Archive for the 'People' Category
Shasta is an interesting place. A small town crouched at the foot of Mt. Shasta, it prides itself on being peace and love. And for a place to stand out as such in California, you know it is very new age indeed.
“Do you like figs?” she asked, looking at me expectantly.
I cast my mind back, trying to recall my reaction to figs. Hmm, what dod they taste like? Wait, what do they even look like? All I could bring to mind was fig newton bars. What about the fruit that it came from? It was a fruit, right? Amazing what we take for granted, questions someone finds common knowledge that we have simply never asked ourselves. Before you think that is silly, let me ask you, without looking on google: How do sesame seeds grow? On a bush? Tree? Pods? And yet there is a sprinkling of the little seeds on most burger buns.
“I have no idea.” I replied after some thought. “But I would like to.”
And so I learned what a fig tree looks like, and what a fig tastes like. And I do like them, indeed!
Warning: Crude Themes
There is a different standard of luxury when one is travelling. For example, one of the highest luxuries to my mind, is knowing where you are gonna be able to poop in the morning.
Bear with me.
As I have mentioned before, a good long skirt with some billow to it is a great tool for peeing on the sly. However, there is not much you can do about the more substantial needs of the bathroom, on the sly. Imagine, if you will: you have woken up in a strange city, one that was alight with adventure and sparkling with promise the night before. But this morning, your bladder is reminding you of those glasses of blood wine that went down so easily last night, and your belly is letting you know that street vendor caters to a more “acclimatized” clientele. You stagger out of bed, feet hitting the cold floor. If you are traveling in style, you will be able to stand fully upright in your traveling vehicle/sleeping quarters. Blink the sleep from your eyes and try to find at least the bare minimum of clothing needed, and not just wrap yourself in your blanket. You have to be presentable enough not to look like a crazy homeless dude. You, my fellow traveler, are homefree.
Look out the window. Where are you? Parked on the forgotten streets of a big city, facing nameless buildings? Better freshen up even further; you will be walking to a cafe nearby and hoping the server takes pity on you and allows you to use their “customers only” washroom. Facing the untamed wilderness? Hope you remembered your toilet paper.
However, perhaps you are in the best situation of all. You look out your door windows, and you see the house of a friend, one of the welcoming tribe who doesn’t take pity on travellers, but instead welcomes them, who calls to them, drawing them in to their homes, or at least in front of them. Perhaps even they are already awake, or they have left the side door open for you. Slink into their house, and be welcome.
This is traveler luxury. The welcome of friends.
An interesting dilemma comes up at this time of the year. Well, several facets of the same dilemma.
This year, I had only to visit three houses for Christmas. My dad is away, so that left my mother, my grandmother, and Justin’s mother. We managed to fit in a visit to Justin’s father as well, so it was all good. Now, put these two groups of people eight hours apart, and you can see I had to do some traveling, but that’s no sort of deterrent to a gypsy like me, now is it?
Justin had visited my side of the family last Christmas, so it was fairly his turn. However, my mother was not in town last year, so it was fairly her turn. Mum lives in Calgary. Justin’s family lives in Grande Prairie, 750 kilometers away. That’s 466 miles for you american readers. Mum was planning dinner on Xmas Eve. Justin’s mum called Xmas day. Engage improbability drive.
I finished work on the 24th at 2:30, and got in the car. Down to Calgary in the faithful Dinghy, doing a pretty good speed on the highway from Edmonton to Calgary. Since this highway is patrolled occasionally intensely, but otherwise not too law abiding, and this is the redneck province of oil, I was driving a good 20 km over the posted limit. Just keeping up with traffic, actually. Not all the traffic. Some few were abiding by the speed limit, but most of us were flashing past them. What were the chances, anyways?
I drove over the small rise in the highway, music playing a good song, singing loudly and badly to my non-judgmental steering wheel. The truck in front of me was leading, and he popped over the rise ahead of me and trod on the brakes. My eyes snapped into focus, and sure enough, two police cruisers sat in the emergency turn around in the center of the highway. I jammed on the brakes to come to a more normal speed as quickly as possible, but there was no way they hadn’t seen me. Choose someone else, someone else, I willed myself not to be the weak animal in the herd.
