailer office, and it's pretty much the same as the rest of the trailers--except there's some movement. A weird, not-fat '70s Canadian Rock-looking man comes out, and tells me a much better story.
He used to have a whole bunch of record stores in Toronto, and he made enough money to get by and save some more, and so on. It was a fine business, but stressful. When the ass fell out of the music business around 2000, he packed it all in, had a talk with his aging father-in-law, who owned a gravel pit and some greenhouses just outside of Leamington. He planted some trees, laid some sod, and put a few fish in the spring-fed pits left by years of gravel-digging, and started charging people to camp there. Old people. Quiet people. Retired people.
Some of the ponds had the fish he put in there. Others had had fish dropped there by birds--he'd never put them in there. You could fish if you wanted, but it was all catch and release.
As we stood there, talking and looking around, I realized that he had the best job in the entire world. There were no public toilets to clean--everyone had their own, and there were no noisy teens to police--nobody in the park was under 55, except me, the squatter. He got to sit around and read books with his wife next to a pond full of fish, and walk behind a lawnmower once in a while. He didn't even have to do that all the time, he said, because one of the old guys had his own lawnmower, and in his post-retirement boredom, he'd just push it all over the park along the roads, and further in, if people wanted him to, for free, and fairly often.
While we watched the massive bass and sunfish swim up to the shore expecting a handout, he said he really didn't mind that I'd shown up when I did, or that I'd parked in the grassy spot that he didn't really use for anything anyway. He said I could use the shower if I wanted, and that he'd only charge me $15 because I didn't use power or water. I fished my last 13 American dollars out of my pockets, and he shook his head when I offered to get the other two in town.
So I cleaned up, packed up, waved to my motionless friend in his tent across the road from me, and drove into town. I looked around for a while, and once I'd seen what I needed to see in Leamington (I actually wrote one of the earlier posts in the Leamington Public Library), I headed down to Point Peelee Provinicial Park. I stopped at Paula's Fish Place, across from the shore, had a fishburger, and enjoyed the progressively less subtle advances of the near-cougarly waitress. At one point, she said "I can't wait to get home and get drunk. Sure wish someone was there with me."
But, as Jack White sang, "I'm lonely, but I ain't that lonely yet."
Which wasn't exactly true, but I had other fish to fry, as they say. And I chickened out, of course.
Before I left the restaurant I made two calls to the Peelee Island Duck Counting Facility, to see if my friend's wife's sister had brought any ducks back to the office to count. There was no answer, so I left an inane message saying she'd missed her chance, as though it were her fault I hadn't bothered finding her number earlier and calling her sooner.
With that done, though, I drove down to Peelee Point Provincial Park.
The woman at the gate said it would be $6.80 to come in and take a look, so I parked half a block outside the park gates, crossed the road to a public beach access path, and walked onto the shores of Lake Erie. I walked into the park on the beach.
The sand was soft, and the weather was a hazy and calm and warm. Healthy trees and bushes skirted the upper side of the shore. There were a few tampon applicators and dead fish and seagulls on the shore, but not too many. Keep in mind that in Halifax, dead and dying gunk washes up all over the place, since the city has NO sewage treatment at all. In the distance, two teenagers were looking at the bottom of one of their jet skis, which they'd dragged onto shore. With the wind and the waves crashing, and with me getting progressively more deaf, I couldn't hear what they were saying at all. Finally, when I got close enough, I heard.
"Have you got a knife?"
They were in wetsuits, and really didn't look threatening, but I don't usually get asked what I'm packing.
He motioned me to look at the bottom of his jetski. Somehow, he'd gotten one of the ropes he had tied to his handlebars tangled around the driveshaft of his machine. It wasn't really affecting how the machine ran, but it was wedged into the seal that kept water out of the works. He wanted to cut it out. I told him I didn't have knife on me, but that I had a jackknife and a machete in the truck. He looked at me funny when I mentioned the machete, but wanted the knife.
"Do you want a ride back to the truck?" He motioned at his still-functioning jetski.
