Jul 14, 2005

Wolvenspirit's Summer Excursion Part IV of V: New Places, Old Faces

The second half of our epic trip, it seemed, was much more "people-oriented." That is, we met up and stayed with a few different individuals; a couple of my father's friends from way back in the day, my brother in Hollyweird, and my friend in San Diego. Much of our time was spent socialising with these people and having them show us a good time, rather than us constantly trying to show ourselves a good time like typical tourists. As soon as we rolled into Calgary late in the evening, the trip began to carry a much different complexion.

I did enjoy the drive up to Calgary. It did offer me my first taste of the flat grassy plains region east of the Rockies; that type of landscape which made up so much of Canada. Something was absolutely phantasmagoric about the way the yellow moon rose above the soft, gently sloping hills in the distance. It was quite a dramatic change from the mountainous terrain I had already grown accustomed to, but not an altogether unwelcome one. A feeling of dread didn't begin to settle in until we actually arrived at the outskirts of Calgary. As soon as my eye caught some of the suburbs near the road, I knew I was not going to like this place. In these dismal little lots, every home seemed squished together all too closely, and each one looked exactly the same. The same dull, characterless shades of white and grey, repeated a few hundred times. I found it absolutely depressing, even aside from the fact that I couldn't see so much as a tree anywhere. The closest homes, in fact, were located right next to a railroad track. How pleasant. I would hold my judgment of the city, though, until I saw the actual city.

At around 10:30, we stopped and met Mark Fellowes, my father's old friend, at a Tim Horton's (Canadian equivalent to Dunkin' Donuts) in the drab little suburb of Airdrie. We was truly the jolly old Englishman type, and one would think from his heavy British accent that he had never left the United Kingdom. Amusingly, he was wearing an aloha shirt, shorts, and sandals, -the- Hawaiian style of dress. He and my father greeted each other like two good friends who had not seen each other in decades, which was indeed the truth. Mark did remind me of my father in personality: he was talkative, opinionated, had a sense of humour and irony, and had a wealth of fascinating stories to tell. After the initial meets and greets, he drove his Blazer back to his homestead and we followed him. Unfortunately, he lived in suburban hell, but I was hardly given to complain, considering we were given a place to stay cost-free from a couple nights. The house itself, in fact, was very nice and well-kempt, due to the fact that he had a cleaning lady, despite a wife and two daughters also living with him. I politely sat in the living room for awhile, enduring the whole social routine of introducing several aspects of myself to him and his wife. I did find some of the conversations between him and my father about the "good old days" mildly interesting, but for the most part, I was too exhausted to pay much attention. I was thankful for the opportunity to finally go to sleep on the couch in the basement, after enjoying a nice, hot shower.

My father and I slept in late the next morning. In fact, morning had already vanished before either of us awoke. As it turned out, he and Mark had played Chess until 5 in the morning. When I stepped outside into the backyard and noticed what a sultry, dreary sunny day it was, I was thankful that I had slept in so late. The backyard, though, was turned into a beautiful English garden, full of magnificent flowers and smashingly handsome plants. Besides that, directly over the fence opposite from the house was a sprawling green football (soccer, you American jokers) field. I certainly found this preferable to, say, even more seemingly identical houses standing there instead. Even still, I could not help but find this place as a future living prospect rather dismal. In the distance, I noticed but one construction site after another, a sure sign that the entire community was rapidly growing, and that there must have been a good job market. Moving from paradise to a place like that, though, was something I would probably never even consider.

