Never shut up about your dreams. You’ll hold yourself to them.
It is strange to see yourself age.
I understand why they don’t want you to smile in driver’s licence photos. No one is smiling when they get pulled over. Or as Carol Leifer said in stand up routine, “If you need a picture of me how I look when I get pulled over, I should be crying hysterically with one of boobs pulled out.
But Passport photos don’t make sense. I took me two minutes just to shoot my new passport photo because when I would think of my trip, I’d break out into a smile that would make the Cheshire Cat reexamine the meaning of happiness. I’ll be smiling as I go through customs at every stop, shamelessly asking them to put an old fashioned stamp in my passport.
When I applied for my new passport, I was surprised by two things. First, Passport Canada has really got their shit together. I was in and out of the office in Downtown Calgary in under 30 minutes. Second, they didn’t want my old passport. Granted, it expired over 15 years ago. I kept meaning to renew it but living in the States and renewing a Canadian Passport is a huge headache. Plus for many years, I was travelling to places that did not require a passport…and then, for many more years, I couldn’t travel at all; for a time because of business obligations and then because I just couldn’t afford it (See blog post: Where do you find the money?) But when I asked if they needed it, they smiled and said, “Keep it as a souvenir.” It is full of stamps but best of all it has a great old photo of me, which I have been able to place side by side for a startling comparison.
Oh my God! Look at the hair! Hey, it was the 90s. Don’t judge me. But I can’t help but see these two photos and think, “From lady killer to serial killer.”
Good thing I shaved and can smile on the side of the road. I’f I looked like this image all the time, I’d never get picked up.
Turns out it was behind the couch the whole time…
As more and more people discover my upcoming travel plans of hitchhiking around the world, the question I hear the most often is, “How are you going to hitchhike over the ocean?” After I resist the urge to smack them upside the head, I politely explain that I’m flying over the oceans and hitchhiking the land bits (and I suppose the smaller water bits but most European ferries have started charging per person as opposed to per vehicle)
A close second is, “Where did you get the money to do this?” My favorite answer is, “Pocket change.”
I suffer from a rare disorder called “Coin Hording”. I doubt A&E will ever do a series about it. For years, my ex-wife used to call me the “Change Magnet.” She was convinced that I could leave the house with $20 dollars in my wallet, make two quick stops and come back with $3.50 in change. I used to think maybe I was blacking out and reverting to my alter personality, a hobo who would stand on the corner and panhandle whilst whistling Roger Miller’s “King of the Road”.
The simple fact is that I’ve always seemed incapable of reaching for change when paying for an item of any value. I’d go into one store and buy something for $8.20. Eighty cents went in my pocket. Three minutes later, I’d be buying a 75 cent donut using a five dollar bill. Later in the day, I’d buy $72.56 worth of groceries and pay with a hundred. I wouldn’t give it a second thought until I got home, got undressed and all my change would end up on the nightstand. None of it ever found it’s way back into my pocket.
The disorder was serious enough while I was living in the United States. Things really took a downward spiral when I moved home to Canada. In the States, they have pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and the rarely used Kennedy half dollar. But here in Canada, although we phased the penny out of use in 2012, we have Loonies and Toonies! ($1 and $2 coins).
Too make matters worse, every day at work I collect two tip envelopes for my prior day’s hours. One for the night hours and one for any graveyard shift time. In these envelopes is between 25 cents to $4.75 in change as well as, fortunately, plenty of folding money as well. And where has the change been going? Right into my pocket, of course. Then right onto the night stand. My disorder was at a new low. 22 Months at my current job. Night after night, the change built up. I was keeping it in boxes, in zip lock bags, in nightstand drawers. Eventually I was keeping it all in plastic Dryers Ice Cream Buckets in the top drawer of my dresser. One evening, not long ago, I opened the dresser drawer…and the whole thing capsized from the weight.
When I first started thinking (dreaming?) of this adventure, I knew the change was going to be play an important part. I estimated I had a little over $900 in change. Well, even a novice sneaker-tramp knows you can go a long way with $900 on the open road. So I started sorting. And counting. And sorting. And Counting.
I stopped sorting and counting once I reached about $1500CAD in just Loonies and Toonies. There was plenty more not even including the two buckets of dimes, nickels and quarters. It was time to get serious. I got stacks of coin rolls and started rolling…and rolling…and rolling. My girlfriend came over and joined in the fun and within a couple of hours…Behold! The Great Pyramids of Badger!
