Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Road Trippin'

pirate feet have trod
the clean-thatched floors
of my soul,
and the canaries sing no more.

—Bukowski, “for they had things to say”

“Life has a way of turning us into human fireworks that can’t reach the sky.”
Jimmy Chen

Where to begin? It was a trip meant to restore one’s faith in the human capacity for excitement and adventure, to feel alive, in the sense Zen Buddhists speak, in the “Here and Now,” to accept uncertainty, open to change like the shifting winds, ready for movement, on a whim, in any direction, however the moment dictates, to give oneself over to the element of chance in all its manifestations: anticipation, risk, opportunity, bald desperation. But this is getting ahead of things. It started off with much simpler, practical concerns.

It started with a flat.

It was early summer, and I was coming off my third year at university. Most semesters up till that point had always been something of a slog—the better part of four months spent trying to keep up a precarious balance of work, study, and occasional socializing only to see it all go out the window by the end when, deadlines fast-approaching, hitting all at once, there comes that mad rush to cough up work, meet the word counts, meanwhile holding onto the hope, the loose assertion playing on a loop in the back of the mind, that if only it can just be adequate then everything will be fine. Salvaged, if nothing else.

But this last one in particular had worn my emotional reserves down to nil, in serious need of a recharge. A number of factors contributed, but mostly I owed it to a Shakespeare class, and specifically a research paper on “Hamlet.” Meant only as simple undergrad paper containing the requisite 3,000 words, presented, as was the case, in smartly arranged half-page paragraphs that elucidated my main arguments—employing a prose style not too dense, but lucid, clear, declarative; secondary material properly cited, etc.—it soon spiralled into something much larger than that, something big, unwieldy, something altogether stranger. For weeks on end the only place I could be found, outside of class and coffee shops, was hunkered down in the campus library occupying either one of a roomful of three-sided wooden booths or off in a solitary corner seat, books stacked next to me like a tilting, precarious drink stand, until closing, reading through all the criticism and commentary I could get my hands on, decades and decades worth, pushing all the way back to the earliest part of the twentieth century, when Shakespeare criticism was just coming into vogue...

I traced the whole history of the play back to its “Ur-Hamlet” origins, immersed myself in the forever ongoing debate over original author credit. Was it the semi-famous in his day playwright Thomas Kyd, author of the earlier “Spanish Tragedy,” who was responsible? Shakespeare himself? And who was that exactly? Perhaps it was some other uncredited ghost writer, forever lost to history? On and on it goes. With never an end is all we know.

In the deep hours of the night I meditated on the loss of Shakespeare’s only son, Hamnet, at the tender age of eleven, and what if any connection could be made between his death and the final play produced only a scant few years after his passing.

The semester dragged on.

When not engaged in an all-consuming process of literary investigation soaking up everything from random bits of background information to the hundreds of critical arguments and diverging stances taken (the poet, playwright, critic, and all round literary prude T.S. Eliot, for example, considered Hamlet, the four hundred year old play to this day regarded as the apex of world literature—irrevocably impacting the direction of all “important” writing to follow thereafter—a failure), when not doing all this, I was glued to a television set viewing every recent, and not so recent, adaptation and stage performance recorded for posterity. From the latest streamlined Hollywood versions to the 1948 Olivier gold standard to the endless copies of grainy VHS recordings culled from the shelves of the campus library’s electronics section, starring a century’s worth of the best and brightest from British theatre—I couldn’t get enough, it’s fair to say.

My “Norton Complete Shakespeare” had been marked up with all sorts of barely-decipherable annotations, mostly in the form of cryptic jottings scrawled down in the throes of a fevered ecstasy brought on, no doubt, by some minor insight or other, that—silly deluded me—I was convinced at the time cut to the core of the text. “Now I have this thing cracked, yes!”


And as for the many yellow hi-lited sections comprised mostly of but not limited to those beautiful, solemn Hamlet soliloquies—they became such a constant point of reference that, reading and rereading them on into language comprehending oblivion, before long and without consciously realizing it, I would fall into reciting sections to myself any time day or night: in the shower, while frying up eggs, waiting in line at the grocery, even dropping in allusions during random conversations—most if not all of which had nothing whatsoever to do with Shakespeare, Hamlet or any of the heady themes that cut through and subverted the horror and revenge conventions of the plot. Indeed, becoming more and more consumed with these themes of such great existential heft, I eventually brought out the big guns, seeking out the works of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Benjamin and other scholastic touchstones of modernity (and not all of them of German heritage), in an effort to better understand the dark notions I had began to unearth, insights into the human experience that seemed to only grow darker and darker as, paradoxically, more light was thrown on them.

Over the weeks, as my thesis grew and mutated and stretched out into the furthest reaches of what can be called “critical theorizing,” the netherworlds of philosophical argument and discourse, it became clear that what I was working on was more than any mere college essay, some assignment constituting a single mark that averaged against the rest of my course work would contribute to my overall GPA. No, it was beyond that. Way beyond that. The scope and breadth had expanded exponentially. Now it dealt with matters no less pertinent than that of life and death.

Months went by, and by the time finals rolled around and I came stumbling into the gymnasium one gray foggy morning, gaunt and bleary-eyed, to hand in my finished paper—what amounted to a piddling distillation of my total accumulated material—two weeks overdue, before sitting down to write my exam, I could no longer for the life of me accurately discern where Shakespeare’s play ended and my real life began—if indeed I even still had a life to speak of.

It’s hard to describe exactly what it was I was looking for in my obsessive research, what great illumination I hoped my relentless exploration of a four century’s old play—one that however archaic in form, is still considered eternally relevant in content—would ultimately achieve. Many a better man than I had, like sailors charting an unreachable course to the unknown land, fallen into the abyssal mazes of self that can be the peril for those identifying too strongly with a hero that for years has stood as a grim monument to the limits of human consciousness, a kind of forlorn archetype to our fated modern condition.

In the end, despite an academic diligence that spiralled into a dedication to subject bordering on the pathological, what I finally came away with, in the final analysis, was far short of profundity, and maybe comes closest to getting summed up in the Kerouac statement at the outset of “On the Road,” describing his state following the death of his father and first divorce that precedes the events of the book, about the “feeling that everything was dead.”

Indeed. It was unshakeable. A constant presence. There everywhere. Interrupting ever conversation. Undercutting every joke. It lurked behind every smile, every glance. Inescapable. Enough force to black out the sun on an otherwise perfect cloudless day. Sucking the fun out of an otherwise festive night out. It couldn’t be ignored and there was no comfort to be found, no person unaffected. Faces seemed unreal. Expressions, empty. Food lost its flavour. Music stripped of its sonic majesty and resonance. There was no way to get away from it.

And it wasn’t even anything new either, some great revelation brought down from on high. It was nothing; so banal, uninteresting. A futility, a yearning, an inkling, a lie. A fear, a phantom, a shadow, a form undefined. Whatever it was it had buried itself deep within. And was here to stay.

Everywhere I turned I was faced with the awful projection of my own insurmountable fallibility.

With the rigours of the semester now behind me I was happy to eschew all further responsibilities and lock myself up in my apartment indefinitely, away from an indifferent world incapable of reconciling our fundamental existential plight with the unfathomable mystery forever sealed up in the hidden depths of the human heart.

And I did. For a time. But then one day, I got a call, and crawled out of myself and answered it. It was a human voice, female.

“Hey! How goes on the west coast!”

“Oh. Same old. Same old.”

It was Marissa. I hadn’t heard from Marissa in months, probably since Christmas, and the sound of her voice was as good as an unwrapped present that forgotten under the tree.

Marissa and I had been friends for as long as I can remember and probably before then. She was coming off her first marriage and the experience had left her terribly raw. Even so, as much as I could gauge it over the phone, she seemed no less her vital self. The ceremony had taken place the previous fall after a short, very short, engagement. In the process she had left behind her studies and a young daughter to relocate some 250 miles north, to where he lived. Things were good for a time, but then the honeymoon period came to an abrupt end and with it, not longer after, the union itself. The details are numerous, complex and involving, and enough to fill several volumes of Carveresque tales of woebegone relationships, domestic entanglements and general misunderstandings between the sexes. Months of tiny squabbles over anything and everything, from money to lifestyle to personal philosophy, snowballed until one day, arriving home late in the day from work, she found her stuff, clothes and everything else, tossed out all over the front yard, the locks changed, and her ’84 Volvo, which had just had thousands of dollars in repairs and upgrades invested in it—along with other personal items, CDs, DVDs, and anything else of any value—sold off, with her new-but-now-soon-to-be-ex-husband pocketing the profits.

A new twist on an old standard.

“You might have married me for love, but I married you for money.” Those his last emphatic words, and just like that she was out of there, back at home getting things sorted.

“This whole experience, it’s forced me to revaluate my relationships, who I can trust.”

“Yeah, no kidding.”

“I mean, I always thought I was a good judge of people, knew where I stood…but now—now, I just don’t know.”

“Shit. That sucks. It’s like this instinctual need we have or something. To top each other, take advantage of each other. Including those closest to us. Especially those closest to us. People are fucked.”

“I guess. But I always try and see the best in people. And like with this thing with Chris, for the longest time, I mean as long as we were together, I wanted to believe it would work itself out. Otherwise it would be that I was wrong, I had put my faith in the wrong person. And if I can’t trust my own judgement, then what do I have to go on, you know?”
“Yeah. It’s like a double bind or something.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s…I don’t know. Never mind. I can’t think. I’ve had my brain on standby.”

“Oh yeah. How’s that working for ya?”

“Hard to tell. About the same.”


There was music playing in the background on her end, coming through the receiver, and to change the subject I asked her who it was.

“It’s just this song that was on this iPod I got. It was Chris’s brothers’. He got one of those new video ones, and gave me his old one for my birthday. He put a bunch of songs he knew I liked. I’ve been listening to this one on repeat all day.”

There was a pause as she listened for a minute, then came back on the line.

“Sorry, there’s this line near the end, it’s kind of cheesy but I just like the description. ‘You are the smell before rain / You are the blood in my veins.’”

It was after that, over the phone, that I made up mind to go back. Back east.

The spoils of solitude are meagre indeed. And once the glass has run dry, what is there left? Crawling along the swampy psychic bottoms with a thirst left unquenched it’s all you can do to call out for another draught.

It was time to once again drink from the mug of life, time to throw off the mental shackles and reacquire a taste for good, honest freedom.

In short, it was time to hit the road.

But it was a trip I had made once before and knew that to do it right I was going to need a traveling companion to bring along.

I first met Nick my second year of university. We were both taking an English class on British Modernism. Nick was a philosophy major of a decidedly analytic bent, and had his sights set on law school. But for now he was living the blissfully uncommitted college life of classes and study, bagging groceries, pub crawls, weekend jams and the rest of it. We hit it off discussing Camus and Dostoevsky over pitchers of Pil and games of pool at the campus pub. We had stuff in common. We both had fathers in the stock market game (however divergent the roads they each took to get there). Both our mothers were singers who sang in church choirs. At least mine did. I don’t know if Nick ever went to church. It never came up. Anyway, after that we wound up in a bunch of other lit classes together—which included the doomed Shakespeare class.

Nick had been caught up in his own existential conundrum, however more grounded in reality than mine. In the fall, as classes were resuming, his long-term girlfriend had left for Germany to live and study for a year. It was obviously a tough decision for her, leaving behind friends, family, loved ones, as it were, all in the name of discovering some of the world, other cultures, expanding horizons beyond hometown confines. She saw it as an important test of their relationship, and pledged to stay faithful, through it all, until she returned. Which he did. As far as I know. But by the spring, the strain had become too much, for both of them, and they broke it off, long distance. It was some time later he learned she had become enamoured with a certain strapping young German fellow, who also happened to have only one leg. Nick was bowled over. “How do I compete with that?”

So for those reasons and others he had been entertaining his own cross-country motorcycle dreams, and was totally game when I brought up the idea. A request was put in for time off work, and as soon as it was accepted we made plans for an early departure the day following.
The day we were to leave it was hot and cloudless, a light wind blowing in from the west. The potent sun pulsated high above, glaring off the body of the red Probe parked on the street out front, which had been loaded up the night before and was ready for one last go round. Stepping woozily out of my apartment when we did, it wasn’t much of an early start; already late morning by the time we roused ourselves after a night of drinking and last minute planning. And now there against the sidewalk, sagging pathetically, was that sorry piece of rubber. Set back even further now, we limped over to the nearby tire shop. Around the corner and two blocks down, the same place where only a few months before I had gone in only intending to get one, a different one, patched up, and wound up driving away with a completely replaced set.

It was a Friday and we hoped to make it to our destination by the end of the weekend. But it was also the holiday weekend celebrating the inception of the very country we would be booming across—though what this would mean for us later on, at the time, we hardly took into account. It was all about making it back there in time to meet up with Marissa and a few others to hang out, throw back a few, and watch the million fireworks that would light up the night sky capping the weekend’s celebrations. That was the plan.