I can assert without a shred of doubt that the afternoon we spent touring a section of downtown Calgary was probably the worst time I had on the entire trip. It wasn't the company I was with at all that made me so melancholy- I enjoyed Mark's personality and found him to be a very likeable "Fellow," and his wife was also hospitable. It was something about the city's atmosphere, something about the dry heat and the hot sun beating down on me as we strolled down a crowded downtown avenue. It all made me very, very depressed, but I just tried the best I could to simply go along with it. I found absolutely nothing I liked about the city at all; the cowboy/rodeo culture only got on my nerves, the cityscape seemed almost obscenely formulaic. It was hot and breezeless, the streets reeked of car exhaust and fast food grease, and my ears were violated with the sounds of loud people, noisy traffic, and the booming bass of rolling stereos. I was sweating not only from the heat, but all the energy I was consuming simply in trying to keep a cool head. Thirsty as I was, when they tried to drag me into a Starfucks cafe for something to drink, I politely declined, insisting that it was against my politics. I abhor Starbucks with a passion, and almost considered it adding insult to injury that they would stop there of all places. In all honesty, I wanted to either go on an anger rampage or go hide in a corner and cry. If I had brought my iPod, which had been a lifesaver in more than a few occasions, I would have been able to settle myself down much more easily, as music can be very soothing. But this time, I didn't even have that much going for me.

When I took a small excursion by myself to a local cafe and bought a large smoothie, downing it in a dark, cool, quiet corner for a few minutes, I started to relax, and the day improved from there. I headed back to Starfucks and recongregated with my companions, and from there we returned to the Blazer and Mark drove us to the local mall. Now, as much as I am not a huge fan of malls, my experience there was a thousand times more enjoyable. We all ate in a fairly nice Mexican restaurant before going our separate ways. I found an HMV store and bought a couple CD's I had been searching for for quite some time, and finally got a chance to explore The Bay, an unbelievably expansive, three-level department store that sold just about everything but kitchen sinks (or maybe I missed that section). Mark's wife offered to drive me to Best Buy before going home, and there, I found another FM radio tuner for my iPod, seeing as I had somehow lost the one I had received in the mail a few months ago. I must say, the day had improved greatly, and twilight was a beautiful sight.

Later that evening was just another living room social festival, and I accepted an offer for a Canadian beer. I wasn't expecting to like it, but I found that it tasted rather pleasant, relative to the American garbage. The best experience of the night, by far, was stepping outside into the yard and looking up into the sky. A band of extremely dark clouds had formed directly above, and they looked so awesome and intimidating in the fading daylight. When I heard that first clap of thunder, witnessed that first flash of beautiful, brilliant white light, I wanted to jump for joy. I did, in fact, let myself out into the soccer field and prance around for awhile, the jovial, invigorating, and anticipatory atmosphere of an approaching storm infecting my spirit and my body. I was witness to a few beautiful bolts of lightning streaking across the sky, and a few ground-rumbling bursts of thunder. I considered the storm cell some gorgeous monster I had secretly befriended. I was standing upon its shoulder as it roared and rumbled over the neighbourhood it chose to threaten that evening, applauding its every jaw-dropping display of stupendous power and patting it on its back for a job well done.

The next morning, it was time to move on. We said our goodbyes to our excellent hosts and to my delight, somehow found our way out of Calgary's suburban hell. The next few days would be spent driving, driving, and more driving, with only a few rest stops. We chose to follow a lonely highway out of southern Alberta and into Montana, with every intention of going through Kalispell and visiting Glacier National Park on the way to Oregon. Getting back into America was no issue, and the scenery began to change immediately after we crossed the border. It filled me with a sense of glee to see the Rockies again, this time in Montana. Sunny days have a tendency to look much better up in the mountains, where everything is cooler, sunshine isn't so ordinary and expected, and the brilliant light brings out the best in almost every physical feature.

Glacier National Park was simply amazing. In a sense, I found much of it even more impressive than most areas in the Canadian Rockies. Though it could have just been the conditions of that particular day, everything seemed even more colourful and spectacular. Some of the waterfalls that could be witnessed from the side of the road were breathtaking, as were the gorgeous snow-capped peaks. The road itself was a blast to drive, as in many places it was very narrow and neatly hugged the cliff faces, and it was always characterised by incredible scenery on either side. In a couple places, small waterfalls splashed directly onto the road, serving as a sort of free complementary carwash. We certainly took our time getting through the park, as I stopped and took photographs obsessively.

