Monday, November 21, 2005

I Am Cannabian (Part II)

DISCLAIMER: The sad fact is, that this intended second part (Part I) for my vacation travelogue is long overdue. Not long enough that I have forgotten the intense displeasure of having eaten roadside cheese curd - but long enough. Coupled with the fact that my time at the keyboard is limited these days and I'm feeling guilty of having posted nothing in almost a week, I decided to post it here now despite the fact that it's still, as of yet, incomplete. But hey, somethings you just want to keep for yourself.

I'm so ashamed of myself. Enjoy nonetheless.

(As I my focus was in the diligently driving us for the entire length of our journey, the following travel accounts have all made in hindsight after deciphering whatever few shorthand notes my female companion was able to scrawl into a note pad at 120km/hr. Judging by the few chicken scratches that were made, either I had very little to say for the duration of the trip, or I have just inadvertently stumbled across the formula for the Caramilk Secret. I apologize if the caliber of my ‘in-the-moment’ lowbrow humor is not up to usual high standards, and the fact that this little epic travelogue only took another 3 months to finally be posted - albeit incomplete.)

St. Catharines; ON (9:23AM)

Okay, so we didn’t leave so early in the morning as planned. It wasn’t an early morning sunshine that cascaded through our windshield; it was more like an early mid-day afternoon’s glare - whatever. It felt good to finally be on the road and putting some distance between us and the normal 9-5 doldrums that had become our daily work lives. I think I speak for the both of us when I say that we needed this adventure like we needed a million dollar lottery prize*. For me, at this point, after exactly one year since my last major trip to Texas, I wouldn’t even care so much if I were to be abducted and gang-probed by a group of bug-eyed aliens so long as I was able to return with a nice tan and a token souvenir t-shirt: “I GOT ABDUCTED AND GANG-PROBED BY ALIENS AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS LOUSY SHIRT”. It still would be a welcome interruption to the mundane routine that I have become enslaved to. With each passing mile beneath our wheels I could actually feel the layers of stress unraveling from my body like a drying onion.

Unfortunately however, the miles of our first journey leg lay between Toronto and Cornwall along Highway 401, through Oshawa, Cobourg, Brighton, Trenton, Kingston, et al, and is about as exciting as watching paint dry. The only real site from the roadway besides the acres of golf courses and regular Tim Horton’s rest stops is the “Big Apple Marketplace” on the outskirts of Kingston. The marketplace even has a humungous apple (which, to me, looks more like a mutated peach) constructed in the parking lot to proudly advertise: “Over 2,358,644 pies sold”. Wow! That’s a lot of fucking pie; but hardly enough tacky tourist appeal worthy of stopping for. Besides, being the uber-health conscious travelers we are, we avoided the monster apple pies as well as the buckets of greasy chicken from the rest stop KFC at the next turn off, and instead we feasted on regular sized apples and sweetened rice cakes (which, to me, despite the added sweetened flavor, still taste like air) – all conveniently located within arms reach behind the seat of course.

Besides, at the KFC rest stop, I couldn’t help but feel a little nervous at the number of angry-looking Arab men milling around the gas pumps. It was as if there was an Osama bin Laden look-alike competition being held at the Esso station At the risk of sounding racist, I was only too pleased to be quickly leaving behind all the beards and turbans at the service station with a full tank of gas and my head still connected to my body.

I know, I know, I watch entirely too much CNN. Anderson Cooper has tainted my perspective on reality. But shit, that’s why I’m going on vacation in the first fucking place!

Oh, and just food for thought here, but do they have a nuclear physicist on hand in order to work out the exact distance proximity between Tim Horton rest stops? It's uncanny how every time you happen to feel even just the slightest twinge of discomfort or pressure in your bladder - low and behold, there's a Tim Horton's rest stop! Using some unheard of form of space age mathematics, they must have somehow calculated the exact bodily breakdown of a regular-sized double-double and then alloted the precise moment of time before you next have to take a piss...and built another convenient rest stop. And so it goes...the cycle continues.

Hows that for a fucking marketing strategy?

Gananoque; ON (1:30PM)

Upon leaving the Kingston area, we ventured into the Thousand Islands district; not that we could see many islands from the highway, but judging by the roadside billboard advertisements, they are a popular tourist attraction in this area. A French explorer called this region the “Thousand Islands”, and, although the islands number more than 1,800, the name has stuck. Only a Frenchman would come up with such an inappropriate name. Although, having said that, “The One Thousand and Eight Hundred Islands” just hasn’t got the same ring to it.

From our haloed CAA “Trip Tik”**: "The islands range from mere points of rock to village size, but most can accommodate only a summer home or summer camp. Cruises offering close up views of the isles depart from towns along both shores.” Sounds like a perfectly delightful place in itself in which to get lost for a week if we should decide to pack in the driving; but I don’t like my chances of successfully crossing over to any of the thousand islands, even the closest one, with all our camping gear in tow (not to mention the girl); particularly after only existing exclusively on apples and sweet tasting air for the past five hours. The bottom of Lake Ontario is not the ideal vacation experience I had previously envisioned.

(3:00PM)

Only a short time after passing the Thousand Island region, we finally pass through Cornwall and by and enormous bulletin board proclaiming “Bienvenue a le Province de Quebec” (which, I incorrectly assumed, meant “Live Sex: Next Exit”). We had finally arrived in French Canada.

