When I was about 17 I took my first of many treks from my home town back east to the west coast of Canada – a long and torturous trip for a young impressionable buck like me. The following is an excerpt from that first sojourn away from home. I hope you enjoy it:
Back in the day my employment prospects, while numerous, were never really career worthy. So in between jobs, or between a period of steady employment I would sometimes hit the road and do some travelling. My first bit of travel occurred just after working for A.C. Wickman. While working there polishing the fat wide ends of the tiny drill bits I was let go just one day before my three month probation period ended. All of us rookies, who had all started at this factory on the same day, were all released, terminated, let go, made redundant, superfluous, surplus, unused, outmoded, unnecessary….fired. It didn’t matter how or why or what you said to describe your circumstances, situation or bit of bad luck.
It all meant the same damn thing. Pogey! And how I love that word redundant! Code for fired. A nice English bit of linguistic mumbo jumbo, confusion-speak to tell someone that they’re sacked.
“You’re being made redundant” someone once told me. Great! I thought I was getting a promotion. Redundant… wow.
I decided to head to the west coast. By train! The Transcontinental…all the way and all by myself. Well not really by myself when I got there as my penultimate oldest sister was shacked up with a Japanese fellow. Her best girlfriend, my next door neighbour’s daughter, was also out there. You see, this was 1968, the year after the summer of love. Yet 1966-69 was, in reality, the longest summer of love in history. And “go west young man” was really hippie-speak for the wider, greener pastures of acid rain, or West Coast Bud. And I could stay with them until I got settled.
“Why not just stay here and be a stoner” someone once said. “Why go all the way out there?”
“Well, man, sunsets are really, really weird out there.” another answered.
“How so?” they queried. “You can’t see them anyway cause it’s always raining out there.”
“Well man… because man, it’s like, wow man, out of site…but there is no land anywhere west of there. Don’t you think that is sooo cool. Soooo out of site. Land I mean. You can’t see any land man. It’s out of site”
“Well yes” they thought of this stupid idiot. “Land is out of site west of there cause it’s all Pacific ocean from there on in. Until you hit Japan.”
“Japan? Like wow man! Japan? Really? Man, that is so weird, so cool, that is so profound man.”
Good gawd I thought. The future of mankind!
My parents were fine with this although they were entirely tuned out of the reality of the drug culture. Unbeknownst to them they were letting their young son, at 17, to hit the long and winding, purple hazed road of personal freedom. I can say this now, looking back on those years, but at the time I was scared shitless.
I boarded coach on the Transcontinental at the very large cavernous platform of the enormous train station that served my hometown for over a hundred years. I could imagine then and there, at that very moment in time, how the soldiers of the Great War and World War Two felt when leaving the familiarity and warmth of families and loved ones for the trenches of France and Belgium, or the training fields of England, knowing full well that many of them would not be returning to the comforts of home. Why did I feel this way? Think this way? At this particular moment? I don’t really know but the images of troops on trains in cavernous train stations like this one just seemed to pop into my head for no apparent reason: as if it had been ingrained into my psyche from such a young age that their individual and collective sacrifices paved the way for my very own freedom of choice at this very moment in time. And, as I was waving goodbye to my parents just as the Transcontinental was slowly leaving the station, I could almost see or visualize the spectres of long lost souls roaming about this very station looking for and finding, waving goodbye to their friends, their families and their loved ones for the very last time, for eternity. These willowy images dissipating slowly like some afterthought in a mist of memory in the stillness of time.
It took over three days to reach the coast. I was dead tired as it was extremely difficult to sleep in coach. The scenery for a young lad was extremely boring. Trees, and lakes; trees and lakes; the occasional hill covered with trees then more lakes with trees around them. Muskeg, Muskox and Muskrat – it was rather musky out there with a lot of musky critters running or scampering through the musky forests of trees and lakes and streams. Then more trees and more lakes and more trees and… trees. Finally, no more trees. Just flat grassland. A sea, no an ocean of grass. More grass, then a lake, maybe a river bounded by grass on all sides, but no trees, just grass. As far as the eye could see. Grass! Sometimes a small rise would come into view, a small hill covered with grass. I dreamed of grass, of trees, of lakes, of grassy knolls. It was weird man and I was no stoner.