Starring at a couple thousand miles of road ahead of us, the sight of that flat wasn’t the best note to set off on, but at the tire shop we got quick service, the dud replaced in the time it took us to suck back our paper cups of coffee and go over the planned route one last time. And as we stepped back outside into the afternoon warmth there was nothing that stood between us and the open road

That is, nothing except for the wild wailing Pacific.

We arrived at Deport Bay just in time to miss the latest ferry. A long line-up of cars had already started to form for the next one, stretching back twenty or thirty, and I pulled up and parked in behind them. In the next lane, a few cars ahead, a whale of a boat stood towering over the others. It had a dull blue hull that hulked out maybe twenty feet, and I could hear two middle-age men, both decked out in clashing weekend attire, commenting on as we got out. “Would you look at that?” said the one guy, hands on hips squinting up at it in dry amazement. “Musta cost him a fortune, bringing that thing along.”

We started toward the terminal, and in among the collection of wandering, heat-dazed denizens was a woman holding a leash connected to a big shaggy Australian sheepdog and saying to the woman next to her, “She’s so smart, she knows how to play stupid.” I couldn’t tell right off who she was referring to and could only assume it was the dog.

We passed the time staggering about inside the terminal, where dozens of knickknack booths were positioned on either side of the long hall, merchandise placed on prominent display, easily accessible, in a way that allows for one to engage in a kind of disinterested shopping experience driven only by tedium and exhaustion. We made the walk of inconsequence and then went back outside. Across from the building was a large tent set-up hoping to capitalize on the holiday traffic, with more of the same stuff as inside, jewellery, clothing, other trinkets and souvenirs, all “On Sale.” We found a cool spot a ways away, behind the building, where there was a picnic table. We took a seat on top and Nick lit up a cigarette. An announcement came over the loudspeakers that the next ferry would be late getting in, causing a slight delay.

“I hope our luck is better once we get moving,” I said.

“Luck has nothing to do with it,” said Nick. “There’s no such thing as luck. Luck implies something lacks a cause, and everything has a cause.”

“It was probably a couple Harewood skids punctured the tire. The same one’s who keyed it. And broke in and pilfered my wallet.”

“Accepting the notion that there are forces working out of your control that you lack the power to influence is acquiescing to such conditions, a giving up of your free will to the tyranny of the other.”

“Yeah. I wish there was something I could do about it. Nothing major. A little retribution. Eye for an eye. I live in a shitty neighbourhood.”

“So move. No one’s forcing you to live there.”

“I don’t know. Might feel like I’m running away.”

“What are you running away from?”

“I don’t know. Something. Nothing. Isn’t it sharks that die if they stop moving?”

“Yeah, I think so. Terminal stasis.”

“I wonder if stasis can be infectious.”

“Maybe. Why not. Ask the dead.”

“I have a few questions.”

We got up and walked back out into the hot sun, over to a railing, where far down below the waves lashed against the high cement wall, the white foam floating about like little cloud tails, swishing and sloshing, waiting to be thrust back out into the waters deep. I looked up. I could start to make out its form in the distance, growing larger, more defined, and soon it was right there, cutting through those waters, in all its grand stature, the St. Elizabeth, coming into port.

Nick turned around, leaned against the guardrail, and lit another cigarette. There was a sweet freshness in the air and a crisp breeze had kicked up to temper the heat.

“How far you think we’ll drive tonight?” said Nick.

“Depends,” I said. “To Kamloops would be a start. Push it hard tomorrow.”

Back in the car I ate a late lunch out of the cooler, while Nick buried his head in a dog-eared copy of Hume he had inexplicably brought along for the trip.

The ferry docked, unloaded, and a short time later the next line-up of cars were loaded on. Then two hours later, having made the sprawling, scenic trip all along the Georgia Strait, they too were unloaded and sent off huffing and fuming and roaring down the long strip of road, the ocean spread out on either side like untouched crystal, leading out of the Tsawwassen terminal. We were on our way, speeding along with the tightly clustered traffic. I knew the road we were on followed straight through eventually took us into downtown Vancouver, and was already checking for the quick turnoff that would keep us rolling down Highway 1 and later merge on to the 5. But as we roared along there were no signs anticipating the turnoff, or short I say there was an abundance of signs, so many in fact it was nearly impossible to make any sense of them as they flew by, one after another, with all the stampeding vehicles jockeying for position and nobody giving an inch to others trying for a tight lane change. Nick looked over the map, trying to zero in on our position, but I had a sense of the road and figured my instincts enough to guide us through. But then, so much for that, as in the confusion I got overanxious and heedlessly took the next available right.

It didn’t take long, after entering the town of Delta, coasting down the main drag, to realize I had completely miscalculated. In another desperate move I got us quickly swung around, trying to retrace our way out of there. The roads were a whole mess of lights, intersections and confused street signs, and not long after we were back on the road I hoped would get us out of town, we came to a standstill. Traffic was backed up a mile, a long line-up of idling vehicles backed up for blocks. It was close to five by now and everyone was just getting off work, gearing up for the long weekend. We waited and waited some more.

Traffic was slow moving. I strained my neck out the window trying to get a read on things. Up ahead, the road curved off and disappeared around a thicket of spruce, making it impossible to tell what lay ahead. We sat there helplessly. Then Nick spotted a couple guys strolling past, across the street from us. These guys in their silly striped golf shirts and khaki shorts, wheeling their fancy-pants golf bags down the sidewalk, it was clear they were fresh of the lynx. Nick shouted out the open window, asking them where the road was headed. “US Border,” one of them shouted back. Nick turned to me. There had already been some talk about a quick detour down to the border to pick up some duty-free—and now through pure dumb chance here we were this close. But it was getting on and we had barely started out. And it looked like we would be waiting for who knows how long, at least another hour, maybe more. More importantly, now I knew where we were in relation to where we needed to be. And I was through with waiting.

Pulling out of line I heard one of the golf guys shouting something at us. “Hear there’s a Grateful Dead concert tonight!” They both had a good laugh over this, and Nick at first smiled and nodded amicably. Then the remark suddenly sunk in and he leaned out the window and shouted back, “EAT IT, YUPPIE FUCKS!” as we peeled away back towards the highway.

We shot through a few greens out of town, and a couple turns later the sight of the verdant fields of the vineyards, all spacious and rolling, confirmed that we were back on the 1 headed for Surrey. Behind us the sun was just starting to dip, shooting bright white shards of light across the horizon. I loosened my grip on the wheel, cranked up the jangling chords of “Blonde on Blonde” playing on the stereo, and let out a good deep breath. We were on our way.

But I couldn’t enjoy the view for to long. There was still some business from earlier left to deal with. The mechanic back in town mentioned stopping in to get the tire re-torqued around 100 klicks. When I told him we would be out of town by then he told us of a place in Surrey that could do the job, and called ahead to let them know we were coming in. We were well over a hundred clicks by the time we reached Surrey, but when we passed by the tire place, it was obviously closed, no signs of activity, deserted, like most other places by now. Sure, maybe it was only a precautionary measure, but not having it done, I couldn’t help feeling a bit nervous.

My mind started working over the matter, spinning it out into the most desperately devised of scenarios. Terrible sights. Fiery ruins. I pictured us driving along as normal, when suddenly, without warning, the damned wheel breaks loose, snapping off and rolling back down the road while, back at the car, sparks shooting up from the empty rim grinding into the pavement, we go skidding and spinning uncontrollably, at top speed, into a ditch, or worse, a blazing nosedive off a cliff. End of the road. End of all. Sure it was extreme, but I had been through similar situations in the past, if only on a less severe level, and now the terrible thought wouldn’t leave me.

But for the time being, at least, I managed to put it out of mind as we zoomed on, cutting through the mouth of a mountain, the deep dense greens of the valley swelling up next to us, and shrouded by the shadows cast by the mountain walls that flanked us on both sides. We pushed through. An hour on Nick volunteered to take over driving duties. I was happy to hear this, but also knew that Nick had only had his licence for a few weeks. Not because he was that young, an underage wunderkind or something, but because he had never bothered to go through everything—the lessons, the practice time, road tests—you need to get it. It was an easy stretch of road, and a good chance for him to log some hours before we hit the heavy mountains, where the real fun would be found.

I pulled off the highway onto a gravel road that led to a nondescript park area. Deserted for the most part, I caught sight of some movement in the distance, a couple young kids running around, playing. Also, parked in the parking lot, off by itself, was an RV. The business with the tire still had me occupied and I got it into my head that maybe these campers, with all their camping supplies and whatnot, could help us out. I approached the RV hesitantly. No one. I rounded the corner and suddenly came face to face with a tall man who looked to be in his mid-forties. He was German. He had a crew cut and wore short cargo shorts that exposed long hairy legs and an aqua blue shirt with an orca whale swimming across it. His startled expression quickly gave way to a cordial manner.

“Ello dare! Is ah very good veet yo.” He smiled, his teeth all black and crooked. His wife came over. She was also very tall, almost as tall as him. I explained our predicament as precisely as I could. He looked on with grave concern. I think I had oversold the perilous nature of what we were facing, still under the influence of my earlier visions. When I finished he let out a breath and scratched his head, mouth hanging open, brow scrunched up in concentration, thinking it over. He looked over at the RV thoughtfully and then back at me. “No, vade not. No cun elp yo vit tat. Vish ve could. Sorry bout that, yah.” I thanked him all the same and talked with him a few minutes more. The communication was broken, hard to make out, but I gathered that he and his family were visiting from Berlin, taking a month to travel up and down the province and enjoy all the sights and wonders of the coast. Maybe they were on the same elusive search as we were? He seemed to have liked what he had seen so far. I wished them well and started back.

We drove on, Nick still behind the wheel. The mechanic’s words still stuck in my head and I wondered more and more about what we were going to do. Could we just ignore it, make it all the way without bothering about it further? I was getting antsy, sitting there. I was filled with a nervous energy. I tried to forget about it by scribbling down some notes in a notepad, but even my writing took on a paranoiac edge that the tire matter had seemed to instil in me. Like for example, one fragment I recovered.

How we construct language and meaning. The iconoclast artist Robert Crumb coined the famous sixties counterculture slogan “Keep on truckin’.” In interviews he admitted that there was no significance behind the phrase, held no explicit meaning, and this admission reveals both the triteness of the hundred of stock phrases we utter on a daily basis and our natural communicative tendency towards cliché and platitude, language that is employed less an means of communication than of getting through the day, reinforcing, in the process, the dominate beliefs of culture and the deadness of our language. In addition, we see how certain words and word combinations, empty on their own, become imbued with meaning by the connections and connotations that culture attaches to them, forever tied together.

I continued to scrawl out longhand nonsense like this as we drove along, but then finally threw the notepad down. This was the kind of over-intellectualizing I was trying to get away from. I needed to turn off and try and tune into the frequencies of the road. Dylan continued to stir up a great jangling noise on the stereo, now well into “Highway 61” as we hit Chilliwack.

We stopped in at a gas station. Nick had a smoke by the car while I went inside. At the door I was met by a large group of kids probably in early high school and who were probably on there way either to or from a party or game or something else, some other weekend event. The little service building was packed full with them, and a big confusion and excitement ensued as they grabbed up drinks and tore down chip bags and candy bars off the shelves, all the while talking and joking loudly. Up at the counter, I tried talking with the attendant, explaining our situation and what we needed, but the attempt at communication proved even worse than with our German fellow. Nothing came of it. I was back at the car deciding our next move. Nick put out his butt and suggested we get a bite to eat. Good call. There was a plaza nearby and we walked over to the only place in the area there was to eat, a Pizza Pit. But it turned out to be closed along with everything else. Everyone was closing up for the weekend. We were locked out of everywhere, with nothing but our wits and a five dollar map to show us the way. The only thing we could do was follow the road. Follow the road. I snacked out of the cooler and then picked up the driving.
The mountain pass had given way to a large, open expanse of prairies. Above us, the sun had dipped and was almost touching the surrounding bluffs and lowlands, creating a sprawling orange and red splatter spread across a pale sky that brightened our past and threw shadows on our future. And somewhere in the middle we floated along in that strange undefined space that rolls on endlessly like the Fraser River surging along somewhere in the distance, across from us. By the time we reached Hope the last of the sun was disappearing completely out of sight, leaving us to light our own way.

Hope is a logging town where Highways 1, 3 and 5 all intersect. We had the option of taking the 3 south, straddling the border through the majestic Okanagan valley and on to Nelson and Cranbrook—the point where the Kootenay River runs southbound from the Rocky Mountains into the States. But the twisting mountain terrain makes it slow traveling, so instead we were headed north up the 5 to Kamloops. From there we would hook up with the Trans-Canada and it would carry us east all the way to Calgary and beyond.