My fingers already hurt and I resigned myself too the fact I’d never get through the nickels, quarters and especially the dimes (Canadian dimes are VERY small and thin) so we made a quick run to the Coinstar machine where I begrudgingly gave up an 11.9% fee in exchange for a five minute quick sort.
For a grand total of $2516.68. Over and above the cost of airline tickets, insurance and equipment (which so far have run me about $1200) I think $2516.68 is an excellent budget for a two month, worldwide hitchhiking adventure. But don’t worry, I have more than enough in case of emergencies.
The moral of the blog is even you want to do something, the money is there. You often just have to turn over a rock, or a couch cushion or two.
30 years later, I’m still in love with my hometown. Others? Not so much.
Through the wonders of “Facebook Memories”, I discovered an interesting tidbit. I am going to be starting this journey EXACTLY two years to the date that I returned to Calgary after two and a half decades of living in the United States. I don’t know if it was subconscious or coincidental but the calendar as read by Zuckerburg don’t lie.
My family moved to Calgary in 1975 when the population was a mere 176,000. In those 30 years, it has ballooned to almost 1.2 Million. Spurred by the oil and gas industry, and possibly Alberta’s complete absence of any sales tax, it grew at what can now only be called an alarming rate.
To the left is the Calgary Tower. (Husky Tower originally). I remember seeing it for the first time as a ten year old boy. I was mystified by the giant structure that could be seen from any vantage point in the city. A beacon of wealth and prosperity and the symbol of my new home.
And boy-o-BOY, was I excited to find out that my father’s office was right next door. The wall of his office at Allstate Insurance actually vibrated as the elevator shuttled tourists upwards for the most spectacular view in Western Canada. The Rocky Mountains to the west and endless prairies as far as the eye could reach to east. I remember my first trip to the observation deck. My mother yelled at me because I couldn’t get enough of either view. I ran back and forth, drinking it all in. I remember wishing I had two faces so I could look both east and west at the same time.
I left Calgary in 1986, well after the boom had begun. Above is the Calgary I returned to in 2014. See the Calgary Tower? No? Believe it or not, it is still there. However, now the 8th tallest structure, with 11 office buildings within 20 metres of eclipsing it, it can only be seen on the downtown skyline if you’re looking from the east.
Fine dining. Theater. Ballet. Sports (Go Flames!). Art House Cinema. In my opinion, Calgary is a world class city. Problem is that I seem to be one of the very few to hold that opinion. Poll after poll shows Calgary to be one of the the cleanest, most livable city in the world and we even have the Best Mayor in the World. However, Calgarians distrust in these outsiders opinions can be summed up by a simple exchange I had at work just a few evenings ago.
When I am not screenwriting, I am a poker dealer by trade. I love my job and I am fortunate to work in one of the best poker rooms in all of Canada (Which saying a lot because Canadians love poker.) Since I learned my craft and lived for the ten previous years in Las Vegas, my name tag states Vegas as my hometown. A player read my name tag and the following exchange took place.
Player: You’re from Las Vegas? Really?
Me: Well, actually I was born in Toronto and I was raised here in Calgary. But I spend the last 10 years in Vegas.
Player: Oh my God. why would you ever come back here?
As with my players, I am sure many readers have visited Las Vegas. The glitz! The glamour! The parties! But if you’ve ever lived there, you know that those monuments of neon are built on the broken dreams of wannabe high rollers and it’s citizen’s alike. Get away from the strip, even just blocks away, and you see blight and squalor and addiction and every form of human devastation imaginable. The city has David Copperfield and a Cirque show on every corner but no real culture.
But Calgarians, despite having everything at their finger tips can’t shake that small town mentality. I blame the Calgary Stampede.
Once a year, beginning the second Friday in July, the bustling metropolis grinds to a halt for ten days to make way for the Calgary Stampede. Billed as the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, it can be heart-warming to see how the city embraces this 10 day nostalgic fest. Walk into any bank or corporate office during rodeo time and you’ll see it. Almost every man and woman wears a cowboy costume to work. The white Stetson is one of the official symbols of Calgary and you’ll see it by the thousands. Every business, big and small, hosts some sort of Western themed event. Pancake breakfasts. Chuckwagon BBQ for lunch and dinner. The beer is flowing and country music is everywhere. I mean, EVERYWHERE! If you play in a country music band and can’t get booked in Calgary during the first two weeks of July, you’d either better switch to Death Metal or get out of the business for good because you obviously suck. People come from all over the world to ho-down and square dance, drink and frolic and Calgary is truly happy to accommodate them.