Finally hills, as barren as Sister Mary Bernice, my grade school principal, morphed into bigger hills which transformed into very large hills with deep, deep valleys. Valley’s covered with trees. The mountains, the Rocky Mountains: all the granite one could ever imagine. Most people see these mountains as majestic, beautiful, God’s handiwork, a reflection of his power: the very smallness of mankind in full view when measured against this spectacular backdrop. Yet all I could think of was granite. Enough granite to cover every kitchen counter top on the planet. But wait, that wouldn’t occur for another thirty years. What was I thinking?
Mountains, and more mountains, snow covered, nature’s monuments. Mountain passes that scoured a route for the early explorers: Lewis and Clark, Thompson, Fraser, Carson, DiCrapio, Morrison I thought. Unbelievable! Then darkness. What? These idiot trainers scheduled the very best transit, the transit through the mountains, to occur at night? Dopes! And they called us stoners! Alas, we would arrive at our west coast destination in the morning? Try to get some sleep I thought but in Coach that was an impossibility.
Waking up to a slow moving chugalug train inching its way it seemed into the outer burbs and run-down industrial sites of this so called magnificent coastal city. Magnificent in that it was a large metropolitan area surrounded be the majesty of the coastal mountain range and the Cascades: a nice name for a string of active, dormant and extinct volcanoes. Think of Mount St Helens, Rainier, Hood, Baker, Shasta and other non descript names for mountains that have the potential of reeking natural havoc, cascading death and destruction on an unsuspecting, unassuming public. These mountainous, frighteningly natural megaliths formed a formidable barrier to the north and east of the city’s metropolis but then offset by the calm waters of the Pacific Ocean bordering its northwest, west and south-western flanks. Only problem with this visual description was the curtain of rain, drizzle and mist that permeated my vision out of the coach’s dirty windows. These titans of nature and the oceanic beauty and seemingly calmness of the Pacific were really just figments of my active imagination in all of this rain, or as a described picture by some nature magazine article I read about the place.
My first impressions were not good. I found the outer fringes of this city in disarray: disorganized, third worldly in its ardour and its feel. Low rise buildings of various sizes and shapes with facades of every colour of the rainbow. Ugly purples, grotesque yellows and grim orange decor trims added to this canvass of dirty grey stucco buildings and rusted out arches and gantries of the numerous bridges that spanned the delta of a mighty river. With the dreariness of the rain and the drabness of the grey skies these colours and contours were transformed and morphed into a visual scene that reminded me of some hippy’s bad acid dream of an undulating kaleidoscope landscape of a barf induced wasteland. When we finally reached the western terminus of this national journey, and could go no further, a young fellow like me could only sigh a sigh of relief that the torturous three and a half day trek in coach was finally over.
My sister met me at the station then took me to their abode in the downtown core. They had rented an apartment in the City’s west end, very close to the beach of the British sounding bay with water that was so cold as to render it un-swimmable. One would have an extremely difficult time finding one’s privates after a swim in waters such as this. And who was one anyway? Close to that were funky looking shops and high rise concourses that spread their way along narrow streets, avenues and boulevards toward a massive green expanse of a park that adorned itself with towering trees of old growth forest. But in the rain these towering, magnificent giants of nature were mostly obscured by the fog in the midst of a city that was blanketed for the most part of the year by a canopy of clouds and mist. With all of this rain the buildings of the downtown core exuded a depressed aura of doom and gloom being grey on the mind, grey on one’s thoughts with an outlook of a grey depressing world in the midst of all of this precipitation.
“But at least it’s not snow, you don’t have to shovel it,” I heard over and over again. Yes, but saying this was really a defensive mechanism on one’s part, a sense of insecurity or rationalization by some idiot who chose, regrettably, to live in such a grey expanse of concrete within what is, in reality, an urban rain forest. After a few days of this I wondered how anyone in their right mind could live here. The dampness of the place was bone chilling and mould worthy.
But then again I guess home is where the heart is.
(c) Shakeyjay 2016
*Excerpt from my soon to be published book: “I Thought I’d Died and Gone to Heaven”
That’s me on the left. Wearing a hat!!!
Have a great Navy day