I pulled in at a crossroads service station where the highway roads all converged passing through town, a kind of toll booth at that mythical crossroads of Robert Johnson and his ilk, where the price was nothing less than your own damned soul. But I had stopped believing in silly metaphysical conceptions of one sort or another and from here on out was only was concerning myself with that which I could see in front of me, with my own two eyes. Touch, feel, taste, and see. That was my only Truth. The rest was some cosmic punchline to a joke I never got to begin with.

And what lay in front of me now was the dividing line of our journey. Beyond this point there was no turning back. We were going all the way.

I gassed up and Nick went inside to buy some sustenance. When he came out along with the snacks, he also had with him a tire iron he snagged from the auto shop next door. “Eureka!” I said, or didn’t. Regardless, he went to work, loosing and tightening the steel nuts, muscles straining, face grimacing, and just like that we had it checked off. I breathed a sigh of relief and we started off, once again on even footing.

My mind was completely at ease, all focus and mental energy directed at that trusted yellow centerline unravelling forever out ahead of us. But now, next to me, it was Nick who wasn’t feeling good about things. Out the windshield, the rolling fields had been replaced by desolate woods and the highway had narrowed to a tight single lane. “I don’t know about this,” he said.” “Something doesn’t feel right.”

“Nonsense,” I said. “We got nothing more to worry about now. We’re making terrific time. This rate we’ll make Kamloops just past sundown.”

“I think we took the wrong road out of town.”

“Well then, check the map.”

The lonely Spanish notes of “Desolation Row” ringing out of the stereo, we zipped along up the winding path. “Everybody is making love or else expecting rain,” mused Zimms in his croaked croon. Nick was fidgeting around in his seat like he was trying to fight off a mean-ass bee that had snuck in, buzzing about. “I can’t find the map?”

“No map? What do you mean? I was looking at it not long ago. Gotta be there somewhere.”

“Well it’s not here.”

We had been meandering along, tense and fretting, a good twenty minutes when we passed a lonely sign indicating that we were in fact on the 1. Uncertainty mounting—or more like confirmed—I stopped at the first convenience store I spotted and both of us gave the car a search for the map. Bought the night before departing, it had been marked up with all manner of notes and specific routes to follow. It was a good map. But Nick was right, it wasn’t there. Gone. Lost. Discarded. Shit. I was sad to see it go. What could have happened to it?

“It probably fell out when we stopped at Hope,” said Nick. “Let’s turn around, drive back and figure things out from there.” I agreed, reluctantly, and back we went.

But it wasn’t there either. Nick continued to scour the area after I gave up and flopped down on the curb with a tuna sandwich. “Not going to find it,” I said between bites, “thing’s gone for good.”

“I still say we were headed the wrong way,” Nick said. “Tell you what, I’ll go inside, get us another one.”

And he did. Turned out we had been headed due north on the 1 after all and even though the 3 would eventually merge onto it, it would have us on an eastern bent that would save us a good chunk of time.

We had wasted enough, no point wasting anymore. With the day’s light failing us, it was dusk by the time we got onto the Coquihalla. We paid the little toll fee and roared on through, Nick chain-smoking into the open mountain air, while on the stereo the ABB’s Mountain Jam induced a blues-soaked trance that echoed across the meditative gloom of the surrounding foothills. Up, up, up we climbed, cutting through the darkness, the downhill descent, then up again, and on and on, steering through every turn and curve in time with the road’s hypnotic rhythms. And then, just as we started to peek over the last steep hill, the dark sky was suddenly lit up by a thousand shining jewels in the night, a shimmering golden sea, and the city of Kamloops rose to greet us.

Dropping our speed as we came into town, the neon city lights washed over us like an explosion of innumerable falling stars. It was a welcoming sight. I was completely beat, ready to get off the road and find a room to lay my head for a few dream-filled hours before the morning’s song came around and we did it all again.

Kamloops is the kind of city you imagine the Egyptians designing if they had survived into the Industrial Age. The city seemed to be constructed in layers, with the commercial district, coming in off the highway, on the first, bottommost level, the restaurants and hotels and gas stations and parks up another level from that, and, finally above that, on a kind of crest, residential homes and school districts overlooked it all. It was a strange city, very easy to get lost in even more than most, and I can’t think of another one quite like it, with the closest exception being where I live now—which, after a few years, doesn’t feel as strange as it once did.

Once we hit the city, first thing was to gas up. Nick and I had earlier agreed to split all costs on the road, to minimize confusion and avoid needless squabbling over dollars and cents. Or something. I had gotten the last gas bill so he was to get this one. But then there was a problem at the pumps. Nick wasn’t able to get his card to work. He tried it a couple times and then, having no luck with it, went up to the building to pay there. The guy working was set up behind a reinforced glass barricade. He was giving Nick a hard time, not accepting payment directly and wouldn’t come out from the safety of his register to help. Nick couldn’t get anywhere with him. The only advice he had was to try again. I was told all this by Nick when he came stomping back over, having had it with the absurdity of the situation.

“Guy must think we’re trying to pull one over on him so we can rob him or something.”

“Jesus,” I said. “So this is what things have come to.”

Sure enough when he tried his card again it no more worked than the other times, and suddenly a warbling voice came on over a loudspeaker asking us if we were still having problems.

“How’s he expect us to respond?” said Nick. “There’s no intercom to talk into.”

Nick spit out a spiteful laugh, turned back to the building, and threw up his arms in a big animated gesture.

We stood there dumbly in the warm summer night stillness of the big empty lot, a million flies buzzing overhead under the floodlight glow, and were about to drive off and try somewhere else when I said, Fuckit, I’ll pay the thing with my own card. See if I can get the thing to work. I was tired, done with driving anymore that night. I was ready to surrender the whole damn cause.

My card worked fine. Nick said he would pay for the room to square it, and we gassed up and started for the nearest, cheapest motel.

The hotels and motels in Kamloops are all squashed together in the same little district located on a kind of ledge that, with everything else, was up on its own level, and could only be reached by taking a series of sharp little ramp-ups. It was obvious right away that the most expense ones were the bigger places found the higher up you went, so we stayed to the lower part and pulled in at the first place without a brightly lit NO VANCY sign.

Once inside, however, standing in the spacious, air-conditioned marble lobby, the guy at the desk informed us there was a wedding reception going on and that they were all booked up. He was just a young guy, not much older then us, fresh-faced, dark hair greased and perfectly parted. He sympathized with our situation and tried to help. He called a couple of the other places in the area to see if anything was available. He hung up the phone after trying the last place and looked up at us with a face full of generous professional concern.

“Sorry, guys. Said they’re all booked up as well. There are a few other places you could try, if you don’t mind paying more, or else drive up the road to Pritchard or Chase and see if you can get in somewhere there. To be honest, with it being the long weekend, you’re probably not going to have much luck getting in anywhere. My suggestion: your best bet would be to find a quiet spot in an empty parking lot somewhere and camp out there for the night.”

It was an obvious detail we failed to consider. In all the excitement and haste to get going, Nick’s arranging to get off work when he had, we had managed to let slip the most practical of considerations. Where were we going to sleep at night? Might not have seemed like a necessity then but now it was. We thanked him for his help and asked where there was a washroom.

Down a flight of stairs the air became humid and there was a large marble fountain that towered over two stories high, with thickly frayed green vines drooping all over and about it. I thought to toss in a coin but had nothing on me, just pocket lint and a cracked compass. The area was dimly lit and across the hall, behind a metal door, you could hear the muffled sounds of the reception going on.

In the bathroom I splashed cold water over my face and wetly patted the back of my head and neck, then looked up at myself in the mirror. Well, what next? Nick was off behind me, around by the shower stalls, jumping around energetically and joking about this and that, blissfully unconcerned with any of it. He wanted to have some fun. Suggested we crash the party next door, see if we couldn’t score some free drinks—friends of the groom after all, drove in from out of town, got in late, but, you know how it goes, better than not at all, we’ll take those off your hands, thanks, Shakey—and then flirt with some bridesmaids. Or if not that—go find an open liquor store—how late is it?—or bar or somewhere, get a bottle, go explore the town. This is freedom, man! The night is ours!

But I wasn’t having it. Fun was not my objective at present.

“Goddamnit man! This is important!”

I was adamant. I desperately needed sleep. Sanctuary. That was all I had in mind. He came stalking up behind me, his dark, smirking reflection growing larger in the mirror, and, before I could react or turn or anything—whack!—on the back of my stubbly plate. Momentarily dazed from the blow, I quickly shook it off, and, still leaning over the sink, filled my cupped hands with water from the running tap and let it fly it in his direction. Splat! It got him good, but Nick laughed and shrugged it off and said, So what are we going to do next then? I rubbed the back of my head, which was still smarting, and sighed.

“Fine,” said Nick. “How ‘bout, how about what we do, we try a couple more places, and if we can’t get in anywhere I’ll take over driving. That way we can pick up a few more hours while you get some of your precious rest.”

“Fuck you.”

That seemed to settle it. We went back to the car and drove over to the biggest, fanciest of all the hotels. They were all filled up and it was just as well. Driving down the block over to the last place—perhaps a Best Western but then again all the signs, as closely positioned to each other as they were, and as drowsy as I was feeling, seemed to mash together, making it hard to tell—I first noticed the car was handling funny. I couldn’t quite pinpoint it exactly, but I was having to work harder to keep the car on a straight path. There was a kind of barely perceptible, strange sort of trembling coming from the wheel as I gripped it, and when I took my hands off it for a second the car abruptly veered off too the right.

“That’s weird,” said Nick.

“Yeah,” I said.

I parked and went inside. I popped my head, discovering a crowd in the lobby engaged in what appeared a cordial, but verging on the uncivil, squabble over the last room available. I took in the scene and quickly ducked back out. No room at the inn. Back at the car, Nick was standing around having another smoke. “No go,” I said. “Guess that means we go.” And tossing him the keys, I added, “Godspeed, young grasshopper.”

But without so much as a word or a look, Nick handed back the keys and got in passenger side. I stood there, my mouth hanging open, looking down at the keys in my open palm. Confused, I did the only thing I could do which was get in driver side, shut the door and turn to my driving cohort, and with exceeding composure and a total sense of objective reasoning, say, “Dude—what the fuck?”

We argued it out a few minutes there in the car in the parking lot until we both realized there was nothing to be won and whatever had been lost was lost a long time ago. Nick got out of the car and walked over to a patch of grass to lie down and smoke. I starred at the keys in my hand like they were the keys to a golden palace I had never tried to enter before and probably never ever would, then tossed them up on the dash. I tilted my seat back as far as it would go until it came up against the boxes in back, crossed my arms over my chest, and closed my eyes and waited for sleep.

I waited and I waited.

Heart still beating rapidly, I tried my best to calm myself, ignore all other sounds around me, clear my head, allow everything else to disappear completely, vanish from my consciousness. After a few minutes of silent struggle I fell into a kind of half-sleep. I still had a sense of myself but not of where I was. Then suddenly it all slipped away and I found myself in some kind of enclosed space. I tried to move around in it, adjust myself, but whatever it was it was only big enough to fit my body, barely even that. All was dark, I couldn’t see anything.

Then all at once it hit me. It was a coffin. But I was still very much alive. I raised my arms as far off my chest as was allowed and started banging against the invisible, concealed obstruction. Becoming increasingly frantic and unable to so much as turn to one side, I groped in the dark to find an outing. But I was locked in place, my own weight working against me, my air running out rapidly. Then, at the height of my frenzy, my eyes suddenly shot open and I found myself back in the parking lot, gazing out on the bright midnight streets. The stream of city lights streaked together so everything was a blurry whiteness, until my eyes refocused, and I could once again make out individual objects. I rubbed my eyes and blinked over and over and looked out at the city spread out for miles in front of me. It all seemed so distant and removed and not quite real. Nick was back in the car and I told him the dream.

“Do you think it means anything?” I said.

“Everything means something,” he said, staring straight ahead out the windshield. “That doesn’t make it meaningful.”

“I need sleep.”

We had been parked there not even an hour. It was going to be a long night. It was a muggy, windless night, and we decided we’d drive around until we found a park to spend the night in. A couple wandering bums camped out in the western night. The nap had been a short and anxiety-filled but it was also in its way a little refreshing and anyway my mood was up. I had all but forgotten about the early argument and was happy to be driving again, in control. And the car seemed to be handling fine as I manoeuvred her through the heaving, narrow streets, past other roaming cars filled with people searching madly in the night for a place to rest weary heads.

Nothing was familiar but I thought I could find the way. Where is the way? Which way? Who knows? Where we were in relation to the highway was the only thing I had to go on. I started in toward the center of the city thinking that our best bet. I tried to direct us to where there was least light—the reverse instinct of a moth. I felt alert to everything, every sign, face, car, street. My mind was a psychic conductor filling up on the energy of the night until it expired with satisfaction or exploded in shafts of moonbeam light. I didn’t know which would come first but had an eagerness to find out.