A stroke of misfortune did occur there, though. When I reversed out of a pull-out, convinced there was no one behind me, I was startled by a honk of a horn, and almost simultaneously, the realisation that I had backed into something. That "something" turned out to be a mini-van full of Asian tourists, which had somehow appeared seemingly out of nowhere. How I didn't see his vehicle was beyond me. At any rate, my father insisted on trading places and pulling back into the original position we had been in. It's quite funny how it worked out, actually. The occupants of the van, particularly the driver, was rather late in emerging from his vehicle, and didn't even notice that I was the one that had in fact backed into him. Seeing my father come out of the driver's side, they assumed it was him who did it, which was fortunate, considering the rental was registered to him and I wasn't even -supposed- to be driving. We were also quite lucky to have this happen in America, since we would not have covered by insurance in Canada.

It turned out a small section of the van's bumper was caved in, which ours barely had a scratch on it. I was definitely not impressed by the weakness of their bumper, nor was I impressed with myself for dealing such damage. Some young girl insisted on annoyingly videotaping everything, including the exchanging of contact/insurance information and the filling out of an accident report. This little accident put a little damper on the day, but I do have one good thing to say about it: we haven't heard from them or their insurance company to this day. They had also been driving a rental, so at least they couldn't have complained about us undermining the vanity of 'their' car. About half an hour later down the road, my father allowed me to drive again, but not before giving me an earful. What else can I say but accidents happen, especially when driving oh so many miles? I feel lucky that was the only accident that happened throughout the entire trip, with the way some people drive.

It was already dusk by the time we traversed across the Idaho panhandle, and I ended up driving through another thunderstorm near Couers d'Alene, much to my wonderment. We ended up stopping in Spokane for something to eat, and I also found that city somewhat depressing. There was absolutely no nightlife to speak of unless you count city construction crews, the air was uncomfortably cold even in the early summer, and everything looked unbecomingly funky. This -was- the main downtown section, mind. At this point, I already felt like I had my fill of mainland cities.

Finally, I turned the wheel over to my father, as I had truly become sick of driving freeways in the dark. I believe I fell asleep for a considerable length of time, as the next thing I knew dawn had arrived and we had just about made our way into Oregon along the Columbia River. For some reason, my memory of passing through Portland is rather hazy. I recall that it was extremely foggy, and exceptionally verdant. We had originally planned on spending at least a day in Portland so I would get a feel for the city, but alas, we passed it by on a freeway in less than half an hour. It's not as if I would have experienced anything particularly new, either; we had visited relatives in the city the last time we had gone in a mainland trip around ten years ago. I was in a trance of sorts all the way down to Salem, where I finally began to snap out of it and insisted on driving again. I wasn't exactly well-rested, but I at least felt I could keep my eyes open for a duration of time.

Admittedly, though, the rather boring scenery along I-5 had a certain sedative quality about it. Staying alert was gradually becoming more and more difficult the closer to Winston we got. My father had arranged to meet his other old friend named Mark at his house just outside of Winston, and it was quite a bit of an extra drive from Portland, especially at this point. Taking a pit stop at a rest area truly helped me overcome my weariness, though, for being able to move around a little, "evacuate," and get something to eat and drink truly helps in such situations. Eventually, I finally made it to the Winston exit, and we stopped at a convenience store, where my father tried calling Mark again for some exact directions. He didn't answer his phone, leaving us to go searching for a map. When we obtained one, we tried driving down main street looking for the first road that led to his house, but to no avail. I cannot say I was really in the mood to deal with much screwing about. When we stopped at a 7-11, something rather impeccable happened. We asked the ditzy clerk behind the counter if she knew where Byran Creek Road was, and she just gave us a blank stare. Another customer, however, said he happened to be heading over to Byron Creek Road, and offered to lead us there. What was so amazing about this was that Byron Creek Road was several miles out of town, reached by quite an assortment of other separate roads. What were the chances that someone else in the store would be heading all the way over there, not to mention overheard our question? It has got to be Luck of the Irish.