"Um, sure." It wasn't all that far to the truck. I'd never been on a jetski before, either, and though I knew I'd like it, I was leery. He didn't have a lifejacket for me, and I don't do well in water since I almost drowned a few summers ago at a beach in Nova Scotia. And by almost, I mean, I panicked.
But I thought, "I have to stop being such a fucking baby!"
So I threw all my water-damageable crap into the sealed compartment. Then he'd get onto the jetski, I'd try to get onto it and tip him into the water, and then he'd tell me to get on first, and I'd tip it over, and then I'd get on, and balance it the wrong way so that he'd slip off while trying to climb on, and fall on his ass back into the water. But the water was warm, and I kind of wanted to go swimming anyway, so I really didn't mind. Maybe he did, but I didn't care.
Finally, we got on and went about 100 feet to where I'd hopped onto the beach. I fell off the back, revelling in the warmth of the water, and collected the knife from the truck. I got back on, fell off, got on again, let him accelerate, got thrown off by the force of the acceleration, and finally, we made it back to his friend and the other jetski. While two of us held it up, he hacked at the rope, dulling my knife on the driveshaft of the propeller. I'm certain it didn't do too much damage, but it's a nice knife. Who cares.
Finally, they got it all cut, but one piece was still jammed into the seal. So, teenager two started it up, and just roared around in the water until the piece fell out. We realized afterwards that he probably could have just pulled it out by turning the driveshaft a little bit by running the starter a little while pulling the rope, but since it all worked out in the end, it really didn't matter.
So, as Teenager One sailed me back to the truck, apologising for dunking me, I looked out over the water. It was blue and went on forever, and I couldn't see Peelee Island. I wondered what it looked like. The roar of the little motor in the jetski was surprisingly relaxing, considering how loud it was.
As I was about to hop off, I told the kid that this was the first time I'd been on a jetski. I couldn't tell him why that was--I really didn't know--so he offered to take me out for "a rip" or something like that.
I thought about it briefly. I didn't have a lifejacket on, and I didn't want to drown. I thought I might enjoy it if I were driving (maybe it's a control thing, or maybe it was the fact that I kept falling off when he was driving), but I declined. Something was pushing me onward, compelling me to move eastward. I didn't feel like spending any more time with these guys, for some reason, and I wanted to escape. I would have liked to stay longer at the beach, but it was a little lonely, so I changed my damp clothes in the bush, tied them to the metal loops inside the box of the truck to dry, and drove up highway three a little more, watching the sun go down as Lake Erie followed along.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
The highway between Ludington and here was fairly uneventful--I got lost two different ways. The first time, I got lost because I asked for directions. I was already going the right way, planning to go perpendicularly across Michigan to Detroit, but a woman making pizza in Nowhere, Michigan told me I had to double back and take another highway. I hadn't been able to find a map of Michigan anywhere--not on a placemat, not at a reststop, never at a gas station. So I was going by memory from what I could see of Michigan on the Wisconsin map. And I was going the right way--down highway 10, a little highway that crossed through the state perfectly, and rejoined with the big highway that ran all the way to Windsor.
But I turned around, trusting someone who'd lived there for all their lame and lonely life.
Far too late to change course, I finally got my hands on a map. I realized I was driving almost parallel to Lake Michigan. My trip was going to be the sides of a right angle, istead of a straight, perfect line. The whole point of taking the ferry was to cut some time out of the American leg of the trip. And I was fucking it up again.
So I'm driving through Michigan, gritting my teeth, listening to music, and passing through what would be lovely country if I didn't want to build a highway through all of it at a 45 degree angle to cut three hours off my trip. I speed to get out of there faster. It's fun.
Detroit finally looms. That's not really true--Motor City is so incredibly big, buildings and malls have already blighted the countryside long before I get anywhere near it. But I keep driving. But it's time for gas.
Here's an exit.
Scary man comes up to the station. He's got a lot of gold chains on.
Another scary man comes running up to the gas station. He looks excited, or nervous. Or druggy. Regular people are also getting gas, unconcerned.
What the hell am I so scared of?