But there was no park. The closest we came was an open field that had sprinklers going, launching great blasts of water over the wet lawns. As much as I tried to keep to the heart of the city the roads had a way of spiralling out, pushing us farther and farther to the underskirts, gradually being nudged out like guests who had overstayed their welcome. We drove on. The streets became more deserted, the area more sparse. I made another uncertain turn, and all at once we were thrust back onto the highway. I pushed my speed up appropriately and watched the lights of that strange city dissolve in my rear view mirror like the after mist of a neon rain. And like that we had set out on our night journey along the Trans-Canada, destination unlimited.

“How far we going to go?” said Nick.

“Far as it takes.”
We drove as far as a town called Sorren and I pulled over at an abandoned gas station just outside of town. I went around back and took a piss among garbage bins and came back to the car and looked out at the highway, the few passing vehicles, the signs listing the upcoming towns and the three digit numbers next to them. I got back in the car and turned to Nick.

“I don’t know if I can do this.”

“So we go as far as we go.”

“You’re awfully reassuring.”

I didn’t need reassurance. At that moment I possessed an all-or-nothing mentality, though not quite sure which way I was leaning. Apropos of nothing, Nick started recounting a “Kids in the Hall” skit, he described it all, imitating the high, nasally voice, reaching the end of it by repeating the word “Sausages” over and over, at which point I was in stitches. That was all it took.

“OK,” I said, starting up the car, “Let’s do this. Rack up the miles.”

We drove all night, through the darkness, spectral fog spreading and changing and morphing abstractly across the highways, the hard yellow line the only constant sight, illuminated by the interrogation flush of the headlights; through tunnels temporarily ricocheting light off the car and then back into the black and forever the line running out ahead, following it out into the open mountains into the predawn hours, gray, fuzzy, the sky blurry with jagged distant shapes forming into peaks. On and on like an insomniac vision, there but not, drifting out of body, out of mind as the car seemed to carry itself of its own volition, then coming back into it, taking over while speeding up into the hard, whipping turns, holding straight on the approach and then—whoosh!—cranking the wheel the second the approaching guardrail appeared, the tenuous white line, the only thing between you and the big drop into naught—

When daybreak hit we where cutting around the curb of a mountain, the peaks across from us suddenly up close and drawing a halo of frayed clouds.

Sometime after seven we reached Golden, driving along the mountain road with the green valley bowl spreading out for miles to our right. I pulled into a service station, completely exhausted and on the verge of collapse. My last act would be to fill up the tank and give over driving duties to Nick.

A felt around in the glovebox, over the mess of stuff that was crammed in it, CD cases, granola bar wrappers, folded papers, notebooks, pocket paperbacks, a Hustler Nick had picked up somewhere, and came out with a cheap jewel case. I opened, found a live Phish CD contained therein, and slid it into the CD player. I laid my head back against the seat and closed my eyes. It didn’t take long, for as the crowd noise swelled up and the band jumped on the first notes of the song, I sunk into sleep.

The next thing I heard were the last notes of their final encore. My eyes came into focus on the twisty mountain roads, and Nick was saying to me, “Hey. Hey. Hey.”


“Can you grab the map out of the glovebox?” He was leaning over to my side, stretching an arm out towards the glovebox.

“That’s what you woke me up for?”

“I want to make sure where we are. In case we’re lost.”

“Makes two of us. But the map’s not going to help that.”


“Listen. So long as you haven’t taken any ill-advised detours”—I looked around at the mountain terrain which hadn’t changed drastically since I had fallen asleep—“this road we’re on will take us straight into Banff.”

A passing road sign confirmed this, and also alerted me to the fact that sometime while I was asleep we had crossed the border into Alberta.

“We’re making good time. This rate we’ll make Banff next half-hour.”

“I saw how you were flying down those roads back there,” said Nick. “Figured I needed to keep up.”

“Yes, yes.”

I stretched my neck out, shoulder to shoulder, hung my head back, and closed my eyes, concentrating. Then I noticed it. The rattling around the glovebox had gotten worse. No longer was it a slight trembling, now it was considerably louder, having spread over the entire dashboard. I put my hands on the dash and watched them shake wildly from the vibrations.

“How long’s it been doing that?”

“I don’t know,” said Nick. “Most of the way I guess. Gets worse faster I go.” And to prove this he pushed his speed up and the rattling got louder, more insistent. He eased off the gas.

“Something’s wrong,” I said.

Nick was unfazed. He had other things on his mind. We drove along and passed a sign, much more decorated compared to the others, for the Radium Hot Springs. Seeing it Nick suggested we take the turn off and go for an early morning soak. “It’d do you some good. Relax those weary bones. Afterwards return to the road refreshed. Come on. What’dya say.”

A tempting offer, but I didn’t feel good about such indulges and besides that we had come this far in so short a time, now past the halfway point; best thing to do was push on.

“All right. Suit yourself.”

Not long after that we crossed a short bridge and suddenly there we were driving through downtown Banff amid the teeming morning traffic. The streets were lined with a tight concentration of old-style shops that stretched for blocks in either direction, and across the street, to our right, there was a little park, with a school house next to it, and next to that a little chapel with a cement walk-up. It was like no place we had passed through thus far. It seemed undisturbed, out of the way, belonging to its own place and time. The sun shone unassumingly and the blue sky seemed to enwrap everything like cosmic cellophane, preserving the scene so it could play on perfectly on an infinite loop. The traffic was packed bumper to bumper, everyone excited to start on the weekend action, and at the next intersection we turned off and down a sidestreet to get away from the bustling hub of the town.

Nick parked at the first spot he found, immediately killed the engine, took out the keys, unbuckled himself and got out—all in a fast deliberate motion. I followed him out of the car. There was nothing else to do. Standing on the sidewalk I was met by crowds of placid-faced tourists, couples paired off in matching t-shirt and shorts outfits. I had the sensation of standing still and moving all at once. The uneasy vibrations of the car were still rattling around in my head, over my whole body. Here we were.

Banff is a town that likes to advertise itself as the tourist Mecca of the country, at least in the west, when in truth it has as much culture as Disneyland.

The people are a weird mix of local drug freaks, out of work musicians, trust fund punk rockers, and rich retirees. To go along with that are the constant influx of wide-eyed tourists whose interest in local handcraft keeps many of the junk shops in business. It’s maybe what you get if you take every Canadian cliché and stereotype that’s proliferated and concentrated them into one space.

I had been there all of three minutes and was already ready to leave.

Nick came around and handed me the keys, and I said lets go.

As soon as I was behind the wheel and started pulling away from the curb I knew something was seriously wrong. It was clear it wouldn’t last another ten minutes on the highway let alone the ten plus hours we still had to drive, not at the speeds we were going. I pulled over at the next available spot, put it in park and slammed my fist against the wheel and shouted, “Fuck, fuck, fuck.” Then I turned to Nick, composed, and said, “We’re fucked.”

“Are we?”

I leaned forward, sunk my teeth into the hot plastic of the steering wheel and clenched my jaw.

Neither of us had any idea what it could be. My first thought was the transmission, that it was shot, in which case we had definitely reached the end of the road. We decided to walk over to a gas station to see if we could get it serviced, or at least looked at, diagnosed, though being that it was the weekend, we knew chances were slim. Fuck it. What choice did we have? So much of life involves finding the precarious balance between long-shots and dumb luck. Plan and organize till the sun expires, at some point you just have to cast all that aside and throw yourself in blind and screaming. Nothing else compares.

At the place around the corner I talked to the guy behind the counter. He was a dark sullen fellow. I explained the situation as best I could, asked if there was anyone in town he knew who could help us. He stared at me without expression, then said simply, with grave finality, “No, sorry. Not in Banff.” Stepping back outside, I thought, What a slogan. That should be on the welcome sign, “Not in Banff.” Looking to get away from the high-pressure work-a-day world and unwind and have some fun? “Not in Banff.”


There was one other place for us to try, across the street. The guy working was more helpful, even if our prospects were just as low. A older gravelly voiced biker-type—fading muck green tattoos dissolving on hairy forearms, long thinning grey hair pulled back in a ponytail, the seen-it-all-and-the-hell-with-it curl of the lip, that type—he said there was one mechanic in town but he unavailable for the weekend and, what with it being the long weekend and all, might not be reachable until Tuesday, or even Wednesday.

My immediate future flashed in front of me. Four or five days holed up in some overpriced room sulking about, watching bad cable television, eating over-priced food, throwing back large quantities of the cheapest local brew, just to keep sane. That is, if we could even find a room. More likely we would end up on the streets like back in Kamloops, stumbling and cursing through parks and woods while avoiding elk and deer paddies like they were landmines. But, he said, there was one other option. You could try Canmore. About twenty minutes due east. He wasn’t certain, but there was at least a chance of finding someone there to look at it. That was all we needed. A chance. There it was. I thanked him and stepped back out into the terrible sunlight.

It was still only morning but the temperature was rising fast, many out enjoying it, the streets packed. From down the block a skateboarder came zipping by. Then from the other direction a woman passed walking a fluffy little black dog. It yipped at me, jumping up on its hind legs, excited, and she gave a couple firm tugs on the leash for it to settle. Dumb thing. All I wanted was to get out of there. I needed to think of something fast. The fatigue from the lack of the sleep had my thoughts sufficiently scrambled. I thought and thought. Nothing was coming out straight nor clear, all a muddle, a blank. Next to the building was a payphone. For a minute I thought of calling a friend in Medicine Hat who I had told of the trip during one of many gchats. She had said if I happen to find myself passing through town we should meet up for a drink. Which we would be. But it was still a good five hours away, and I didn’t want to ask her to make the drive all the way to pick us and our stuff up and drive all the way back the same day. I wasn’t that desperate. Yet.

Then I lifted the receiver dumped in some change I got from Nick and dialled a number. It was my mom’s. It rang twice and I hung up. What was the point? She was hundreds and hundreds of miles away. There was nothing she could do, other than to reassure me. “Don’t worry. It’s going to be OK,” those words that every distant son secretly longs to hear, but I knew I would only end up worrying her.

We started off down the street, in no particular direction, moving with the crowd. It was cool under the shade of the long line-up of buildings. Nick was hungry. We ducked into a sub shop to eat and mull things over. We ordered and sat down at tables at the back where the rays of the sun pouring through the big glass entrance couldn’t reach us. I unwrapped my food, looked down at the sauce-drenched sub. I had no appetite. Nick was wolfing his down.

“You ever been here before? The town I mean?”

“Yeah. Bunch a times. Years ago.”

“What’s your impression now? What do you think of it?”



Growing up, the weeklong trips in the spring became a constant. There were the concerts bands my dad threw me into when I was young and shy and nervous and out of place with things and others, then later the school bands and friends and all the strange, interesting girls. I’d never spent any time with any of them outside of school. During the trips they would act a lot different than when they were in class. More open, talkative, flirtatious. It was exhilarating.

Eight hour bus rides up there, with headphone music and movies playing on the little overhead screens, while out the window the flat lifeless prairie landscape with its vast empty skies would suddenly transform, come to life in the form of great snowy peaks, fuzzy, at first, then becoming more defined and immense as we roared along.

Once arrived, we would be set up in either one of the low-cost hostels with shared bathrooms or, later on, on the school’s bill, one of the big fancy hotels, its wood-construction giving it that pseudo-old-timey backwoods, log cabin vibe. There’d be big buffet breakfasts every morning before being sent off to music clinics all morning at the downtown music academy. Afternoon came, and we’d be given a few hours to go off and roam around, explore. At first I found the place fascinating, the newness, how different it was from home—all the little shops with the sounds of folksy music wafting out of their open doors, the bistros with the sweet scents and smells. But after a few years of this it started to loose its charm. I started to notice some of favourite places, like the magic and occult store run by a dark-haired gypsy woman, had been closed down or just disappeared altogether.

When I was older me and a couple friends would try our luck at procuring a bottle (provincial drinking age being 18, even if we weren’t), then sneak off into the woods to take hits off it and get high on the stuff we brought. At night, feeling good and fresh with a giddy sort of recklessness—nobody knowing what we had been up to—we’d meet up back at the hotel, with everyone now dressed in their formal attire, to either go off to give a performance to a hall full of appreciative onlookers or take in one.

But that was years ago. The choir girls had since grown up, some with degrees, entering into careers, some engaged, others already married, and others still with kids of their own. Like Marissa.


What were we doing here? Why did I suddenly abandon everything, well, what there was, to take off like I did? It all happened so fast, the plans falling into place, decisions made on the fly, until now I hadn’t stopped to so much as give it a second thought—something I rarely did. And now, right now, brought before some unseen jury, I was being told to answer for it. It was like the world was calling out for an explanation for my acts, my very existence. The lure of the open road and the freedom and possibility it contains, there at the outset of the trip, had spurned us on this far, but now it was breaking up, falling apart in front of me, coming to pieces, just like that fucking car that had pushed us through the mountains and decided on this moment to crap out on us, leaving us scrambling. The fucker. The bitch.