Problem is once the party is over, the chuck wagon tents are folded up and all the horse shit has been shoveled away, Calgarians can’t shake the ‘Cowtown’ name or the Cow-town mentality. It can’t help but see itself as a one horse town. Even with a population of 1.2 million. So if you get the chance to visit my city, even if it is for the rodeo, I urge you to stick around and experience this glorious city the other 355 days of the year.
So in five days I’ll be turning my back on it again, heading east into the sunrise. My journey will take me to Toronto, city of my birth, Winnipeg, the city of my earliest memories and numerous new exotic places, both within my countries borders and beyond. But despite what my name tag says at work, or what my birth certificate states or where I live out my remaining years or even where they put me in the ground, Calgary is, and will always be my hometown.
Or can you…?
Or can you…?
Here is a complete list of everything I have packed for my hitchhiking adventure beginning Monday, May 30th.
4 pairs of socks. 4 pairs of underwear. 6 shirts. 1 pair of jeans. 2 shorts. 1 sweater. 1 hat. Deodorant. Oral care. razors. Two rolls of toilet paper.Sleeping bag. Bed roll. 1 80 page note book. 7 pens. Go pro. Lap top. Phone. Two extra batteries.for each. One Digital voice recorder. 3 extra memory cards.
…and of course, one passport.
When I posted the list on my facebook page, my friend Rod Harvey asked the question I have often pondered….
I have some sick friends. Fortunately, through the wonders of social media, I get to take them with me.
I’ve been saying I am off to see the world. But in many ways, I suppose what I really want is for the world to see me.
Michael Badger Screenwriter, Stand Up Comic, Poet and possibly the most foolish man alive (and wouldn’t have it any other way.)
Join me as I attempt to hitchhike around the world from May 29th to July 27, 2016. I hope this will be just one of many adventures in the years to come.
“Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.”
Want to get in touch? Follow me on social media? Here’s how.
MYSPACE (just kidding…nobody uses myspace anymore, do they?)
In 10 days, I will make an attempt to hitchhike around the world.
Maybe it is a mid-life crisis. Maybe this wouldn’t be happening if I could afford a big, flashy, ridiculously expensive car. But I can’t. Or if I had girlfriend half my age. But I don’t. All I can say for sure is that it all started with a television.
I had just turned 50 a few days earlier and I found myself wandering through the electronic section of Walmart trying to decide between the 55 inch Smart TV or the 60 inch 4K. Once I attached my android box to the device, I started fantasizing about the endless streaming I was going to be able to subject myself to. Orange is the New Black. Game of Thrones. Better Call Saul. Gotham. Doctor Who!!!!
“Why,” I thought, “I might never leave the house again.”
And it hit me. I actually might not EVER leave the house.
I bolted away from the wall of screens and out of the store. I didn’t even buy the socks I had initially gone in for. I felt like I’d escaped a self-imposed sentence of seclusion.
I go to work, I make money money I can’t spend and sit alone in an apartment binge watching the 1948 Superman serial because it is only a click away. (BTW: If anyone knows why Kirk Alyn never got a credit as Superman on the show, feel free to let me know.)
Allow me to be clear. I really like my job. I am a professional poker dealer in one of the best casinos in Canada. I make a good living. I like the players, I enjoy the game and I love the people I work with. But the hours can be grueling. I start work at 9pm and often don’t leave until 10am. Having a social life is almost impossible and even the simplest gathering with two or more friends becomes an scheduling nightmare, often ending in everyone’s disappointment because let’s face it: It is hard to enjoy happy hour beer and wings when your friends are getting off work but you only woke up an hour earlier and really want coffee and plate of sausage & eggs.
I’ve been saying I am off to see the world. But in many ways, I suppose what I really want is for the world to see me. Not in a grand, Kardashianesque attention whore way. But in the simplest way imaginable. Just a man standing in one spot believing that the world is good and kind. I hope that the journey will be exciting. I am certain that it will be challenging and I’m sure that it will be funny. What I am really looking forward too is the opportunity to meet the best people in the world. What will make them the best is that they have no idea how great they are. I hope they share their stories with me so that I can share some of them with you.
So in 10 days, I’ll step to edge of the on ramp, just outside of Calgary, Alberta, seeking an adventure in kindness. An outstretched thumb on the side of the road and a simple sign reading “EAST! Around the World.” A return to the lost art of hitchhiking. Remembering that the hitchhiker isn’t just asking for a lift but offering the opportunity to connect again with a bigger world.