Off across the overpass, I hear shots. Or bangs. Who knows. It was almost the fourth of July. I go in to pay, and make a joke to the clerk that he looks like he's in an aquarium, with all that plexiglass around him. He hates the joke, and says that it's bulletproof glass, not plexiglass.
I peel out of there, with the trailer in tow, and go off down the highway again. Forever.
Finally, signs for the Ambassador Bridge, my link to sanity and peace of mind and the lack of the right to bear arms begin to appear. I get closer and closer, watching the odometer to make sure I don't overshoot it. As I drive, I realize I'm veering away from the bridge. I look frantically out the side window, and eventually through the rear view mirror, watching the bridge shrink from sight. Where the hell am I?
An overpass appears. I roll up it into a wasteland with a red light. Boarded-up houses surround me, and, from the scrub and weeds on the driver's side, a crazy-looking woman gets up from her bucket-chair, fixes her hair, and runs off behind the trailer. Some kid rides by on a bike that is way too small for him. I am fatigued, and paranoid, and panicked. It would be horribly ironic or dramatic or cathartic if I were to die right here, so close to Canada, my home and non-sketchy land.
The light turns green, and I squeal the tires getting around that corner. My heart skips another beat when I get back towards what looks like a downramp, except it isn't going down towards the highway. More scary-looking people pop up, or walk around, going about their business, not really paying any attention to the insane man pulling the vacation-train through their ghetto neighbourhood. Finally, a block down, the ground slopes down a ramp back onto the highway. I stop sweating.
I make another wrong turn. Not majorly bad, but I've already had enough.
Finally, I'm approaching the brigde. That's the point I'm at now--it's not really me controlling the truck any more, it's the truck, with me cradled safely within, rescuing me from this horrible city where it was born, or at least, assembled. We reach the booth of the toll bridge, and the woman says "that'll be $6.75."
"Whatever you want. Want more? Just get me out of here."
She looks at me blankly, chewing her gum, her round, early-20s face sort of contemptuously indifferent, until I throw $6.75 worth of quarters and bills at her and roar away.
On the downslope of the bridge, I breathe much easier. I can feel maple leaves and poutine and friendly passive-aggressive Canadian vibrations soothe my soul, and sedate my nerves. I talk to a dirty-looking kid and a limo driver in an empty McDonalds parking lot, completely without fear. They tell me that, no, they won't let you in to go to the bathroom, because it's too late. I can order food, though.
"Can I order an empty cup? I'm not really hungry. I need the bathroom."
They get the joke. They smile. I'm back in Canada.
I spent a lot of time standing around, feeling a little tired, and more than a little lonely. I'd just left Karen in Winnipeg about 19 hours ago, but again I was regretting not bringing a co-pilot on this transcontinental trip. But I found ways to amuse myself. Unintentionally, I'd dressed as a security guard--I had a black ballcap on, black shorts, a black, collared golf shirt, and a blue Wackenhut Security jacket on. Just standing and looking at someone was reason enough to make them squirm in the lovely post-9/11 environment. Up on the foredeck, A mother saw me, and threatened her young son: "If you don't behave, that guy is going to take you!" she warned, as I stood there, struggling with my digital camera. During the boarding, at least half the passengers, milling around, waiting for the boat to leave, joked with me, saying "what would you do if I tried to get on the boat right now?" They'd just look confused when I'd tell them I didn't care what they did.
So anyway, after 15 hours of driving, I needed a beer. I didn't, really, but in America, it's cheaper than pop, especially on this floating tourist trap. I paid almost $12 for macaroni and cheese, some sickening shaved meat sandwich, and something vaguely green. The beer was only $2. The dogfood was $10. Beer was actually a bad idea, though. I hadn't eaten in hours. So what was fatigue turned to seasick fatigue. I might as well have been drunk, because I went straight from sober to spins, with a little bit of gag reflex.
But that was boring, so I went to the museum onboard the ship. Despite the fact that there were spelling errors all over every display, it was enlightening. The ship was really old--like 50 years or something. It's the last coal-fired ferry in North America. It's actually an icebreaker, so, if we decided to, we could go full steam and carve a channel straight through northern Michican into Lake Superior. It didn't say that, but it should have. Sometimes, the truth is a little dull.