But fuck it. We were headed back out on the road. I would push her for all she was worth, until her damned dying breath. We made it this far. We had to test our luck. We had to keep going. It was all we could do. Nick agreed, follow the road. Follow the road.

Our only hope was to make it to Canmore. We eased away from the curb and started off at a lurching pace. The wheel shook uneasily in my grip, and the whole car had the unsteady, explosively erratic feel of a wild bull. Easy, big fella. I tried to find a less heavily-trafficked route to get us out of town but this plan came to naught, as first we hit a dead end next to a visitor center crowded with gaping tourists, and then a short time later, got caught in a looping road circled into a cul-de-sac that delivered us right up close to a great old Victorian building, a brightened up Gothic mansion still no less strangely forbidding in its size and grandeur—the Banff Springs Hotel.

“Go for a soak?” said Nick.

“No time,” I said, and swung us around, staggering back towards the downtown.

On the highway out of town I locked in at around 60 and kept to the shoulder as close as possible to keep those behind me off my ass, allow them to pass more easily, and keep to a minimum their annoyed, persistent honking. All those cars, trucks, van, motor homes, SUVs whizzing by—it was a strange position to be in now, but I did didn’t dare chance it by speeding up any.

The car clattered and banged and heaved worse than ever. The earlier crash visions of fire and destruction were coming back to me. Less dire but no less unsettling, I was convinced that it was only a matter of time that, in addition to tires, doors and panels and everything else would come flying off leaving us only an axle, wheels, seats, and engine, the skeletal remains, as we continued down the road like a bad Easy Rider recreation. My anxious nerves urged me to push it to Canmore fast as I could, get off this damned road, and in one piece, while the horrible reaction I was getting to every slight fluctuation in speed, every minor alteration in positioning, said no, not a chance.

Not a chance. Yet it wasn’t all bad. Our creeping speed gave me the chance to finally take in the view around me. It was incredible, overwhelming. The snow-capped mountains sailed up and pierced the sky, with the melt pouring down through rocky clefts. And then as the forest receded, to our left, a crystal blue lake appeared, twinkling invitingly, surrounded by lines of firs, and directly back of it a mountain that stood tall and momentous against the empty sky.

Observing the glorious sight out my window, over my shoulder, my concern seemed to fade to nil. I was possessed of a strange urge. I wanted to abandon the car right then and there, in the middle of the road, strip down bare-ass naked in front of all the backed up traffic, under the exposed morning sun, make a break for it and dive straight to the bottom of that glistening lake, and only coming up when I had suffocated ever bad, scratching thought out of me, until there was nothing left—blank and pure as the day’s sky. But it was a fleeting feeling, and mercifully the turnoff to Canmore soon appeared. We drove along a serve road and pulled in at the first serve station.

The place was packed with vehicles filling up at a dozen or so pumps; others idling behind or off to the side, waiting there turn. People milled around, back-and-forth from their vehicles and the adjoining store. I circled around the periphery, parked off to one side, near a natural gas tank, and when I got out that’s when I saw it. The front driver side tire. The thing looked like it had had a bite taken out of it, so sunken in was it, a section about a foot long, horribly drawn in like a botched lipo-job. A whole series of questions flashed in my mind at that moment. How long had it been like this? How had we missed it for so long? And moreover, how did it come to this, get so bad?? I had no answers. The only conclusion I could make was that all the pressure and strain put on it by all that rattling and throbbing—which by the time we were out of Banff had spread from a point around the dash to almost the entire car—had, over time and hundreds of miles, caused it to warp into the shape it was in now. I gnashed my teeth and cursed my neglect. Now not only was our engine fucked but because of our lack of attention so too was one of our tires. That was it. The trip was through. Done with. A failure. A premature end to what had all along been nothing more than a flaccid fantasy of life on the road. Bollocks.

What were we left with? It was time to cut our losses. I knew there was no taking it back out on the road in the state it was in, not even the short jaunt back to Banff—no, definitely not Banff. We had left that daydream town behind for good. I popped the hood and Nick went inside. When he came out he was with a young shaggy-haired guy, one of the attendants. His name was Fraser. He had soft dough features and the mop of unruly hair fell over his face and almost concealed his glazed, red eyes. And instead of gas jockey overalls he had on striped shorts a vintage Who t-shirt. He was fresh off his break, blazing up. But he knew a hell of a lot more about cars than either Nick or I. He craned his head under the hood and poked around. Fiddled with the sparkplugs. Unplugged and re-plugged wires. At least I thought knew what he was doing. No—he knew. We showed him the tire. I started it up and the engine coughed sickly.

No point inventing, after that I don’t remember much. After that things were a bit of a blur. There was mention of a guy who owned a tire place. Fraser thought if he explained things he might open it for us. A chance. If he was around. Fraser went back inside.

Realizing we would still need to do something about the tire to get it over there, Nick and I went to work getting on the spare. We had it jacked up but then discovered there was no tool for loosing the tire. Nick checked to see if they had one inside. They didn’t. Across from us, down a slightly sloping path and another fifty yards on, was another service station, and Nick ran over to see if they had anything. Meanwhile I checked back in with Fraser to see about the getting a replacement. He said the place was called Ben’s Tires and he had just spoken with Ben and, low and behold, Ben was on his way over for his morning pick-me-up. Well, late morning, here it was getting on to noon.

Back out in the blazing sun I saw Nick come loping excitedly back up the dirt path, holding over his head what looked like a black sceptre. But then when he went to fit it on the nut it turned out to be the wrong size. We stood around thinking of what to do next. All those vehicles passing in and out of the lot, one of them should have what we were looking for. But I couldn’t bring myself to go up to any of them and ask. I was so drained by this point I could barely form a sentence and had been relying exclusively on Nick to handle most of the communication.

I could see the scene play out. People out enjoying the start of their holiday weekend, only to be suddenly confronted with sunken-eyed skin-head, sweating profusely, jabbering on about needing this to get to there and maybe you could help a person out being so far from home but not to trouble you any and enjoy your weekend sir I mean Madame I mean...

No, there would be none of that. I was whipped, beaten, used-up, sent adrift, and ready for surrender. I felt a hundred years older and not a day wiser. I decided to save the hassle, take it in the wallet and call for a tow. They said they would be there within the hour, and I went and had a sit on the curb, under the broil of the afternoon’s desert-like heat, while Nick and Fraser bullshitted about, well, whatever it was, I had no more language and could only listen on.

“Thanks for helping us out.”

“Hey, no worries, man. You guys caught me while I was getting my toke on. If you’re interested, I still got a bit left.”

“Thanks, but I’m all good.”

“That’s cool, man. Hey, I got some other shit if that’s your thing. You guys dig the fungi? Me and a couple buddies were up at the quarry last night trippin’ on this new shit we just got. Fucking primo.”

“Where’s the quarry?”

“Oh, it’s this place we always go. Around those mountains back behind us, a couple miles in. Lots of woods. Isolated. Quiet. No cops. Great spot. Hey, if you guys are going to be sticking around I could take you over there, eat some shit. Be a wild time.”

“I could get behind that.”

Nick looked over at me, expecting some sort of response. But I wasn’t with him. Suddenly something clicked, started to all gel in my mind. In the swirl of action it hadn’t been made clear to me. It just hadn’t sunk in, as if put aside until such time when the boost was most needed. Who’s to say? But now was that time. Sitting there in a kind of heat-maddened stupor, I finally pieced it together. I stood up and addressed Fraser.

“So the deal with the tire, it getting all warped and like that, it is what caused the engine problems? Not the other way around?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Pretty much. When the tire started to warp the engine had to overcompensate for the imbalance it caused. It was being overworked.”

“And so there shouldn’t be anything wrong with the engine, or the transmission, or the sparkplugs, or anything else mechanically related?”

“Not that I can tell. Just get the bum tire replaced, it should drive fine.”

And like that as quickly as it descended, cast a pall, the shadow of uncertainty withdrew. We were back on track. Sanity restored. I felt a great lightness, like a kite taken by the breeze, I wanted to go around and hug every person in the lot and tell them all the great news, I wanted take everyone and everything into my embrace. But instead I only stood there grinning with a mad wonder, my hands bobbing freely at my sides. And just then, through the swirl of excitement, like a prophet of flame descending on a dark land, a shabby looking figure came upon us.

It was Ben.

Ben from Ben’s Tire.

In my delirious, sleep-deprived state, just now given its manic boost, he seemed to take on a certain, almost tangible biblical aspect, hard to put into words but there all the same. Lean and ragged, he had the permanently greasy soiled look of the mechanic carrying the shop with him at all times. He ambled over, bedraggled and unshaven, dressed in sweats and slippers, coffee in hand and an unlit smoke dangling from his lips, with that day-after stoner’s glow. He surveyed the car, lazily massaging some stumble, and in a low laconic drawl made his pronouncement.

“Yeah, I can help you out.”

That was it. The magic words spoken, it was all coming together. He went off to his shop to dig around, while we waited for the tow truck.

Once it arrived, we thanked Fraser profusely for all his help, told him if his offer still stood we might take him up on it on our way back through. For now our course was set.

Seated in the air-conditioned cab, we were taken through the outlying area of Canmore, then into a plush neighbourhood with lines of new looking two-storey, two-car garaged milky white homes, and by the signs of all the constructions, the cement foundations laid down, many more on the way.

“Yeah, we’re doing all right here,” said the man behind the wheel. “There’s been a big influx of people last little while. There’d probably be a lot more too if they didn’t put in the growth cap.”

I looked around at everything, so perfect, peaceful, calm.

“Very controlled.”

“Yeah, it is, but it gives you a good sense of the people. People who move here are serious about it. About community. About good surroundings. The people.”

“Yeah. Sure. Of course.” I didn’t know what I was agreeing with.

He turned into a crescent block that spiralled out into a long row of houses that extended out a couple blocks until coming to the dead end, with nothing but fields beyond and mountains beyond that, turned around and parked across from a residential house with an oversized garage. He lowered the car down off the lift I eased it into the garage.

Ben sized it up. Then rendered his verdict. “Know what,” said Ben. “We don’t have a tire the right size.”


But…what we do have are two one size down. So what we could do is stick them two on the back, rotate the one’s there to the front. That way your front end’s not sinking too low. And you’d be good to go.”

“Whatever,” I said. “Sounds good to me. Long as it has four wheels under it I’m set.”

There was another guy there with black bushy sideburns wearing stained overalls and he and Ben went to work while I joined Nick to sweat it up on a picnic bench in the front yard. The afternoon sun was burning hot as ever but it no longer felt oppressive but a relief, and I lay back on the tabletop and bath in the heat.

When they were through Ben brought old, bum tire, which was thoroughly thrashed. Flaunting the flabby piece of rubber, held up in one arm, it looked even more sad, shriveled and pathetic than the one from the day before. Like the rejected runt of the litter given its final viewing. He showed me where the tread came undone causing it to warp all to hell. I told him about the recent patch job and if he thought there any connection.

“Nah, man, I don’t think so,” he said. “Total fluke, this one. It’s rare, really rare, but it happens.”

The new tire from the day before almost got left behind, but amazingly there was enough room in the hatch for it to rest on top of the luggage, with an old piece of carpet laid overtop, and still get the top down and locked in. I was ready to use either credit card or cheque but he preferred that I pay him in cash—easier for him to write it up. This meant that we would have to drive back into town to an ATM to get the money. I offered to leave a suitcase or something behind as insurance, but he just shrugged his shoulders and turned his head to one side with a casual slouch and said, “Don’t worry about it. I trust you guys.”

He gave us instructions to the nearest convenience store and we drove into town. The transformation was uncanny. The car drove like a dream, the rumble and clatter from earlier nothing but a distant memory, with only the dim psychic reverberations left to account for its once-upon-a-time reality. Nothing more. Downtown Canmore amounted to a mile long strip of road set adjacent to the highway with only grassy fields laying between. The whole atmosphere gave off something of an updated version of an old western settler’s town and we were riding into town not to shifty glances and sizing up stares but breezy, tanned faces. The vibe was infectious. In the parking lot, after I got the money out, Nick and I set things straight from the previous night. I felt reenergized, ready to make the drive the rest of the way to Medicine Hat. But there was one more thing before we left town.

Back at Ben’s, payment made, we chatted lazily for a few minutes in the heat and just before we took off, Nick asked about a place to cool off.

“Yeah, sure. Place called the quarry.”

It was the same place Fraser had mentioned earlier, and it was where we were headed now. The directions he gave us got us part of the way, and the rest were supplied by a woman we passed out walking her dog down a residential street of rubble. A winding gravel road brought us into a parking lot packed with cars and half-dressed people coming and going. We snuck into the first small opening we spotted. It was snug but we were parked, and we got out and looked around. From the parking lot a dirt trail led past an open field and into a grove where it disappeared. To our right, down another path and behind a dense wall of shrubs, was where most of the people were making their way to and from. I figured to do the same. We stripped down in the car and started off in that direction.

