Tuesday, August 11, 2009

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.

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