We drove past, and I pulled into the right lane, behind one of those smug law abiding cars. I nervously eyed the rear view mirror, watching the pull out.
Another car passed them, and the cruisers still hadn’t leaped to life. Could it be…?
The blue and red lights flashed on. One of the lurking cruisers pulled onto the highway. The car that had just passed them pulled over into the right lane. The cruiser passed that car.
It was behind me now.
I edged over into the right shoulder, wishing somehow….
The cruiser passed me.
It was behind the truck that had been speeding in front of me.
The cruiser passed that truck too.
He drove on for another hundred meters, lights flashing, then cut the lights and pulled into the next emergency turn around. I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I had been holding. That had clearly been a Christmas gift for all of us. He had clearly seen us speeding, and could have pulled some of us over. But he didn’t. He just let us know he had seen.
I managed to make it to Calgary without incident. I picked up Ryan, a friend whose family is in the Maritimes. Orphans for dinner, a Christmas tradition dating way back with my family. Once Ryan was settled in the car, buckled in and we were safely moving, I then told him we would be making a quick stop at my Grandmothers place before my mums. He took it well, I dare say, and made a good showing. The visit was made brief by the impending dinner over there, and we made our way to my mums in short order, and only a little reminding that I should find a suitably rich husband to marry, or get back to school for some law degree or another.
My mother was delighted to have us over, and we spent a relaxing evening sipping wine and eating turkey she had cooked. Dog was delighted to be there as well, as my mother cannot resist her puppydog eyes, and my brother fed her scraps of turkey meat shamelessly. Ah well, I guess the old girl deserves some spoiling. I left Dog with my mother.
I enjoyed a visit with Ryan afterwards, a nice Star Trek episode, and when my alarm rang at 1 am, it was too soon. Back on the road, back to Edmonton. Just in in time to catch my 6 am bus from the central greyhound station. I had left myself an extra hour to nap if needed, and an hour to find parking, walk to the station, and be early for my bus. I drove around the greyhound station until I found suitably unrestricted parking in a sketchy neighborhood. Once parked, I looked all about carefully. Forbidding houses and secure apartment rises. What is it about greyhound stations? Do they build the station, and the rough living rises up around it, or is this sort of neighborhood the only place a greyhound can be built? Which begets which?
Five am on Christmas day. I could hear yelling from down the street. A group of young adults, posturing and strutting like hens in the yard. Grandiose body language, threat and confidence in every movement. I watched for a while, but they seemed utterly involved with one another, and not actually about to do violence. I considered my choice to walk thru this neighborhood to the bus station. How to portray my appearance to best avoid any problems?
I pulled a toque low over my ears, and pulled on a loose jacket. I grabbed two oranges my mum had pressed on me in Calgary, and tucked them into my pockets. Lock the doors, take my valuables, such as they may be. Stroll down the street.
I widened my stance and slouched a bit. My loose jeans added to the look, and would hopefully give the first impression of “male”. Wearing role-flexible clothing is the first step, but acting how one expects to see you is important.
One day in Calgary, I had been waiting for a store on the scruffy edge of downtown to open. I was wearing a relaxed pair of jeans and a comfortably worn coat. I had Dog with me, and was striding down the sidewalk. People brushed passed with the comfortable disregard we have all learned on public transit, another dog owner stopped to exchange pleasentries. When I realized I had to wait, I began to wander about with an unhurried pace, to look at the ground and take notice of my surroundings. I tied Dog’s leash to her collar, like the clip was broken, and walked thru a parking lot instead of the sidewalk. People began to keep a wary eye on me, and the homeless types included me in their conversation. The dog walking proper people ignored me, and pulled their dog away from mine.
With a flexible outfit and the right sort of projection, it is easy to drop from the respected and “seen” populance, to the unwashed masses.