Follow the flesh. Follow the flesh. Behind the thicket of lanky trees, the valley opened up and, like a curtain pulled back to announce a new day, revealed the sparkling, placid surface of the water—a dug out pool about the size of a football field all around. We were met with the sounds of hyper, screaming kids, the sight of half-naked people of all ages and all shapes and types. On the far side, next to the water, there was a small pocket of beach littered with bodies—young kids mostly, their parents on nearby blankets, lying out. Along the path to our right, on a low-sloping hill, groups of giggly girls were congregated on the lawn, sunning, showing off, sipping drinks and gossiping. His svelte white chest prominently on display, Nick gave them a gawky smile and a nod of interest as we passed. I didn’t even bother with that much. He slapped my equally white and svelte chest and said, “Race you across.”

We both took to the water like men set afire, both of us burningly aware of the girls behind us, watching from the hill, and waded in through the muck and reeds. The refreshing sting of the cold felt good the way, say, that first a first shot of whiskey does, and I quickly embraced it and submerged my whole body. In another second I surfaced and launched off toward the far shore. Through the splashing water, my head turned to the right between strokes, grabbing a shot of air, I could make out Nick’s dark head and arms, moving out farther and farther ahead of me, lashing through the water with concentrated effort.

I was no match. I pulled up, treading water and breathing heavily. I looked back to see how far I’d gone. I turned back and Nick was now a mile ahead, not having noticed my surrender. I didn’t care. I let myself fall backwards so my ears were underwater and all noise was muted by a bubbling mantric hum, my eyes fixed upward at the low glowing sun radiating a blinding white-yellow. Then I held my breath, pulled my legs in close to my body, and heaved myself face forward into the water, letting myself sink like a until, with a bit of willing it on my part, I touched murky bottom. I stayed under until the survival mechanism kicked in and demanded I resurface. By this time, Nick had realized my retreat and was swimming back towards me.

“And I’m the smoker,” he said between breaths.

“Yeah. And I’m no Tewksbury.”

We swam short laps back and forth until we were both good and exhausted and got out and sat on a patch of grass at the water’s edge, our feet dangling over into the cool wetness. A topless guy with shades and a cap that had a flaming C on it came sauntering down the path behind us. He was carrying a two-four. His very attractive girlfriend was with him, dark hair, pale, wearing a string bikini. I let my eyes linger on her maybe a beat longer than was kosher, just short of creepy truthfully, and when he passed by he addressed us with a formal, “Boys.” Nick nodded up at him, offered a greeting. Now past us, he turned and shouted back, “Git ‘er dun!” and continued on.

I looked down the path to the other end of the pool, where he was headed, where there was a bunch of people around our age hanging out, drinking. They had a mini barbecue going and were roasting up wieners and burgers, the delectable smells wafting over to us.

“Should we join them?” said Nick.

“Like to,” I said.


“So best be moving on,” I said. “No time for celebrations yet.”

“Whatever you say boss.”

We put our shoes back on and traipsed down the path in the oppose direction of the revellers. Back at the parking lot, to give us time to dry off, we decided to go investigate the second path that led into the woods. The shafts of sunlight that beamed in gave the deep green meadow we strolled through an almost unnatural lustre. Thick, massive evergreens, tall, swishy wild grass, everything was huge and jungle-like, dwarfing us in its aspect. And all untouched, pristine. A gurgling brook ran off to our right, flowing out of sight behind a tall growth of hedge. There was a trace of sweet, pungent wild flowers in the air. Somewhere above an unseen chorus of birds were singing an endless, unresolved melody.

“So what’s your rush to get to Medicine Hat?”

“Nothing. I just want get some rest.”

“It’s that girl isn’t it? What’s her name?”


“Alyssa, right. And, tell me, does Alisha have any cute friends?”

“I don’t know. I guess we’ll find out when we get there.”

“She know we’re coming? Or is this a drop in on her deal?”

“I told her we’d be passing through sometime Saturday.”

Nick bent down, picked up a flat rock off the path. He massaged its smooth surface in his hand and then pulled back and flung it with a grunt in the direction of the stream, some distance off from us, downhill. It sailed high in the air and hit the water with a soft, tight plop.

“Well what are we waiting for?” he said.

Back behind the wheel, stripped down to only the small pair of black shorts I was swimming in, I felt good, I felt invigorated. I felt like someone had hit the reset button and I was ready to begin again. No longer was I besieged by the lingering sense that I was running from something. We set out on the road, out of Canmore and now driving down the Trans-Canada, straight and true, surrounded by the wide-open, limitless plains, toward something, something I swear was within reach.

We passed through an area taken over by construction, machines of ever size and model, extended crane arms breaking the skyline, sand piles, lumber piles, piles of unidentified metal tubing. All signs of nature removed, the whole landscape had been flattened out into a fine smooth surface, like that of the moon and other uninhabitable planets.

“Way things are going, in a couple years time we won’t be able to make this trip. Not feasible,” said Nick, and I didn’t say anything because I knew he was probably right.

We made Calgary in less than two hours and stuttered along with the rush hour traffic through every light and crossing. Beyond the city, we stopped to gas up, change, snack. We sat in the sweltering car and observed the low-lying sun housed in an expanse of sky, that now extended down to meet the flatness of the amber plains. We continued on.
It was early evening when we rolled into Medicine Hat. We got a room at the first place we happened upon off the highway, a place called—I shit you not—The Motel Relaxo. We checked in got a key to a room.

I unlocked the door, turned the knob and tried to push it open. When that didn’t work I gave it a bit of a shove with my shoulder. The door popped open and I stepped into the room and into the past. Swamp green shag carpet. Fake brick cement walls, checker-colored. Exposed pipe framed the corners of the walls and the ceiling, painted white to blend in, and behind a metal, lacquer-topped table in one corner there was a wall of artless tiles in colors offensive to the eyes and taste. Sick pinks, sour greens, pale yellows, nauseous browns, greys, maroons. Flophouse chic. It smelled of cigarettes and pancakes.

It was perfect.

I foresaw a time in the near future when I would return to it and hole up for a few weeks to work on a novel or book of stories when there was nothing else. I threw my suitcase down on the nearest bed. Above the lamp that sat on the night stand between the beds there hung a framed Bible quote, a familiar one, composed in cursive, high-flung lettering, with a sparse background containing two roses. “For God so loved the earth that He gave His only begotten son, so whosever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Nick through his bag down on the far bed and read it. He chuckled to himself and turned to me.

“You know by rejecting God, Jesus, the Bible and that whole system you give up heaven on the one hand. But doesn’t that system also include hell? So therefore you loose eternal life but also the possibility of eternal punishment at the same time. Maybe purgatory is the best option, a kind of pragmatic compromise between the two.”

“I seriously doubt God’s the compromising sort.”

“Yeah, well. Just a thought.”

“Well keep working on it while I make a call.”

I sat down at the desk, lifted the receiver and punched in a number on the phone. It rang four or five times and an answering message, narrated by Alisha’s voice, cut in. I stumbled through some kind of a response and hung up.

“I hate those things,” I said.

“Me too,” said Nick. “So what should we do? Find a place to eat?”

“Let’s do it.”

By this time it was getting dark and most restaurants and stores were closed. We drove around. The downtown was lifeless, deserted. Nobody anywhere. Streetlamps lit up palely and formless like spectres. We drove past a strip lined with box stores, and found one of them, a Vietnamese restaurant, that appeared to still be open. We turned in, parked, and went inside. We were greeted by a girl. She was our age and had long straight black Asiatic hair. She was all smiles. She seemed genuinely happy to see us. It was quiet; there was nobody else around. It was just like on the streets. It seemed sort of eerie.

She led us past the brass gateway into the empty main room. Under our feet, images of great golden dragons jumped out of the burnt red carpets. The ceiling was dirty gold, with circular designs that swirled up dramatically at the center point for a dome formation. We took a seat and ordered beer and cheap whiskey. She went off to the kitchen. I leaned back in my chair. I let out a relieved sigh and looked around. There was a faded elegance to the place. It reminded me of the old Shrine Hall. It was in the basement of a building downtown and as a kid my dad would take me there with him when he had practise. He would sit me down in a corner with a glass of fizzy pop they had on tap to watch them, or else put me by myself in a dusty room to watch early ‘90s sitcoms on a wood-encased TV wheeled into the middle of the room. Meanwhile, my dad, in another part of the building, cracked the snare to a series of old timey marches with a group of guys all nearly twice his age. It seemed like he was always around men much older than himself and that in turn made him seem much older and it sometimes feels like I’m destined to age in the same manner, and my children after me—a continual, generational acceleration of decay. I was starting to understand how Hamlet managed to inexplicably age ten plus years over the course of five concise acts.

Age is all in the head. And by head I mean the face and its features. But a brutal adolescence had already prepared me for that and so it was only a matter of time before time filled in the gap. Love is hidden in ever crease and crevice of flesh that time buries deeper and deeper until its mystery is so contained that the infirmities and indignities of age are all that can expunge the weight and depths of a beauty so immense, so ruined, so raw and true. Some things resist words. They say love never dies. But it does. Everyday. So we chase after it until we lose ourselves in the chase. It is love we bury in the end, not flesh. And the beauty of the world remains something bleak and astounding, and always far off—

“Hey. Buck up, soldier. We made it.”

“We sure did,” I said.

The waitress returned with our drinks and we held them up for a toast.

“To the road.”

“To tactful gas station attendants,” I said.

“And guys in Canmore named Ben. Who own tire shops,” Nick added. “Never can be too many of them around.”

“There sure can’t.”

We clinked glasses and drank. The whiskey burned good and was the best I’d ever had. And that’s the truth.

“This is excellent,” I said to her, looking over the glass and the almost clear fluid in it.

“I’m not even sure the brand. Just whatever we have lying around.”

“I’ll take four cases,” I said.

“OK, sure.” She laughed. “So you guys from out of town?”

“Yep,” said Nick. “Sure are.”

“Just passing through,” I said.

“Oh yeah. So where are you headed?”

“Home,” I said. “I am. He’s tagging along.”

“I home wherever I can get it,” he said.

“Yeah, well I’m from Ontario originally. Moved out here with my family about five years ago.”

“You like it here?” said Nick.

“It’s OK.”

“We were driving around earlier. For a Saturday night not much going on. Town seems sort of…”



“Yeah, well…”

She gave us a waning smile, her cheerfulness seemingly unaffected. I looked at Nick. Nick looked at me. We both looked back at her.

“So I’ll get your food together,” she said, for lack of anything else. Pointing at my glass as she turned, she said, “You going want another one of those?”


We both sipped our drinks in silence. Then Nick, in a hushed tone, said, “Nice girl. Kind of lonely though.”

“You’re great. You’re a beautiful shining star on a chill evening in fall.”

“Piss on it.”

“Can you blame her?” I said.

“I bet you she’s looking for a husband.”

“Yeah. How can you tell?”

“I can tell.”

I shrugged. “Maybe that’ll just make it worse.”

“Got a better idea?”

I arched my eyebrows and with a sad tilt to it, shook my head. I had another nip of whiskey.

She returned with plates piled high with noodles, rice, dumplings, steamed vegetables, marinated chicken, deep-fried shrimp, large quantities of food steaming up from the table that Nick hungrily dug into. I didn’t have much of an appetite and only ate sparingly, sipped my drink, and let my gaze wander over the brass construction, lanterns hung from every wall in twos, below them a rail that ringed around the vacant room, framing a kind of palpable emptiness all Asian cuisine in the world couldn’t fill.

“The sound of silence is so intense.”

“What?” said Nick between mouthfuls of dumplings and noodles.

“Nothing,” I said. “Some quote I remember. Lenny Breau. I think.”


“No one. You going to want dessert?”

“No, man,” he said, wiping the sides of his mouth with a napkin, “I’m stuffed.”

We had another drink.

When we were paying the bill we asked about any places in town to check out on a Saturday night. When she couldn’t think of anything we gave her a resigned goodbye and staggered out into the dimly lit streets.

We stopped in at the convenience store down the street and bought coke and ice and then drove to a liquor store we made note of when we passed by earlier and then went back to the motel room. I mixed us a couple hi-balls in plastic cups from the bathroom and sat down at the table and dialled a number. It rang four or five times and went to voicemail. This time I hung up before it ended and leaned back and took a hit of my drink. Nick was lying on the bed holding the drink over his chest.

“Not home, eh?”

“She has a cellphone.”

“Right.” Neither of us had cellphones. “So what’s the deal?”

“No good. The deal is dying fast.”

“Try again. Right now.”

“But I just did.”

“Again. Do it. The deal. It mustn’t die.”

“No. You’re right. It mustn’t. She knows we’re coming. She’s expecting us.”

“The success of all deeds great and small is predicated on one’s persistence.”

“Uh huh.”

“So call again.”

“OK. I will.”

