Sunday, June 27, 2004

Travelling Through the Neo-wilderness

(written April 25th, 2002)

From the earliest Neolithic cross-continent pilgrimages to the extended frontier travels of Lewis & Clark man has developed this finely tuned, instinctive, and irrepressible nature to roam. Whether it be part of a desperate midnight flight from marauding bloodthirsty enemy barbarians at the border, a soul-searching, spirit-enhancing caravan through the nations cultural heartland, or a mere trip down the road to the village General Store in search of smoked jerky and a 6-pack, we will always have this desire to pack up our shit, or portions of it, and lug it for great distances across land or sea or foam, all for the sake of this desirable notion of the “Journey”.

Man is no more meant to gravitate to the couch with packages of Ding-Dong’s to stare mindlessly at Julia Roberts movie marathons in a ‘Clockwork Orange-style’ socio-experiment on the weekend, than he was meant to ever receive total “Customer Satisfaction” at Walmart. It’s inevitable that sooner or later you are bound to sink into that usual dull grind of routine, and experience that yearning for the freedoms of the road, like the satisfaction of counting the added miles on your odometer, the insistent craving for roadside burgers and greasy onion rings, and the absolute thirst for the flavor of stale Hazelnut coffee in Styrofoam containers. It’s the perfect opportunity to shed your daily responsibilities and your ordinary perceptions of the norm, and hurl yourself headfirst into the realm of blurred passing country-sides and over-priced salted snacks. The Journey offers one a sense of random chance and endless possibilities, as well as a brief glance into the heart of organized chaos. It also serves to allow you to blow off much needed steam and anxiety, as well as quell that burning desire to get drunk in a strange land and make a complete ass out of yourself in front of complete strangers. And, we all know how important that is!

Once again, I have been fortunate enough to embark on another of these journeys into the unknown ‘Neo-Wilderness’. However, unlike similar trips in the past, this journey enabled me to more comfortably sit back and observe the whole experience, unburdened this time by such minor trivialities as steering and navigating. It was decided by fate that the first initial leg of my journey would be by rail to Vermont, and then I would be left at the mercy of my host’s very capable driving abilities. And I tell you now, there is NOTHING as exhilarating as taking tight moonlit mountain corners after a bowl of local swag at 70mph, like some form of futuristic Mad Max Bobsled on wheels. I was half expecting to see customized tanks and other fortified machines of destruction, all with the local yokels in hockey masks and fur loincloths leaning out the windows while wielding chains and crossbows to appear behind us and attempt to force off the road. But alas, it was meant to be and I would survive to tell the tale. At the very least, the whole experience of the journey, outside the actual train ride itself, was rather akin to tearing through the ‘It’s A Small World’ attraction at Walt Disney on an outboard Skidoo. Except, there is no hour line-up in the blistering 90 degree heat, and you can preset your journey soundtrack to the tune of Buddy Guy rather than that monotonous repetitive sucky-sweet singsong that eats away at your brain like a lingering tumor..."it's a small world afterall, it's a small world afterall..."

But, first things first ~ the train ride. I was rather excited to begin my journey off with this mode of transportation, as I had always anticipated traveling through the American landscape away from the paved blacktops and the hypnotizing ‘Symphony of Tail-lights’ ahead of you. I had previously envisioned an enlightening glimpse into the rugged hub of the country’s great cross-culture. I had been hoping to witness cowboys on horseback jumping aboard in a daring train robbery attempt, take potshots at grazing Buffalo herds from the window, or hear the whoops from an Indian war party as they rode down on us from the above hilltops. At the very least, I had hoped to participate in a lively poker game with shifty characters dressed in ruffled lace cuffs and visors, and with such first names as ‘Dallas’, ‘Spats’ or ‘Vegas Vinnie’.

In actuality, it was nothing more than the whooshing through the backyards of middle class America, to a blurred landscape of rusted oil drums, discarded shopping carts, and weathered nudie magazines that have fanned out like some exotic bird of porn, nesting in the scrub growth by the side of the tracks. There were however, brief moments of exhilaration when I had thought I had spotted my long lost ‘Big Wheel’ tricycle with the racing stripes and ‘Wipeout Whammy-Bar’ that was mysteriously swiped from my school’s bike rack in Grade 2. Also, there was not the collection of rugged adventurers aboard that I had initially imagined. Instead, I was seated among the rather gregarious juvenile participants of this year’s FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America), who would feel the necessity to explain in great detail for the rest of the journey, about their prize winning ‘Raid5’ (whatever the fuck that is) web design for a future flower shop. I was particularly pleased not so much in the entrepreneurial efforts of my young traveling companions, but for their obvious gay-zeal and outright concern for the rough and tumble business future for flower shop owners everywhere.

Likewise, even the old stereotype of the jolly uniformed train porter who welcomes you aboard, checks your ticket, lights you a cigar, and makes sure you are as comfortable in your seat as possible is a myth. Apart from the grumpy attendant who tries to pathetically weasel tips for merely heating up your elaborately priced, pre-packaged roast beef sandwich in the nuker in the onboard closet of a dining car, there is NOTHING on this earth as humourless as an Amtrak employee on the morning commuter train. But, providing you are mindful of your P&Q’s, and DO NOT make direct eye contact with the porter while inquiring about your destination arrival time (which will be about as correct as genocide), you should be able to successfully avoid the wrath as your porter swipes your ticket, sneers, and scrawls illegible symbols above your head, as if you were being marked for extermination. All in all, the best part of the train journey is the disembarking part. Well that, and the Oatmeal Raison cookie for $2.75, that will later serve to flush out all the other cellophaned toxins in your system that you may have absorbed on the journey thus far.

Now, I don’t mean to indicate that these experiences should suggest that the journey itself was a loss, or a disappointment. In fact, these realizations and observations made the journey more enjoyable, more eventful, and even more meaningful. It would be naïve to believe that the world is without error and that the trip will always be smooth and direct. The truth is, that they very seldom are. But aren’t these the very events and instances that provide you the complete and utter alienation from the routine you so strongly wished to escape from in the first place? If the journey was to go as perfectly as originally planned, would you have stumbled across the amazing cuisine at the ‘Skunk Hollow Tavern’, end up singing late night bonfire guitar ditties entitled “Silly Bitch” to the tune of “Earth Angel”, or found yourself pleasantly lost on a sunny Saturday afternoon at the remote crossroad intersection of ‘Possum Drive’ and ‘Potato Road’? Almost certainly not, but these memories will be the ones that will last with you forever, and be the ones that you will later relate to your buddies around the office cubicle at lunchtime. Perhaps it is not the destination at all, but the actual journey in itself that is the REAL mental stimulus behind mans instinctive roaming tendencies. And during these ‘Trials of Miles’, it is in the getting lost and the loss of the initial preconceived notions of the journey in itself that serves as the real lessons in life, and that provide the greatest release of pent-up stress from sedentary living. And wasn’t that exactly what the doctor ordered in the first place? Oh, and about that bit about getting drunk in a strange land in front of complete strangers...well, mission accomplished there too!


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