I walked to the bus station, in no particular hurry. I ate an orange, slowly and somewhat indelicately. No one paid any attention to me on the quiet dark streets. I began to wonder if I were fooling myself, and just thought I was clever. As I came up to the bus station, a guy crossed the street, hailing me with ”Bro! Hey bro!” Well, I thought, at least my gender redirection had been effective. The guy calling out to me asked after a few dollars for the bus, and seemed unimpressed by my present of an orange instead of actual money. I had kept walking, and was inside the bus station before he could do more than make a sour face however. In plenty of time to catch my bus.
I have noticed a certain state of sleep deprivation, a state I arrive at after a bunch of distance on not much sleep, especially after traveling the night and greeting the new day. A childlike wonder, and general acceptance of the beauty of the world. Some of my best travel memories have been taken in like this, arriving at a new place with less sleep than one should. I can simply exist in the moment, and take in the sights that meet my eyes, without judging or filtering them. it is a nice state to be in.
And so it came to be that when the sun was coming up, the bus was trundling thru the tan landscape of northwestern alberta. The bus was crossing a valley, with sierra earth walls rising up on the other side, the trees were naked in the winter sunlight, and snow sparkled in the sheltered places, limning the vista with crystal highlights. I gazed at the scene, and felt a peace and stillness breath out of the landscape, and into me, to curl up with the peace I had, to make it more comfortable within me. I smiled and breathed.
The bus climbed the valley wall, and carried on, the scene behind me, but the wild spaces traveling with me. It was then that I remembered it was christmas day.
Eventually, the bus pulled into the nearly deserted greyhound station, and the four passengers of the bus got off. Justin was waiting for me, looking a little hungover and a little sleep deprived as well. What with staying up the night before to drink with his brothers, and the offspring of one brother still being at the “OMG it’s 6AM and now PRESENT TIME!” age, he was feeling it.
I had a lovely visit with Justin’s family, and a tasty ham dinner that night. And a nap. There was snow in Grande Prairie, so I had a white Christmas after all.
So there is a mall on the water here. It is called Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with fishermen anymore, and the shops and eateries seemed overpriced. Dan did discover a store with a pillar of footies. An honest to cheezits pillar. I was thrilled.
We walked about on the pier. Well, sometimes on the pier. Dan regards walkways as options, not the only choice.
We even had managed to find decent parking for this expedition. An overall win.
After Harbin, I dropped off my car at a mechanic’s in Middletown, the small town quite near the hotsprings. It was time for an oilchange, and I might as well get that damn headlight replaced. No need to get pulled over anymore. It doesn’t even matter that I am not carrying anything I shouldn’t, or even that I am speeding or not. The flush of adrenaline one gets when seeing those flashing blue lights can’t be good for the system.
I boarded the bus again, and felt the comfort of a home. I love this bus, the things we built just so, and my drawers of clothes neatly organized. I love my bed here, with the feather topper and the down duvet. I quite enjoy traveling with Dan, perhaps most of all. Earlier in the month, I spent several weeks on my own. Those weeks were trying, and I was near ready to throw it all down and return north promptly. I finally told the friends I was staying with I was off to see where Dan was at, and I left post haste. I ended up staying with Dan, for a few reasons, but mostly because we travel well together. When one finds a good traveling companion, the cares of the road are lighter somehow. A sympathetic shoulder to cry on, an ear who knows the people of whom you speak longingly of. Best of all, a friend who remains fairly agreeable, and who is willing to make a calming cup of tea when you get a wee bit too agitated. A good traveling buddy is worth their baggage in gold. I was well content to be back on the bus. Besides, I was tired of driving all the time. And I can’t seem to teach Dog to drive stick.
We trundled further south, arriving in the city of Oakland. We rolled up to a free parking spot outside of a Star*ucks, and got our bearings. Tonight was the night to hear the DJ and producer Phutureprimitive. The venue was an old ballroom, and the ticket sales had been limited. We heard it had sold out, and I was glad we had our tickets already purchased. A quick walk to the venue, and we were admitted.