I swished the ice around in my drink. Drank.



I dialled the number from memory this time. It rang three or four times and instead of a recording I got the actual thing.”


“Alyssa. It’s me.”

There was a lag in response during which time I could hear background noise made up of loud overly-articulate voices and distorted music. I had a good buzz on and was enjoying the broken communication. An amused curiosity. The possibility that anything was possible. Something totally unexpected was about to happen that I was in on. Birth. Death. Suicides. A meteor shower. Tectonic plates shifting underneath us, about to rupture and explode the very ground we stood on. Nothing was out of the realm. Here it comes. Be ready. I stayed on the line, smiling blissfully at my ignorance.

“Hello? Alyssa?”

“Oh my God! Jonny!”

I couldn’t tell by the ambiguous stabs of her voice if she was excited or put off.

“Yeah. How are you?”

“Really drunk. How…why…where are you?”

“I’m in town. Remember?”

“Yeah…but—but you were supposed to be here yesterday. I stayed home waiting, expecting you.”

“Why would you do a thing like that? Friday. It was Friday when we left. I told you that.”

“So what took you so long?”

“Long story. Look. We’re here now. We’re staying in town. We got a room for the night.”

The background noise surged up and then a scream, or more exactly, a shriek pierced through the receiver. As a reflex I pulled my ear away. Then tentatively:


“Sorry about that. Oh Jonny. I’m out with friends tonight.”

“Perfect. So where are you? We can meet up for drinks. Me and Nick are looking for something to do besides drink in our room and play Uno all night.”

“Umm…Well, OK, I guess. We’re at the Horseshoe Bar but we’re just about to go over to The Eightball.” Then in an irritated voice that didn’t seem directed at me. “That’s if Barrett ever gets back here.”

“The Eightball. OK. And where’s that exactly?”

She gave me some scattered directions, all the more confused by the fact that I didn’t know any of the streets she referenced. When she was done I asked her to go over it one more time and got a completely different set of directions. Then she mentioned the one street name I remembered, a few blocks from the motel, and said we’d find it from there.

“The Eightball in twenty. See you then.”

I hung up and looked over at Nick.

“So,” he said.

“She said she can’t wait to see us. And she’s thrilled to meet you.”

In a strange town after dark, I knew it would happen. Night reigned. We were lost, completely lost, driving down unfamiliar streets, eyes peeled for signs indicating where we were, where we needed to get to. I turned right at a four-way crossing, the lone red light blinking overhead soberly. I drove past a church, a line of trees and into a residential area.

That was our first attempt.

I turned around and this time came downhill, past the trees, the church and again turned right at the four-way, now back on the street we were originally on. At the next intersection—uncontrolled—at this one, I took another right and was somewhere past the downtown, where the brick buildings became increasingly slumped and crumbling-looking, like an ancient face that was all dark frowns.

“Are we still even in town?” said Nick.

“I hope not.”


“Yes. Up ahead. This might be something.”

We passed a low-roofed building with a high-fenced patio. Umbrellas and few bobbing heads, like human buoys, hovered over it. It was the first semi-populated area we had come across all night.

“Is that it?” said Nick. “I don’t see a sign.”

“Only one way to find out.”

I parked in a lot across the street and we went inside, the dark night giving way to bright overhead lights, flashing big screens and neon beer signs. In was like stepping into a new world, the sudden contrast making it temporarily fascinating as it quickly became completely unremarkable in the realization of its familiarity. Unremarkable. A sports bar like any other. We stood around, half-dazed, half-uncertain, until a striking dark haired waitress, a glimmer in her eyes that were like dotted pearls, came over and asked us what we’d have. We did the only thing that made sense. While waiting for our drinks, I dug the place, looking for Alyssa. In a corner booth was a gang of guys and girls, and I took one of the girls seated in the middle to be Alyssa. I waved in their direction, trying to get her attention but only half-committed. It had been so long I wasn’t sure if I’d still recognize her.

On the other side of the bar was a pool table where some jock guys—tight, bicep enhancing t-shirts, spiky hair gelled and streaked in a garish manner resembling the possible effect of crossbreeding a rooster and a ferret—were finishing a game and we went over and racked them up and after a while the dark haired waitress brought over our drinks. I paid for the drinks and tipped those shining ocean-washed eyes. Between shots I paced around the table, my eyes roaming around for that recognition.

“See her yet?”

“No. Pretty sure we’re in the wrong place.”

I was sure of it. We finished our game and the drinks and left.

We stood around in front of the patio looking over the blind streets, the slanty buildings, waiting for something, someone to show us the way. There was no one, nothing.

“Which way now?” said Nick.

“No idea,” I said. “No other place looks open. All is dark. Everything is nothing.”

Just then a voice rose above the noise of the patio behind us, calling out to us. We turned and the dark-haired waitress from inside was stretched over the patio trying to get our attention. “Hey!” We turned to her with alarm, with excitement. “Did you guys pay?”

“And then some,” I said. “Don’t remember us?”

She stared at us, expressionless. “Oh, right.”

Nick started to say, “You know where the—” then turned to me. “What was it called?”

“The Eightball,” I said to him, and then to the waitress, “We’re looking for The Eightball.”

“Yeah, The Eightball. Just follow that street a couple blocks,” she said, straining over the wall separating us, arm pointed straight as a pool cue down the darkened street. “It’s on the left. You can’t miss it.”

The night was warm, the air almost humid, Around us there was nothing but old, hard buildings, once the site of lifetimes worth of sweat and toil now little more than grim still-standing relics, and paint-peeling repair shops—made all the more desolate and done in by the darkness that enfolded them. We strolled along and there was a building like all the other buildings except that this one had people gathered by it, standing around under the dull floodlight of the parking lot, marooned together among the sightless surroundings.

We crossed the street and approached. Everyone one was loud and drunk. We laid back, close to a chain link fence, unsure whether to go in or wait for an invitation. Nick smoked a cigarette. Past the fence there was a stretch of road and across from that were cement columns supporting an overpass that wound above us. A couple guys approached, started in questioning us, our presence here. They saw us standing around, didn’t recognise us and that was reason enough to investigate further. They wanted to know if we lived in town and when we said no, we were just passing through, they became more belligerent toward us, trying to intimidate us, toward what end remained a mystery. Drunken behaviour, however determined and directed, however much conviction there is shown flashing in those cold, bleary eyes, requires no motivation. But it was hard to tell. Maybe they weren’t that drunk. In which case—

They got up closer to us. I could see one of the guys, who was wearing a bandanna and had two pierced ears, had a tattoo of something on his throat peaking out of his collared flannel shirt, impossible to make out what it was. His sleeves were rolled up and he had a faded leather band around his right wrist. This guy had the presentation down. I’ll give him that. But he might as well have been a clown performing at a backyard birthday party for a bunch of six-year-olds. I felt neither fear nor hatred toward them, completely detached, removed, untouchable. I just didn’t care.

The questioning kept coming, their put-on intensity, making damn sure there was no doubt in our minds that this was their turf we had trespassed on. I stared at them blankly, like at an ATM machine. Before long their act started to falter. With nothing more to go on, having made their point clear as can be to us, they walked off, disappearing into the crowd, while mumbling something about the threat of outsiders coming in and taking over.

“This is a strange town,” I said to Nick.

“Yeah. Weird people.”

“That’s almost too much of a compliment.”

“What do you mean?”

“Weirdness implies substance.”

Nick dropped his butt, stomped it out.

“Do you still want to go inside, or what?”

“Well, we’re here.”

Up cement steps and through a metal door, a long bare hallway, a few old black and white concert posters decorating the walls, led to the bar. Next to it was a line of bright blinking electronic poker consoles. As I stood there uncertainly a girl walked past me, up to the bar. She was wearing a silky low-cut blue dress. She gave me a glance that lingered. It was her. There was no mistaking it. It was Alyssa. She looked at me blankly, without recognition. It felt eerie. Like something out of a dream. I swam in the feeling a minute. She turned to the bar.


She turned back to me immediately in one hard motion, her expression unchanged but now gesturing surprise.


Her eyes grew huge as her pupils drilled into me, smiling hard with sealed lips. An almost unnatural expression, it seemed as if it might run the risk of becoming permanently fixed if she held it too long. Then her jaw went down and her eyes went up and the curse was broken. She started to laugh.

“Hi. Did I miss something?”

“Your hair! What happened?! You look like you joined a cult.”

“Yeah, but shh,” I said, a finger to my lips. “They told me I’m not supposed to talk about it.”

“You dummy!”

“Yeah, well what about yours?”

It had gone from sandy brown to sunset red, long and straight. She made a little pose, running her hand through it self-consciously.

“You like it?”


She nodded, then looked at me with pity and understanding and filled the moment’s silence with her smile.

The bartender put two beers down on the bar behind her and she turned to take them and then turned back to me with one in each hand.

“You drinkin’?” she said.

“Unless you have a better idea.”

I ordered a beer from the bar and Alyssa led me along, through a corridor and down a short flight of stairs. The place was packed and I followed close behind her, shouldering by others. My eyes caught sight of a guy with a shit-eating grin and tiny piercing eyes held in a leathery stubbly face—a real true to form mug—gazing at me straight on. He was wearing an unbuttoned black trenchcoat and nodded at me as we past, tipping his beer in our direction as a sign of some unspoken bond that existed somewhere between the profoundly limited reach of our stares. He seemed to know me. I had no idea who this person was.

The bland radio rock was blaring and in the center of the room, between two poster-covered pillars, there were black leather couches arranged in front of a big screen with a rug over the worn hardwood, though the TV was off and nobody sat at them—too exclusive for even those there apparently.

Around a corner and down a couple stairs her friends were seated at a table. She introduced me. I shook hands. They all had a certain knowing look for me, which was disarming enough, and then one guy—who I soon learned was the elusive Barrett from the phone—took my hand and, grinning hard with eyes locked in, said: “So this is the one we’ve heard so much about. We finally meet. Alyssa has told us a lot about you.” I didn’t know how to respond. “I hope she gave you the abridged version.” Canned laughter. Already there had been some kind of unclear, undefined level of expectation placed on me that I could only disappoint. I felt like I was on a blind date with a person who had done a full background check, and brought backup to boot. They had the numbers. I looked around for Nick who was across the table, watching, and I could tell he was enjoying seeing me sweat.

A waitress brought over my beer and I downed half of it immediately and then paid for it. What followed was a lot of drink sipping, occasional glances, waiting for something that wasn’t made clear. Somewhere in the middle of the excitement another guy and girl joined our table. The guy had short curly dirty blond hair and talked buoyantly and with a lisp. She had thick dark hair and was morose and didn’t seem to say much at all to anyone. They sat on opposite sides of the table, far apart, the guy closer to me and leaning over the table, gesturing loudly and talking with three or four people at once, and she all quiet on the other side, next to Nick. “They’re supposed to be on a date,” Alyssa loud-whispered to me, leaning over. “I set them up.” And when I responded with “Guess it doesn’t seem to be going so well,” Alyssa said, “Guess not.” “Wonder how come?” I said. “I wonder,” she said.

There was a pool table next to our table. When it became free someone suggested a game and I jumped. We played in teams of two, Alyssa and I and Nick and her friend, a girl whose name escapes me. The pool table was set up in a tight, busy corner, next to a brick wall with a wooden ledge for drinks sticking out and a framed “Pulp Fiction” poster above. Alyssa didn’t know how to play that well, so when her turn came up I leaned over her to show her how to position the cue. I bent her arm and eased it back, and suddenly I was enacting a bad pickup cliché that both of us were aware of and smiled and chuckled at as we went through with it. We played on. After helping her set up a tough corner shot I leaned back on the ledge and knocked over my beer and it was like that first time we had met the summer previous, in a bar, only now the rolls were reversed. We finished the game and we ordered a pitcher and were back at the table with the others.

The atmosphere had changed now, the beer flowing, the focus shifted from the new guys and in town. The curly haired guy was holding court with tales and anecdotes punctuated with high stabbing laughter, exploding from open mouth with an insistent force that quickly becomes jarring, like a motorcycle revving its engine only to realize there’s a cat stuck in it, it’s helpless yelps drowned out, buried in the terrible noise. I huddled in a corner with Alyssa, off in our own private talk like a real life gchat. Across the table Nick sat next to the girl who’d been on the aborted date with cat engine guy.

“You’re friend seems nice.”

“He is, mostly. For a genius.”

“Is that what he is, a genius?”

“In his own mind. We’re all geniuses in our own mind.”

“I’m no genius. But I’m back in school.”

“That’s good. What are you taking again?”

“Math. I’m going into accounting, I think. I’m tired of Music City. I want to find stable work. I’m not getting any younger. I want to work in a bank.”

“That’s good if that’s what you want.”

“I think it is. And it’s all because of you that I went back. Everything you told me. You’re my inspiration.”

“God help us all.”

“It’s true.”

I scrunched my face and smiled.