In the theatre room, or whatever you want to call it, they were playing the second Pirates of the Caribbean. This was surprisingly appropriate, and perfectly loud and flashy. I fell asleep through almost the whole thing, and woke only when I realized my bowels were emitting a green, glowing gas because of my horrible meal. I withdrew to the upper deck again.
Once up there, I watched the coast of Michigan approach. If not for all the other fat tourists, I could amost imagine that this is what the first pioneers from Europe saw (not this coast, but the same effect) as they approached the new world. The land went from a tiny brown strip on the horizon, to a series of white bumps and green dips. Slowly, buildings and a lighthouse came into view. And I was as curious as they might have been. This was all undiscovered territory for me, so I imagined having to clear a patch of land to build a cabin on, and farming and living off the land. But as I got closer, I realized none of this would be necessary in Ludington. This place had gone from some sort of industry town, to some sort of ghost town, and was entering its third incarnation as a crappy coast town with ugly condos all over the place. As I disembarked onto this disappointing new land, I wondered what time it was, and what there was to see around here.
Once the gangly teenager rolled my truck off the ferry, I wandered on wheels around the little town, noticing the contrast between the coast condos and the empty storefronts jus a block away. A policeman was blocking off a street; I asked him what was going on.
It was as though a light that only shone on shorn poodles and rabbit cages in wagons was suddenly, brilliantly lighted. Dogs with clothes on. Dogs with flags. Dogs squatting thoughtlessly as coils of steaming dog joy crept from their bodies. Rabbits. Cats struggling on leashes. Parakeets making that hellish sound they make.
Like myself, God, once again, was not pleased. He opened the skies, and let forth a deluge the likes of which Fluffykins and Barky had never seen, washing them away, back to their hellish suburban domeciles.
I, likewise, was washed north of town, where it stopped raining, right when I reached Ludington State Park. The whole point of the park was to protect the massive white hills I'd seen from the ferry. And they were massive. And beautiful. Sprigs of marine-looking grasses popped up where they hadn't been too trampled by humans, and other coastal-looking leafy plants popped up here and there. Lake Michigan stretched off as far as the eye could see, as black clouds loomed above. I looked at my camera.
It said I had one bar of batteries left. I couldn't see how; I hadn't actually taken that many photos. I took one of the lake. The camera shut off after that. I shuffled the batteries into a different order, and took one more. Then it shut off again. I waited a few minutes and took one last photo--by mistake--of the roof of the truck, once I got back inside. The rain had started again, and though I wanted to stay in this lovely place, I was lonely and wet and decided that the sooner I got out of the USA, the sooner I'd be seeing someone I knew.
Thursday, August 2, 2007
Getting to the border at Emerson was easy enough--Canada is calm and friendly and familiar, at least in my mind.
But baseless fears and borders lead to acid reflux. As I passed into Pembina, North Dakota, the guards waved me into a tall rolling-doored garage, asked me a bunch of questions, and then threw me into a room with one-way mirrors, telling me to wait while they searched my very terrorist-looking 1971 Sportcraft trailer. Two minutes later, they come to ask me how to open the trailer, and throw me back into my fishbowl. Three minutes later, they come in, and I tell them that I'll close it for them so they don't break it. For once, their stone faces crack, and I see they're relieved they don't have to figure out how to do it (--don't ask me why--it's the same process as putting it up, only you turn the little black handle in the other direction).
Granite jowls and drooping drawers restored, they wave me through.
I'm unhappy. I can't explain it. I don't feel comfortable in the US. I know it's exactly the same landscape, and all the same plants, as I saw directly north of here, but if not for the cheap, cheap gas and hot, hot exchange rate, I'd be aimed for Thunder Bay and beyond, content in the fact that nobody had their eye on me. Paranoia.
So as night falls, I try to find maps for every state I think I'll be passing through at gas stations, hotels, and rest stops. I find a "North Dakota--Western South East Lower Lakes Area" tourist map and guide," but it describes only the 500 square feet of the rest stop, and mentions the gas station I'd already stopped at.