How was the show? Gratifying. I moved my body again, reacquainting myself with my own limbs. The dance floor was barefoot, so we kicked off our shoes and planted our feet on the textured and glossy wooden floor. The bass reverberated thru my lungs, thru my body, and washed away my petty concerns. I danced.
There was little tea stations, by donation. There were carpets for sitting and soft mats for stretching on. There was a little table with snacks and young coconuts. The Mass Transit organization really knows how to put on a show. There was plenty of space to dance, and it wasn’t stuffy at all. I kept seeing people I thought I knew, but then realizing I was so very far from those people. It was humbling, a vivid demonstration of how much you all mean to me. The music was great, the space was above average in every way, but something was missing. You.
I left the ballroom feeling gratifyingly weary in body, and gentled in spirit. Travel makes you appreciate things you may not have been expecting to.
Before I hit the border, I got to spend a day or two with Danica. I finally have the internet to post those pics. We walked on the beach, and looked for sea glass. Also, there were shells and dead jellyfish. Oh Danica, why do you poke dead things with sticks? And why is it so funny to me?
Part of bus living as you travel to a certain event (read: have to get your lazy hippy ass to a certain place by a certain time, so you are busting balls to get all your stuff done and make it) is like deploying the troops.
Dan pulled the Comet into a parking lot between two small strip malls. Dan grew up in Abbotsford, so he knows all the cool places. There is a delightful wrap place here, and we also need blocks of ice. Some gas stations sell blocks, in addition to cubes, but Safeway usually carries blocks and cubes in abundance. If you are gonna live in a bus, and you decide not to spring for the fridge, cuz you are silly, you will want blocks for your cooler. They last longer.
Dan makes his way to the wraps of Awesomeness, and I head into Safeway. I have my little reusable bag in my hand, and I know exactly what I want. How often does that happen, I ask you? I scan the front wall of the store for the sometimes locked freezer invariably proclaiming ICE in a snow covered decal. Not obviously about, but they don’t get far, now do they? I strode confidently up to a bored looking cashier, smiling.
“Can I get two blocks of ice?” I asked her, making eye contact politely. She stared at me for a moment like I had just asked how much for a night with her sister. One hand reached for the phone next to her till.
“I will call someone for you.” she drawled. I furrowed my brows, and then I remembered all in a rush that Safeway keeps its ice in the freezer aisle, so you can toss them in your cart in the middle of your shopping spree, giving the slacking teenage clean up crew some water droplets to follow. Or to lure you in, I’m not sure which.
“Oh, I forgot. I can…” I lift one hand to forestall her. I am actually capable of getting my own ice. But it is too late.
“Carry out to till three” The disembodied voice crackles over the store speakers.
I try again. “I can go get it, I remember now it’s in the freezer aisle…”
She waves me off, just as a burly woman in a safety vest walks up, and gives me an appraising look. I stand there, holding one hand forestalled and useless in the air. The burly woman raises an eyebrow. I can feel the blush on my cheeks.
“Can you get this girl a couple of ice blocks?” the cashier asks with a certain malicious gleam in her eye.
“Blocks?” Burly Woman asks, looking at me once more. Maybe if I was lucky, she would assume I was injured, and couldn’t lift my own damn ice. Maybe she would just assume I was mentally sideswiped by the challenge of navigating the supermarket aisles.
“Yes.” I replied meekly. Burly Woman strode off, while the cashier turned back to her till in time to see another customer approaching.
“Why don’t you go up to Customer Service to pay.” She shooed me off as a more profitable and less needy person started unloading her purchases onto the conveyer belt.
I slunk up to Customer Service, quietly waiting for my ice to be delivered to me. This cashier was chatting on the phone, and I was just as glad to be ignored. I idly looked at the lighter section, and pondered the nearly magical fact I hadn’t lost the one I carry in my party belt to lend to scattered festival goers who have misplaced theirs.