Montreal; QC. (4:30PM)

From the moment I entered into Quebecois Country, I have been about as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Even the David Bromberg playing on the CD player was doing nothing to quell my uneasiness. All I have heard about from others who have made this same trip are the nightmarish tales of gridlock traffic, insane Quebec drivers, and directions that may as well be written in brail for all the usefulness they are providing for drivers. And after eating only apples and rice cakes thus far, I’m becoming a bit anxious about staying on route and not getting turned around in the notorious Montreal Rush Hour traffic and ending up in Goosefart, Labrador hours later. Just imagine what the roadside coffee must taste like in Goosefart, Labrador. I bet it wouldn’t even be fit enough to wash down your crispy beaver on a stick.

Being the disciplined Canadian Anglophone that I am, I had envisioned the directions through Quebec to be only slightly less than the formula for cold water fusion. Surely, reading the map would be like trying to follow a recipe from an Urudu cookbook. However, the Francocized directions were not as difficult as I had originally feared - pretty fucking simple actually. Nord, Sud, Est, Quest - that’s practically English for fuck sakes! Add a letter here; minus one there; we’re practically speaking the same language. However, apart from these easy, basic directional prompts, my French directions are not so hot. For example, I learned on this same trip that “Part après le Virage” is not actually any city that can be located on a map, but actually only French for “Next Left Turn”. Who knew?

All in all, we survived to tell the tale and the Montreal Rush Hour traffic was just as everyone has described it – horrendous. It was bumper-to-bumper gridlock traffic until we passed through the Pont Champlain Tunnel, which runs under the St. Lawrence River to the south banks of Quebec. Luckily we were able to amuse ourselves with some P.J. Harvey and reading all the ridiculous sounding department store names in French such as “Prix Club”. Not somewhere I would ever want to be caught shopping on my vacation, of course.

St-Jean-Port-Joli; QC (8:05PM)

After nearly twelve hours of driving and fussing with the dashboard settings - I am famished. I would eat road kill at this point if offered - and considering that we're left with only French roadside diners to choose from there was a very good chance that this may have, in fact, come true. But if I didn't get something resembling sustenance in my belly besides rice cakes and apples, there was an excellent chance that I may gone all 'Alive' and wound up eating my companion and co-pilot by the end of the day. With this carnivorous air hanging over us, we decided to stop at the cleverly named 'Arête-Stop' (or, 'Stop-Stop'). Being deep in the heart of Quebecois, as we were, ordering was only accomplished through a series of apologies and gesturing at the menu like some pathetic Neolithic primate - albeit, a polite one. I took the opportunity to also indulge in another one of my life firsts and ordered an infamous side order of French Fires with gravy and cheese curd to go with my club sandwich. I know – I’m crazy, eh?

I'm not sure what came over me just then. Normally, I wouldn't come within 50ft. of anything called "curd", much less voluntarily order it for the purpose of eating. Curd? Isn't that a dispossessed camel salesman in the Middle East or something? But how many times am I ever going to have this opportunity again? So after one quick table change later and a short time of spinning our road map around in front of this on the table like a pinwheel as we tried to find our bearings - the waitress returned with what could only be assumed was our meal. The club sandwiches were recognizable enough (after all, who could ever fuck up a club sandwich?), but what was mounded up on a separate plate all unto it's own was something that only devil himself could be sure of. Ah, yes, - the curd. It was everything I had expected and more...it had the color of a melted down traffic cone and looked like a neon iceberg floating in a puddle of greasy brown slop. My poor rice cake padded stomach wouldn't stand a chance to this cheesy monstrosity and I had to admit defeat after only two meager forkfuls. But at least I would be able to cross off another first from my list at any rate – no matter how revolting.

So after one large bowel movement in the Men’s Room at the Arete-Stop and one more hopeless round of desperately gesturing at the map with the kid behind the cash register to try and find our location***, we settled back into our cockpits, put some Aimee Mann on the CD player and set the controls to cruise into the night for the next leg of our cross country odyssey.

Somewhere in New Brunswick (12:30AM-ish)

As we rambled on through the night we struggled with our roadmap directions desperate for signs that we weren’t instead heading towards Goosefart. Had I not been so high at the time, I may have actually been a bit concerned. But luckily, we were still on track.

As my female companion napped (Hey, after a hard say of sitting still, changing CD’s, and wrapping and unwrapping packages of rice cakes - who wouldn’t need a nap?) I begin to ponder our destination. Antigonish is a Mi’kmaq (Eastern sub-Arctic culture group) name, meaning “the place where the branches are torn off by bears gathering beechnuts”. Just the kind of thing you want to be pondering while slowly lapsing into a sleep depraved hallucinatory state. Suddenly, I felt vulnerable knowing that while we were sleeping in our comfy sleeping bags throughout the weekend, my new Coleman tent would probably only provide us about as much protection to foraging bears as the cellophane wrapping on a microwave dinner. Whatever the case, this was nothing I was prepared to share with my slumbering co-pilot. I could rather risk hungry bears as opposed to waking the girl currently snoring beside me anyways. Besides, if the bears in Nova Scotia were even half as faggy looking as the frolicking deer pictured in the ‘Deer Crossing’ signs that we continually passed by at the side of the road, we had nothing to worry about.

Why DO those deer silhouettes on the roadside warning signs look so faggy anyways?

(The rest of this story, including that of having the simple law of natural physics explained to us - two University graduates - by a lowly gas station attendant at 5:30AM in Moncton, NB will have to wait for another time/post.)

* For those of you idealists who say that “money can’t buy happiness”, let me just say that I have some pretty impressive mounting bills. Money may not buy me complete happiness, but it sure will make my financial ruin easier to deal with.

** Which, it should be noted, was obtained quite unjustly the day before we left by impersonating a valid card-carrying CAA member in a sly coup that would have impressed any CIA covert operative.

*** I would like to be the first to dispense with the myth that the majority of French Canadians speak fluent English. Here I had been in Quebec for nearly half a day and I was still communicating like one of the apes from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.

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