Finally, I just look at the bottom of my map of Manitoba, which goes all the way to Fargo, ND, and from there follow the Interstate to Minneapolis-St.Paul. (Sidenote: while there, I don't see any dodgy overpasses like the one on the W35 that collapsed yesterday--probably because it's dark. )
Oh--And I'd forgotten to mention that in Winnipeg, I'd looked online and found a ferry that crosses Lake Michigan about four hours north of Chicago. In theory, this shortcut would cut eight hours off my American odyssey. But it leaves Manitowoc, Wisconsin in 15 hours. If I don't catch that one, I have to wait an extra day, and, well, like I said, I don't want to be there that long.
So, replay everything I've said in your head, only consider that I have only 15 hours to get about 1,244 km, and reset your mindset appropriately.
Right. So, I'm barreling like a retard through the northern United States, asking stupid questions and looking for maps, and night falls. Fireworks are going off sporadically in random places off the highway, with it being July 2 and all. Americans and other drivers, seeing that I'm a tourist, pass me, assuming I'm going slow because I'm pulling a trailer. But I'm not! I'm averaging about 120km/hour, not counting the on- and off-ramps I take to search for maps. I bypass town after town on ring roads or circumferential highways or whatever other name they've given their land-raping strip of traffic-easing pavement and overpasses, when, in mid-Minnesota, fog like tar falls over the land. It becomes impossible to see 10 feet in front of the truck.
Do I slow down? Would you?
I suppose I do a little, but only because everyone else is in the way. I'm down to the dregs on the iPod, or at least to stuff I haven't listened to ever before, so Me First and the Gimme Gimmes--doing a ska cover of Sloop John B (and a million other ska covers of easy-listening songs from the '70s) guide me through the soup covering the highway. After playing chicken with a BMW for a while--he'd speed up, then I'd not change speed, and then he'd slow down, and then I'd go exactly the same speed, and then he'd give me the finger, and I'd just turn off the dash lights so it'd be harder for him to shoot me.
All the way into Wisconsin, the fog never let up. Myself, on the other hand, well, I was fading fast. After doing an illegal U-turn just past Menomonie, WI, after sleeping past an off-ramp, I got on track for Manitowoc, but realised that I wasn't really watching where I was going at all, and wasn't really interested in being awake. Unacceptable! I cranked the wheel, and roared on three wheels (two truck, one trailer) into the parking lot of a gas station in Weston, WI, and got a mouthful of the worst coffee I'd ever had, a gutful of the shittiest packaged sandwich I'd ever pushed past my gag-reflex, and enough gas to get to Manitowoc without stopping again.
Roaring back onto the highway, I look at the clock. I've got an three hours to
get 150 miles. That's easy, I think, until I convert it to kilometres and realize that's 240 km. Still possible. Pedal to floor, eyes set to full pay-attention mode, numb ass to shut-up-because-nobody-cares mode, I get back on the highway.
By now, the fog has lifted. The horizon brightens, and as the highway clears, I become zen. I can make it, I chant. From somewhere in the iPod's cavernous stores appears Scott Joplin's The Entertainer. I put it on repeat, and begin a nirvana-like trek into inner peace, knowing that at the correct speed, and with the right amount of robotic diligence, I can make it.
For no reason whatsoever, with the daylight comes God on a lightningbike, trying to flood the earth and kill me with lightning. Bolts fall around me as I'm driving up the highway. Some of them hit close enough to follow from sky to earth, with thunder loud enough to be heard inside the truck at 100 km/h.
Do I slow down?
Well, I can't really see, and the windshield wipers can't really keep up.
So I keep going 100 km/hour. I clench my buttocks to avoid fouling my pants during hydroplaning sessions, and with one eye on the road, and one on the clock, I barrel through Wisconsin. The music shifts again, and Steve Earle's instrumental "Dominick Street," a jaunty onomatopoetic distillation of a fun childhood day, clears the sky and dries the roads. I roll into Green Bay with an hour to spare, and with the song on repeat, I barrel through morning rush-hour traffic and get my first glimpse of Lake Michigan. It's big, it's blue, and it looks like a lake. But this lake only has one side. Cool.