“…..just hang on a minute.” I heard. And then a little louder: “Can I help you?”
I turned to see the Customer Service cashier leaning over, one hand cupped over the phone.
“Oh, I’m just waiting for my ice..” I stammered.
She spoke over the last bit of my sentence.
“Do you need me to call, or have you paid yet?” Her hand was already hovering over the call button.
“No no!” I nearly yelped. “I have already been helped, I was just told to come pay…” I waved my hand weakly in the direction of the first cashier, and trailed off.
“Ok, well you need to wait until the ice gets here to pay.” She stated, and turned buck to her phone call with a smile. “Look honey, I have some customers now… why don’t you do that? OK, see you later.” Another customer came up to the desk, and I stood aside, wringing my eco-responsible cloth bag.
Burly Woman arrived, in a short time, all considered. She put one block of ice in my bag, and then held the other one up for Customer Service Cashier to scan. I meekly accepted this block, and Burly Woman smiled at me as she walked off, possibly resisting the urge to pat me on the head. Perhaps she assumed my keeper was just outside of the store, seeing if I could carry out simple tasks in a day to day life. Maybe one day I could live among ordinary people again!
Customer Service Cashier swiped my card for me, and held the slip of paper down for me to sign. I got my ice and my reciept, and I got the heck out of there.
Remember, Safeway carries their ice in the big freezers.
Small birds flitted about the wire feeder strapped to the tree. I watched the red breasted nuthatch peck at the seedcake within, others below the feeder, searching the ground. The diffuse sunlight brightened the scene only a little. Clouds blanketed the flank of the mountain, softening the edges of the day. The exposed wood beams framed the window, framing the day in turn. I reposed within a two room cabin, crouched on the hillside. The wood stove rested cold this morning, the embers from last night having given their heat some hours before. The iron oxide slate floor gave no heat back, leaving the wooden floor on the other half of the room to warm the space. I reclined on a cushy chair, keeping my feet off the floor, and tucked under a caribou hide.
Dan and I had driven a few hours west of Calgary to Golden the night before, and we were now guesting at Graham’s cabin. Last night, Babz had taken us out on the town. I had held the picture of Golden as a quaint little town set in the mountains. Apparently it is chock full of river rafting guides, and they know how to party! We traipsed from bar to bar, ending up at a house at one point. There was a great deal of drinking, and a few tables got flipped over. At one point, I looked up just in time to see a ghostbuster throw himself into a shrub, disappearing into the neighbor’s yard. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the rcmp showed up shortly after this, clearing out the party. As the designated driver, I found myself on the fringes of the party, and was able to stroll off discreetly. Our little group all escaped unscathed, and on to the next bar.
Finally, the night drew to a close, shortly after we had tossed all our quarters off the bar, in an attempt to hit a small glass. Now quarterless, we piled into the truck. I stood next to the driver’s door, as all within got settled, and sorted out seatbelts. I could see the bright lights of a truck behind us, just sitting on the street. A discreet glance revealed the outline of lights on the roof. Rather unsurprising the rcmp’s had found us here, the majority of the group. Searching for seatbelts for everyone was well underway, and I was loath to move from the spot without all being buckled in. I figured there was no way we were just driving off. These cops were just waiting for us.
Fortunately, we had chosen a dd at the beginning of the night. And that was me. Sigh. I was not looking forward to having a nice chat with grumpy cops. Nor performing a field sobriety test. I slipped my heels off, my feet aching from traipsing all over town. If I had been drinking, maybe I wouldn’t feel my feet, I reflected wryly.
Just as I was getting settled in the truck, familiarizing myself with the controls, a flurry of movement on the corner caught my eye. Some of the more rowdy members of the group had made their way there, after being shooed out of the bar. it looked like they had decided to continue their antics out here.
The cop truck moved off our tail, and stalked the wayward partiers. We didn’t stick around to question our good fortune, but took the chance to drive off. A short jaunt thru the dark woods, down a paved, then graveled road, and we were safely back at the cabin.