I followed his white pick-up truck way out into the backcountry, trying not to lose sight of him as he was a very fast driver. The gravelly one-lane Byron Creek Road led past a few modest rural homesteads, and we had but one address in mind. Unfortunately, we experienced great difficulty finding it. Between a lower address number and a higher address number, we expected to find Mark's house. All we found, though, were patches of forest and a creek. We searched up and down for awhile, before finally venturing down a backroad and, by chance, creeping through a gate and happening upon him and his place. We were also greeted by a couple of scroungy-looking, but very friendly three-legged mutts and a large, full-grown Sharpie named Lucy, who just happened to be his dog.

I definitely remembered Mark Jackson from my early childhood. He had played a rather large role in it, after all, as he had been a best friend of both my parents for years and years. He was about as "hippie" as they come, never seen without his long hair and long beard, and showing an otherwise ungroomed appearance. He didn't just look it, though, he acted it. He had lived in a 'commune' with my father for a good number of years, and I can hardly imagine what that must have been like. Living as cheaply as possible and keeping it simple was always his motto. He had taken care of our homestead in Oregon while we were away having a disastrous vacation in Mexico, and also put our old golden retriever, Heather, out of the misery associated with her old age. Amusingly, one thing I remember him best for was the large buckets of home-made cheese dip he would bring over with him nearly everytime he visited us. I loved that stuff as the Canadian summer days were long.

Mark does remind me of myself in a lot of ways. He is a leftie with a very quirky personality, a dry, oddball sense of humour, a deep fondness and appreciation for the outdoors, and a very autonomous, free-spiritedness nature. It was very interesting to shake his hand and meet up with him for the first time in seventeen years, and I imagine seeing that I had become as tall as he was was even more fascinating for him. He and my father had barely talked at all for several years, so we had had no idea how much or how little he had changed. Come to find out, he hadn't changed much at all. He was living completely on his own in a very modest, private little place in the Oregon backcountry, and had no computer, television set, or even a bathroom. He and my father made a living designing, creating, and selling jewelry at craft fairs for a number of years, and he still had a jewelry shop set up in his house- I imagine that must have one of his primary occupations. Oh, there was also a nice little football (no really, football) field nearby, and I kept myself entertained for a spelling kicking the ball into the goal from a considerable distance. The contrast between the way this Mark was living and the Calgary Mark was living was, needless to say, extremely heavy. Though Mark Fellowes was essentially doing his own thing as an independent graphics designer, this Mark didn't even require a job with his mode of living. He insisted that the occasional social event with his neighbours kept him from ever getting too lonely; but then again, Mark is the kind of man who rarely gets lonely. I rather admired him for what he had going for himself. He was living exactly the way he wanted to live; he wasn't a slave to some suburb or city, but rather an occupant of a very peaceful, health-promoting environment. One theme that was repeatedly driven into my head throughout the course of this journey was, "the closer you live to a city, the more of a slave to it you are."

He did offer to let me crash in his old camper, where he normally slept. I was grateful for the opportunity to finally lay down somewhere soft, and fell fast asleep, dozing through most of the afternoon. When I was finally rested enough to get up, my father had just gone to bed. Yup, you guessed it, another few long rounds of Chess with his old friend. I spent a good amount of time exploring the backcountry and mentally and physically preparing myself for the remainder of the drive into California. Everything was right on schedule for us. We would end up leaving Mark's place later in the evening (after having gone up to his German neighbour's house to watch the last game of the NBA finals, bleh) and cruising down into northern California via the coastal highway. My father had a fabulous time communing with his friends from yesteryear, and I enjoyed the company of both of them. And hey... nothing beats staying for free.

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