Welcome to Manitowoc, says the sign. I've made it. I miss the exit. I take the next one. I turn the wrong way. I have 30 minutes. I squeal the tires. I back up in someone's driveway. I retrace my steps. I drive too fast through the sleepy old town, cursing the kids/Yankees/tourists who stole the sign that tells me where the stupid ferry terminal is. There it is. No. There? NO. Oh. There it is. 7:49. I have 11 minutes to catch the ferry. I walk up to the door. It's locked. I walk to the pay phone. It's locked. That's stupid. No, it's not locked. But there's no answer when I phone the information line posted outside the building. I look at the truck and trailer, marvelling that they're both still in one piece.
I stand there.
What the hell do I do now? Did I miss it? The parking lot is empty, and the buildings are all locked.
Some sort of police or security people drive into the ferry parking lot. I wave frantically at them. They wave back, smiling jerkily. As in like jerks.
I stand there.
It starts raining again.
In my mind, I take a cast-iron pipe, and begin smashing ...
No, no. I don't. I sit in the truck.
I go to sleep almost instantly.
Four hours later, someone bangs on the window. "Do you have a reservation?" someone asks.
"Huh?" I ask deftly, wiping the drool away and noticing that I can't bend my neck.
Inside, a pretty young redheaded teenager tells me there may not be room.
"Huh?" I ask, using everything I learned in journalism school.
"We'll try to fit you on, but you should have had a reservation," she says in an accent that's a little twangy, but nothing like the Fargo accent (people in Fargo don't have the Fargo accent, either, I should mention).
"Why would I want a reservation for a ferry that's four hours late?" I ask, but in a voice that sounds far more resigned than angry, since I'm too tired to act anything other than tired.
Her turn. "Huh?" she asks, using all 11 years of school she's had since kindergarten.
"Why. Is. The. Ferry. Four. Hours. Late?" I chant, fairly curious.
"Sir," she twangs. "The ferry left Ludington, Michigan, at 8:04a.m. this morning, on schedule."
Red. Face. Bashful.
"The ferry travels from Ludington to Manitowoc. It does so on the schedule posted. Today, it left..." blah blah blah, I was a retard, the schedule was online, I can't read.
So, anyway, three hours later, I watched as they drove my truck and trailer onto the SS Badger, the last coal-fired car-ferry in commercial service in North America. As the coal trucks filled the hoppers below the car deck of the ferry, I thought to myself, "well, at least I know I can drive 15 hours straight with two bathroom breaks and several different natural calamities attempting to disrupt everything."
Then I thought, "What an idiot."
Thursday, July 19, 2007
I’m standing on a precipice near Halifax. It’s getting colder, the air smells rainy, and I’m incapable of moving. Bravery and confidence have turned to panic, which has solidified, the same way the muscles in my body have. I have three solid contact points. One is a deep, hand-shaped, finger-depth hole in the side of the ironstone I’m trapped on. Both feet are firmly planted on a space three-quarters as wide as my shoes.
My thoughts have all but halted. I’ve thought of everything.
Jumping: if it were deep water, I’d consider it. If it were cushions, I’d bethere.
The way I came is downhill and my body won’t let me turn around; I can’t go forward. The hand- and footholds are millimeters farther than I’ll let myself stretch. After an instant of shuffling , I stay still.
Help offers have been rebuked. At this stage in my adrenaline rush, I’m incapable of trust. My panic is too deep. “I’ve got three contact points,” says Nick, sitting above on a ledge I could scramble to if I was a foot up or east from my prison. “Seriously, I’m not going to let you go.”
I shuffle vainly. I can’t take his help. It’s beyond distrust. He doesn’t want to kill me, but he will. If I take his hand, I will die.
A shudder moves through my legs, which I spent earlier by walking for two hours. They’ll shake more soon, further rattling my shattered confidence.