“You’re silly.”

I took a hit of beer.

“No truer words.”

We talked and joked and drank and it was all effortless. A girl Alyssa knew came by the table and then went outside for a smoke. Next to me was a guy with dark shoulder-length hair and dark features, who I swore I recognized from somewhere. This was impossible, but then I realized who it was. It was the actor Jason Schwartzman. It was uncanny, really. I didn’t tell him this.

We started talking by default. His name was Curt and he was telling me about how he planned to start some kind of animal car service. Or maybe it was just dog care. He told me about how when he was younger he would look after his neighbour’s dogs, all six of them, for long stretches at a time, walking them, feeding them, grooming them, and this led him to do the same for other’s in the neighbourhood. Where other kids would go around door-to-door mowing lawns he would go around and see about taking care of their dogs. Eventually word got around and people would start coming to him about tending to their dogs, and he started making pretty good money at it. After high school he had moved away to go to university to take some finance classes but ended up dropping out and returning. And so came more offers.

“I just really like them a lot. And they really seem to take to me. I’ve had owners say how they couldn’t get their dogs to behave at all and were almost to the point of getting rid of them, until I would come in and start training them and then they said their behaviour would completely turn around.”

His story perplexed me at first, I didn’t know what to make of it, but then it made perfect sense. He was completely sincere. There was something so sweet and simple and perfect in it, and it made me wish that I had discovered some sort of gift so naturally and so early and had honed it or whatever and could now be at the point of putting it to good use. Instead of what I’d ended up doing which was jump around from one thing to another, chasing it awhile like an errant kite sailing off higher and higher, the air getting thinner and thinner, then off after another one, only to watch it also slip through my fingers. Nothing ever stuck, and whatever adhesive there was that provided a short-term handle was starting to wear away for good. But such is the way of things.


Nick had come up behind me and slapped me on the back.

“I’m going out for a smoke.”

There was a finality in his voice and I said I would join him and bottomed my beer and wished Curt all the best with his dog grooming venture.

Outside Nick was smoking with a purpose.

“This fucking town.”

“What got into you?”

“What got into me? Well, if you really want to know, I’ll tell ya. It’s this whole small town apathetic mentality, man. Negativity, cynicism, tearing down everything. Can’t bother to do anything with their own fucking lives they got to shit on others who actually do something, put something positive out into the world. I’ll tell you what it is—it’s fucking cancerous.”

“Yeah, OK, fine. But where is this coming from?”

He took a long drag.

“You know that girl in there, the friend of Alyssa’s I was sitting next to. We’re both there, so, you know, I figure why not chat her up a little. I asked her, ‘So what’s there to do around her for fun?’ Harmless, right? But she gives me this look like I’m out of my mind. Says, ‘What do you mean by that?’ I mean, I was just trying to get her to open up a little, now suddenly I’m having to explain myself. I says, you know, ‘What do you guys do besides come to the bar and drink?’ And her response: ‘Nothing.’ Just spits it out at me—nothing. I ask her if she works. Yeah, she says, and leaves it at that. Geez, sorry for prying. So I take a different tact. I start telling her about myself. If only to fill the silence, you know. I tell her I’m in school, working on my degree, play bass, etc. Meanwhile she’s just looking off, bored. Like, Oh sorry, didn’t me to try and engage you, relate with you. How stupid of me. I mean, we are in a fucking bar after all. I’m a guy, you’re a girl. This is usually how it works after all. Fuck. Why fucking bother. You know.”

He took a breath, sucking on his smoke.

He was in a real mood. I bounced around a few different angles to take with my next remark. I had to pick carefully, cautiously. I chose empathy.

“Maybe she was having an off night.”

“Try an off life.”


“Well fuck it. Fuck it all. Fuck this town.” He tossed the remains of his cigarette over the chain-link fence. “So what’s the deal with you and Alyssa? You two were really hitting off.”

“Yeah, I know. This night is full of surprises.”

“Listen. You should invite her back to our room for a drink. See what happens, where it might lead. I don’t mind sleeping in the car.”

“You don’t need to sleep in the car.”

“So what do you want to do? I’m ready to get out of here.”

It was a good question. What was I doing? Where was this night leading? Could we stay here another day? No, that was out of the question. So what then? What was it I—

My attention was stolen by a fight that had broken out, near the entrance. A punk girl had come storming out the door and was screaming at a couple guys about who knows what. She was really screaming. The two guys were laughing and trying to calm her down, but mostly they were laughing. To show them she was serious, she knocked over the guy closest to her, then pounced on the other, neither of them knowing what hit them. She had the second guy on the ground, with her kneeled on top of him, wailing away with fists of fury.

The crowd moved in around them, enjoying the show. The girl kept working him over but the guy did nothing to fight back, only raising his arms to block the incoming blows. Everyone was having a good laugh at this impromptu bit of late night entertainment. Here was this wee punk girl—Mohawk, suspenders, patched up cargos, wife-beater, Doc Martin’s—having her way with this skinny little dweeb. But she was relentless, not letting up, a wild cat on the attack.

Some guys—maybe friends of dweeb boy, maybe not—came over and tried to pull her off. Fists kept flying when suddenly one guy got her from behind, arms wrapped around her tightly, holding her at bay so the guy under her could get away. He got up, stunned and bloody-nosed.

The guy now on top of punk girl had her down on the ground, pinned underneath him as he mounted her and dry humped her for good measure. She forced them both back up, at which point he lowered his hands, still wrapped around her waist, into her cargos, coming out with a handful of white underwear—men’s underwear. He threw his hands up, then let go, backing away from her. She stood their still screaming and gesturing wildly, the underwear having been hiked up over her shirt like that poor loser from grade three left cowering in the corner at the end of every recess.

I still had no idea she was so mad about. Drunken behaviour. No motive needed.

It was a hell of a show, and in the aftermath Alyssa had come over to us, a bit freaked out, or so she pretended to be. Showing concern, I hugged her around the shoulders and rubbed her back as we watched the last of the action play out. Somebody from the bar came out and barked at those involved to get off the property and the crowd that had gathered to watch started to disperse, though most remained in the parking lot. A few cars were driving around doing victory laps, or something. Victory? What victory?

There were no winners, only losers on this night.

“That was some crazy shit,” I said to her. I felt the obvious needed to be stated, for verification.


“What do you saying going back with us for a nightcap?”

“Oh Jonny. Not tonight.”

“What night then? We’re gone tomorrow.”

“Do you have to leave tomorrow?”


“Oh Jonny, you were supposed to be her yesterday. It only takes 14 hours to get here from where you were.”

“Fourteen hours? Where’d you get that number from?”

“I looked it up on the internet.”

“Well, maybe by jetpack. We drove all night, nonstop. Our only hold up came when we got to Banff—”

I explained the whole ordeal we had gone through. How we intended to leave early on Friday but got set back by the flat tire. Then finally getting off the ferry late afternoon, driving as far as Kamloops only to wind up not being able to find a hotel room and nearly spending the night in a park, only to drive all night through the mountains, only to have the car fuck up on us by the time we reached Banff in the morning.

I told her of the emergency call I almost put in for her to come get us. But then taking our chances and making it to the next town and discovering the problem with the other tire, and then the sheer luck of meeting up at the same place with the one guy who could service it. I tried to convey to her the sense of desperation we felt when our plans were effectively got shat on. And in turn the exhilaration at overcoming everything and getting back on the road and driving balls out all the way into town, just to get to spend Saturday night with her, in a bar, right here, right now. And all in just over 24 hours. Explaining this to her, I could barely believe it myself, this being my first opportunity to reflect back on the previous day’s events. Did all that really happen? I was informing myself as much as her.

But my excitement was for not. I sputtered out my story, gesturing and emphasising certain points, going back over things to fill in certain details as they came to me, and Alyssa, a consoling smile, with the mildly condescending false wonder of a mother giving her attention to an insistent child demanding they see, right now, right this second, how they can do a cartwheel, listened to it all, and then said: “I’m going back inside now.”

I let out a breath. I was a fool.

“Well, maybe if you decide to visit your friend this summer you can take a little detour and stop in for a drink.”

Her friend lived two hours away from where I would be—the same city Marissa moved to be with her husband.

“No,” she said with a smile that didn’t reach the eyes. “I don’t think I’ll be doing that.”

She started for the doors, and at the stairs turned back, a hand on the railing.

“You coming back in?”

I looked over at Nick.

“I’m going for a walk,” he said, starting off.

“Just a minute,” I said. “I’ll join you.”

I turned back to Alyssa. I was trying to hold onto something but wasn’t sure what.

“I’ll be back.”

We slumped along the barren streets, back in the direction we came. I stopped behind some kind of aluminum bunker and took a piss. The temperature had dropped but there was no wind, a quiet night.

“Alyssa’s nice a girl. Good. Honest.”

“Yeah,” I said. “She is.”

“So sad though. You can tell she’s had a hard go of it. Gone through some messed up shit. Know what she needs, she needs a guy to come along and treat her right.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. You’re always fucking right.”

And I should have left it at that. Return to the car, drive straight back to the motel and a nightcap of Crown and coke, congratulate ourselves on a safe, success journey this far and quickly pass out into a good, heavy sleep. The last two nights I had had a total of three, four hours of sleep, and was running on pure adrenaline since Canmore. It had gotten me this far but I was libel to give out soon, and in a big way.

But no. We went back.

The crowds had thinned out. It was near closing, and we made our way to a back corner, where Alyssa was at a booth nursing a beer, Curt and the lisping guy seated at either side of her. They had been anticipating our return and we approached, heads hung and hands in our pockets, like accused men brought before a tribunal. We stood before them. They stared ahead at us and we back at them. A showdown and surrender all at once. Somebody said something. Words were spoken. There was mention of this being our only night, that we were leaving in the morning. This was enough to start the lisping guy off.

“Well in that case,” he began, digging in. “I have got to tell you of some good places I know to stop for breakfast. First, there’s the Smitty’s on the highway. Oh my god, they have the best hashbrowns you’ll ever have. Seriously. So good. Absolutely to die for. Or else, let’s see, there’s the Open Chest restaurant at the, now which is it—oh yeah!—the Uptown Plaza—off Fifth Street, hang a left at Pirate Lane. It has a buffet including make your own omelettes. And then there’s also the Fritter Café, downtown. Now they don’t have much of a menu but their French vanilla lattes are simply divine. ‘Nuff said. You must be sure to try it before you leave. Oh, and also if you’re interested in a spicy breakfast, if that’s your thing, there’s the—”

He went on and on, elbows up on the table, limp wrists fluttering and flipping about in front to animate his speech. But I had tuned him out and was focusing in on Alyssa. Her eyes were downcast, rubbing the side of her glass, an air of resignation as she slouched behind the table like a wounded doe. I wanted to tell her something but I had no words, and, even so, by the time I'd have managed to pull some together and get them out they would no longer mean anything. And it was just as well.

“—so there are a few options for you guys to consider.”

He went quiet, folded his hands under his chin and looked on with no real interest in our replies. Curt looked at us apologetically but said nothing. There was nothing to be said. We waited the moment out in silence, then sadly said our goodbyes and left.

We slumped back to the car. We drove around listening to an Eric Dolphy free jazz album Nick put on. At one point I turned into a large empty parking lot, for a mini mall or something, and somehow got stuck and had to do a three-point turn to get us out. We drove back to the motel, drank our whiskey, and slept the sleep of the dead. No dreams, no wakeup calls. It was wonderful.

There was a quote I came across during my research. It was by some obscure seventeenth century philosopher, I can’t remember his name. I never ended up using it for anything but always had it close at hand, to refer back to. It’s a simple enough message. But the truest things always are. “Don’t invest hope or longing in an arena where you have no power.”

Sunday morning. I was the first one up and had a shower and dressed. Nick woke up shortly after, all groaning, groggy and shitty, and was about to fall back asleep until I told it was almost checkout. While he took his turn in the shower I packed my bags and lay back on the end of the bed listening to a recording of Allen Ginsberg reading his poetry.

“The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy! Everything is holy!” he proclaimed in a pained and straining joyous bellowing voice. And I believed him.

There was a knock at the screen door. I opened my eyes and raised myself up. The little Korean proprietor was there saying, “Checkout time! Your checkout time now! You leave or else pay another day!” I pulled out my earbuds and said, “OK. OK. We’re as good as gone. Soon as my friend’s out of the shower.”

This seemed to satisfy her and she walked away. I looked at my watch. It was 10:57. I took the bags out to the car, mine being the only one in the lot. Nick emerged from the shower shortly and I returned the key.

We decided to forgo a full breakfast, grabbing a couple coffees and fresh fruit from the store where we gassed up. The sun was high and heavy and the temperature was headed the same direction. It was going to be another hot one. We slopped on the sunscreen in preparation, and with the sun racing up the sky behind us, merged onto the highway along the lines of semis. Setting out on the road one more time. It wouldn’t be long now. We were on our way.