I turn my head. The hand is there, waiting. The contact points are still firm, all six of them: mine and his. I turn my body, take the hand, take the step from my outcrop, and work slowly down the tiny path until my feet are at sea level, flat, and secure. It rains.(*I wrote this in 2003, about two weeks after I moved to Halifax. This was my first real panic attack. Now I get them when swimming, but that's a different story that I didn't use as a writing assignment topic in Journalism school.*)
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Driving into Winnipeg is like driving into any other ugly modern city. But the deeper you get, the further back in time you go, until you're surrounded by ancient brick buildings, old tree-lined streets, and cheap, cheap rents, considering you're downtown in a town with almost half a million people.
Winnipeg, so they say, was the centre of Canada's railroad world in the early 1900s, exploding from a farmers' backyard and enveloping ... well, some large area, which is now almost entirely the same as it was in 1920. Cool old apartments, cool old office buildings, and, compared to the last time I was there, much more lively and less abandoned-looking.
I met up with one of my history-friends, Karyn. We met in Bamfield at a marine sciences station where we took the same marine invertebrates course. She suffered from boyfriend trouble the whole time; I cheered her up by making up stories where deep-sea octopods competed with this lame boyfriend for her attentions. Flash forward four years, and I can't make up an interesting story about octopuses to save my life. Can you? Try it! They have to be anthropomorphic octopuses for the story to count.
Anyway, it being Canada Day, we walked down to degenerate obese-looking Winnipeger Square (also known as the Forks, or something) to watch the fireworks. Karyn tries to keep away from various people she doesn't want to see, we get ditched by the girl we go there to meet, and end up walking back to a little Greek restaurant on the corner of Broadway and somethingorother, where the power of a single beer brings me back to the shores of Bamfield Inlet. It's so cool. As Karyn and I sit there and chat, the stream of memories becomes a flood as we talk about people I hadn't even thought of for years and years. All the odd characters, who really become dynamic and intriguing after six weeks in four-person dormitory cabins on the cliffs overlooking Slightly Polluted Bay, come back to life. "So and so found out she was pregnant the whole time," Karyn says. "And Joe Blow, he was diagnosed with this-and-that, after he left the course." And so on. I've forgotten most of it again already, thanks to the flush handle that somehow grew out the side of my memory, but it was still cool to relive a little bit of the time I spent there.
The next day, after Karyn so graciously gave up her bed and slept on the couch (with her cat bothering her the whole time, and me resting undisturbed) , we drove out to a weir over the Assiniboia River, where we talked about fishing, and watched the dog-sized catfish leap from the water, perhaps hoping to catch a giant pelican or small child. As the sun beat down on our heads, we took pictures of fish poachers, half-eaten barbecue dinners, innocent bystanders, and other stupid things nobody would ever bother taking pictures of if they weren't weird.
I thought it was fun.
With that, I proceeded to get lost on the way out of town, missing a turn (the only turn required before the border) less than two blocks from Karyn's house. But after a short tour of ugly and plain suburban Winnipeg, I was on my way, creeping towards the American border, trailer in tow.
Monday, July 9, 2007
North of the highway, little and big hillocks roll on until the horizon, left behind as the melting glacier dropped the rocks it had etched from the land. In between, just over the Saskatchewan border, is the worst-maintained stretch of highway in the history of road
construction. It's a patchwork quilt of oddball pavement. Each patch is an inch higher than the next, and the patchless spots could well be meteorite craters or dynamite scars, because this highway looks like a battlefield. Fortunately for me, the only victim in this battle was my back (as opposed to something mechanical on the truck that I couldn't afford to fix), with some collateral damage in the form of a mysterious rattle from inside the cab of the truck.
After about five hours of driving, the sun begins to set. I know I don't want to pay for camping, so I turn off the highway to find a treed spot near the South Saskatchewan River to roll up the tent trailer, happily following behind the truck (so far, anyway).
Off the highway, a little of the stereotypical Saskatchewan appears. North of the highway, in this area, farms do go on forever. Ranches and cows seem to be the only thing on this rutted gravel road. Irrigation gear rolls through the fields, watering some sort of plant I don't recognize. And the country roads barely correspond to the maps. I get sidetracked several times, half because I'm looking for an out-of-the-way place to park, and half because a straight road on an Canadian Automobile Association map is not necessarily a straight line in Saskatchewan's backwaters.
Lost or not, I scout horse farms, long treed windbreaks, and other hidden-looking resting places. At one point, I consider parking the trailer and truck in a long row of neatly arranged derelict vehicles, with my own dereliction as a disguise, but I realise the set-up trailer would be a bit of a giveaway.
Onward I go, watching the sun sink below the horizon. I'm now about 60 kilometers off course, though not entirely lost yet. I get the trailer stuck in a small grassy spot surrounded by ditch, and stall the truck at least 15 times trying to back out, while a family of farmers watches in the distance. They'd already shaken their fists at me angrily for coming down their abandoned farmhouse road, so when I passed by, they stared at me in a confused, animal-protecting-territory way. I avoided eye contact and retraced my steps back to the confusing road. Finally, after getting stuck at a ferry station on the shores of the South Saskatchewan, I turned 180 degrees (after jackknifing the trailer three times, and stalling four more in front of a man in a red pickup who I was blocking) and started up Highway 42.
In the distance, in the dying twilight, I saw what grew to be a grain elevator. No railroad tracks went up to the grain chute any more, though. Behind it, there were a few houses, none of which had any lights on. The streetlights were also out. Out of curiousity, I turned in, and drove past what might have been main street to what I called Second Street. It was a tree-and-weed-lined pair of still-paved tracks, with one dark house on one side, and nothing but Canada thistle and mosquitos on the other. I did a full lap of main and Second streets. The one house on the end of Main Street had had its lawn cut at some point recently, and two old trucks were parked out front, but its lights were also dark. I drove back into the thistle off Second Street, and parked. Stepping out, my mouth filled to capacity with mosquitos, and every available space on my skin was covered with the little bloodsuckers, hovering noisily onto my exposed flesh, and lining up like oil derricks on the endless Alberta landscape. Undaunted, I set up the tent trailer, and, feeling particularly defiant to the little assholes, assembled my telescope in the trailer, and carried it into the middle of Second Street, where I was besieged again. Wrapping a towel around my head, I see Venus' half-crescent, and just below it, Saturn, tiny in my viewfinder, wrapped perpetually by its rings. To the south, the last bright object, Jupiter, looks like a blur, but to the left of it, four tiny specks of light sit seemingly motionless.
Satisfied at my telescope prowess, and sick of having bugs in my mouth, I settle into the trailer for the first time since my uncle graciously donated it to my as of yet pointless quest, and began reading Carl Sagan's novel Contact, about, oddly enough, man's first contact with an alien civilization (which was turned into that movie with Jodie Foster). The trailer is comfortable, and outside is dead silent. I get through about three sentences before passing out.
The next morning, I awake to sweltering heat. The sun has been up for hours, I think, because I'm drenched with perspiration, and it's bright and humid inside the canvas walls of the ancient trailer.
Rising and replacing my damp clothes, I step out into a silent green oasis. The dark house across from me looks much less menacing this morning. A walk around the block reveals little I hadn't seen before--there's still nobody here. I find a few more houses hidden by overgrown ornamental shrubs, but that's all there is. There's what looks like an old shop building (though without windows or signs) on Main Street, but there's only a single door in the front, and it's closed. But it has power running to it, and the lawn is cut in front. There's still nobody at the truck house, either.
I go from empty house to empty house, trying to piece this story together. I assume, when the train stopped running to the grain elevator, the town died. I imagine all there was to keep the town there was the elevator, and with it gone, the residents either died or moved away.
The town had died so hard that the north side of Second Street was actually bordered by barbed wire. At some point, in the only sighting of reverse urban sprawl I saw on my trip, a rancher had actually annexed the yard and house here, and made it into pasture, though he left the buildings standing for the animals. I thought about this a lot as I packed up and drove onwards. In BC and Alberta, around every major, and even some not-so-major cities and towns, acre after acre were being scraped barren and then built upon, rendering the land dead and useless forever. Here, though, in this one, small, dead town, a tiny little space, no bigger than your average building lot in suburban Alberta, the land had won, reclaiming a little bit of territory in what seemed for all of the trip before and after this like a battle it would never ever win.